Alibi V.29 No.13 • March 26-April 1, 2020

Music Interview

Corley’s Jazz

Emerson, EJazz and the community react

Emerson Corley and EJazz
Emerson Corley and EJazz
courtesy of the artist

While the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the music and entertainment industry, the people behind the whole schmear—the artists, musicians, technicians and a wide assortment of service workers—continue to suffer economically as well as perhaps emotionally and psychologically.

So we were pleasantly surprised to see the friendly, fancy and familiar faces of Entourage Jazz lighting up the social media world this week with a photo they took at St. John’s United Methodist Church.

They were there to shoot a video in a venue that is welcoming musicians to come play under their roof at a time when most of the gigs in town have dried up and blown away thanks to a worldwide event that is still shocking our entire world daily.

The two best things about that photographic record of Albuquerque musicians making a go of it—during one of the roughest times our city has ever endured—are easily visible when one glances at the picture.

The people in front of the lens are happy, giving off an optimistic vibe that speaks to their strength as Burqueños. What’s more, take a look at the object that bandleader Emerson Corley is holding in their hands.

That’s right folks, it’s the good ol’ Weekly Alibi, held out for all to see as yet another testament to how we all plan to proceed in this time of great caution and even outright fear.

Our music editor wondered about what that image meant—to Emerson, to her esteemed ensemble of collaborators and innovators and to the city as a whole.

So, in order to get the lowdown on the local scene—at least according to one of the city’s most recognizably awesome musicians—we let our fingers do the walking. It was easy enough to reach out to Corley via telephone. We talked all about the music community and how we can come out of a very intense situation largely intact, if we have music and each other to count on.

Weekly Alibi: Hey, Emerson! How’s it going?

Emerson Corley: Oh, man! It’s going, man. How about yourself?

I tell you. It seems like it starts at about 7am for me every day and I don’t let go until 1am the next morning.

I know, right? Man, what a ride this is.

I hope you and yours are okay.

We are. We’re glad to be working, because I have a good job, I’m very, very busy. People want to talk to their therapist right now. [Disclosure: By day, Emerson Corley is a mental health provider]. I’m used to working a lot, August, in my day job. But this is really getting crazy. I’m exhausted.

Now’s the time when we have to keep our strength up.

We have to keep it stepped up and going.

Speaking of keeping things up and going, I saw this fantastic photo on Facebook and Instagram that you took with the EJazz Ensemble this past week.

[Emerson laughs heartily].

Can you tell our readers the story behind that photo?

Sure. That morning I went to Java Joe’s because I’m trying to help local businesses stay in business during these hard times. I used to go to Java Joe’s three or four times a week to get my coffee. I think they have the best coffee in all of Albuquerque. Anyway, I went and I saw the Alibi out there in front of Java Joe’s.

Then what?

Then I saw the cover and thought to myself, “My gosh, this is the best cover ever!”

Why?

Because I love all things British, August. Like right now, I’m sitting in my home office looking at this huge Union Jack flag and that cover reminded me of something straight out of British culture.

How so?

I saw the whole Keep Calm message as something something the Queen might have proclaimed. Keep calm and wash your hands has got to be the best message ever; it’s the best cover ever, too. It’s reserved yet positive.

Tell me more.

That morning, after Java Joe’s, I was on my way to a video shoot at St. John’s United Methodist Church. We were going to do an video shoot with the band and so, Matt Grier, the music director over there at St. John’s, had this great idea to help pay struggling musicians right now by doing music videos at the church.

I hadn’t heard about that!

Yeah, he came up with this great idea. They did a spot on one of the local television stations and he put it out on Facebook, too. The message was if you’re a local musician and want to do a music video, we’ll pay your people $100 per person to do this.

That’s amazing and wonderful.

Yeah! And for only about 15 minutes’ worth of work. I’m like, “Oh yeah, we’re down for that!” So I got in touch with him right away. And we were in there in, like, two days. And there were six of us.

Did you have to bring in all of the equipment and instruments?

I own all of the equipment, so I just took it all into the church and set it up just like I would for a normal gig. We wiped all of our stuff down before we loaded in. Of course Roger [Baker] got to play on a different grand piano [than the one he’s used to]. The church has a great grand piano. And, of course, Marren [Hatch] brought her own bass. But I brought in all of the sound equipment and the drums—microphones and stuff.

What song did you perform?

We did “’Deed I Do.” It should be out sometime this week. It’s a jazz standard that we always do and is very popular with our audiences. I haven’t seen it yet. But the video will be on the “Music From St. John’s” site [musicatstjohns.org]. It used to be “Music At St. John’s,” but they changed it because of the outbreak. One of the things I noticed on the St. John’s videos that I was seeing—because the series crosses genres—is the diversity of local talent. You know, Jim Ahrends, he’s the pianist at St. John’s now. He’s been hanging there and did a really cool version of “Nearer, My God, to Thee” for the series. It’s all really chill and that’s the feeling we wanted to go into the video session.

So that’s what you were thinking when you got the idea ...

Yeah and I told them that I had this great idea. I said let’s take this picture in the sanctuary while practicing social distancing while I hold the Alibi. We wanted something that would get people dancing in the house. I thought, let’s get people dancing in their kitchen. If they’re at home, let’s get them up. And I knew that “’Deed I Do” was the best tune to do that. You just cannot sit still to this 1926 tune by Fred Rose and Walter Hirsch.

Could you tell our readers what you’re facing as a musician today in Albuquerque?

Many of our performances have been canceled or postponed. We’re trying to reschedule, we’re looking at hopefully August.

I reckon it might be until the end of summer too. I think the next few weeks are going to determine the direction this will go.

Right. We just don’t know. But the things that worry me the most about these times, August, is not having music for the fans. That’s important. But the other thing that’s important to know is that musicians rely on gigs. There are a lot of musicians out of work in this town right now. I’m very worried about that. I’m very worried about how to help them get through these troubled times.

I know a lot of them depend on music lessons or instruction, too.

Several of our full-time musicians, people in the ensemble, are also music teachers. I’m worried about that; I’m trying to make a commitment to help them through this very difficult time. We’re all in this together.

What are you doing to help right now?

I came up with this hashtag that I’ve been trying to put everywhere, in our emails, on our social media pages. The hashtag is #BetterTogether, you know? We are all better together, August.

I hear you and I think it’s important to stress community right now. We should all be working together to take care of each other as much as possible.

That makes me go into my therapist mode bit. That’s what this this. In troubling times, in times of the deepest struggle, we have an incredible opportunity to help each other in different ways that we could have never, never have imagined. This is the time to create those moments. It’s an opportunity to come together for new purposes. And for repurposing, too. And we should begin looking at relationships in different ways, because, hello, we need each other.

How does that work?

Whether it’s for music, whether it’s in friendship or in relationships, we are all connected.

How does music fit in?

Thank God we have the technology to share music like we do now. Can you imagine if this happened in the 1980s? Online music is seen all over the world. It’s important to be as creative as possible. Another thing is you can send the city a video and they’ll put it up on GOV TV*. How cool is that?

*Music Editor’s Note: To find our more about the GOV TV video program, contact Diego Lucero, Media Resources Manager at ABQ Cultural Services via email to dllucero@cabq.gov.