Guitarist Ari Joshua has been busy, and now the guitarist has begun releasing recordings he's been working on for years. In varied styles and collaborations, Joshua is making his mark as a modern player to watch. New Cool host Abe Beeson spoke to the Seattle-based musician about his vault of new material.
Arriving in Seattle as a youngster from South Africa, Ari Joshua came up in the Roosevelt High School jazz program during the Seattle rock explosion in the early '90s. He says the transition from sports fan to guitar obsessive started there, and blossomed when he first encountered the famed Roosevelt Jazz Band.
"I'm walking around school (after freshman football practice) and I hear this amazing, glorious-sounding music," Joshua explains. "I sat there and listened to them practice, and I asked someone, 'Is this a class?' And they said, 'Yeah, and we're getting ready to go to Europe tomorrow!' Their guitar player happened to be graduating ... and I was off to the races!"
After high school, Joshua split Seattle for New York City and quickly found a new jazz community. He started at Rutgers University.
"It was just a train ride from New York City," Joshua says. "It was a wonderful turn of events because (piano great) Kenny Barron was one of my private teachers. Ted Dunbar (another jazz legend) was teaching guitar, and then I ended up getting the scholarships I needed to attend The New School."
"Landing in New York, I realized quickly that there was an unbelievably gifted, hardworking pool of talent there," Joshua says.
Soon, he was one of those talented musicians.
Robert Glasper, one of the most in-demand pianists and producers in jazz today, was one of Joshua's classmates.
"He had a way of being able to play in first gear for awhile, and then creep up to second gear, and by the time he gets to his third or fourth gear, you're already impressed. Then he can just go to gear eight or nine or 10 ..." Joshua remembers. That friendship is just one of the many connections to be found in his vault of unreleased recordings.
Ari Joshua says the pace of New York City finally wore him out, and after seven or eight years, he returned to Seattle. He told me, "I gave such a push to do great things, I sort of needed a change of pace. There was never a plan I was going to stay in Seattle, but a two-month thing became another month ... a year, then two years goes by. ... I just needed to have a better quality of life."
Work in music education paid the bills for Joshua.
"I worked at the Seattle Drum School for awhile, and in 2008 we got the building" for The Music Factory, which Joshua founded and where he's been teaching ever since. "I've never had a job my whole life except for music," he told me. "It turned out there's not a lot of money in performances. Two hours of teaching was more than I would make at a good gig."
More recently, Joshua felt the need to step back from education and focus on his own music. Over the past decade or more, the musical connections Joshua has made have led to several collaborations, exploring the diverse interests of the guitarist. Now the vault of recordings is open, and Joshua's precious gems will soon be on display.
The first of these is the new single "Eyes Only," with college friend Robert Glasper. "There's a whole record worth (of this band's recordings)," Joshua says of the quartet, also including bassist Jason Fraticelli and drummer KJ Sawka. This first single is in a modern jazz mode, and Joshua says, "It's a lot more jazz-inspired, forward-thinking improvisational stuff."
Slightly distorted, strummed chords on Joshua's guitar introduce "Eyes Open," moving into a charming melody informed by pop music and jazz fusion. Ripping into a guitar solo, Joshua leans into the heart of the melody and passes it to a clearly inspired Glasper on electric keys. Glasper shifts through his upper gears as the song returns to the theme. "Eyes Only" evokes longing and a sense of comforting familiarity, like finally touching down at your home airport after a long time away.
Joshua also made a recent quarantined visit to Vermont to work with keyboardist Ray Paczkowski and drummer Russ Lawton from the Trey Anastasio Band. He says, "They thought it would be great to play in person, but I would have to quarantine. I was like, 'Well, I would quarantine!' I had about 35 songs ready to go, and we recorded like 25 songs."
Joshua expects to release some of those recordings next.
"The mixing part and the releasing part is my Kryptonite," Joshua admits. "I love to play, to be in the recording studio. ... Of course, there's a plan to release it. I'm moving as fast as I can!"
The Ari Joshua vault has even more recordings he's happy to preview. There's material with organist Delvon Lamarr, saxophonist Skerik and Polyrhythmics drummer Grant Schroff. Also, expect to hear a trio with keyboardist Marco Benevento and drummer Joe Russo. The long-running trio AriSawkaDoria with drummer KJ Sawka and organist Joe Doria have made new recordings, as have Joshua, Doria, and Seattle drummer Brad Gibson.
"I'm hoping to flex the release muscles this year, hopefully get some support, and take a full step into being a performing and recording artist," Joshua says. "Then I'll be poised to make more records!"
With the eventual return to live performances, Joshua is hopeful that he'll be able to share this new music in person soon. Joshua says performance opportunities are in discussions, and offers, "I would love to play. If anybody has anything, I would love to do it!"
For now, Ari Joshua has plenty to keep himself and his fans busy with the vast collection of recordings in his vault. "I have a lot of this type of thing, vault after vault," Joshua says.
I say, bring it on.
The New Cool airs Fridays from 9 to 11 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.