Jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire on the value of storytelling, even in instrumental music
Although Ambrose Akinmusire's latest Blue Note effort, the imagined savior is far easier to paint, is primarily an instrumental release (save for a few songs with guest vocalists), the forward-thinking jazz trumpeter sometimes writes backstories for his compositions. It was something that was partly inspired by Syd Field's book, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. Akinmusire (who's due at Dazzle on Saturday, June 21 and Sunday, June 22) says he's not completely sure if the book, was his main reason for writing the backstories, but after reading it he thought he should do it for every composition.
"He had a very clear formula that he taught all his students," he says of Field. "It was really interesting because after I learned what that formula was, I started to see it in every movie. He kind of invented this formula. Basically, you tell people what the story is in the first ten or fifteen minutes or less and then after that the conflict comes and there's a resolution and then there's foreshadowing in between. It's really interesting. Around that time I started doing that. I don't know if that was the initial inspiration behind it, but I do remember checking that book out and it being huge."
Akinmusire says his previous release, 2011's When The Heart Emerges Glistening, was about presenting his ego, "like putting my ego on a mantle and presenting all its ugly parts and its beautiful parts - all the ugly parts and beautiful parts of myself. That's what that album about - me talking about the things that keep me up at night or things that make me smile."
But with the imagined savior is far easier to paint, on the other hand, he says he wanted the album to not be about him and didn't want the songs to be about what he went through. So a majority of the songs on the exceptional disc are about fictional characters he came up while a few of the cuts are based on real people like "Asiam (Joan)," inspired by Joni Mitchell, or "Ceaseless Inexhaustible Child (Cyntoia Brown)" based on the teenage killer who was sentenced life in prison.
Akinmusire says coming up with the fictional characters on the imagined savior is far easier to paint as well as writing and playing from a different perspective brought him to a place where he was able to deal with the ego a little bit more.
"Sometimes that's what it's all about when you're creating - how are you addressing the ego," he says. "Maybe sometimes it's your ego, maybe sometimes it's other people's egos. Maybe it's the band members' ego. That's kind of what I was going for with this album."
While When The Heart Emerges Glistening was a stellar quintet release, Akinmusire was clearly more ambitious in scope with the imagined savior is far easier to paint, partly due to the augmentation of his quintet (saxophonist Walter Smith III, pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown) with guitarist Charles Altura, OSSO String Quartet as well as vocalists Becca Stevens, Theo Bleckman and Cold Specks.
Over the four years that have passed since recording When The Heart Emerges Glistening, the 32-year-old trumpeter says he has a clearer view of how to express himself now.
"It's almost like you have to keep a part of yourself inside you. It's almost like you give away a plant, but you keep the seed so another plant can grow," he says. "I've learned how to do that type of thing in the last four years. I've also learned that every album is not your final album. It's just where are at that moment -- just by your life. I'm very comfortable with that. I've always known those things, but in those four years I've grown comfortable with it."
Looking forward, Akinmusire says he's thinking about writing for and performing with different ensembles, like duo, quartet and strings settings.
"Ideally, what I would like to do is I'd like to release four or five albums within the next two years of all different ensembles that are completely different, just so I don't have to wear the same mask for three years."
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.