Trumpeter Stephanie Richards Has Found a New Use for Drums

Stephanie Richards premieres works from her new album at Dateline Gallery on Thursday, May 17.
Stephanie Richards premieres works from her new album at Dateline Gallery on Thursday, May 17. Christopher Weiss
About a decade ago, trumpeter and composer Stephanie Richards became obsessed with water. She’d play the trumpet against the surface of water in various sizes of pots or pans, and she even did a show with percussionists and brass players in kiddie pools in a New York art gallery. At another point, she experimented with playing into tin foil.

Now she's obsessed with percussion instruments — not hitting them but using drum heads as resonators. She started experimenting with her husband's drum kit, putting her trumpet bell against the head of a snare, making what she calls a buggy electronic sound, almost as if she’s playing through effect pedals.

When Richards started work on her solo debut, Fullmoon, which is being released May 18 on Relative Pitch Records, she organized percussion instruments in a circle.

“I was really interested in this way of waxing and waning from an energetic standpoint, in terms of musical velocity, the way the moon does of waxing and waning,” Richards says. “The moon is reflecting light, and with this record, I’m reflecting sound against these resonators, against a tympani or a piano. These instruments that are being used as resonators, they’re reflecting their own sound and own timbre.”

Fullmoon has an electronic sound that comes, in part, from her collaborator, electronic pioneer Dino J.A. Deane, who’s recorded with Jon Hassell and performed in John Zorn’s Cobra group. During her decade living in New York, Richards met avant-garde heavyweights Henry Threadgill and Butch Morris, who mentored her and introduced her to Deane.

Stephanie Richards — Gong from Pomp&Clout on Vimeo.

Over the years, she has worked with Kanye West, David Byrne and St. Vincent. She says Fullmoon shows the experimental side of her playing. On both Fullmoon and in the live setting, Richards plays while Deane samples anything he’s interested in working with. The two will premiere works from the album at Dateline on Thursday, May 17.

“Sometimes he’ll put it though his own filter and kind of reorganize it or put it down an octave or two octaves or repeat it,” Richards says. “A lot of looping happens. Essentially, I’m playing solo trumpet with echoes of myself, and it’s Dino who’s curating what those echoes are going to be. It’s a really interesting way to improvise with another musician, because his lexicon, his language, is all based on whatever I’m playing. But he’s the one who’s taking that language and making his own and creating his own responses through the sounds that I already created. It’s so beautiful, actually. It’s a really fun way to improvise with somebody.”

But Richards, who played in the Smokey Hill High School wind ensemble and jazz band, she didn’t really start getting into improvisation until she was finishing her master’s degree. Up until then, she’d been studying classical and orchestral music, and that was the path she was considering. But then she had a moment where she looked at her CD collection, which was made up of jazz, punk, hip-hop, indie rock and folk albums and just a small contingent of classical recordings.

“And it’s not that I didn’t like or love classical music,” she says. “That wasn’t what I chose to listen to. I had to base this on, 'For me, I need to be creating the music that I love to listen to, stuff that gives me the inspiration and all that input. I want to start making my own output of that.’ So for me, it was sort of a reckoning with my record collection.”

Stephanie Richards & Dino J.A. Deane, 8 p.m. Thursday, May 17, Dateline, 303-505-2127, $15.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon