If you want to understand Taber Gable’s philosophy of jazz music, you don’t need to look further than the title of his debut album, Hidden Driveways.
“Hidden Driveway– it’s a sign down here to warn drivers of places they may not see on the path that they’re on,” he said.
Gable, a 29-year-old musician from Knoxville, Tennessee, studied jazz at University of Hartford’s Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz, before moving to perform in New York City.
“In New York, I was typically known as a side man that would play, you know, straight ahead jazz at some of the jazz venues around town,” said Gable.
But when he was writing his own compositions, Gable said he wanted to take a more experimental direction, something that expressed his personal connection to a variety of musical genres.
“This album is to represent and to shed light on some areas that I personally call home that people may not have known.”
Gable credits his love for music to his parents. His mom went to school for vocal performance, and his father, he said, sang and played music around town. Their tastes in music were eclectic and exposed him to the genres and styles he would later incorporate into his own music.
“Rock and roll and jazz and hip hop and R & B — they’re all essentially the African-American diaspora,” Gable explained.
Gable started out playing the piano in church as a child. After deciding as a junior in high school that he wanted to be a musician, he enrolled in the University of Hartford’s jazz program, where he met the musicians he plays with today.
When he was in school, Gable said he learned that the best horn players were always trying to imitate vocalists. He thought, why not just sing?
On Thursday and Friday nights, he and a group of friends would head down to jazz clubs in the city to hear some of the world’s best musicians, and some of the clubs would let young musicians like him and his friends sneak in.
“Sure, you had homework the next morning, but you were like, ‘Of course!’” he said.
He also took advantage of the jazz scene in Hartford. He would perform at Black-Eyed Sally’s on Asylum Street at its Monday night jazz jams. And in the summers there was the Hartford Jazz Festival.
Getting to perform alongside his professors, he said, gave him confidence that he would be able to make it as a musician.
An eclectic Black American music
Gable’s compositions rely on percussion — synthesizer, electric keyboard, drums and his own voice.
“I guess I kind of wanted to get away from … the cliché brass instrument idea of jazz, because I feel like there’s something that the human ear relates [to] with hearing vocals.”
When he was in school, Gable said he learned that the best horn players were always trying to imitate vocalists. He thought: Why not just sing?
Without the presence of the horns, it becomes easy to hear the influences of R & B, pop and hip-hop in Gable’s music. Gable says that all these forms of music have something in common, their source.
“I just wanted to enlighten people about the many different ways and the eclecticism of Black American music, how it isn’t just confined to jazz, but you can use jazz to inform other styles that we created as African Americans,” he said.
When he was writing the song Tears, for example, Gable said his inspiration came from listening to albums by the popular Canadian rapper Drake.
“I was like, okay, let me hear what everybody else is hearing,” he said. “Let me hear what I want to hear about them and make my own assessment and see … what are some of the fabrics that I can take away and implement in my own style.”
The popular music that informs his own work could be a way to attract millennials who might be less interested in jazz than in other types of music, said Gable.
“Melody is key. As long as you have a strong melody, I believe that you can capture anyone’s ear, because to me that’s something that really never outdates itself,” he said.
Gable said that the different genres let him express his emotions more freely through the music.
His first song on Hidden Driveways, an instrumental piece called “Don’t Let Life Hold You Down,” is a chant that he plays over and over in his own head.
“Sometimes living in New York City, when the going was getting tough, I’d kind of be like, man, you just got to keep going,” he said.
Another, “Unspoken Realities,” tries to conveys the conflict between the desire to create and the judgment or criticism of other people.
“How do you still hold on to inspiration of wanting to do what you want to do, regardless of being told, ‘Yeah, you don’t really know anything,” or ‘You got to change that right now’?”
“That’s probably my favorite song, because it really represents the direction that I was trying to go for this album. Just very me,” he said.
Gable has started on his next album, which he said will be full of twists and turns. Like in Hidden Driveways, the new songs will be jazz-inspired, but eclectic.
“Music should be very expressive. And I think that when it’s at its purest and most powerful form is when everybody is not being bound up by premeditated ideas,” explained Gable. “I think it’s just something that’s supposed to just happen naturally.”
Photos: Adiana Rivera (Courtesy of Taber Gable)