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Members include Billy Bang (left group, 1986), violin; Charles Burnham (group member, 1986-91), violin; Regina Carter (group member, 1991-93), violin; James Emery (born in 1951), guitar, John Lindberg, bass; Diane Monroe (group member, 1993-2001), violin; Rob Thomas (joined group, 2001), violin. Addresses: Agent--Brad Simon Organization, 122 E. 57th St., New York, NY 10022. Office--String Trio of New York, 18 Woodside Dr., Warwick, NY 10990. Website--String Trio of New York Official Website: http://www.s3ny.com.
Formed in the late 1970s by three musicians who wanted to explore their individual compositions and develop improvisational work, the String Trio of New York gradually expanded its focus to include works commissioned from other avant-garde composers as well as new arrangements of jazz standards. The group has recorded more than 14 albums and played in venues all over North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, and has appeared in jazz festivals in Berlin, Paris, Warsaw, Zurich, and across the United States.
The Trio's repertoire includes more than 60 original pieces, as well as works by other composers, including Muhal Richard Abrams, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, Leo Smith. They also perform unique arrangements of works by such jazz greats as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker. In 2000 the Trio began playing their original and classic jazz pieces backed by a full orchestra. The group also works to educate the public about jazz and their unique approach to the form; they have developed a lecture and demonstration series that they bring to colleges and universities throughout the United States.
The group was formed in 1977 out of the jazz scene on New York City's Lower East Side. It started as a duo: guitar player James Emory and bass player John Lindberg. The two played small venues at first, eventually catching violinist Billy Bang's attention. Bang was fascinated by what Emory, speaking in an interview on National Public Radio (NPR), called "our maniacal duo playing," and he asked if he could sit in with them during a performance. Emory and Lindberg said yes, and the trio was born.
In the same NPR interview, Emory described that first session together as a revelation. "The sound of the three instruments played together was something that ... really took us by surprise and it was a really delightful experience." The three players clicked immediately, and they realized that they had a unique sound. Continued Emory, "It took only a few minutes ... of playing together, for us to realize that we had something special there that we had really just stumbled upon."
The String Trio of New York began by playing compositions written by its members, since there was little existing music for a violin, bass, and guitar trio from which to choose. Accordingly, its first album, released in 1979, two years after the group's formation, featured only original work. First String consists of three long pieces, each composed by a different member of the Trio. They eventually began to adapt existing music by great jazz composers, searching for a pleasing balance between pure improvisation and well-rehearsed compositions. Lindberg addressed this issue on NPR: "The question that listeners often ask is 'How much of what you're playing is improvised and how much is written?' Most pieces lay somewhere in between, where there's ... a pretty even interplay. But the improvisation is generally the most important part as far as the spirit of the music, but I think what we're trying to attain and are successful in doing is making that question really pointless, because we want to make a [sic] music that's amalgamated between structure and improvisation and the better we get at it and the better and keener sensibility we have as a chamber jazz group playing together, you can't tell the difference between what's improvised and what's written."
Emory also told NPR that the combination of violin, bass, and guitar is essential to the group's sound. "The European string trio is violin, viola and cello, and I know that ... there's some great music written for that combination, but for me, I have to think that the kind of music that we're doing, which is American music without any ... kinds of conditions, is better served by this instrumentation just because of the rhythmic and the propulsive nature of the bass and the guitar."
Two of the original members of the Trio, Emery and Lindberg, remain in the current lineup, having been joined by a succession of violinists who followed Billy Bang after he left the group. These include Charles Burnham, who joined the group after Bang's departure in 1986, Regina Carter, who followed Burnham in 1991, Diane Monroe, who replaced Burnham in 1993, and Rob Thomas, who joined the group after Monroe left in 2001.
String Trio cofounder James Emery was born in 1951 in Youngstown, Ohio. He began playing music at the age of six, when he took up the organ, then switched to the guitar when he was ten. He studied composition at Cleveland State University to in 1974, then moved to New York City, where he continued his studies at City College of New York. Along with playing with the Trio, Emery heads a separate quartet and a septet, and he has frequently performs as a soloist, recording several albums under his own name.
Cofounder John Lindberg was only 16 when he began his professional career in music in 1975. He grew up in Detroit, then moved to New York in 1977. Like Emery, Lindberg too performs separately in his own ensembles, and he has recorded more than 20 albums featuring his original compositions.
A latecomer to the trio, violinist Rob Thomas replaced outgoing violinist Diane Monroe in 2001. While a student of classical violin at the University of Oregon, he discovered jazz and never looked back. After getting his start with area musicians, Thomas made his professional debut on tours of the Pacific Northwest as lead violin and backup player on bass with various bands. He moved to New York City in 1990, where, in addition to his work with the trio, he has recorded with such notables as the Jazz Passengers, Lee Konitz, Andy Summers, Aretha Franklin, Tito Puente, Max Roach, and many others.
by Michael Belfiore
String Trio of New York's Career
Group formed in New York City by original members Billy Bang, James Emory, and John Lindberg, 1977; recorded debut album, First String, 1979; four more albums followed: Area Code 212, 1981; Common Goal, 1983; Rebirth of a Feeling, 1983; and Natural Balance, 1986; Bang left the group and was replaced by violinist Charles Burnham, 1986; the group recorded four albums with Burnham: As Tears Go By, 1987; String Trio of New York and Jay Clayton, 1988; Time Never Lies, 1990; and the concert album Ascendant, 1991; replaced Burnham with violinist Regina Carter, recorded Intermobility and Octagon,1992; Live au Petit Faucheux, Blues ... ?, and An Outside Job, 1993; replaced Carter with violinist Diane Monroe; concentrated more on performing live than on recording in the following years, but released With Anthony Davis, 1996, and Faze Phour: A Twenty-Year Retrospective, 1998; violinist Rob Thomas replaced Monroe, 2001.
- Selected discography
- First String Black Saint, 1979.
- Area Code 212 Black Saint, 1981.
- Common Goal Black Saint, 1983.
- Rebirth of a Feeling Black Saint, 1983.
- Natural Balance Black Saint, 1986.
- As Tears Go By , ITM, 1987.
- String Trio of New York and Jay Clayton WestWind, 1988.
- Time Never Lies Vintage Jazz, 1990.
- Ascendant Stash, 1991.
- Intermobility Arabesque, 1992.
- Octagon Black Saint, 1992.
- Live au Petit Faucheux AA, 1993.
- Blues ... ? Black Saint, 1993.
- An Outside Job Radio France, 1993.
- With Anthony Davis Music & Arts, 1996.
- Faze Phour: A Twenty-Year Retrospective Black Saint, 1998.
- Down Beat, September 1994; September 1996.
- "String Trio of New York," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 3, 2002).
- String Trio of New York Official Website, http://www.s3ny.com (September 3, 2002).
- "Interview with Members of the String Trio of New York," Weekend Edition, National Public Radio, November 27, 1994, 10:00 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, transcript no. 1099-17.
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