Interview: Either/Orchestra's Russ Gershon
Jazz composer/reedman Russ Gershon just can’t seem to get the rock out of his system. He began his career wielding a sax in the rock band The Sex Execs in the early ‘80s and a strong DIY aesthetic has remained with him through years of playing experimental jazz. His quirky big band outfit Either/Orchestra is now celebrating its 25th anniversary. TOB recently spoke with Gershon about his life and his music.
TOB: Did you think this band would be together this long?
Russ Gershon: I was twenty-six years old when we started. I didn’t even think it would be together in a year!
Do you remember your first show?
It was in the children’s room of the Cambridge Public Library. The place was so un-rock ‘n roll.
How has the music changed over the years?
In the beginning I was still digesting my jazz influences: Gil Evans, Charles Mingus, Sun Ra. The biggest change was when we added a Dominican conga player and we tapped into Latin and African music.
You’ve also added a girl recently.
Yes, Hailey Niswanger on alto sax. We’ve finally broken the sex barrier. She’s younger than the band by five years, but incredibly skilled for someone her age—or any age.
Does Either/Orchestra still tour?
We go out more selectively. We can do one gig in a foreign country and get paid as much as we used to for four weeks on the road. On the other hand, I miss night after night of playing the music until I go insane.
What have you taken from your rock background?
I realized that writing songs and singing them was not my major talent, but that I liked playing for an audience with dancing people crowded up against the stage, not just sitting there rubbing their chins.
Your latest record, Mood Music for Time Travelers, is like the soundtrack to a ‘70s cop show. Why so retro?
The last record was filled with 15-minute jams and Ethiopian singing. I wanted to play with different jazz styles, to make a friendly record that people would put into their CD player and listen to for a week.
What can people expect at the upcoming show?
It's a celebration of 25 years of this big musical community and it’s going to be fun. We'll have our ten members plus a number of alums. Whatever we manage as far as perfect renditions of pieces we've done in the past, it's really about this extended community through time and space coming together to have a party.
Either Orchestra will celebrate their 25th Anniversary December 16 at Arlington’s Regent Theatre.