The Art Of The Sit-In | Stanton Moore
Welcome to another edition of The Art of the Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. For more, check out our recent interviews with Eric Krasno,Tom Hamilton, Jeff Chimenti and others.
If you were at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and somehow missed Stanton Moore, well, maybe you were doing it wrong. The drumming ace and jam-scene legend played no fewer than 31 gigs in 11 days -a personal record, even by his own impossibly lofty standards.
We caught up with Stanton in the midst of a string of gigs with the M&Ms, a newer project that combines him with Papa Mali, Galactic bandmate Robert Mercurio, keyboard wizard John Medeski, and, as of late, two backup singers. We also asked Stanton to catch us up on all things Galactic and -knowing full well he’s never solely focused on just one or even two projects -what else is in the pipeline.
JAMBASE: So how did this Jazz Fest stack up to previous Jazz Fests?
STANTON MOORE: This was the best one ever, man. I swear it was great. I played more gigs than ever -31 gigs in 11 days, I think -but they were all musically better than ever.
JAMBASE: How many of those gigs are planned well advance versus time you leave open to pull jams together with short notice or even do impromptu things?
SM: Well each year we have slots for certain bands, and I have to say that a lot of the bands I play with at Jazz Fest that started at a Superjam at one point or another. We always have such a great time and then say, hey, same time next year, and some of those develop into a band. Dragon Smoke started that way. Frequinox was that way. And the M&Ms began developing that way, with a Superjam concept, although it was created for Equifunk.
Something like an M&Ms gig is usually booked pretty far in advance. But there are plenty of things that come together only days in advance, which for me this year was a gig with Dave Torkanowsky and also one with [jazz singer] Gregory Porter. I’ll get a call to play drums, and that sort of thing. But I loved all of it. We did the Stanton Moore Mardi Gras Indian Jubilee this year and that was a blast -that was totally unrehearsed. Me and Krasno and Will Blades did a trio, and that was unrehearsed. And Galactic, well, we very meticulously rehearse and prepare. So it’s the whole gamut of everything you could possibly imagine.
JAMBASE: And you keep it all straight?
SM: It’s funny, my wife asked me when it was all over whether I was serious about loving all 31 gigs, and I said, yes! All of them!
JAMBASE: How do you prioritize which ones you’re going to take? I imagine you get calls you just can’t answer.
SM: I did have a couple of calls this year where I couldn’t do it. It’s remarkable how much of it works out and falls into place, though -it’s just like life, where you’re looking at the most stressful stuff and some kind of way, everything works out. But there were things I wish I could do and could not. And this year I added more than I even thought I would. Marco Benevento and I got a call to open up for the Meter Men and he and I had done a duo maybe two times before, and why they called us, I don’t know, but we were super glad to get the call. Things like that, there’s a slot open and you just go with it, around all the things that are anchored in and that you’ve planned for.
JAMBASE: Given how often you do that, part of me says “wow, 31” and another part of me says, “only 31”? Next year, 41?
SM: Ha, I don’t think so. This might be my limit.
JAMBASE: Let’s talk about the M&Ms. One thing I’m curious about is how often these jams become projects and how often projects become things you want to spend time touring and recording behind. The M&Ms just played in Colorado and you have Northeast gigs this week, so how did this come together and why have you decided to commit to it?
SM: Eric Kamen from Equifunk had called and wanted to put this together, so the first gig we did was ahead of Equifunk in New York last year. He had approached me and Robert Mercurio and John Medeski and Papa Mali, and we did it, and then at Equifunk we added Maceo [Parker] and Marco. And now we’ve added these two great singers, Margie [Perez] and Monica [McIntyre], we’re calling the “Femme and Ms.”
We’re all just sitting around laughing at how much fun this is, I swear. For me, it’s really interesting to play with a guy like John in a band that’s very song-and vocals-oriented. John does so much instrumental stuff and he’s known for having that loose approach, and in the M&Ms we are improvising in the structure of songs but this is very much tied to a setlist and vocals.
John, as it tush out, is really interested in that. He has a very identifiable voice in what he does and he’s also known as kind of being a little bit more avant-garde. But he shows up more prepared and having done more homework than almost anyone else I know. He really puts his heart and soul into something like this. Usually, what I find is the more improvisationally-focused players tend to come into a gig like this and they say, ‘I’ll just wing it,’ and they do, and it’s cool. But John really learns the melodies. Then, when it comes time solo, he’s John Medeski [laughs]. But he’s a full package.
JAMBASE: Will you record more with this group?
SM: That’s the crazy thing, we already have recorded. Papa Mali has a friend, Nicholas Cunningham, who got us into the studio almost right away, and we’ve released two songs and a third is on the way. There’s always a concern with a band like this that there won’t be enough tunes, but we just did a two-night stand in Denver and we had enough tunes to not only cover both nights but also only repeat one tune. We repeated “Eminence Front” just because it’s so much fun to do -that was very much on purpose. But we’ve got a range. We’ve got a bunch of tunes and we’ve only played like five or six gigs now. The M&Ms is really kind of getting a life of its own.
JAMBASE: Will there be more M&Ms dates this year given how busy you all are?
SM: Absolutely. Who knows what festival offers we might get, but you’re right in that it will be busy. Galactic is touring a lot more this summer than we have in the past few summers, so that’s one thing.
JAMBASE: Well let’s shift gears to Galactic. Why are you guys hitting it particularly hard this summer?
SM: It’s all our new manager’s fault!
JAMBASE: I’m writing that down.
SM: You can quote me on that! And I mean it in the right way. We liked our old management, too, it was just time for a change, and Alex [Brahl, from 7S Management] wanted to try us doing things differently. Before we focused on flying out for short runs and doing festivals, but he wanted us to step outside the box a little bit and take more time on the road and a bit more risk. So we’re doing a bunch of co-bills with Trombone Shorty -that started off as a couple of dates and then people saw that it was happening and wanted it, so there’ll be a bunch there. We’re going to Europe. We’re doing some dates with Widespread Panic. It’s all adding up to us having a really, really busy part of the year. And we’ll have Maggie Koerner out with us singing and people are really digging that.
JAMBASE: You mention Maggie, and I know you guys spent all that time with Corey Glover lending his vocals. It’s been a long time since the Houseman left the band and you had full-time vocals, but it seems like you guys have naturally settled into this pattern of having extended guest stints.
SM: Yeah, we really like getting to work with these different people. And don’t forget, we also had Cyril Neville for two years, off and on –that was a dream come true to. Cyril is one of the best there is, and so is Corey Glover. And Maggie is just killing it. Hopefully we’ll have Maggie for a while. We’ll just do it for as long as it makes sense. What happens a lot of times with singers is they already have their own bands and projects. And I think having worked with so many now it’s hard for us to settle on one specific singer. So we’re happy what we’re doing.
JAMBASE: Do you guys stay in close touch with Houseman?
SM: Oh absolutely. We talk occasionally over the phone, and I know Robert talks to him a lot over the phone. We saw him at Fiya Fest, he came and sang with Ben [Ellman]’s cousin’s band. We all said hello of course. We’re on great terms, and we’re still trying to figure out some spots for him to come and sing with us a bit.
JAMBASE: Very cool. So Stanton I want to make sure we cover a few other projects. What is the future of Garage A Trois, for example?
SM: Right now it’s me and Marco and Mike Dillon and we’ll do it like that for as long as it needs to be done like that. Skerik decided to take a break, and he’s welcome back to it any time he wants to come back to it -we all love him very much. For the interim, though, we will play it with me and Marco and Mike, and he’ll hopefully want to come back at some point, but that’s up to him. We had a blast the three of us playing over Jazz Fest and perhaps we may record a bit with this group.
JAMBASE: And how about the Stanton Moore Trio? This one’s obviously a priority seeing as it has your name in the title. And Conversations, which came out in April.
SM: Yes. I have the Organ Trio, which is Robert Walter, Will Bernard and me, and we’d been calling that the Stanton Moore Trio, but there’s also the Stanton Moore Piano Trio, which I’m calling the Stanton Moore Trio. It’s a newer trio with piano [Dave Torkanowsky] and bass [James Singleton] and it’s me really diving into the jazz side of my playing. It’s been there for years and years but I’ve never really put together a project that focused just on that, and never recorded much of it, definitely not under my own name.
When I did Groove Alchemy, that was a book and record, all kinds of stuff I had developed based on historic funk grooves and understanding the creative process that the guys who created it went through. It was a very intensive process. This time I didn’t go all the way and write a book but I wanted to really dig in and explore the jazz side of my playing. I took lessons from guys from the jazz end of the spectrum -Kenny Washington in New York, Jeff Hamilton in L.A., these guys who are great jazz drummers. I love -absolutely love -the learning process, and I spent time shedding transcriptions of Elvin Jones and Max Roach and Tony Williams.
I started the piano trio as a place to utilize this stuff in a live, musical context. We started doing Tuesdays at Snug Harbor [in New Orleans] when we could make it work and eventually got to a point where we had it sounding great and wanted to record. It’s so fun for me to hear people’s reaction to this side of my playing.
JAMBASE: Will you being playing out with this band -that sound that you bring to Snug Harbor?
SM: Oh absolutely. We’re planning that now. I’ll be bringing this group to some of the festivals, some of the jazz clubs and hopefully out.
JAMBASE: Before I let you go, I have to ask about people you’re jonesing to play with that you never have. Who’s on that list?
SM: Well, it’s not so much people I haven’t played with but people I want to play a lot more with. And top of that list is Maceo Parker. I want to put together a trio with Maceo Parker and Dr. Lonnie Smith.