New artist spotlight: Jazz musician, Henry Darragh
As a Moores School of Music graduate who is currently pursuing his doctorate in music arts, Henry Darragh and his relationship with jazz have come a long way since learning how to play piano in his youth alongside his mother, Jacque Darragh, a gospel singer who has four album releases under her belt.
With the release of Darragh’s “Tell Her for Me” album and his live performance of an anticipated second album on Nov. 17 at the Ovations Night Club, the pianist, vocalist and trombonist pays much tribute to his mother.
“I was just a couple of years old when I started playing. My mom would get up on the seat, because she plays, and I always wanted to play growing up,” Darragh said. “She would be the one who would tell you that I’m the better musician in the family. She taught me a lot, especially about handling CD packaging.”
Though he took a liking to listening to and studying the intricacies of classical music throughout middle school and high school, the appeal and compositions of jazz music lassoed Darragh in the long run. The inspiration drawn from jazz artists like Miles Davis and Esperanza Spalding, combined with his constant exposure and devotion to the trombone since turning 12 years old, made jazz music something of a necessity for him. He couldn’t escape the charming attributes that jazz had to offer, and with the help of Moores and its variety of opportunities to perform, Darragh was perfectly comfortable.
“Being at the music school, I have been able to play alongside many jazz journeymen. Names include Seamus Blake, Lew Soloff, Randy Brecker, Brian Lynch, Edsel Gomez and many others. I participated in Mr. Stuart Ostrow’s theater lab and wrote music for two new musicals while I was an undergrad,” Darragh said.
“Honestly, I think jazz is better than the other forms of music that I listen to. There’s just a certain element about jazz that I’m attracted to. It’s hard to put a name on it.”
Darragh also had it in his mind to release some of his own music as a solo artist while attending classes at Moores. His 11-track album “Tell Her for Me,” released in 2009, is filled with eclectic, smooth and swingy jazz music performances by him and the members of his sextet band, who have developed a huge personal and working relationship in the last 10 years.
“I probably wanted to release that album for many years. I would write down in my head my dream band and who’s going to play on it. As I worked more as a musician, I played some small group gigs and played with certain people,” Darragh said. “When the time came to the point where I really felt like I had something to say and when it got to where I had enough music, I called on a lot of those people that I liked playing with.”
One of these members of Darragh’s entourage, trombonist Andre Hayward, has found that he and Darragh resonate well in any music they perform together.
“Me and Henry actually share the same religious qualities in terms of just a church background,” Hayward said.
“His spirituality is deeply embedded into the knowledge of music, so what you would often hear from Henry — whether he would sing, play trombone or piano — there’s a lot of experiences coming through his composition.”
Bassist Glen Ackerman, another sextet member, also blended well with Darragh when it came to the band’s jazz chemistry.
“(Darragh is) a musically sensitive individual. If you went to see a jazz performance, it would be like listening to a very gripping conversation, or a debate between two like-minded people. Of course, in a conversational state you have to listen to what the other person is saying, so Henry’s a sensitive listener in that regard,” Ackerman said.
Darragh also has what he calls an “overbooked” schedule. In addition to taking classes for the completion of his doctorate, Darragh also teaches private piano and voice lessons at a West University studio provided by the Writers on the Round. He also regularly plays at restaurants such as Eddie V’s, Perry’s Steakhouse and Ouisie’s Table, to name a few.
Darragh enjoys appearing at these venues and providing music to compliment the food, but the real anchor for him, as he also expects for his Nov. 17 performance, is being able to play for audiences who are strictly appreciative of his craft.
The subject matter of the listening session, which will also be recorded and released as a full album, is said to take a turn that is markedly different from the love-gone-wrong tale presented in “Tell Her For Me.” Instead, the next album will not only focus on love, but also on having physical, emotional and spiritual self-balance.
For Darragh, being able to showcase his expressions through jazz to interested listeners helps keep his balance.
“I’ve played at a lot of different situations, and it’s different every time. By and large, we’re ignored when we play at restaurants, and we’re really only playing for each other or for other musicians,” Darragh said.
“This gig next month we’ll be playing for a listening room. People are going there to listen. They’re not going in there because it’s cocktail hour or because they got some steaks on the grill. That’s where it’s different.”
The Henry Darragh and Sextet Ovations listening performance will be held at the Ovations Night Club on Sunday, November 17. Tickets are $15 and $8 for seniors and students. Check out Darragh’s album, “Tell Her For Me,” on iTunes.