Slow hand

By JON GARELICK  |  October 21, 2009

So, NEC it was. He had started doing something and found he had a talent for it, so he “kept doing the next logical step.” He played in a ska band, then in the Boston jam band the Miracle Orchestra, which opened for Phish on one occasion. He joined the Either/Orchestra. He took time off when he developed a case of carpal-tunnel syndrome. Close to graduation, at age 23, he started to wonder whether being a jazz musician was what he wanted to do.

“When you’re learning so much information, it’s hard to let go of that stuff when you’re actually playing. And I’ve needed physical distance from Boston, time distance from school, and long periods of time not touching the saxophone and not listening to jazz, and then coming back to it and deciding what I like and what I don’t like.”

For Udden, the answer was a simpler approach, both in his writing and in his playing. He finds that the monster speed-demon players actually make him uncomfortable. “It’s not that I’m the slowest player in the world, but I know that I’m not the fastest. So for me to play that fast, the stuff that comes out is the stuff I practiced. Whereas if I’m playing more simply over a medium tempo, I can have a true empty mind, and a true act of improvisation can be happening.” He recalls a line from one of his mentors, Lee Konitz: “If people knew how empty my mind really is before I play something, it would be embarrassing.”

Early on, Udden focused on the quality of his sound, and his airy, floating tone is something he shares with Konitz, as well as the surprising ascents, the twists and turns of his lines — some of which are quite fast. Whatever his misgivings, Udden still talks like a jazz musician, and he still improvises like one. And you have to wonder whether anyone but jazz musicians could have come up with Plainville.

JEREMY UDDEN’S PLAINVILLE | House of Blues Foundation Room, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston | November 4 at 9 pm | free: RSVP only, to or at

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