Q&A with NU jazz musicians Roy McGrath, Gustavos Cortinas and Kitt Lyles

James Bien, Reporter

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The Roy McGrath jazz trio performs regularly at Prairie Moon in Evanston. Made up of saxophonist Roy McGrath, drum player Gustavo Cortinas, and bassist Kitt Lyles, the threesome has hosted performances at the restaurant on the first Friday every month since January, hoping to get younger audiences interested in this genre of music. McGrath, a first-year Bienen graduate student, Cortinas, a second-year Bienen graduate student, and Bienen senior Lyles talked with The Current about their inspirations and aspirations.

The Current: Why did you decide to form a jazz trio?

Roy McGrath: I’ve known Gustavo for about eight years now. We used to play together in New Orleans. We recorded a CD together with our trio over there. He actually asked me to come to Northwestern’s jazz program, which is why I’ve been here in Chicago for seven months now. Kitt’s our bassist just because he’s the best bassist. We needed a bass, and he was the guy.

The Current: What are some of your inspirations?

Kitt Lyles: Inspiration? Everything. The Blues is definitely our inspiration.

RM: That’s a good answer. I’ll say that my inspiration is anything that sounds good, whether or not it is music.

The Current: What is the name of your trio?

RM: Right now, it is the Roy McGrath trio, but we might be changing it to something less selfish.

The Current: Do you have similar tastes in music?

RM: Yes and no. We’ve known each other for a very long time, so it’s one of those things where we do listen to a lot of the same musicians.

KL: We have a lot of overlap, but we also have our each individual focus of what we really like for ourselves.

The Current: What do you think of jazz appreciation on campus?

KL: Most people don’t really know what jazz is.

RM: Yeah, and every once in a while when we have our concerts at Regenstein (Hall of Music), we’ll see faces that are not coming to the classical or jazz program, and it’s like, “Where did you guys come from?” That’s why we have our monthly gig at the Prairie Moon. It’s a hip bar and restaurant with great beer and great food, and we’re just trying to get the younger crowd to take jazz and hear it.

The Current: Do you think there is a misconception that jazz is an acquired taste or just something that can only be appreciated by an older generation?

Gustavo Cortinas: A lot of people who have come to our concerts at Regenstein and Pick-Staiger (Concert Hall) are from an earlier generation. We have a lot of seniors that come and appreciate our music. To a lot of people, it is also an acquired taste. A lot of it comes from exposure. The media and everything that surrounds us give preference to a certain type of music that they look to market. Since people are not exposed to jazz that much, it’s harder for them to get into since they didn’t grow up listening to it or learn to appreciate it. There’s something very beautiful about the energy and feelings that you can communicate through jazz. Anybody can relate to and appreciate it if they are given the opportunity to be there.

The Current: What plans do you have for the future of your trio?

RM: Actually, our trio is a smaller extension of a band that we have. We have a provisional guitarist that’s studying at Northwestern, and Justin Copeland, who plays the trumpet. He actually recorded a CD with all of us of his own compositions. We’re actually going to be touring Mexico all of July once we have the CDs. For our specific trio, my plan is that we’re going to be recording in the next six or seven months, something of my own original compositions.