Before taking center stage with his own trio three years ago, pianist Larry Fuller spent decades refining his craft as a sideman with some of the most prominent artists in jazz. He broke in with vocalist Ernestine Anderson, performed with drummer Jeff Hamilton for six years, was the last pianist in the Ray Brown Trio and then spent five years with the John Pizzarelli Quartet.
The Napa Valley Jazz Society (NVJS) presents the Larry Fuller Trio at Silo’s on the afternoon of Aug. 20.
On the phone from his home in New York City last week, Fuller talked about how his long tenure as a sideman was essential to his development as a musician.
“I had the opportunity to learn a lot as a sideman,” he said. “One of my first gigs was accompanying the singer Ernestine Anderson. There’s a lot that you learn musically, as a pianist, in the role of accompanist to a singer.
“And then, just watching some of the great artists that I’ve had the opportunity to play with has been invaluable, how they lead a band and put their music together and how they know how to pace out a set in front of an audience, to connect to an audience instead of just kind of being detached.”
“I see a lot of young artists who get thrust into the leader role early on in their career,” Fuller added. “I think that they miss out because a record deal happens and there’s management behind them. They’re thrust into that lead role before they get any experience being a sideman.”
That said, Fuller is clear that being the leader of a jazz group was and is his career destination. “Playing jazz and playing the piano, I think the ultimate position to be in is to be the leader of a trio,” he said. “That’s the ultimate musical situation, in terms of being able to express yourself as a pianist and as an artist. Your strongest musical presentation, you know, is when it’s intuitively coming from yourself, from your ideas.”
Fuller acknowledges that being the leader carries with it a raft of responsibilities that have nothing to do with the creation and performance of music. “You’re responsible for all the logistical stuff,” he said, “all the basically, non-music-related things that have to be take care of when you travel with a group. For example, basic things like airline tickets and hotel rooms and all the transportation — things that can really become a headache on any given day.”
While Fuller has appeared on dozens of recordings as an accompanist, the first recording of the Larry Fuller Trio is 2014’s self-titled collection on Capri Records. “I’m working on my next one, which will also be on Capri,” he said. “I’m hoping to record it later this year, or in the not so distant future.”
At Silo’s, Fuller will be performing with bassist Mike Gurrola and drummer Jason Tiemann. “Mike, he’s one of the great, young bass players in the country,” Fuller said. “He studied some with John Clayton and he’s playing with a whole bunch of great artists, including the great pianist Eric Reed and sometimes with Jeff Hamilton.”
“Jason Tiemann is a fantastic drummer. He moved to New York from Louisville, Kentucky, where he was a long-time part of the Jamey Aebersold jazz summer camp. He’s really busy on the New York scene, playing with great artists like organ player Mike Ledonne and with Eric Alexander.”
Fuller is delighted to be returning to Napa. “I love playing at Silo’s,” he said. “I played there with Jeff Hamilton and I’ve known Bill Hart (NVJS president) for a long time. He’s not only a great supporter of the music, but I consider him to be a friend.
“It’s a pleasure to come to Napa. Aside from Silo’s, I’ve played at the Opera House a few times and at some of the wineries when I was with John Pizzarelli. I mean, who doesn’t like to come to Napa?”
Sunday, Aug. 20, 4 p.m. $45 (NVJS mambers, $25). Silo’s Napa. 530 Main St., Napa. Tickets at 707-224-5299 or nvjs.org.
Janiva Magness Saturday at Blue Note
Janiva Magness sings the blues. She is a seven-time Blues Music Award winner, most recently in 2015 in the Contemporary Blues Female Artist category, and a Grammy nominee for “Love Wins Again,” her 13th studio album. In 2009, she was honored as the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year by the Blues Foundation. Saturday, Aug. 5, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. $25-$45. Blue Note Napa. 1030 Main St., Napa. 707-880-2300. BlueNoteNapa.com.