Named one of the top trumpeters to watch by Downbeat Magazine, Jason Palmer has performed on stage internationally with his many projects, and captivates loyal jazz audiences each week as house bandleader at Boston’s legendary Wally’s Cafe. In addition to a heavy performing schedule, Jason Palmer maintains a busy schedule as an educator/actor/board member at JazzBoston, an Assistant Professor of Ensembles and Brass at the Berklee College of Music, and a visiting Assistant Professor at Harvard University. He also has several well-reviewed recordings to his name, and of course, there was also that one time he played the lead in a critically-acclaimed indie film directed by a recent Oscar winner…
Last week, Palmer took a few minutes out of his jam-packed schedule to chat with us. He and his outstanding quintet will perform at Indian Hill Music on Friday, October 19 at 7:30pm. Tickets are going fast!
What was your introduction to jazz and your instrument? What attracted you to trumpet?
I was introduced to proper jazz in my junior year in high school. I started attending the Greensboro Music Academy in NC. That’s where I started playing in a small jazz combo, which involved a lot of listening to classic jazz records and transcribing. By that time I was already immersed into the world of the trumpet. I spent most of my middle school years playing by ear along with the radio (this was back when the radio played a more diverse palette of musical stylings).
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Clifford Brown was really the first player that had a profound influence on me and it wasn’t just his playing. By all accounts he was known as an angel so I always aspired to live up to his reputation. Now I gain influence from any artist who I find plays and lives with love and integrity.
Palmer is an exciting player – achieving pinpoint focus in his attack one minute, turning his concrete bebop lines into caramel, sliding through pitches and bending them to his will the next. – Jon Ross, writer, Downbeat Magazine
Why is Wally’s Cafe such a legendary jazz venue? What’s it like to lead the house band?
Wally’s is one of the longest standing jazz clubs in the US as well as abroad. They have music seven nights a week and there is no cover to hear the music. I’ve played at clubs around the world (40+ countries) and have never seen one that does that. It’s a great privilege to have a residency there now. I wouldn’t be half the musician that I am today without it. I wish every musician was afforded the opportunity that I have with Wally’s.
Why did you stay in Boston versus moving to New York as many jazz musicians do? What is cool about Boston’s jazz scene / fans?
I’ve been teaching in Boston since the year 2000 starting with the Prep school at NEC, then on to the public school system, then to Berklee where I am currently. I also taught at the New School in NYC for a couple of years (I commuted once a week). NYC is relatively close to Boston and it’s not expensive to travel there so I do play there often. So, I don’t feel like I need to sacrifice my family’s quality of life at the moment to live there as opposed to living here. On the other hand, Boston has a lot of work to do to get on par with other cities in terms of support of this music and performing arts in general.
You have also dipped your toe into acting. Tell us about that!
I was asked by Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) to star in Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench when he was still a Harvard student. It was an adventurous experience and I have no other plans to act again. Damien did ask me to make an appearance in La La Land but I was unavailable. Trumpet is enough of a challenge for me.
What are your hopes for jazz, and your part in shaping the future of the genre as an artist and as a music educator?
The idea of shaping the future of the genre is too big a burden to wish on anyone. I do believe that as Dizzy Gillespie said, “every musician has an obligation to teach, in whatever capacity you’re able to.” So, I always try to be a positive example of an artist in the music whether in the classroom or on the bandstand. What my students take from my classes and how my performances are received are beyond my control, so I always aspire to be my best self in order to have no regrets.
The Jason Palmer Quintet is: Jason Palmer, trumpet; Noah Preminger, tenor saxophone; Kevin Harris, piano; Max Ridley, bass; and Lee Fish, drums. See them at Indian Hill Music on Friday, October 19 at 7:30pm. Tickets are going fast – order online!