Interview | Andrew D'Angelo

Ars Nova Workshop begins a New Year of music this Friday night with a concert by AGOGIC, who will be kicking off a three-date tour in Philadelphia before heading to New York and Chicago.  This new project led by long-time collaborators Andrew D’Angelo and Cuong Vu features two emerging musicians from Seattle’s thriving jazz scene, drummer Evan Woodle and bassist Luke Bergman.  ANW caught up with D’Angelo to talk about this new ensemble, Seattle’s evolving jazz scene, and his upcoming book on surpassing brain cancer.

AGOGIC means to extend the duration of a note. Why was this name chosen for the group?

Well, to be honest when the guys asked me to name the band that word just popped into my head.  I did not know at the time what the definition was exactly, or at all.  Once I visualized the word it seemed to fit our situation. It has to do with extending the duration of a note, yes, but it also has to do with accenting that note while the extension is taking place.  All words have a certain sound or frequency and I felt the word AGOGIC had the right frequency to match the band.  Since Cuong and I have known each other for so long, this band is a way of extending that musical relationship and accenting what we have already done up to this point. 

While you moved to New York in 1986, you grew up in Seattle, where the other ensemble members are based.  How has Seattle’s jazz community changed since then?

It has changed immensely!  With the relocation of Wayne Horvitz and Bill Frisell some years ago, the scene now has icons to support development.  Also, when Cuong Vu moved there to teach at the University of Washington several years ago he inspired a huge expansion in the Seattle jazz/improvised scene.  When I left in 1986 there was not much going on jazz wise.  Back then, New York was the place where everyone went for artistic discovery and challenge.  However, the new inspiration Cuong and his students have brought to the improvised music scene in Seattle has created a revitalization.  Let's put it this way: between the years 1986 and 2007, I played maybe 5 gigs in Seattle, but since 2007 to the present I have done about 10.  That is telling.  There is more of a desire in Seattle to hear the music we make and this is in part because younger people are coming up who want to create a new revolution for artistic expression.  Never mind the strides both Roosevelt and Garfield have made keeping up the tradition. 

Cuong Vu and Luke Bergman are both on the faculty at University of Washington’s School of Music, where Evan Woodle is a student.  Is there a strong musical dialogue between the academy and clubs?

Actually, there is a very strong tie between the students and venues in Seattle.  As an example the "Racer Sessions" are promoted and curated by the students themselves (Luke Bergman and Evan Woodle host these events), Racer being a club which all ages can go to.  These sessions, which happen every Sunday night, have become bench markers for progression.   I have been asked twice to curate Racer Sessions and it has always been a huge success, not just because of my input but also because so many students come to support and discover music.  I hesitate to say there is nothing like this going on in New York.  At least not in the case of experimentation in a supportive environment.  The Racer Sessions are wholesome in a way that helps a person feel comfortable about what they are trying to reach for.  The support the students and musicians give each other is nothing short of impressive.

Can we expect any recordings from AGOGIC in the near future?

Yes. In November after playing the Earshot Jazz Festival we spent several days in the studio making our first recording.  We have finished mixing and will have the music available for sale in March 2011.  This recording will be released by Table and Chairs which is an upstart label attached to Racer.  The club is supporting the label, Luke Bergman is on the board of Table and Chairs, and is going to sell the music at their location.  We are very excited about the association with Racer and the Seattle scene. 

On your blog you mention you’re writing a book about surviving brain cancer.  What do you hope to share about your experience?

For those who don't know, I went through two brain surgeries during 2007 to remove a cancerous brain tumor.  These surgeries eventually required the removal of my right frontal lobe.  I like to say that I surpassed brain cancer, not just survived.  In the book I share with everyone how I feel surpassing is different from merely surviving.  Also, during the whole 2 year experience, I was diligently blogging about my travails.  Because of this documentation I have been able to go back and rewrite the experience in a more cohesive fashion.  The book is almost completed and will basically be the story of how I worked on my mind-patterns to heal my Self of brain cancer using no chemotherapy or radiation treatments.  There is a lot to be said for the power of the human body; something I think we often underestimate.  The book will be what I understand those strengths to be.  Also, I am still looking for the right publisher if anyone is interested.   

How have these experiences affected you as a composer and musician?

My book talks about how my artistic expression changed throughout the brain experience.  I was afforded the incredible opportunity to use my illness as a way to expand my awareness.  When we are faced with a health crisis, or any other crisis for that matter, there is a choice to learn from that experience.  As I moved through my own personal life-threatening situation my music transformed.  I think it is best said this way which is a quote from the book: "I was beginning to see that all the years of practicing [saxophone] were starting to show me that there was something deeper than technique and greater than sound. It was a quality of expression which could only come from understanding one’s Self: an understanding that could solely come from fighting for one’s existence."

AGOGIC will be performing on Friday, January 7 at International House (3701 Chestnut Street).