Denver native Colin Stranahan on his roots, his hometown mentors and the new album
Catch Stranahan/Zaleski/Rosato at Dazzle tomorrow at the Westword Music Showcase at 7 and 9 p.m.
Colin Stranahan (due with Stranahan/Zaleski/Rosato at Dazzle for the Westword Music Showcase tomorrow and on Sunday, June 24) isn't comfortable with labels. Since launching his professional career as a jazz musician at the age of seventeen, Stranahan has earned critical acclaim and professional kudos for his explosive and nuanced skill with a pair of sticks.
But the Denver native says he spends just as much time and care honing his abilities as a composer, a sensibility that's earned approval from giants like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. He calls himself a musician first, and is quick to credit his local mentors, a list that includes his father, saxophonist Jim Stranahan, as well as trumpeter Ron Miles. We caught up with Stranahan in advance of his homecoming to talk about his roots, his aspirations and his latest album, Anticipation, a record that represents a collaboration with pianist Glenn Zaleski and bassist Rick Rosato.
Westword: For those unfamiliar with your biography, can you offer a quick snapshot of how you moved from growing up in Denver's jazz scene to your current home in New York?
Colin Stranahan: My father is a jazz musician, so I was surrounded by music from a very early age, and in Denver, there are a lot of great jazz musicians. As soon as I expressed my interest in music to my dad, he was very helpful in getting some great teachers, one of which was Paul Romaine, who was a very influential teacher and pretty much is part of the reason I'm a musician -- and Joe Anderies, who was another great educator.
They gave me a lot of opportunities at a young age to become interested in performing. From that point on, music was the biggest interest I had in my life. I started playing more and more in high school and started getting involved in these all-star programs all over the United States and in Europe ... Pretty soon I found myself at the Dave Brubeck Institute in California. I went there for a year. I went to music school in New York for a couple of years and started really developing a career here; then I got a phone call to go audition at the Thelonious Monk Institute.
I went auditioning not thinking I had any chance of being in the program, because it's a pretty established program; it's a master's program, and at that point I hadn't received any degrees. I went and Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter selected me to be in the program, which was quite an honor. I went there for a couple years. I was studying in New Orleans and I came back to New York and I've been here for three years. It's just an honor to be able to say that I do my art for a living.
In addition to legends like Hancock and Shorter, you had plenty of input from local jazz giants like Ron Miles and Fred Hirsch.
Ron was always a big influence to me because I met him at a very early age. I got to play with him in very unique settings. He was always very encouraging to me and [was] one of my biggest heroes, musically, because he was always doing something unique. The thing about Ron that's so incredible is that he's always tapped in to what's happening in the musical world around him at any given time.
Every year it's changing, and he's always listening to new music and incorporating that into jazz music. That was always really intriguing to me at a young age. I'm still very influenced by Ron and always will be because of that -- discovering new ways to create the way jazz music is played. He played a very, very important role in my life.
Do you still get the chance to play with Ron Miles in New York?
I do, once in a while. When I travel back to Denver, we try to get together. It's been a while, but we're always to plan things and make stuff happen. We do get to perform from time to time, but we're always in touch and we're always checking in on each other.
In the context of your education and your different home bases in the past decade, how did you hook up with the Capri record label?
Yeah, that was actually when I was really young, that was when I was about seventeen years old. I had written some music early on, and I had wanted to record it so my father encouraged me to do that. So I went into a studio with some local musicians and recorded an album's length of songs, just to have. I didn't want to do anything serious with it. I played it for my teacher, Paul Romaine, who said, 'You should seriously consider sending this to Tom Burns at Capri Records. He might be interested.'
At that point, being seventeen, I had no idea of what that meant. I sent it in, and he called me the next day and said, 'Hey, I want to release this album on my label.' I was kind of shocked. Since then, through my travels and everything, Tom has been a big supporter, especially now with this band that's coming to Denver. Today, there are only a few jazz record labels that still exist, but Tom has been a big supporter of my music and my artistry. It's really been a big part of my musical career.