Q and A with Jay Vonada
As a veteran of the regional jazz circuit, trombonist Jay Vonada has played hundreds of shows and venues. The launch of his musical journey can be traced back to a single college class that he took while he was a sophomore at Mansfield University. Following his professor’s playing a J.J. Johnson tune, Vonada says he was hooked on jazz music and improvisation. In the 20 years following – and after no small amount of practice – and after taking the opportunity to share the stage with many notable acts, he remains hooked on the genre.
Vonada has three albums under his belt, and has a fourth on the way as the front man of Organ Trio East. Vonada and co. are set to release their seminal album “Chemistry,” for which they will be performing an album release show from 7 to 10 p.m. May 21 at the Bullfrog Brewery, 229 W. Fourth St.
The Sun-Gazette was recently able to conduct an interview with Jay Vonada in order learn more about his upcoming release – and his take on music in general – and jazz in particular.
ISAIAH BRITTON: “Chemistry” is Organ Trio East’s First Album and your fourth album. How does “Chemistry” differ from your previous releases?
JAY VONADA: Besides differing in personnel, I think it is some of the best playing that I have done so far. Not that the other albums were not good; they were. As a musician though, I feel my playing has developed and this record represents that. Of course, the chemistry with the other guys is very important to making everything come together. We also did this record on two different days that were spread out over a month, whereas the other ones were done in one day. I think this takes away any pressure that you are feeling that “you need to get this done or else.” If we didn’t like something from the first day, we did it again on the second day.
IB: How does Organ Trio East differ from Organ Trio West?
JV: Again, besides personnel, each player has its own unique sound. Likewise, each group will have its own unique sound. Since I am the constant in both groups I don’t feel that my approach or style changes in any way. We do play some of the same tunes, but for the most part we have our own repertoire of songs that we do, that just seem to work for that group. Maybe that’s the one thing occasionally that I notice when I do a tune that I’ve done with one and try it with another: it might go (in) a different direction, which isn’t a bad thing.
When I’m playing with Organ West, I’m the “old guy” and when I’m playing with Organ East I’m the “young gun.”?I just thought that was interesting. They are both great and really fun to play with. It is also a blast when we mix them up and have Organ West’s organ with Organ East’s drummer and Organ West’s drummer with Organ East’s organ.
IB: You have said that jazz is its own type of language. How would you describe what this means to someone not familiar with the genre?
JV: Let’s say I go to a famous jazz club in Japan, or any country. If I walk in and start playing a blues in b-flat, if it is a legitimate jazz group, we will be able to communicate and play together. Just think about that. I can’t speak the Japanese language but I could play a song with them and we would be smiling and having a great time communicating. That is very powerful.
IB: Who are your musical influences?
JV: The man who got me hooked on jazz was J.J. Johnson. I took an improvisation class in college my sophomore year, and the professor put a record of his on, and I got the bug and wanted to learn more. So, after him, it was other great trombonists, including Curtis Fuller, Slide Hampton, Carl Fontana, Frank Rosolino, Conrad Herwig, Hal Crook, Jimmy Knepper, Bennie Green, Jimmy Cleveland, Bill Watrous, etc.
I could do a whole interview with trombone influences, but it is also other instruments too. Lee Morgan is probably my favorite trumpet player, and Charlie Parker my favorite saxophonist. Again, I could name many more but that is probably why my CD collection is near 800 or more.
IB: Your upcoming spring schedule is packed with dates. Firstly, where do you find the energy to perform as many as three sets in one day? Secondly, when do you find the time to write music?
JV: I guess this is my time to let everyone know that it is more about just playing the gig. I’m my agent, publicist, secretary, etc. I spend my day trying to get gigs (jobs). I really only have one weekly steady gig on Sundays. Everything else is what I get throughout the year. Winter time is somewhat slow, so I’m sending out demos for summer concerts, festival or wineries. I also (perform at) many nursing homes and assisted living communities with my duo … Usually when I’m getting tired of trying to find gigs, I will take some time out to write music. I usually write in bunches, meaning several tunes come out at once. I’m sure it is different for everyone.
IB: What can attendees of the album release show at the Bullfrog Brewery expect to experience?
JV: The Bullfrog is a great place to play. We will be able to play all the tunes on the album, plus many more that I actually just wrote. Our tunes hopefully will be uplifting and enjoyable for them. We like to feed off the audience’s energy too. This album has a great mix of styles all enveloped around a jazz feel.
IB: Is there anything else you’d like to add regarding Organ Trio East, “Chemistry” or your upcoming shows?
JV: I just want to say that improvisation is the key ingredient of what we do. Of course, a big ingredient of jazz is improvisation, so that only makes sense. We can speak our language individually and at the same time communicate with each other as a group. Sometimes things happen, and you just go with the flow.
I hope everyone that comes out enjoys the show and we thank you for listening to our music. It should not be forgotten that without the audience we can’t do what we do.
To find out more about Jay Vonada and his various groups, and purchase their music, visit www.jayvonada.net and www.cdbaby.com/cd/ayvonada.