Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2012: Ramsey Lewis (Festival Edition)

Jeff Presslaff

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No doubt you’ve seen Jeff Presslaff—identifiable by his signature ponytail and beret—sitting at a piano or playing the trombone on various Winnipeg stages. Presslaff came here in 1997 from New York City, and has established himself as a busy player and teacher, and an accomplished writer and arranger. On May 4, his band will close out Jazz Winnipeg’s NuSounds season with “The Complete Rebirth of the Cool.”

Miles Davis is obviously a powerful model for you. What draws you to his work? 

Miles is sui generis—as a player, a composer and perhaps most significantly, as an appraiser of talent and creator of incomparable ensembles. He has been my model for all of these things since I first became devoted to jazz. His ability to get his players to perform at their highest level, to explore their own inclinations and listen deeply to each other has inspired everything that I do as a musician. There are other musicians who mean as much to me, but nearly all of them played in his bands!

Tell us about “The Complete Rebirth of the Cool.”

In 1948, Miles Davis put together a nine-piece band with an unusual instrumentation: trumpet, trombone, alto sax, bari sax, French horn, tuba, piano, bass, drums. It included several soon-to-be legendary players, like Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan and JJ Johnson, and performed early work by two highly influential composer/arrangers, Mulligan and Gil Evans.

The band played only a few engagements and two record dates. In 1957, Capitol Records finally released the recordings as the Complete Birth of the Cool—one of the “essential” albums for anyone with a serious interest in jazz.

The critical conditions for that project were the interaction of a group of creative composers with a group of inspired players, plus the unusual instrumentation. I wanted to recreate those conditions for “The Complete Rebirth of the Cool.”

To that end, I chose seven other composers I appreciate: Dean McNeill (jazz professor at University of SK), Ken Gold, Will Bonness, Jonathan Stevens, Danielle Baert, Chuck McClelland and Keith Price. With my contribution, we’ll have twelve new pieces, most of which could not have been written in 1948, but all of which embody the spirit of that experiment.

Joining me on the bandstand: Dean McNeill, Greg Gatien, Ken Gold, Irene Sas, Steve Oberheu, Will Bonness, Gilles Fournier, and Eric Platz. We are already booked in three other cities, and my goal is to get into the studio as soon as is practical—maybe make a bit of history of our own.

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