Underground jazz chamber music

“I tune pianos and I work my ass off."

Joe Garrison
  • Joe Garrison
  • Image by Antar Martin

Underground jazz chamber music composer Joe Garrison claims to be inching closer to retiring from the music business.

His reasons? “I got into music because I thought I was going to find some sort of truth,” says Garrison. “But it turns out that there is no greater truth — this is only music — and as that becomes more apparent, I think I’m losing interest. Maybe it’s just because I’m old now [he’s 67], but I might just be outgrowing it.”

Past Event

Joe Garrison & Night People: Broken Jar

  • Saturday, September 29, 2018, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas

Having said that, Garrison is pumped to be releasing The Broken Jar, his latest album, which will debut with a performance by his group Night People at the Encinitas Library on September 29. What should audiences expect?

“This music is really different from anything else I’ve ever done,” Garrison says. “Number one, there’s no drums — so there’s an absence of groove. Also, a lot of the players are from the classical world and they don’t improvise, so the amount of densely written material is very pronounced. There are a ton of exchanges between the players, but most of it is notated.”

Writing, re-writing, and rehearsing new music for a band that rarely performs is an expensive proposition. I asked Garrison how he pays for it all.

“I tune pianos and I work my ass off. Sometimes six or seven days a week, from two to four instruments a day. I figure if I keep this up, I can retire when I’m 75. I thought I could do this forever, but when I hit 64 a few years back, I realized I need to pace myself. To keep tuning at the level I’m at is going to be impossible to keep up. By the end of June every year” — Garrison’s main gig is tuning the pianos at UCSD — “I feel like a zombie. It’s a very physically draining job. You have to really extend yourself to get a piano in perfect tune that will stay that way over the course of an evening. You have to put as much tension on the strings as they can take.”

He continues to tune, write, and perform, even if the logic escapes him.

“Honest to god, I don’t know why I do it. My wife says I’ve been quitting for the last 30 years.”

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