The New England Conservatory’s Ethan Iverson, one of the most celebrated jazz pianists of his generation, is making a regular partnership with trumpet player Tom Harrell.
Iverson, a founding member of the Bad Plus, has already made a habit of teaming up with jazz legends like Charlie Haden and Tootie Heath since leaving the band. He first teamed up with Harrell in 2017, an outing preserved on their new record, “Common Practice.” They’re playing together on a special limited tour. WGBH Radio’s Arun Rath caught up with Iverson between classes and gigs. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: Tell us a little about what you do at the New England Conservatory — what does it mean to be on the jazz studio faculty?
Ethan Iverson: The New England Conservatory is a wonderful school, it's kind of, in its way, an elite school. And every semester I have seven students that are really at a high level that I work with privately. Sometimes they get better in front of my eyes. So that's quite gratifying.
Rath: Let’s talk about this record and working with Tom Harrell … Harrell is kind of a living god for trumpet players. But since you are actually on the jazz faculty, and you can talk about jazz history, let me ask you like Professor Iverson, can you explain to people why Tom Harrell is so important?
Iverson: When we talk about jazz, we talk about a word: lineage. The lineage of trumpet players goes from Louis Armstrong to Roy Eldridge to Dizzy Gillespie to Miles Davis to Clifford Brown. Tom became prominent in the 1970s, he was universally acclaimed as someone in the lineage, someone that understood what happened before him at a very high level, and then did it in his own way. He's a great composer, and he's a great thinker, and he's a great improviser in the sense that he plays something from deep inside that is fresh every night. He really reaches inside and does something that's — I don't know, it sounds like Billie Holiday, it's very deep and very, very vulnerable.
Rath: Is that why you released this as a live album, to capture that feeling?
Iverson: My idea for this album was simply that he's one of the great living exponents of ballads, blues and the standard repertoire. Let's just give Tom a platform, a good rhythm section, count off some songs and let him blow.
Rath: I'm really curious, now that you've had more time to play together. How has [the music] developed?
Iverson: We did play at the [Village] Vanguard for a couple of nights this summer, and I did think something good had happened to the music. Maybe most specifically in my own piano playing. I've really been pushing myself, I've been practicing, I've been trying to think about what I really need to do, to make the statements I really want to make and there's no other way to get some of that except by sharing the bandstand with someone like Tom. And, it's been percolating. So yeah, we'll see what happens, we have a nice three-night run, we're playing Boston and New York and Philadelphia, and I expect all the gigs to be pretty exceptional.
Rath: So are you excited to bring this show to Boston?
Iverson: I've been coming to Boston a bit, teaching of course, but also playing, I’ve played at the Regattabar a few times since leaving The Bad Plus, and I've been very overjoyed to find a very positive response. People come out, it's a really good vibe. I hope to be playing at the Regattabar for years to come with my own projects. It's really cool.