Thursday, February 21

UNO Jazz Musician Gregory Agid Releases Recording of Mystery Blues

Gregory AgidGreg Agid, a jazz saxophonist and clarinet player, is in his second semester of graduate study in UNO's jazz studies program. Photo by Katharina Paisant.

Visitors to New Orleans' famed Frenchmen Street may some spring evening stop in to Snug Harbor jazz bistro in the Marigny for a listen to the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, a classically trained group of local jazz musicians led by American jazz trombonist and record producer Delfeayo Marsalis. Seated at cocktail tables in a cozy music hall so small it could be a rich man's living room, guests time-travel to the 1920s, or the Jazz Age, as they listen to performances that pay homage to old-school jazz greats from Count Basie to Louis Armstrong. They watch, mesmerized, as the elegantly dressed musicians riff on jazz traditions with spontaneous modern arrangements.

"I'm the tall, skinny white guy in the corner," said Gregory Agid, a jazz saxophonist and clarinet player who regularly rocks the tail end of concerts with a quick rendition of the theme from the 1970s television series Hawaii Five-O.

Agid, who is pursuing a Master of Music degree at the University of New Orleans, masters his craft through private lessons and formal jazz studies in the University's graduate program, while advancing his performance skills the old-fashioned way, playing Frenchmen Street, festivals and other jazz venues with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra and leading his own jazz band, The Gregory Agid Quartet.

This week, Agid takes his music to a new level with the release of Mystery Blues, a CD produced and recorded by The Gregory Agid Quartet with the help of Delfeayo Marsalis, a world-renowned jazz trombonist and Grammy Award winner who has produced more than 100 recordings and in 2011 was named a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master.

Agid, who was recently nominated as New Orleans' "Best Clarinetist" by Offbeat Magazine, is believed to be securing a permanent spot in the New Orlean's musical tradition with the release of his debut recording.

Rooted in the past, looking toward the future

Mystery Blues is dedicated to the musical masters that inspire the quartet to contribute the jazz tradition, Agid said. The recording also pays homage to his first teacher, Alvin Batiste, iconic educator of jazz musicians.

"He taught Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison, Terrance Blanchard, Kidd Jordan, Jonathan Batiste....literally like 300 people," said Agid, who studied under Batiste during his high school years at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).

Through Mystery Blues, the New Orleans native provides a tribute to Batiste, "an incredible clarinet player. He taught for 40 years and I was his only clarinet student. I met him toward the end of his life, which was a blessing for me," Agid said.

Batiste "had a saying: 'The history is in the mystery.' He would say: 'The history is someone else's story...as musicians we spend a lot of our lives learning the history...and then the mystery is my story'," Agid said. Mystery Blues tells the tale of his own jazz quartet's musical journey and serves as a launching point to the mystery of the experiences that lie ahead.

The CD includes original compositions, jazz standards and a tribute to Batiste, a song called "Spy Boy," which Batiste taught Agid by ear.

As a teenager, Agid spent a year learning to play the song, working with Batiste three times a week for at least an hour and cringing on occasion when the jazz great would ask him to attempt the composition again, Agid said. He spent one year of intensive study learning the composition under Batiste and five additional years mastering it. The composition holds personal meaning and is an original that Batiste may never have recorded.

Classical training, modern jazz masters

Agid studied classical clarinet at Loyola University of New Orleans, then upon college graduation worked for several years as a middle school band director at KIPPS Central City, a New Orleans charter school, he said.

Teaching and playing Frenchmen Street and other venues at night was not an ideal combination and following "a soul-searching moment," he left his job as a teacher with aims of becoming a full-time professional jazz musician.

For three years, the jazz clarinet player and saxophonist has performed with Delfeayo Marsalis in the Uptown Jazz Orchestra. For two years he has led The Gregory Ajid Quartet, which has performed Tuesday nights over the last year at La Maison on Frenchmen Street.

In 2012, The Gregory Ajid Quartet headlined at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where Agid had his "Oh, my God, I need to do a CD" moment. Recording took place in August under the leadership of Delfeayo Marsalis.

"He graced us with his expertise and presence and vibe and sarcasm and everything like that. He put the sound and studio together. He did everything," said Agid, who said he admires Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra because its musicians approach jazz performance "from the most serious level possible. At the same time the music is the utmost respect and attention to detail. That's really what makes them the best," he said.

"....I wanted to bring an Uptown Jazz Orchestra kind of vibe. I wanted to play complicated studied music and also bring people in....We put a little bit of something on there for everyone. I wanted to include people in the music listening experience, rather than excluding them." 

Learning from the Greats at UNO

Now in his second semester of graduate study in UNO's jazz studies program founded by famed jazz musician and UNO Professor Emeritus Ellis Marsalis, Agid takes private jazz saxophone lessons with professor Ed "Sweetbread" Petersen, a multiple Grammy nominee and associate chair of the UNO jazz studies program.

He also studies jazz composition with renowned jazz guitarist, UNO professor and Coca-Cola Endowed Chair of Jazz Studies Steve Masakowski and jazz improvisation with UNO Assistant Professor and Alvin "Red" Tyler Professor of Jazz Studies Brian Seeger.

"UNO is an incredible, incredible place. I could rave about it all day. These guys are gurus of music," said Agid. "They teach you about music. They teach you about life. They are just inspirational to be around, every day. Here at UNO, they help you develop as an artist, find own personal relationship with music and help you find what it is that you want to do [as a musician].

"I think it all comes from the fact that as individuals these guys are the best musicians in the city. They're very invested in helping you find your own voice in music. It's not just a very textbook 'Here, learn this,' kind of place," he said. "It's very geared toward finding yourself. [Faculty in the jazz studies graduate program at UNO] are mentors, not teachers."

The Gregory Agid Quartet includes Agid, who plays clarinet in Mystery Blues; UNO alumnus and guitarist Joshua Starkman, Max Moran on bass and Darrian Douglas on drums.

To celebrate, The Gregory Agid Quartet will host a series of events, releasing Mystery Blues with 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. sets on Thursday, Feb. 28 at the Little Gem Saloon, 445 S. Rampart St., New Orleans. The band will then travel to Jackson, Mississippi to perform March 1 at the Yellow Scarf Jazz club and return to New Orleans on Tuesday, March 5 for the quartet's weekly gig at La Maison, 505 Frenchmen St., New Orleans. On Wednesday, March 6, the band will lead a master class at Agid's high school alma mater, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).

"The release is very important to us but it's just one step in the overall picture. This is just the beginning," Agid said. "I want to bring people to music and put smiles on people's faces."

Learn more about Gregory Agid and The Gregory Agid Quartet >>
Learn more about the University of New Orleans esteemed jazz studies program >>
Learn more about Delfeayo Marsalis and The Uptown Jazz Orchestra >>