Equal Time in Real Jazz Time
Acclaimed All-Women Jazz Group ARTEMIS Plays at UC Santa Barbara Campbell Hall
Taking stock of the jazz offerings in Santa Barbara’s current concert season, it is reasonable to assert that the freshest and most significant seasonal moment will be the arrival of the band known as ARTEMIS at Campbell Hall on Sunday, April 23, hosted by UCSB Arts & Lectures (A&L). While other jazz artists passing through this season via A&L and the Lobero Theatre are on the regular visitor list or fall under the category of “jazz kindly to audiences not necessarily into jazz,” as such, ARTEMIS makes its local debut in a moment of its own ascendancy into ever-higher jazz world importance.
And for what it’s worth, the band happens to be all women. The gender factor was a more radical condition when the band started six years ago, but less so today in a jazz atmosphere at least somewhat correcting the long-standing gender gap of men to women in jazz. For instance, earlier ARTEMIS members saxist Melissa Aldana and clarinetist Anat Cohen have gone on to carve out impressive solo careers.
Presently, the group includes another prominent solo artist, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen; drummer Allison Miller; and younger new members saxist Nicole Glover and reed player Alexa Tarantino. Renee Rosnes, long a famed pianist in her own right, is the music director of the band, although it functions mostly as a democracy. Rosnes recently offered some insights to the band’s ongoing and upward evolution, timed with its strongest record to date, the soon-to-be-released In Real Time, on the legendary Blue Note label, a follow-up to their fine 2020 debut.
I have heard ARTEMIS on more than one occasion at the Monterey Jazz Festival and watched its upward evolution. Reflecting on that evolution from the inside, how would you say the group has grown and found its voice since it started? ARTEMIS has been together now for about six years, and in that amount of time, we have grown both musically and personally. When we first began, there was an initial spark of chemistry that we felt compelled to explore by forming the band. Now, the sound of ARTEMIS has become more unique and defined with every performance. Trust and an open-mindedness to embrace each one of our musical personalities has led to some exciting music-making.
The group strikes a fine balance between bowing to jazz history and forging ahead with a contemporary sound. Would you say that balance was always one of the goals for the group? Thank you. I think we’ve arrived at a balanced repertoire rather organically. Regarding compositions that don’t come from within the band, the arrangements are crafted with fresh perspectives. All great improvisers in the lineage stand upon the shoulders of those who came before, and so the multidimensional history of the music is in our DNA. We are students of the past, but artists living in the present, and we each bring a wide range of experiences to the bandstand. The collective sound of ARTEMIS is inherently current and ever-evolving … purposefully so.
This new album In Real Time is a wonderful piece of work and a strong statement for the group. How was the process of conceiving and putting this one together? Was there more of a sense of being more grounded in the group identity and groove for this one? The band’s sound and concept continues to expand, especially with the addition of tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover, originally from Portland, Oregon; and Connecticut-born alto saxophonist and flutist Alexa Tarantino. Because the pandemic erased a lot of work and time that the band would have spent together, we had to pick up where we left off and rediscover ourselves. Fortunately, we found it to be effortless, and it felt so fulfilling to play together again.
For this album, before heading into the studio, the band had a week-long engagement at Birdland in New York, enabling us to “workshop” the new compositions. By the time we recorded, the band was in a state of flow, allowing each piece to unfold “in real time” — which is where the idea of the album title came from.
I can sense the band’s approach coming out of a post–Art Blakey/mid-’60s Miles format and making it your own. Who would you cite as influences or role models for the group? ARTEMIS isn’t consciously influenced by any one format or approach, even though we have certainly individually been influenced by the music of the many legendary bands of both Art Blakey and Miles. I think of our ensemble as a coming-together of highly accomplished instrumentalists from different generations and geographical places who have something unique to say through the music. The gate is open as to where we go from here.
Our collective goal is to make compelling and engaging music full of truth and beauty: music that makes people feel something.
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Is there a special feeling of connection attached to being on Blue Note? Is that a happy home and historic alliance? Blue Note has always been at the forefront of creativity and is a central force in the history of jazz, and ARTEMIS is thrilled to be recording for the label. It is personally exciting for me to return to the label after releasing 10 albums for Blue Note as a leader or co-leader. Don Was has taken the timeless ideals of the founders and beautifully moved them forward into the 21st century. We are very happy and honored indeed to be a new part of the Blue Note family and story.
You end the album with a beautiful rendition of Wayne Shorter’s “Penelope,” which now seems like a memorial tribute, considering his recent passing. Does that make the piece all the more poignant, and do you view him as a special kind of icon — for yourself and for the band? Absolutely. Wayne was a musical genius, a visionary thinker, and a magical improviser who knew no creative bounds. He was a hero and an influence, to a large degree, for all of us in the band. For me, the experience I had as a member of his band 30 years ago helped to shape my entire view of music and certainly who I am as a player and composer today. He opened up my mind to new ways of thinking about music, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t reflect on some lesson that I learned while working with him.
He first recorded “Penelope” in 1965 on his album Etcetera (Blue Note). It’s interesting that Wayne immortalized many women — family members, friends and great women of history alike — through his compositions, including “Ana Maria,” “Iska,” “Miyako,” “Joanna’s Theme,” “Aung San Suu Kyi,” “Sacajawea,” “The Three Marias,” “Midnight in Carlotta’s Hair,” “Marie Antoinette,” and “Nefertiti.” The haunting melody of “Penelope” has a sound of inevitability, and there’s an emotional weight to every one of his melodic and harmonic choices.
We will miss Wayne so much. He left behind great beauty in this world.
Of course, a central aspect of this group is its all-female membership, but in a way, I sense a “What’s gender got to do with it?” implication at this point. But is there a kind of liberation and sense of solidarity in carving out a special place beyond the “old boys’ club” model of jazz? For me, it’s all about the power of the music, and therefore the fact that we are a band of women is something I don’t think about in terms of our art. I wish more people could see it the same way. No person comments on gender when they hear an all-male band. However, as we travel throughout the country and abroad, I am often moved by the emotional reactions we receive, not just from audiences but from young people of all genders who relay to us how inspirational it is for them to experience hearing such a band as ARTEMIS.
It’s worth mentioning that the genesis of the band that was to become ARTEMIS initially came together through some European concerts presented in celebration of International Women’s Day. Because the music was really happening, we decided to continue playing together, irrespective of gender. I think times are changing, but there is still a long way to go.
The great drummer Terri Lyne Carrington (who I played in Wayne Shorter’s band) is doing amazing work through the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, which she founded and is the artistic director of. As she was quoted in a recent article, “The music will never reach its full potential until there’s equity in terms of who is creating it.” In 2019, Grammy-winning vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater along with her daughter, Tulani Bridgewater-Kowalski, created the Woodshed Network, which is an organization that hosts an intensive 10-day program mentoring young women instrumentalists and vocalists and also provides ongoing professional support.
Each member in the group has her own individual projects and pathways, but is the group striving for a kind of democratic way of operating — being more about the collective than an aggregate of individuals? Definitely. The music on In Real Time is a reflection of the collective mindset. As musical director, I mainly act as an organizing force for the band. I do bring a lot of music and arrangements, but every member contributes to the repertoire as composer or arranger. Each of us has a distinct, individual point of view, but we create as a unit. We are all “in tune” with one another’s artistic personalities and, like a successful sports team, work together toward the same goal. In as much as we are skilled players, we are also consummate listeners, which is a democratic trait. Our attentiveness and time-earned trust allows for a sense of fun and unpredictability.
Does this feel like a healthy and forward-moving point in the group’s ongoing stirring? What’s next for ARTEMIS? The band is excited about the release of In Real Time and is looking forward to touring the album with upcoming dates in Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, New York, and a show at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in May the night before our album release. In July, we’ll also be touring many of the European jazz festivals. We are having a great time playing and look forward to a long future together.
ARTEMIS appears at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Sunday, April 23 at 7 p.m. See