Pianist Larry Fuller on the Art of Leading a Jazz Trio

Marzena Szymanska
The Larry Fuller Trio plays two sets at Dazzle on Thursday, November 15.
Legendary jazz bassist Ray Brown once told pianist Larry Fuller that he liked performances to be polished — not raggedy jamming.

“Even if he was playing a very common old standard, he would put his signature on it,” says Fuller, who spent two years as part of the bassist’s trio before Brown passed away in 2002. “He would do something like write an intro for it or something to really make it a great presentation of music. I try to follow in that vein.”

Based in New York, Fuller spent the better part of 25 years as musical director and pianist for jazz and blues singer Ernestine Anderson, as a pianist in Brown’s and Jeff Hamilton’s trios, and as a touring member of jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli’s band. Then Fuller set out in 2013 to lead a trio of his own.

“It’s altogether different when you’re leading a group and you have complete freedom to shape the music the way that you want to,” Fuller says. “Just presenting my own group in front of an audience has really grown in the past number of years that I’ve been really actively pursuing being a leader.”

Fuller says he learned from both Brown and Hamilton, a longtime drummer in Brown’s trio, about how to run a band.

“They’re both great bandleaders,” Fuller says. “[Hamilton's] concept is similar to presenting music the way Ray Brown did, which was really always that the music always had some entertainment value. A lot of jazz out there in the landscape of the music scene is brilliant music, but sometimes I don’t think that it really relates to an audience on any kind of emotional level.”

With his own trio, which stops at Dazzle on Thursday, November 15, the elegant and swinging pianist takes a few cues from Brown in presenting music that’s highly polished and arranged. Even so, Fuller says the improvisational sections are also essential and allow the music to open up and be spontaneous. For the Dazzle gig, Fuller says he’ll play some of Brown’s arrangements or compositions.

“I like to tip my hat off to Ray, because he was such a big influence on me,” Fuller says. “Sometimes we play a few of those things. A lot of people are fans of his trios and love to hear that music, too.”

In addition, Fuller, along with bassist George DeLancey and drummer Jason Tiemann, will play music from two of his albums — 1998’s Easy Walker, which features Brown and Hamilton, as well as his excellent 2014 self-titled album that was released on local jazz imprint Capri Records. And he might delve into some music from his new Capri album, which he just finished recording with bassist Hassan Shakur and drummer Lewis Nash.

Larry Fuller Trio, 6:30 and 9 p.m. Thursday, November 15, Dazzle, 303-839-5100, $10-$25.