For the past three years, the Taos Jazz Bebop Society has worked hard to present world-class jazz events in Taos.
They held the first Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival in 2015 and have made it an annual tradition alongside additional concerts throughout the year. In celebration of their third-year anniversary, the Society is hosting a free concert with an exciting five-piece band of accomplished young jazz players from New Orleans: The Willie Green Project.
Catch the Willie Green Project tonight (Feb. 15) at the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west. Music starts at 7:30 p.m.
The Willie Green Project is bandleader Willie Green (drums), Taylor Mroski (bass), Michael Gourdin (vibraphone), Trevarri Huff-Boone (saxophone) and Stephen Tumblin (percussion).
Willie Green first played drums in the church where his father was pastor. Gospel music formed his appreciation of music as a spiritual expression. Green has played in his father’s church for the past 20 years.
“I think the main message that my dad used to give to us was the importance of spirituality,” he said. “When we were in church it seemed like what we were trying to achieve all the time was this connection to God and this well-being.”
Later, when Green heard John Coltrane’s music, he was deeply moved by the spirituality he heard in Coltrane’s approach.
“I never forget when I first listened to John Coltrane,” Green said. “It was actually in a church. I was listening to ‘My Favorite Things.’ The same thing that I was feeling in church I could identify in his music as well. I try to mimic that style, to play my own music with the same intention and intensity.”
Green said he is conscious about bringing a spiritual mindset to the music he plays. “Sometimes I have an intent to play for God. I try to get into the meditation … I watch the way I breathe onstage, try to get into that right frame of mind.”
Green graduated from Loyola University in 2015 and has played with New Orleans’ musicians such as Ellis Marsalis, Roderick Paulin, Gregory Agid and Betty Shirley as well as playing major festivals such as the Manchester (England) Jazz Festival, the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Fest, the French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans’ Jazz Fest.
Green said saxophonist Huff-Boone “brings a lot of energy to the bandstand.” Green said, “He’s very young, but he has a very energetic and real happy sound.”
Huff-Boone also plays in the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra led by jazz drummer Adonis Rose and is the bandleader of his own New Orleans group called Trevarri.
Percussionist Tumblin is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in jazz performance. He has performed with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Tumblin “brings a deeper groove to the music,” said Green, while classically trained Gourdin “brings the harmony, the unique color and palette of harmonies.” Green said Mroski, who was raised on the blues, “holds down the groove, but also controls where the music goes” with his acoustic bass.
As for his own drumming, Green says it is rooted in the sounds of New Orleans.
“The same rhythms that you hear in the church you hear on the street of New Orleans,” Green said. “They all come from the same place, Africa. And they all achieve the same intent which is the groove. [For] New Orleans drummers the first thing you’re supposed to do is to make people dance, and I see that’s the same vibe in church as well. You try to get people to get up and worship. I try to incorporate that into my playing. All New Orleans drummers are very vulnerable in the way they play. They play very honestly. I try to incorporate that into the way I play as well — trying to have a good time and groove but also be very honest with my playing.”
The Willie Green Project’s debut album “Love Will Find a Way” hit the streets in December 2017. For 2018, Green intends to record a new album. He is planning a European tour and might start an opera, a project he anticipates will take years to complete.
Green counts two musical experiences as his most exciting ones so far. One happened last February when Green went on the road with Delfayo Marsalis, playing as the drummer in the 18-piece “Uptown Jazz Orchestra” for a performance at the Lincoln Center.
The second experience was an overseas trip to Wales to play with a band called The Sessions.
“That was my first time out of the country,” Green said. “I met so many nice people. We did a lot of couch surfing, and couch surfing introduced me to people I’m still friends with to this day. I call them up and we talk for hours and enjoy each other.
“Those two experiences really changed my life and encouraged me to go on tour and reach for the highest, to try to play the best venues I can and connect with people as much as possible,” Green said.
This will be The Willie Green Project’s first time to New Mexico. While they are here, they will perform in Silver City and Santa Fe. For a show schedule and more information about the band visit wgpnola.com.
“Thank you to the Taos Jazz Bebop Society and to the people of Taos,” said Green. “I look forward to playing for you.”
For more information, visit taosjazz.org.