After spending years as a sideman, jazz musician Rick Rosoff is once again taking the lead.
Since 1997, he has made his name in the Capital Region playing drums and trombone for the Joey Thomas Big Band, Nitro Jive and, most recently, Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble, among others.
Before he moved to the region, Rosoff played in the Catskills, Boston, Miami, New York City and New Jersey, both as a sideman and a leader. Family life and a full-time job led him to focus more on being a supporting player since settling upstate, but he’s been stepping out into the spotlight and once again leading his own quartet on trombone. Though he still enjoys his big band work, these days he’s most interested in pushing himself as a jazz improviser and composer.
“What I really like about being a frontman on trombone is it challenges me to really stretch out and play longer choruses,” he said recently at a restaurant in Albany.
Rick Rosoff Quartet
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: 9 Maple Avenue, Saratoga Springs
How Much: $2
More Info: 583-2582, www.9mapleavenue.com
Seeking a challenge
“As a session player and as a big-band player, you have to do a lot of ensemble playing, which I love, but as a jazz artist, as an improviser — Keith’s band is an exception, but still, most big bands, you only play a few choruses. Even as a sideman, you play some choruses, but I mean, as a front person being the only horn player, you’re really challenged. So that’s why I’m kind of pushing myself now into this format.”
Rosoff’s next gig leading his quartet — featuring bassist Dave Shoudy, guitarist Joe Finn and drummer Pete Sweeney filling in for Dave Berger — is at 9 Maple Avenue on Friday night.
“I love 9 Maple Avenue — I mean, I’m from up north, and it’s a great jazz club,” he said. “I like The Van Dyck as well, I loved playing at Tess’ [Lark Tavern], but 9 Maple for a quartet is great. It’s a small club, people know — they have discerning ears — that go there; they really want to hear good jazz.”
At this point, Rosoff is focusing on standards, though not standards one might expect for a trombone-led group. He draws from a wide range of influences, especially John Coltrane and Charles Mingus.
“You don’t hear trombone players calling ‘Afro Blue,’ or ‘My Favorite Things,’ ” he said. “I haven’t pushed myself to do some of the more adventurous Coltrane tunes, but yeah, I guess that’s it. Standards, but not your typical standards.”
Eventually, he is hoping to incorporate his own compositions into the group — material that he mostly wrote while studying music performance at the University of Miami. At the time, he was playing with a number of avant-garde jazz ensembles, and his writing was influenced by Pat Metheny, Bill Laswell, Thelonious Monk and Mingus. But lack of rehearsal time has been an issue.
“Unfortunately, the stuff I write kind of is unusual and warrants rehearsals, so I haven’t asked the guys to really do that yet,” Rosoff said. “They’ve told me, ‘Hey, you want to do this stuff, we can get together and rehearse it.’ They’re not standard forms; not standard, like 32-bar forms, and not standard chord progressions, either.”
Growing up in Syracuse, Rosoff got his start playing cornet in third grade, but quickly moved to drums and then trombone. “I consider them both to be main instruments — it’s not, one is a secondary instrument.”
Rosoff’s father, a trumpet player, introduced him to classical and jazz music. His early exposure to the form included Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and Bill Watrous.
After playing in his high school jazz band alongside Walt Weiskopf, Rosoff attended the State University of New York at Binghamton before heading to Miami. After graduating, he began freelancing, which took him to Boston, New Jersey and New York City. Over the years, he has played in rock bands and cover groups along with jazz and classical.
He moved upstate to raise his daughter, and also to get away from big city life.
“I’ve lived in three big cities,” he said. “I kind of wanted to get back to a smaller environment, you know, smaller city, more relaxed pace. I think you get a much higher quality of life, for me. The things I appreciate are upstate.”
In the Capital Region, Rosoff soon became part of a vibrant jazz scene, one that continues to inspire him to this day.
“I really do admire Keith and Brian [Patneaude] and Steve [Lambert] and Joe Barna, who’s not here anymore; Mike Benedict, you know, the local guys that are really putting stuff out there, George Muscatello,” he said.