Sandy Brown Jazz

[Some computers might ask you to allow the music to play on this page]


Full Focus

Waltzin' In

from the album Monk Spent Youth

by Zac Gvi


'Full Focus' is a series where musicians and others discuss a jazz track or tracks in detail. The idea is that you are able to listen to the track that is discussed as you read about it. If you have a track on an album that you have released you might like to share the ideas behind it and talk about how it developed - if so please contact us.


Zac Gvi Monk Spent Youth



Zac Gvi


Zachary Gvirtzman (Zac Gvi) is a composer, pianist and reeds player from London whose broad musical palate is balanced by a personal sensitivity that makes itself felt in the varied contexts in which he operates. He is composer in residence with the multi award winning Kandinsky Theatre company. As a performer, he has worked with Evan Parker, Seb Rochford, Kit Downes, Eddie Prevost, Martin Speake, Lore Lixenberg and Jarvis Cocker among others. He studied Music at Oxford University and has performed at the Union Chapel, the Royal Opera House, the Royal Festival Hall, Ronnie Scott's and many other venues in the UK and internationally.

Zac comes from a family of musicians: his father is an amateur classical pianist and taught Zac piano; his stepfather plays blues guitar and is the person who introduced Zac to jazz; his mother played various instruments in a street theatre company in Berlin in the '70s; his grandmother used to sing and play the ukulele and his other grandmother played the cello; his great grandfather had a "jazz" band in Darlington in the '20s!

Zac is a member of the now well-established F-IRE Collective. F-IRE (Fellowship for Integrated Rhythmic Expression) was founded in 1998 and went on to encompass a community of artists whose outlook stretched beyond 'music alone'. Dance, poetry, film and other modes of creative expression were as much a part of their artistic conception as the sound they produced. F-IRE members attempt to cultivate their own directions and transcend categorical boundaries, circus or electronica, free improvisation or classical composition. In an interview with London Jazz News, Zac said: ‘The F-IRE Collective is a family in the sense that we share a lot of the same values about music making – prioritizing creativity, the intention to explore complex forms, the importance of making music in the community. Growing up in London in the ’90s and ’00s, F-IRE, and the music I associated with it, was a really instructive and mind-opening group to be around .....’.

As is clear from his new album, Monk Spent Youth, Thelonious Monk is a major influence, but Zac also draws inspiration from bands like the Paul Motian trio, Ornette Coleman's groups, Keith Jarrett's American quartet and the Lotte Anker trio.

A toy piano opens the Monk Spent Youth album with Bubu's Birthday, and introduces you to the way Zac takes a simple theme and plays with it, and that concept devlops as the album progresses using percussion, discord and broken rhythm (as in Zac's catchy interpretation of Crepuscule With Nellie and where Ben Davis' cello is a significant contributor). The use of the organ on Waltzin' In changes the mood; and Ugly Beauty I is also taken slowly in waltz time and it is interesting to compare it with Ugly Beauty II later at track 12, also taken slowly, but with a completely different approach. I like the way Lunasphere swings slowly, as does Coming On The Hudson. The gospel hymn This Is My Story, This Is My Song is a brief, simple unexpected piano solo played strongly as gospel music would expect, and of course 'Round Midnight is here to close the album taken hauntingly on Zac's bass clarinet. The album Monk Spent Youth is a complete pleasure. Whether you listen to it with reference to Thelonious Monk or just as a recording of improvised music in its own right, it is one of those recordings that promises that you will gain more from each replay.


Listen to Waltzin' In as Zac writes about the background to the track:




When I first heard Thelonious Monk’s music I was 14 years old, on a road trip in the United States visiting my mother’s family. Before leaving, my stepfather bought a few CDs to keep us entertained in the car. I had started playing the piano a year before, muddling my way through some of the classical and popular tunes my father played at home - Chopin, Beethoven, the Beatles - but I had no idea what jazz was until the week before when, during our trip, we went out to Yoshi’s Jazz and Sushi club in Oakland to hear Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s trio.

As we made our way north along the west coast bound for Salem, Oregon, the earnest, fiery sounds of the Cuban’s music (which was also on another one of the CDs we brought along) collided with the compilation of Monk’s jagged, unpredictable, now abstract, Zac Gvinow absurdist playing on live sides with his quartet. I remember being fascinated by the format of the quartet, the way it started with everyone in and broke down to the drums before at last the theme came in again; the gesture of it. Then there were the solo piano tracks - Ruby, My Dear and ‘Round Midnight - drawn from the Columbia sessions. Monk’s playing on those tracks connected back to my father’s music, the music that I had grown up with, in its intimacy and conventional form, while at the same time painting moods I had never imagined before in music or anywhere. The spell was cast; I was hooked.

Monk’s music is special for many reasons. It has a wicked sense of humour. It has an unceasing sonic direct-ness. It embraces a sometimes frightening depth of introspection. It mobilises specific dissonances in an extremely deliberate way.

Above all of these aspects, it is a fulcrum for three major periods of jazz - the traditional, the modern and the free - while existing outside those periods as its own entity. Monk himself was an upstanding, principled man who persisted in the face of adversity and who dedicated himself to perfecting his art.

The album Monk Spent Youth is a celebration of Monk’s music, his life and his spirit. It started out as a monthly night at the old Jamboree in Limehouse, London for over 2 years, during which time the present record was cut. Most of the album features arrangements of Monk’s music by myself and the band; however, I felt that a true tribute to Monk the composer should also include some new music.

Waltzin’ In is one of several tunes I have written as a nod to Monk - drawing on his style, his harmonies and sensibilities without, hopefully, imitating him too closely. The title is inspired by Monk’s Hornin’ In, a feverish bebop tune, although of course to ’waltz in’ is an actual phrase - one my father is fond of! The opening phrase is based loosely on Monk’s recording of the standard All Alone which appears on one of my favourite records, Thelonious Himself, while the overall tone of the tune evokes Monk’s sojourn as a teenager on the touring religious music circuit with its gospel-esque harmonies. The incredible playing of Ben Davis on cello and Fred Thomas on drums bring the tune to life, fleshing out its passages with plenty of wild humour and unexpected poignancy.


Zac Gvi


Click here for details and samples of the album. Click here for Zac's website.


© Sandy Brown Jazz 2019

Like us on FacebookFacebook

Visit some of our other Full Focus pages:

Marton Juhasz - Little Prayer
Alex Hitchcock Quintet - Hamburg 2010
Matthew Read Trio - Burke And Hare
Henry Spencer and Juncture - The Reasons Don't Change

Click HERE to join our mailing list