Sunflower Sutra

Bassist Sean Hicke steps forward

Sean Hicke — from Saint Augustine High to jazz front man.
  • Sean Hicke — from Saint Augustine High to jazz front man.
  • Photograph by Anastasya Korol

“I’ve always written a ton of music, but I didn’t really have enough time to lead my own groups until recently,” says jazz bassist Sean Hicke, who just released his debut solo album Sunflower Sutra. The San Diego native played saxophone in the jazz band at Saint Augustine High School and went on to study music at SDSU. “I was busy doing schoolwork, teaching, and working as a sideman, so I never had enough time to make it happen. Recording this album was one of the first things I did after graduating.”

Being a frontman has required learning new skills. “The hardest thing about leading a band is the sheer amount of nonmusical work that’s involved. Normally for a gig, I just get a call, put it in my calendar, and show up at the right place at the right time. As a bandleader, I have to work around several other people’s schedules, call venues to book gigs, organize repertoire, and get publicity about my performances. It’s a lot of extra work that keeps me from playing my bass.”

Another aspect of the modern music biz also materialized upon announcing the LP. “Is it even an album release if you don't get a bunch of messages from scammy ‘promoters?’ My fave is when they try to personalize it and mention what they liked about a certain track, but it’s clear they only listened to three seconds of it.”

Sunflower Sutra cover shot in North Park

Sunflower Sutra cover shot in North Park

Sunflower Sutra, featuring a cover photo shot in North Park, is named for a poem by Allen Ginsberg. “The poem is about a battered old sunflower by a railroad that has gotten covered by soot because of the all the trains. At the climax, Ginsberg gives a sermon to the sunflower and to Jack Kerouac about the innate humanity of all people. That spoke to me, so I wrote a song by the same name that became the title track of my album.”

While mostly a local production, the album (tracked at Rarefied Recording in North Park) includes guest player Camellia Aftahi, a classical bassist and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Diversity Fellow. “The instrumentation of my main quartet is a bit unusual, eschewing piano and saxophone in favor of vibraphone and guitar. This gives the band access to all sorts of colors that one usually doesn’t hear.”

“A very common instrumentation for a jazz quartet is some sort of horn, piano, bass, and drums. This works really well for a lot of music, but for the music I write, I wanted the instruments to blend together in a gentler way. As a bassist, it’s easy to be overpowered by saxophone and piano, but vibes and guitar provide a totally different soundscape that allows the voice of my bass to speak more clearly.”

The album showcases a rising local vibraphonist. “It seemed like Matt DiBiase showed up on the jazz scene out of nowhere. One week I had never heard of him, and the next week he was playing with everybody. When I finally got a chance to hear him play live, my whole perception of vibraphone changed. We don’t have a whole lot of vibraphonists in town, and most band leaders tend to hire pianists or guitarists instead, so we don’t get to hear them too often. We became friends and played several gigs together and it just seemed natural to have him on my album.” He recently released the third video for the album, featuring DiBiase along with local jazz stars Louis Valenzuela (Áfrojazziacs, Dornob) and Julien Cantelm (Kelp Giant).

Past Event

Sean Hicke Band

  • Thursday, January 31, 2019, 8 p.m.
  • Rabbit Hole, 3377 Adams Avenue, San Diego

Hicke’s band will play the Rabbit Hole on January 31. “Currently, I play all over San Diego in various groups. If you’re at a venue that has a jazz band, there’s a good chance I’ve played there at some point in someone’s band.”

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