Dancing to a New Beat: Diego de Lima and Nutria Create Wary Heat for The Art of Jazz

Crunch time! Final rehearsals for The Art of Jazz — three world premiere productions that combine the control of ballet with the freewheeling improvisation of jazz performed by well-known live jazz trios.
Director Dave Hurlbert has teamed award winning Marigny Opera Ballet choreographers Diogo de Lima, Nikki Hefko and Barbara Hayley with composers Helen Gillet, Larry Sieberth and Nutria (Byron Asher, Trey Boudreaux and Shawn Myers) a triple-threat evening of original dance and music.
Members of the Marigny Opera Ballet Company include Kellis McSparrin Oldenburg, Gretchen Erickson, John Bozeman, Ashlie Russell, Joshua Bell, Christian Delery and Lauren Guynes.
Performances are scheduled for Thursday Feb. 9th, Friday Feb. 10th, and Sunday Feb. 12th (No Saturday performance). Tickets $35/$25 (students and seniors) are available at
Q&A: Nutria
Formed in 2014, Nutria is an instrumental trio that performs original compositions with an emphasis on collective improvisation. Their music explores jazz, chamber music, traditional music of the African diaspora and Eastern Europe and the avant-garde.  
Meet composer-musicians Byron Asher, clarinet/saxophone; Trey Boudreaux, acoustic bass; and Shawn Myers, drums, creators of “Wary Heat,” the closing number of The Art of Jazz.
How did you get together?
Byron: We met as graduate students in the Jazz Studies program at the University of New Orleans. Since leaving school we have released an EP, several music videos and completed a two-week tour of the Midwest, playing jazz clubs, art galleries, dive bars and community spaces. Plans for 2017 include a new record, a return tour to the Midwest, and other local performances.  

Have you ever composed music for a ballet?  How did your composition for The
Art of Jazz differ from other pieces you’ve done that didn’t involve dance?
Byron: I have performed for dance before, and I have composed for film and theatre, but never for ballet. Our music relies heavily on improvisation, as well as composition, so the trick with this piece was to write music that we felt represented the sound we have as a band and captured the spontaneity of our live performances without the crutch of improvisation. I say crutch because we as musicians who improvise can sometimes over-rely on that ability and neglect the work of composition. The three of us in Nutria take both crafts seriously. 
Trey: I have performed improvised music for improvised dance before, but this is the first composition that was through-composed and choreographed in advance.  This project was a huge undertaking for our band, which usually delves deeply into improvisation along with composition.  This piece is almost only through-composed, pre-planned music with little-to-no improvisation.
Shawn: Texture was taken more into consideration and length. All other tunes we have written have solos involved which creates a different feeling/spontaneity we couldn’t use in this case. Group writing makes it necessary to build off of ideas rather than create ideas.

What do you want the audience to experience when they’re listening to The Art of Jazz?

I don’t place many expectations on my audiences in general; I just hope that the final product of this piece delivers an interesting and thought-provoking time for whoever experiences it.  I am most interested by the diversity of experience and perspective in an audience, and how their interpretations shed new light on an already complex project.
I want them to connect with sound and movement in a new way. I want them to redefine what jazz is. New Orleans is the birth place of jazz, but it has expanded throughout the entire globe now. Many other cultures and communities have contributed to it in different ways. We hope to encompass many facets of the world through the lens of jazz and ballet to connect to a greater community.
What are the next two things on your creative bucket list?
As a band, we’re currently working towards releasing another record, due out next Fall/Winter, and we’re working on setting up a consistent touring schedule. Booking tours is hard work for a relatively new and unknown weirdo jazz group, so we don’t plan on being on tour full-time, but we would like to be doing a couple of quality tours each year. The next run will be in March to the upper Midwest, including Minneapolis, Chicago and Indianapolis. Personally, I’m working towards the premiere of another large composition in April that is based in research I’ve been doing for the past few years on the New Orleans clarinet tradition.
An acoustic chamber ensemble playing my new compositions, and a series of duo projects with some of my close musical collaborators.
o   Electronic Music Production
o   Recording An album
What composers/musicians inspired your section of The Art of Jazz?
Each of us was in charge of composing one of the three movements, with input from the rest of us, so each movement features the personal compositional style of each of us. That said, in research for my movement, I was inspired by 20th century ballets by Stravinsky and Aaron Copland, as well as the work of Bartok, but I was also playing the record “Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do” by London-based quartet Sons of Kemet on repeat all summer, so I think that probably played into my writing a lot. 
   o   Haitian Music
   o   Ghanaian, Togolese and Beninois Musics
   o   Sonny Rollins, Fly Trio, Steve Lehman, Chris Potter
   o   Stravinsky
Was the experience with the Art of Jazz collaborative? How much interaction did you have with the choreographer?
Yes, it was. A lot of key words to relate to each other’s medium.
We met with choreographer Diogo de Lima early on in the writing process and then again towards the end. Initially, we watched video of his choreography and picked his brain on what his vision was. His chief directive was: “Make it sexy.” I think we achieved that. The early writing process was very collaborative between the three of us as we spent the summer bringing fragments and ideas to rehearsal to workshop before sitting down to finalize our scores. And in that finalization, which was solitary work, we, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, borrowed and stole ideas and melodic fragments from each other to repurpose for our own writing. In a way you could call it a “collaborative bleed.”
We maintained good communication with Diogo de Lima, the
choreographer.  However, after our first meeting, we knew we trusted one another and wanted to leave each other to do our own thing.  Having that trust and allowing freedom will yield the most interesting product, so while we talked concepts in a broad way, we really just wanted to see each other’s approach and throw curve balls at one another until things balanced out.

What’s does the next generation of jazz music look like?

I’m inspired by the number of (young) musicians in New Orleans, many of whom are friends and colleagues, who are invested in making interesting, original music that, for lack of a better term, comes out of the jazz idiom. Is all of it swinging? No, but I don’t believe that to be a prerequisite for jazziness. It is new, adventurous music, and I find that exciting. I suppose if we all keep doing what we’re trying to do, that’s something to look forward to! 
Trey: Jazz is a sometimes-confusing word that describes a time, a music, an approach that manifests in modern music in many ways, some more subtle than others.  Whether musicians describe themselves as “jazz musicians” or not, there are always incredible new musicians, composers, improvisers, etc. that assimilate movements and styles like jazz and do the unexpected.  More good art is on the horizon. 
What’s on your personal playlist?
Right now, avant garde saxophonist Matana Roberts and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Hot Sevens.
This week, Beethoven Quartets and Schnittke String, the new release from A Tribe Called Quest, Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”, and the early Creole music recordings of Amede Ardoin.
   o   Field Recordings from my recent trip to Ghana, Togo and Benin
   o   Workout – Hank Mobley
   o   Selebeyone – Steve Lehman
 o   History of Color EP – El Bu’ho and Barrio