This Weekend: Joshua Redman Group and Houston-Native Paul Cornish Go On a Jazzy, ‘Improvisational Adventure’

This Weekend: Joshua Redman Group and Houston-Native Paul Cornish Go On a Jazzy, ‘Improvisational Adventure’

Paul Cornish (courtesy of the American Pianists Association)

FANS OF GENRE-BUSTING jazz will have their ears tweaked and minds quietly blown on Friday, Jan. 26. This is when DACAMERA presents the Joshua Redman Group, featuring vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa.

Redman — one of the most celebrated jazz saxophonists of our time — along with Cavassa and fellow travelers bassist Philip Norris, drummer Nazir Ebo, and pianist and HSVPA graduate Paul Cornish will present a highly conceptualized program of songs from Redman’s album, Where Are We (2023), his first for the legendary Blue Note Records label.

On one level, Where Are We is a socially conscious re-imagining of the Great American Songbook, with compositions by Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Webb sharing the space with Charles Ives, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. In a statement, Redman describes Where Are We as “a celebration and a critique” as well as “an album of improvisational adventure.” It’s a project that aligns with Cornish’s commitment to explore new musical territory while supporting and complementing Cavassa’s subtle, yet deeply emotional singing.

Cornish, 27, began playing piano at age five. He was initially drawn to the drums, but his mother encouraged him to learn not one but two instruments. (Cornish’s two older brothers are also talented musicians.)

While attending Johnston Middle School, now the Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School, Cornish played piano in the school’s jazz ensemble, and, during the summer break, attended Houston’s longstanding Summer Jazz Workshop, where he learned the art of improvisation and soloing under the tutelage of SJW director Craig Green, and esteemed educators Conrad Johnson, Al Campbell, and the late great Bubbha Thomas.

Cornish (photo by Emilio Mesa)

At first, being in the spotlight as the soloist was a little intimidating, but Cornish quickly came to enjoy the freedom of expression making an individualized musical statement provides. “I could express things that I couldn’t really verbalize,” says Cornish, who also cites his first encounter with Houston pianist Robert Glasper via a friend’s iPod as another revelatory experience. “It was an eye-opening moment for me.”

Cornish, like many young musicians, responded to Glasper’s embrace of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop. “I started seeing the piano and jazz in a new way then,” says Cornish. “Glasper opened the door, in terms of really just being himself, and allowing other people to see themselves in the jazz footprint.” Cornish would go on to graduate from the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and receive a full scholarship to attend the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz at UCLA, where he earned his master’s degree.

Now based in Los Angeles, Cornish has maintained his hometown connection by appearing on Houston vibraphonist Jalen Baker’s debut album This is Me, This is Us, and his latest, Be Still. “He’s an amazing bandleader,” says Cornish of Baker, whom he counts as a close friend, and agrees the camaraderie and sense of humor the members of Baker’s ensembles share elevates the music they play. “It feels like we’re bringing people into our world.”

Cornish looks forward to bringing audiences into the world Redman, Canvassa, and the rest of the Where Are We band are navigating. Doing so is indeed a challenge, an “improvisational adventure,” but an adventure Cornish fully embraces. “Following in the footsteps of the people who laid down the foundations of this music,” says Cornish. “I feel like I have a duty, as an artist, to always be exploring and to be curious.”

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