By Thomas Bergeron, April 2016 – «When I was in college, a friend of mine played me a recording of Shane Endsley‘s composition Snake Pit from his debut album 2nd Guess. It was one of those addictive head-boppers for me, and at that time it was probably the coolest thing I had ever heard a trumpet player do. It wasn’t just the virtuosic trumpet playing that struck me. The structure of the compositions on that album were like nothing I had heard before. Like many of us trumpeters, Shane’s artistry became the doorway through which I was led to the mind-blowing world of Kneebody.»
«Shane is exactly the sort of trumpet artist the FONT Music community loves the most. Though we are accustomed to seeing him with a trumpet in his hands, he is much more than a fantastic trumpet player. He is a respected improviser, composer, drummer, and educator. Whether we know him from his work with Kneebody, Ani DiFranco, Steve Coleman, Ralph Alessi, Tim Berne, or one of his own projects, Shane Endsley has earned his reputation as one of the most respected creative trumpet artists on the planet. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to speak with Shane. We chatted about his early musical life and influences, as well as his new life in Denver, where he has just begun teaching at Metropolitan State University.»
Nerd Mountain – Kneebody, featuring Shane
TB: Hey Shane! Thanks for taking the time to talk. Sounds like you’re keeping busy down in Denver these days. What are you up to lately?
SE: My pleasure. Yeah there’s a lot happening. It’s cool. I just started rehearsals for an interesting show out here in Denver. It’s a production of Sweeney Todd adapted by the band Devochka. They’re a really popular indie band based out of Denver and I’m now becoming friends with them. They did most of the music for the movie “Little Miss Sunshine” and got a Grammy nomination for that. They’re all great musicians. They’ve done concerts with symphonies and I did some of the arranging and orchestrating for them. It’s been interesting to see them interpret this Broadway show. They asked me to play French Horn on a few things and I was like, ‘I can if you have low expectations’.
How are things going in general down there? Have you had a chance to tap into the creative scene since you moved out there?
So far I’m really happy, man. I’m trying to take my time with things like putting bands together. There are a few great players out here that I already knew about, and a bunch of newer players that I’m now discovering. The singer-songwriter circle is good here, and the indie rock scene is very healthy. Through DeVochKa, I’ve been inching into that a little bit, which is nice. I also think I’m going to start bringing in people from New York for more ‘special occasion’ gigs in Denver. But I’m trying to pace myself and not necessarily gig every night so that I can keep time open to work on my own stuff. I just started teaching at MSU (Metropolitan State University) where Ron Miles heads the program. Don Byron just joined the faculty too, which is exciting. Between MSU, Kneebody, and my family, I’ve been keeping pretty busy. I’ve also been doing a lot more drumming, which has been great.
Yeah, drumming has always been an important part of your identity. How have you managed to keep up with drumming as well as trumpet playing and composing? Did you start playing drums at the same time as trumpet, or did one lead to the other?
Trumpet came first. I was studying trumpet with my dad from a really young age and had formal training all the way through high school. With drums, we just ended up with a set in the basement when I was about 13. I was really into the early hip hop that was on the radio like Tone Lōc, Public Enemy, and NWA. I started learning how to play all those beats on the drums and I was like ‘I like this’. For a while I was mostly just doing my own thing in the basement, playing alone for hours every day. In high school I started doing gigs around here (Denver), taking lessons here and there, and now I consider myself a pretty good jazz drummer. I had a band with Ralph Alessi and Tim Berne for a while, and played drums on a bunch of Ralph’s records. Once my kids were born, it was harder to keep up with that. There were a couple years where I didn’t play much, but now that I’m getting settled in Denver, I’ve been playing a lot more drums, and even teaching drums a bit at the university. It feels really good to have that back in the mix. I really love it, and am just now realizing how much I was missing it.
Peace – Shane on drums with Ralph Alessi
It’s hard for me to imagine having kids and a career at the same time. I’ll be there soon enough, but it’s a scary thought.
Somehow it works. You’ll stay up late and wake up early.
Ralph Alessi is another favorite of the FONT Music scene. It makes sense to me that you guys have a history together. I can hear it in your playing and in your sense of creativity.
I love Ralph. He is one of my most important influences and teachers, and one of the people who has helped me the most professionally over the years too.
Can you give us a quick overview of how you got started as a composer?
When I was about 14 I got interested in writing on my own (around the same time as the basement drumming). I started out with beats and songs, as well as little brass quintets and trumpet duets, and continued doing a fair amount of writing projects in high school. In college I continued writing brass quintets, but that’s when I started writing more lead-sheet-type music, you know, designed to involve a lot of improvisation. Now that I’m working at MSU, I’m thinking of writing for a larger group … maybe eight or ten people, if I can find the time to do that.
Do a lot of people contact you about playing your tunes?
Well, through Kneebody for sure. A lot of people will write and ask for my Kneebody charts, and students will send us videos of them playing Kneebody songs that they learned.
I was just thinking about how it seems like, especially in the jazz world, the culture of playing someone else’s composition is less common these days. Do you have any thoughts about that?
It is an interesting thing that I’ve thought about. It seems like it used to be more common for people to perform and record the music of their peers. For example, a lot of those Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson records would have Kenny Dorham songs on them, and Lee Morgan would record tunes by Wayne Shorter. It’s not as common these days for some reason. It could be because a lot of the music that people write involves more intricate, longer forms, and is not as easily digested after playing it just a few times.
Are there any albums that you remember hearing for the first time that had a particular impact on you?
When I was a freshman in High School, my cousin lent me the Coltrane record “Blue Train”. Lee Morgan is in peak form on that, and I had never heard anything quite like it. I was like, ‘I love this. I’m going to listen to this dude.’ So then I got the Blakey record “Moanin’”, which is such a soulful record. So then I was like ‘I’m going to learn this. I’m going to do this’. Lee’s always puts a lot of air through the horn. Trying to capture that sound really pushed me on the horn. Lee is still one of my favorites.
Are there any live shows that were particularly impactful on your development as a musician?
My dad took me to the symphony and the theater quite a bit when I was young. When I was in middle school, my dad was one of the coordinators at what’s now called the Rafael Mendez Institute, (which used to be called Summit Brass). The trumpet section was Allan Dean, Dave Hickman, Ray Mase, and Tony Plog. The low brass included Joe Alessi and Gene Pokorny. It was all the best orchestral and solo brass players. They sounded incredible together, and always played really cool repertoire like Copland and modern stuff that was written for them. Just hearing the instruments played like that really made a deep impression on me. Then I remember Terrence Blanchard’s band came to a jazz club in Denver around that same time. I had never heard a jazz group live before, and I remember thinking, ‘this is different from anything I’ve ever heard before.’ I remember him asking the audience ‘’What do you guys want us to do?’. Someone called out ‘Miles Davis’, and he went right into a super fast version of Four. I was blown away by the Clifford-Brown-level-of-ease with which he got around the horn.
Do you know what you’ll be bringing to FONT this coming Fall?
I’m not sure yet. I want to write some new music for that concert (it is the Festival of New Trumpet Music, after all), maybe in a different formation from what I’ve used before. I’ve been playing a lot of songwriter stuff like Neil Young and Nick Drake. I’ll probably throw in a couple of those too.
For more information on Shane & Kneebody, visit: http://www.kneebody.com
Be sure to catch Shane Endsley as he will be in the lineup for the Festival of New Trumpet Music 2016 in NYC, Sept. 19-25. Stay tuned for a full listing of the festival!
About The Interviewer – FONT Music Alumni, Thomas Bergeron
A trumpeter, composer, bandleader, producer, and educator known for excelling in both the jazz and classical realms, Thomas Bergeron exemplifies a new breed of 21st century artists. Thomas’ jazz chamber ensemble has released two critically-acclaimed albums inspired by the work of Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen. In addition to composing and performing with his own ensemble, Thomas is the newest member of the Atlantic Brass Quintet, Principal Trumpet with the Springfield Symphony, and performs as a sideman with many jazz groups in NYC.
More at: www.ThomasBergeronMusic.com