New York Standards Quartet (NYSQ)

Profile

The New York Standards Quartet (NYSQ) is made up of pianist David Berkman, drummer Gene Jackson, saxophonist Tim Armacost, and double bassist Daiki Yasukagawa. As a band the New York-based unit have developed a near telepathic relationship playing together in a variety of settings since their formation in 2006. Conceptually, the NYSQ strives to develop its own language within the tradition of performing standard jazz repertoire.

The Guardian, in a glowing, four-star review of the band’s recent tour across the UK, asserts the NYSQ is “a group devoted to radical reinvention of famous pop songs and Broadway show tunes. Plenty of contemporary jazz artists do that, but few more divertingly than this vivacious foursome, who delightedly cherish the originals while brusquely deconstructing their harmonies and tweaking their melodies, sometimes only slipping in the original theme on the way out of the piece. This is a collective class act.”

After creating a lifetime of original music (each of the members are notable composers & bandleaders) the NYSQ felt it would liberating to perform music based on simpler, standard jazz repertoire, and in particular the songs that they had learned while growing up learning jazz. By playing tunes such as “Confirmation” or “All the Things You Are,” they put the focus on the playing of the tune and what they do with it, not so much on the tune itself. The songs are therefore blank slates to write on, with a lot of freedom and room for interpretation. They have also expanded their approach to include arrangements and reinventions of these songs, as well as original compositions that have a close connection to forms and harmonies derived from standards. The bond the group shares is further strengthened by a common love for Japanese culture, food, and language.

The NYSQ has been touring and developing together for eight years, and it shows in the music. Audience response has been phenomenal and the band has maintained a hectic touring schedule at festivals and venues around the world. Recent highlights include performances in New York City (Smalls Jazz Club, Kitano Hotel), Japan (eight annual tours with concerts and club appearances at the Karuizawa jazz festival, Shizuoka’s Lifetime Jazz Club, Tokyo’s Body and Soul, A live NHK radio broadcast and many other major jazz performance venues in Japan), tours around the United States, Great Britain and Europe. The band has also recorded three albums: Live in Tokyo (2008), UnStandard (2011) and Live at Lifetime (2013), on the Challenge Records (Netherlands) and D-Musica (Japan) labels. The NYSQ will release their fourth album The New Straight Ahead on Whirlwind Recordings in July, 2014.

Meet the members of the NYSQ:

Tim Armacost (saxes and flute): Performances with Kenny Barron, Ray Drummond, Al Foster, Billy Hart, Jimmy Cobb and many others. He has eight critically acclaimed recordings as a leader and recently was commissioned by Wynton Marsalis to write a piece for the Lincoln Center Orchestra.

David Berkman (piano): Performances with Brian Blade, Sonny Stitt, Tom Harrell, the Vanguard Orchestra, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas and countless others. He is an award winning (Chamber Music America: New Works Grant) composer/pianist whose seven records as a leader have appeared on numerous “Best of the Year” lists. He is the author of three books on Jazz on Sher Music Publishing including “The Jazz Harmony Book” (2014) and is and Associate Professor at Queens College in New York.

Daiki Yasukagawa (double bass). Performances with Eddie Henderson and Marlena Shaw, as well as being an omnipresent figure on Japanese jazz recordings. Also is noted for releasing a significant solo bass record titled Voyage. A consistent poll winner in Japan.

Gene Jackson (drums). Spent nine years as a member of Herbie Hancock’s trio and since then has worked with nearly every major jazz figure of the last 25 years including Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Ron Carter, The Mingus Big Band and Branford Marsalis, to name a few.