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Artist Spotlight: Wayne Tucker

(Image via @_matt.ellis)

Jazz music, like a lot of genres right now, is going through a tough time. With live jam sessions being the heart and soul of the New York jazz scene, artists like trumpeter Wayne Tucker have been finding new ways to reach an audience in the middle of the pandemic. Tucker is now spending as much time as possible outside of Grand Army Plaza, playing with his friends and gathering a healthy crowd.

In between sessions, he’s still finding a way to collaborate and put out new music, including his singles “Encouragement” and “Not My Girl”.

We sat down with Tucker to learn more about his recent projects, his live performances, and how it all got started.

When did you first pick up the trumpet?

I picked up the trumpet when I was going into sixth grade, like the summer between fifth and sixth grade. So I want to say that's 11.

And back then, was music always the goal for you? And if so, was it always jazz?

Oh, I always played music. My parents both played music. They both played piano and my dad sings, so I grew up playing music at my house since I was like two or three years old, but I never really saw it as a goal. It was just something else to do. Just like I would play basketball or soccer or football with my friends. It wasn't an abnormal thing to do or something to aim for. It was just part of life.

So when did it start transitioning into something more serious for you?

I would say age 14. When I went to high school there were a couple of trumpet players that were better than me. They were older than me, but I didn't really like that. So I practiced every waking moment that I was free, and after two weeks I was like, “Oh, I'm the best one at school now, now I want to be the best one in the area.” And then it just kept going from there, I suppose.

Is that still like a thing for you, that competitiveness in music?

Yes and no. I feel like the best art is made without ego, but in my own practicing, I definitely am competitive. Whether it's with myself, like “Okay, if I can play this high today, can I play just a little bit higher tomorrow or next week or next month?” So I'm competitive with myself in that way. With my peers, I definitely see things that they do or hear things that they do that I admire and maybe want to emulate, or maybe if someone does something and I'm like, “I don't know what that is,” I definitely listen and copy it and try to figure it out.

(Image via @themetamorphoses)

With your music now, I hear different influences from smooth jazz to funk. You’ve also dabbled in afrobeat and hip-hop. Who are some of your biggest influences?

I would say Stevie Wonder is number one. I really love the songwriting. You just don't know what's going to happen. It might be a really beautiful song that just takes you through a really easy-listening, sweet place. Or it might be something that really challenges your ear. In everything that I write there is something Stevie-ish in it, and it's not on purpose sometimes.

I would say from the trumpet side of things, Miles Davis is probably the biggest influence. I loved how Miles could create. I loved how he gathered the most inventive and unique musicians to surround himself with you. He’ll go, “Okay, I might not play like this today, but after a few weeks with these guys, we're going to go to a new place together.”

I would say compositionally, Roy Hargrove was probably the biggest influence in that he blurs the line between jazz, hip-hop, and R&B and invites a lot of special guests. When he plays there's nothing extra. Every single note is precious.

You talked about being into singer-songwriters and trying to get better at that process. Has singing and songwriting always been a part of your package or is that something that you've picked up along the way?

I would say I picked that up on accident. My first year in New York, I wrote a silly song that a lot of people liked. I lived with a couple of people in the band. At the time we were playing every week at this place, and so they said, “Hey, Wayne wrote a song, We should do it.” And so I sang it and he said, “Wow, that was good, man. You gotta do that again next week.” And that parlayed into doing two or three songs a few weeks later, and then that parlayed into subbing for the singer myself. That was really where it started.

The way that I got to know you is through your performances at Grand Army Plaza. Were you doing that before lockdown?

No that was the beginning of June. That was new for us. All the people that you see are full-time musicians, with the exception of my brother who has another job on purpose. So we wouldn't even have time to do that normally,

Describe the energy of those performances in comparison to, say, a gig at a club.

For me, in some sense, the Plaza's special because at a club, people chose to go to the club. And they may have chosen to go see you at the club, they may have chosen to go see the person you're playing with, or they may have just decided they wanted to go to a club. So some people are there for you, but some people are just there... and that's okay, but at the park, if you're there for us, It's so obvious because not only did you stop, but the energy that you give just by being there is different than at a club.

(Image via @_matt.ellis)

Not too long ago, you released a new single called “Encouragement”. What’s on the docket in terms of new recordings?

Man, I got a whole album that includes the two singles that came out. That’s coming out in about a month. That'll have like 10 tracks on it. It’s the guys from the band and then a couple of special guests there.

I got another album coming that I made in the studio about a year ago. I'll probably release that one next fall.

We've been doing live streams from my living room. I live with my brother and the piano player, the drummer and the bass player from the park. So basically everyone just comes home and then we do this at, at five o'clock on Fridays.

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