Saxophonist Teodross Avery recorded two majorlabel albums before graduating from the Berklee School of Music at the age of 22. His youthful output was hailed by reviewers as original, eclectic, and distinguished. Geoffrey Himes of the Washington Post wrote, “Unlike so many young Marsalis acolytes with an academic background… Avery isn’t tied to a conservative vision of jazz history… He joins James Carter and Joshua Redman as the most promising saxophonists of their generation.” Avery combines elements of funk, fusion, hip-hop, and free-jazz to define and explore his sound, and his aptly-titled second release, My Generation, reflected his borderless approach to jazz most favorably. Himes wrote, “This modern eclecticism wouldn’t matter a bit if Avery weren’t able to incorporate these ingredients into swinging, bluesy solos or if he weren’t able to project such a gutsy, distinctive voice on his tenor and soprano saxes.”
Avery’s early musical influences were the sounds of hiphop, rap, reggae, and funk music. Fly! magazine’s Damian Rafferty reported that Avery claimed he only wanted a degree in music from Berkeley to please his mother, yet he made the most of his time at Berklee’s College of Music. During an interview with Contemporary Musicians, he described his father as, “a closet musician”. Avery told Rafferty, “I was coming to Berkelee to learn some things I particularly wanted to learn, I just had to learn how to do them. Plus, I have an open mind about learning. I don’t have the conservatory mentality even though I did go to college.” Avery made a conscious decision upon entering school not to let teachers stifle his creativity, retaining his vision and focus while maintaining his desire to learn and grow as a musician.
After recording on Carl Allen’s The Pursuer while still in college, Avery was approached during his third year by the GRP record label. Avery told Rafferty, “At first I was very hesitant… I was thinking I’d really like to get some more experience playing with other jazz musicians—and get more status—but then I started looking around and seeing how many really good players I knew who weren’t getting any work…. I decided to go ahead and work hard and make the best record I could and continue to practice and write music…” Rafferty wrote that Avery “sees paths where others see walls” due to his wide range of early musical influences and, as a result of this broad range, his jazz compositions are mature and broad. Avery released his debut album, In Other Words, in October of 1994. He stayed closer to the mainstream in his first release than in his second, and he displayed exceptional skill in both composing and playing. Avery told Rafferty that he purposely didn’t want to be pegged as a particular type of jazz musician, since fans would expect him to remain in that niche and it would be difficult to branch out and experiment. He felt that if he began his career as a broad-based, musically unpredictable jazz musician, he could follow any musical path he chose in the future. He explained to Rafferty, “I don’t really like to put labels on the music I play because I don’t want to be prohibited. I just call it music.
After In Other Words was released, Rafferty wrote, “Here (is) someone who really does have the bite of Giant Steps Coltrane, the lyricism of Joe Henderson….” What set In Other Words apart from numerous other new jazz releases at the time was Teodross’ attitude. He told Rafferty that he didn’t wantto imitate the 1950s or 1960s for the duration of his career. He said, “There is a certain amount of history to learn but you have to move forward and try new things.” He acknowledged that musical experiments might hit or miss, but the important thing is to try. He added, “Not everybody likes to take chances, but I think I’m the kind of person that wants to put other styles of music into my music—but still have jazz roots at the same time.”
Avery’s debut release was comprised primarily of his own compositions. His sophomore album, My Generation, was released in February of 1996. He worked with a rhythm section whose chordal center shifted with
Born July 2, 1973 in Oakland, CA,; one of five children; Education: Berklee School of Music.
Combines elements of funk, fusion, hip-hop, and freejazz; recorded on Carl Allen’s The Pursuer while still in college; approached during his third year in college by the GRP record label; released debut album, In Other Words, October 1994; sophomore album, My Generation, released February of 1996.
Addresses: Record company —GRP Records Inc., 555 W. 57th Street, 10th floor, New York, NY 10019, (212)424-1007
almost every track and included pianist Charles Craig on three tracks, guest guitarist John Scofield on three tracks, Mark Whitfield on three tracks, and Peter Bernstein on one track. Since each musician contributed a different, unique feel, the resulting album was lively and unpredictable. Bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Greg Hutchinson also contributed to My Generation. The single “Addis Ababa” celebrated the Ethiopian part of Avery’s lineage; Willard Jenkins of Jazztimes wrote, “He exhibits a ripening tenor tone and, though no stranger to prodigious velocity, Avery concentrates more energy on trying to get inside the muse rather than overrunning it.” Jenkins continued, “‘Lover Man’ is Whitfield’s entry point, Avery playing off his lovely textures in a duet intro. It is with this reading that one is deeply impressed by Avery’s onrushing maturation.” The album also features a playful attempt at hip-hop with a rap by Black Thought of Roots and a hip-hop rhythm modified for an elastic, syncopated feel—but the inclusion is merely a lighthearted nod to hip-hop rather than a serious endeavor. Avery also included a musical tribute to his father with “Mode For My Father” and a tribute to his mother with “Salome.” Jenkins wrote, “Donald Brown’s ‘Theme for Malcolm,’ with its gentle taste of reggae, is a distinctive line and Sco’s wicked solo is yet another in his long line of deeply grooved, up-from-the-swamp exaltations…. On the whole, this is a fine sophomore effort.”
Avery displays musical sophistication that portends a successful, innovative future. He creates delightful jazz tension by sometimes playing against the beat and the melody rather than within them, and he approaches romantic instrumental ballads in a style reminiscent of Miles Davis. Himes wrote, “Avery transforms Janet Jackson’s ‘Anytime, Anyplace’… the same way that Miles Davis once handled Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Funny Valentine’.” Avery also presents fusion numbers that generate musical invention a round afunk groove, demonstrates an ability to create a unique, expressive sax solo within a mainstream context, and skillfully uses dissonance and Eastern music drones in the style of Pharoah Sanders. Himes summed Avery up when he wrote, “In any setting, Avery displays a remarkable discipline for one so young, preferring to play the few notes that matter rather than show off his speed.”
In Other Words, GRP Records, 1994.
My Generation, Impulse, 1996.
Fly!, September 23, 1995.
Jazztimes, March 1996.
Washington Post, March 15, 1996.
Additional source material was obtained through a phone interview with Avery on 8/2/98.
—B. Kimberly Taylor
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