J. J. Wright

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Biography

J. J. Wright's style cannot be easily categorized. Trained as a jazz improviser at the New School for Jazz in NYC, he's also passionate about sacred music. Palestrina and Bach vie with Monk and Cannonball Adderley as just a few of his harmonic and melodic inspirations.

While with the U.S. Naval Academy Band, Wright performed for the President—as well as several other high-profile diplomatic gigs—and with the Caribbean Jazz Project: Afro Bop Alliance, recording and performing with vibraphonist Dave Samuels, which was nominated for a GRAMMY and won a Latin GRAMMY.

He recently recorded his debut album of original compositions and covers from Jon Brion, Sufjan Stevens, and Phil Collins. He is joined by Nate Wood on drums and Ike Sturm on bass and will release the album in conjunction with a U. S. tour in August 2014.

J. J. is Director of Music at Sacred Heart Parish, the crypt church underneath the University of Notre Dame's Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and is the editor and creator of Sacred Music at Notre Dame's online journal: ND Music and the Sacred.

When he's not busy pursuing a DMA at Notre Dame's program in Sacred Music or or studying conducting with Carmen-Helena Tellez, he's a husband and father to three beautiful children.

"Inward Looking Outward" Release Info

The original idea and motivation for this record came in a sudden flash of inspiration. This flash was comprehensible to me both as an image in my mind and a set of ideas that explained the image.

The image itself was a traditional Christian cross, but in a way I had never seen with nine diagonal spokes evenly spaced above the cross's horizontal beam. In this image I understood that the central point of my reality, or my lived experience, would be directly in the center, where the horizontal and vertical beams met.

Some traditions would call this centeredness or Beginner's Mind, but to see this meeting place on the cross as the representation of the unity of body/soul or Christ's human and divine nature, where a life is truly lived both figuratively and literally in the center, are common themes in traditional Christian theology.

The image I saw expanded on this theme by exemplifying the journeying nature of my experience in trying to live out of this "center". When I try remain in the center, to varying degrees, I either veer more towards an over-spiritualization or an over-physicalization of my experience, thus leading me away from the center at a different angle relative to my particular preference at the time.

My view of this picture has changed over time: in my youthful overzealousness, when I first saw the image I thought the goal was only to work my way towards the vertical beam and thus towards Heaven and Christ. But through the experience of writing, recording, and releasing the music I have begun to see that what I am truly getting at is a desire to remain in the center - the most dangerous place, both looking entirely to heaven and to earth and hoping to live out of this place of contemplation and action.

I aimed to view this project in the most comprehensive and integrative way possible. This experience has afforded me the opportunity to pursue my dreams and to go through the process of making real what I could only once imagine. I aimed to let the discovery process or composing, arranging and practicing the music inform my experience and understanding of all the things in my life and vice versa - my marriage, my relationship with my children, my academic studies, my spirituality and emotional well-being, as well as my development as a musician. This is the underlying motivation behind the track order and song choices on the album.

I had originally intended to keep the "Journey Towards Christ" (JTC) set together and preserve the integrity of the order in which I composed these pieces. But through the process I realized that this particular ideal was not the only motivating factor or foundation for decision. There was something more important here: taking the listener on this journey through the rhetorical aesthetics of the music itself; drawing the listener into the way that each particular song feels and creating the emotional arc that would best exemplify the feeling that arises in me when I consider the ideas from above.

This is also why I chose to cover songs from Phil Collins, Jon Brion, and Sufjan Stevens - first and foremost, they are songs that I have a deep emotional bond with for different reasons, but also they act as signposts for the listener to remind them that we are here together on this earth and sharing in this common thing that we can both understand and contextualize.

The title "Inward Looking Outward" is a lingual attempt to capture the center and subsequent journeys away from the center that I referred to earlier, but also to exemplify the multi-layered process involved in creating this work. My primary aim is twofold:

  1. to use the musical material to communicate something deeper, surely something to explore - a more meaningful and loving relationship with ourselves, each other, and with God, and
  2. to create something truly beautiful and meaningful for myself and for our world.

The CD is set to be released on Ropeadope Records on Tuesday, August 19th and will be available on bandcamp, iTunes, and other major retailers.

Play List

1 JTC II Eclectic. Smorgasboard. Upbeat. Traveling. Bass & drums hold the line. Nice drum work in penultimate movement.
2 JTC I Piano first. Tentative beginnings. Invitatory? Where is that rhythm going? Full, lush sound for a while. Switches gears a couple of times. Sweetens toward the end. Then drums dominate. Surprise, short ending.
3 JTC V Sounds like it could be given lyrics. Hymnody. Gospel song feel. Prayer meeting. Preach it, brother! Turns thoughtful in the middle. Posing questions. Strong and confident. "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" kind of structure and feel? Coda: back to the original melody, I think.
4 Little Person

John Brion.

I'm just a little person
One person in a sea
Of many little people
Who are not aware of me

I do my little job
And live my little life
Eat my little meals
Miss my little kid and wife

And somewhere, maybe someday
Maybe somewhere far away
I'll find a second little person
Who will look at me and say

"I know you
You're the one I've waited for
Let's have some fun."

Life is precious every minute
And more precious with you in it
So let's have some fun

We'll take a road trip way out west
You're the one I like the best
I'm glad I've found you
Like hangin' 'round you
You're the one I like the best

Somewhere, maybe someday
Maybe somewhere far away
Somewhere, maybe someday
Maybe somewhere far away
Somewhere, maybe someday
Maybe somewhere far away
I'll meet a second little person
And we'll go out and play


Classic. Quiet. Sweet. Intense. Very musical--harmonious. Breaks up later into more "modern" atonality and tougher rhythm.

5 JTC IV Practically scat opening. Minimalist middle. Softens, sweetens, warms up at the end.
6 The Transfiguration

Sufjan Stevens

When he took the three disciples to the mountainside to pray
His countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame
Two men appeared, Moses and Elijah came
They were at his side
The prophecy, the legislation spoke
Of whenever he would die

Then there came a word of what he should accomplish on the day
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade
They fell on the ground
A voice arrived, the voice of God
The face of God covered in a cloud

What he said to them, the voice of God, the most beloved son
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come
The prophecy was put to death, was put to death
And so will the son
And keep your word, disguise the vision
Till the time has come

Lost in the cloud, a voice
Have no fear, we draw near
Lost in the cloud, a sign
Son of man, turn your ear

Lost in the cloud, a voice
Lamb of God, we draw near
Lost in the cloud, a sign
Son of man, son of God

Lost in the cloud, a voice
Have no fear, we draw near
Lost in the cloud, a sign
Son of man, turn your ear

Lost in the cloud, a voice
Lamb of God, we draw near
Lost in the cloud, a sign
Son of man, son of God

Lost in the cloud, a voice
Have no fear, we draw near
Lost in the cloud, a sign
Son of man, turn your ear

Lost in the cloud, a voice
Lamb of God, we draw near
Lost in the cloud, a sign
Son of man, son of God


Begins with mellow piano solo--low range. Classic undertones. Subtle bass entry--duet. Then cymbals in the distance. Taylor interlude. Back to full chords, harmony, melody, GLORY! Quiet period in the last three or four measures: da, da, da, dah!

7 Consolations Exploratory at first. Heavy and dark in the middle. Lightens up a bit--a few joyful cascades. Back to the darkness, somewhat relieved by a few rays of light. Tentative at the end. A few notes on the piano.
8 JTC III Another hymn/gospel opening. Meditative. Power underneath. Deep bass. Sweet all the way through--no changeups.
9 Take Me Home

Phil Collins

Take that look of worry
I'm an ordinary man
They don't tell me nothing
So I find out what I can
There's a fire that's been burning
Right outside my door
I can't see but I feel it
And it helps to keep me warm
So I, I don't mind
No I, I don't mind

Seems so long I've been waiting
Still don't know what for
There's no point escaping
I don't worry anymore
I can't come out to find you
I don't like to go outside
They can't turn off my feelings
Like they're turning off a light
But I, I don't mind
No I, I don't mind
Oh I, I don't mind
No I, I don't mind

So take, take me home
Cos I don't remember
Take, take me home
Cos I don't remember
Take, take me home
Cos I don't remember
Take, take me home, oh lord
Cos I've been a prisoner all my life
And I can say to you

Take that look of worry, mine's an ordinary life
Working when it's daylight
And sleeping when it's night
I've got no far horizons
I don't wish upon a star
They don't think that I listen
Oh but I know who they are
And I, I don't mind
No I, I don't mind
Oh I, I don't mind
No I, I don't mind

So take, take me home
Cos I don't remember
Take, take me home
Cos I don't remember
Take, take me home
Cos I don't remember
Take, take me home, oh lord
Well I've been a prisoner all my life
And I can say to you

But I don't remember
Take, take me home...


Driving beat from the beginning. But the melody floats gently over the top of it--smooth water over boulders down below. A taste of Taylor after the main course--just a reminder that Wright has choices. Mellow drum and base conclusion.

Thoughts

Definitely not obviously religious.

"JTC" is the most evident sign of devotion.

Marian McPartland, "Piano Jazz."
The essential elements of jazz: "good beat – good ideas – honesty and true feeling."

For an esoteric audience? Just for a few?

Jazz sort of irreligious or anti-religious?

Peter O'Brien, Mary Lou Williams, and Cecil Taylor.

Turn Around Norman--"We Turn Around"

Previous CD, 2011.

Wright cites minimalists Steve Reich and John Adams as big influences, and those sources of inspiration can be heard on tracks like “Transparency I & II” and “Awakening,” but Wright’s songs share some of the eccentric and circuitous harmonic progressions of his bandmates’ songs.

Links