Geoffrey Keezer: Making, And Controlling, His New Music
Aurea is an Afro-Peruvian jazz recording project featuring players from New York City and Lima. He says he first heard the music of Peru at a jazz festival in South America, and it had a profound effect, especially its rhythmic feel. He decided he needed to explore it further. "It took me almost about a year to figure where 'one' was, but once I got itMan!" he says on the website.
"What's key here is, I feel like a student," Keezer says. "This is new music for me. I'm learning everything I can about Afro-Peruvian music and Argentinean music, Afro-Colombian music. This is all new territory for me. It's one of the reasons I'm excited about this project. I'm delving into something that is almost completely unknown [to me] and at the same time making a CD of it ... But let me approach it with humility and make the best music I can. It's all just music. I have enough resources from my lifetime of playing music that it all makes sense, and I know how to make it all work."
Keezer, an affable chap, adds with a chuckle (tongue planted firmly in cheek), "So join ArtistShare and the Aurea project and watch Geoffrey Keezer make a fool of himself trying to make new music that he's never done before!"
"But it's really exciting. It's really cool," says the pianist.
"It's going to ultimately be something personal. The end resultthe songs I write, the arrangements I writeare going to be very different from, for example, someone from there, like Eva Ayllon or Susana Baca or Peru Negro, these great Peruvian bands. It's going to be very different from what they're doing. It's not in my blood. But it is really exciting. The beats are really exciting to methe rhythms and the unique way that things come together there."
The band he has put together includes Essiet Essiet on bass, whom he met going back to his days with Art Blakey some 18 years ago, and John Wikan on drums ("one of the most diligent musicians I've ever met") as well as sax master Steve Wilson ("one of my very favorite musicians in the world to work with") and percussionist Hugo Alcazar from Lima, Peru. Adding vocals is Sofia Koutsovitis from Argentina. Mike Moreno and Peter Sprague on guitar and Ron Blake on sax are guests.
"What I've heard so far, it's still a very Keezer record," the pianist says, chuckling. "My friends that know my music already... it's not going to be so different that you won't recognize it. The things that you like about my music are still there. It just has a little different dressing on it. A little spicier. I have a lot of fans that still know me as the pianist with Art Blakey or the pianist with the Ray Brown trio. That's what they like. It's the same Geoffrey Keezer playing piano. The beats are a little different. It's something, I think, that will not be too much of a stretch for my fans to come along for the ride."
"This thing is actually going into its fourth year," he says of the planning process for Aurea. "I was in Peru in 2004. I started recording in 2005. It's the slowest record I've ever made. I've been doing it on my own time, and more importantly, my own money. That's why it's taken me so long. It's been in the works for a long time.
"When I first started, it wasn't for ArtistShare. I started doing it on my own. Then when I found out about ArtistShare, I thought it was a great way to do it. I decided this is how I was going to finish it and get it out. Luckily, along the way, I was actually documenting everything; in the studio, on video and everything. So I've got lots of stuff available. If you're a participant, you can see and hear lots of the early stuff right up to what we're doing now."
Keezer has been working with Koutsovitis, who lives in New York City, choosing material to finish the record.
"It started out as an exclusively Afro-Peruvian kind of thing. Then when I brought in Sofiashe's from Argentinashe brought all of these other elements: Argentinean music, Colombian music... She gave me a massive download of all this folkloric music from all over South America. There are definitely threads that run through all of that. There's music that comes from northern Argentina. Argentina is mostly known for the tango, but actually there's a huge element in their folkloric music [that is] of African influence, very similar to Afro-Peruvian music. The slave trade is the reason for the presence of African music in the Americas. But that whole thing swept down into Argentina. She said in the 1800s, Argentina was like one-third black, and the government rubbed everybody out. But the elements of that music still exist there. There are some very strong similarities."
Keezer, from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, comes from a musical family. Both his parents taught music, and Geoffrey started on the piano at about the age of three.
"I played drums too, as a kid," he says. "Until I was about 15, I hadn't really decided if I was going to be a drummer, a pianist, or both. The reason I gravitated toward the piano was the fact that my dad plays drums. When I was about 15, we started playing gigs locally. Nobody wanted to hire two drummers. So we decided dad would be the drummer and I'd be the pianist. The other reason is, I like to write my own music, and the piano, to me, was the most natural instrument to compose on."
Despite having access to lessons, and later attending the Berklee College of Music, Keezer describes himself as mostly self-taught. He explains, "It's not meant to sound impressive. I think each jazz musician is essentially self-taught. You have to teach yourself this music, mostly. We have great jazz educators roaming the planet, and I teach also. But if you teach a lesson one hour out of the week, it's up to the student to do 90 percent of the work. They have to practice. They have to listen to the records and do the transcribing and do the homework. It makes every jazz musician essentially self taught.
"That's what you want to be. The goal of playing jazz and being a jazz musician is to find your own voice and your own styleyour own way of expressing yourself. The only way to do that is to teach yourself to playwith good guidance."
At the age of 18, he was off to Berklee. "I had a good class. Roy Hargrove was my roommate. Antonio Hart was my roommate for a while. Ingrid Jensen was there; she became a lifelong friend. Delfeayo Marsalis was going there. Chris Cheeks, a great saxophonist. Duane Burno, used to play with Roy Haynes for years. We had a really good class. And Joshua Redman wasn't going to Berklee, but he was going to Harvard and occasionally he'd come over and play at jam sessions. The whole scene there was healthy."
Keezer stayed only a year then moved to New York City. Very quickly came the phone call from Blakey "and I went on the road. I've been on the road ever since." He stayed with the legendary drummer for a year. Later, he worked with trumpeter Art Farmer's band for about five years, and then he moved on to a trio under the leadership of bass legend Ray Brown, a job that lasted three years.
"I've been with the Christian McBride band for the last eight years, which is probably, hands down, the best band I've ever been in. It's on a completely different level than any other band I've worked in as a sideman, in terms of communication and everyone being on the same page," says Keezer.