The Jazz Thieves, through personal and evocative lyrics, passionate and soulful improvisation, and thoughtful, wide-ranging originals revitalize jazz by reconnecting it to its roots. Inspired by their heroes Duke Ellington, Tom Waits, Bill Withers and Ray Charles, they "steal" the feel, fire and fervor of 70's soul, 50's R&B, church gospel, and Mississippi Delta blues, uniting it with jazz improvisation and imagination. Their music is a modern exploration of the many stories, voices and styles that comprise and influence jazz.
John Gray, the bassist, bandleader, composer, lyricist, and producer of The Jazz Thieves explores these styles in “Brooklyn Elegy”, using them to help tell his story. These stories originate from the 7 years after John graduated from Manhattan School of Music; they tell the tale of trying to make friends in a new part of town, grow as a person and musician, and eventually, finding love in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“Brooklyn Elegy” evokes a coming of age; wading through the changing neighborhoods in a gentrifying Brooklyn, navigating infrequent employment, meeting colorful characters, and surviving ups and downs. The title track, Brooklyn Elegy, is inspired by the the interactions between the 20-something musicians and one of the older ones in Brooklyn’s independent rock n’roll scene. I’m Hopeful catalogues the heartbreak and loneliness of the cruel online dating world. Lullaby for 26 reflects the need for patience and maturity, in spite of a young man’s boredom and frustration. You’ll Turn Out Ok paints a picture of an older friend, who seemingly has made every mistake in life one could make, comforting and advising his younger friend. Cayuga illustrates the excitement of a new relationship, inspired from a trip to Lake Cayuga in Ithaca, NY. Aftermath of a Bar Fight depicts a real incident that took place at Cleopatra’s Needle, a jazz club on Manhattan’s Upper West side; the song captures a sense of thankfulness after surviving the events. Friday counts down to the next meeting of young lovers.
The album stylistically features several different brands of jazz. All songs are based in jazz harmony, improvisation and technique, but each song draws upon Gray’s influences uniquely. Friday and Brooklyn Elegy rhythmically draw from elements of modern R&B and hip hop, especially in the drums and bass. I’m Hopeful, through Ishito’s burning saxophone and Robbins’ soulful playing and singing is an homage to the great Ray Charles. Cayuga weds idyllic jazz ballad playing with a chorus that conjures pop music of the 1980’s and 90’s. Aftermath of a Bar Fight masquerades as a classic jazz ballad, but also uniquely brings darker themes and uses collective improvisation. Lullaby for 26 utilizes gospel feel, grit and harmony to summarize a cathartic experience.
The Jazz Thieves all met one another in New York. John and Matt Robbins, the vocalist and pianist, studied together at Manhattan School of Music, and they have collaborated in many groups since they met. John met Ayumi Ishito and Tim Ford playing in jazz jam sessions in Williamsburg and Bushwick. Carter Bales and Garrett Manley, featured on Lullaby for 26 and Aftermath of a Bar Fight, appear having been members of a previous incarnation of the band.
Outside of playing together, the individual members of the Jazz Thieves have played and collaborated with jazz masters such as James Moody, John McNeil, Vincent Herring, David Williams, Bobby Shew, Mike LeDonne and John Stetch to name a few. They are all active performers in the NYC Jazz and Rock/Pop/Folk scenes, and can be seen playing together or separately any night of the week.