The relationship between Atlanta and jazz goes back several decades. During the Civil Rights Movement, jazz notables like Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis and Nancy Wilson all made extended stays in Atlanta. Often, they performed and were seen at Paschal’s Restaurant, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was also known to frequent.
Fast forward to 2018, and the jazz scene shows no signs of slowing down. One local group looking to keep the spirit alive is the Gordon Vernick Quartet, headed by Georgia State University Professor and professional trumpet player Gordon Vernick. They recently visited WABE in-studio as part of Closer Look’s Summer Indie Music Series.
>> Check out more from Closer Look’s Summer Indie Music Series here.
Vernick has been playing music since he was in the fourth grade. At the time, he remembers getting hooked on jazz listening to a local radio station in New York.
“The freedom of the music is really what attracted me,” Vernick said. “There’s something about the forward motion and the energy of the music that is in the solar plexus that makes you want to move. It just engenders this wonderful feeling of energy, democracy, and freedom.”
Vernick has come a long way since the fourth grade. He’s performed in places like South Africa, Beijing, Costa Rica and Moscow. And he’s spent the last many years as an Associate Professor of Music and Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Georgia State University.
“You have to know where you’ve been if you want to know where you’re going – I’m a firm believer in that,” Vernick said.
Keyboard player and fellow Georgia State educator Kevin Bales agreed.
“I’ve been teaching a long time,” Bales said. “One thing I’ve discovered, working with lots of students, is that the ones who know the least amount of history are the ones who have the least individuality in their playing. They all sound just alike to me.”
“And then the ones who really spend time with all their mentors and idols, understanding the whys – not just imitating it, but really understanding – they’re the ones who eventually find their own voices.”
When it comes to playing in a jazz quartet, Vernick said two things are crucial: democracy, and your ability to adjust.
“Kevin and I talk about things all the time, and we don’t always agree on everything,” Vernick said. “But his feedback is great. And the feedback that we get is not necessarily in the form of words, it’s in playing.”
When the quartet starts a tune, that give-and-take relationship becomes apparent. Also jamming with the group was drummer Marlon Patton and bassist Delbert Felix. Vernick said great local musicians like Marlon, Delbert, and Kevin are indicative of Atlanta’s burgeoning jazz talent.
“There was a whole group of young musicians who are basically from Atlanta, but had gone to school in Athens. They needed a trumpet player, and that’s where I first met Marlon,” says Vernick. “He’s really one of the most talented – not only drummers, but I know he’s also a great recording engineer.”
“And I’ve known about Delbert for a really long time. He’s a masterful musician who has one of the most beautiful and identifiable sounds. His intonation is impeccable, he’s a great soloist, and he’s one of the best team players. So it’s just very logical that I would want to put a group like this together.”
The Gordon Vernick Quartet has released two records; “The Strangest Thing” was released in 2008 and “Destination” was released in 2012. They perform every Wednesday at the Red Light Café as part of their jazz jam series. More info can be found here.