Justin Ray has little to no trouble writing music or playing his songs in front of audiences, but when it comes to putting the finished product out in the open for listeners to own, the Asheville-based trumpet player and vocalist admits that his projects have a habit of gathering dust.
“I tend to get really involved in the creative aspect of making music. Then, when it’s done, sometimes it’s hard for me to stay focused on the actual act of sharing it with the world,” Ray says. “One of the reasons I wanted to do this show is because I’m really anxious to get all this music that I’ve made over the course of the past few years out into the world in a more meaningful way than I had up to this point.”
“This show” is code for Ray’s diverse two-set offering Friday, Sept. 18, at The Altamont Theatre. He’s optimistic that the performance will mark a turning point in the timeliness of his output. The evening begins with Ray’s half-hour-long ensemble jazz composition, “Casanova and Cleopatra,” which hasn’t been performed live in nearly three years. The recording of that debut (also on the Altamont stage) will be available on DVD at the Sept. 18 show, a partial fulfillment for Ray’s grant from the N.C. Arts Council that made the piece possible.
Asheville videographer Pete Lutz filmed the Dec. 12, 2012, show with three cameras: one in his hand, another in a colleague’s and one stationary in the back of the theater. Ray and Lutz then edited the footage, including three of Ray’s six non-“Casanova and Cleopatra” songs from that night as well as the main event. In crafting the DVD’s visual tone, Ray was inspired by short one- to two-song clips of his favorite jazz groups from the 1960s (e.g. Art Blakey and Miles Davis) as opposed to a specific concert disc. He says that the final product is in the spontaneous tradition of those classic live performances.
For the piece’s second presentation, local musicians Jacob Rodriguez (saxophones), Zack Page (bass), Jamey Tate (drums) and the Bella Musica String Quartet — Sarah Hurd (violin), Jennifer Cooke (violin), Joseph Driggars (viola) and Georgia Sinko (cello) — will join Ray. The octet will then return with guitarist Troy Conn for the second set, during which they’ll play songs from Ray’s third album, Evil Man Blues, a collection of jazz standards. It’s Ray’s first foray into vocals.
The trumpet player began singing about five years ago, a pursuit that grew out of his trumpet practice. “I was thinking a lot about the way I breathe, if there was a more efficient and relaxed way of doing that,” he says. “That led me to start practicing various vocal exercises, and then realizing I had an emotional connection to singing that I hadn’t really recognized before.”
All of the instrumental tracks on Evil Man Blues were laid down at Echo Mountain Studios and the vocals were recorded in a Los Angeles studio. The project was complete by mid-2013. For his next effort, Ray says he will most likely work on writing original lyrical songs, which he views as the next step in his evolution as a singer, along with continuing to develop his overall vocal technique.
“Coming at it from a more instrumental viewpoint makes the way I phrase lyrics kind of unique,” he says, noting the joy and benefits he gets from transitioning between singing and playing trumpet. “I think they kind of complement each other. Each of them makes me think about the other in a different way. I do that a lot with songs I’m trying to learn or learn better. I’ll play them on trumpet, then I’ll sing them, and the trumpet will inform the singing, and vice versa. I feel like it’s snowballed into me getting a lot of different perspectives on a piece of music.”
WHO: Justin Ray
WHERE: The Altamont Theatre, thealtamont.com
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 18, at 8 p.m. $20