Trumpeter Terry Gordon, like most of the jazz musicians in the Capital Region, is known for performing with multiple bands.
By Gordon’s count, he’s a regular member of at least eight or nine different projects, including Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra, the Arch Stanton Quartet, Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble and the Empire Jazz Orchestra. Stylistically, these groups cover just about everything in the jazz realm from Latin to big band and swing, including original tunes and standard material.
When Gordon steps to the forefront with his own eponymous quintet, unless the gig calls for cover versions, he focuses entirely on original compositions written by him or his bandmates. It’s a much different project from his other groups, with compositions that don’t follow standard jazz structures and live performances that rely heavily on experimentation and improvisation.
“We have one tune that starts with four six-bar phrases, then goes into straight eights, to five bars of swing, then six more straight eights and then eight bars of stop time,” Gordon said recently from the music room at Mekeel Christian Academy in Scotia, where he is the school’s band director. “I mean, who writes stuff like that? But this is where it wants to go.”
Terry Gordon Quartet
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: 9 Maple Avenue, 9 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs
How Much: $2
More Info: 583-2582, www.9mapleave.com
But that’s not to say Gordon doesn’t take influence from his other projects when composing for his band — in fact, it happens quite often.
“Oh yeah, there’s back and forth,” he said. “There’s one tune on our new record that’s coming out that was inspired by something that Keith Pray wrote for the Soul Ensemble. Really, then, that sets up a problem for yourself. . . . I was playing that cut to one of the Alex Torres guys, Jon Bronk, and when I told him what inspired it, he said, ‘Wow, I can totally hear that.’ ”
The Terry Gordon Quintet has been a fixture on the local jazz scene since 1992, a year after Gordon first moved to the area. Although musicians have come and gone, the lineup has remained remarkably steady over the years — drummer Matthew Maguire has been in the band from the beginning; saxophonist Eric Walentowicz and bassist Bill Lawrence have been on board for a decade or longer; and guitarist Michael-Louis Smith replaced George Muscatello a few years ago.
Gordon’s bandmates, like himself, are involved with many projects, so gigs often fluctuate between quintet and quartet versions of the group. The next show at 9 Maple Avenue on Friday night will feature a version of the quartet with Walentowicz, Lawrence and Bob Halek subbing for Maguire.
“I have some guys who’ve done a number of gigs with us, so I can have confidence and pull them on — this is not an easy gig to sub on,” Gordon said. “But it’s great to have these guys that have been around a long time, and they really like what we’re doing. They contribute compositions as well; it’s not just my stuff, they all contribute to the book, too.”
Composing came early for Gordon. He started playing trumpet in the school band in Rushford at age 10, and eventually ended up joining the town band, which has been in operation since 1857. “I’m a product of the 19th century town band movement,” he said, laughing.
During his last few years of high school, he joined up with six other students in a school group dubbed The Septet. He bought his first jazz album, the Chuck Mangione Quartet’s live record “Alive!,” soon after. Other influences include Woody Shaw, Miles Davis and Kenny Wheeler.
After graduating from high school, The Septet stuck together and began working on new material, including some of Gordon’s earliest compositions. He also worked with an offshoot of the town band that played Dixieland music.
“I wrote a tune for the Dixieland band too, so I had that outlet as well,” he said. “So I started dabbling in it at that time.”
He got his bachelor’s degree at Houghton College and his master’s at Mansford University in Pennsylvania, both in music, and relocated to the Capital Region in 1991. “That was a tough year; I didn’t have any outlet for my writing,” he said.
That quickly changed with the first incarnation of the Terry Gordon Quintet. Although the group was always designed as an outlet for original material, it started out with a number of standards in its repertoire.
Repertoire of tunes
At this point the band has more than four hours of original tunes encompassing three albums — 1997’s “Wakeup Call,” 2002’s “Contemplations” and 2006’s “Homeward Bound” — with a fourth, “Tomorrow Calling,” in the works for sometime next year.
“I was going to say, who needs another version of ‘How High the Moon’? Let’s do something else,” Gordon said. “And I have nothing against that. I love to go play ‘How High the Moon,’ or whatever; it’s great. I play in bands that do some of that, [like] Arch Stanton Quartet. I love it, it’s great, it’s great. I don’t know if I can give you a real good reason — that’s just not the focus of what I’m doing [with the quintet]. It’s the artistic outlet for composing, really, that drives that.”