After recording spirited takes on jazz standards like “Caravan” and “In A Sentimental Mood,” as well as some original compositions, the Gregory Agid Quartet decided to take the title of its new album—Jamz—to heart.
For 45 minutes, clarinetist Agid and his bandmates (guitarist Joshua Starkman, bassist Max Moran and drummer A.J. Hall) cut loose on an extended improvisation that flowed from funk breakdowns to free-jazz crumblings, which they then used as between-song excerpts on the new album.
“That was us getting really out,” Agid said with a laugh, speaking from his home in New Orleans. “But that fit in with the concept of Jamz, which was to make a fun record that hopefully not only jazz aficionados could listen to and enjoy, but also people who don’t know shit about the music. We want everyone to enjoy what’s happening.”
It’s an idealistic goal, to be sure, but not an impossible one to imagine with Agid leading the charge. The lanky musician has a warm, infectious personality that seems to lift the mood of anyone he comes into contact with. His playing reflects that spirit. Even on the most poignant ballads, there’s a lightness to his performances that floats above a song’s sorrowful qualities.
The ability for music to help push the dark clouds away is something that Agid was brought up believing in. As a kid growing up in Hawaii, his mother would encourage him to sing to himself to get over his fears. And he found a joy in creating his own music, starting off on piano before switching to clarinet in the 5th grade. As for his interest in jazz, it wasn’t until his family relocated to the birthplace of the music when he was 12 that Agid truly took it in.
Agid became immersed in the music, attending the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp, where he found himself playing alongside other future stars like Jon Batiste, Trombone Shorty and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah. It was there that Agid met a person who would help shape his future: legendary clarinetist Alvin Batiste.
“He was the first teacher I had in New Orleans,” Agid remembered. “That relationship changed my path forever.”
His path also led him to the door of Eddie Daniels, the clarinet player whose long career found him playing alongside everyone from Freddie Hubbard to Billy Joel. Agid spent a week in Santa Fe, New Mexico, studying with Daniels and getting a helpful push out the door to pursue his musical dreams.
“That was a tremendously motivating and inspirational trip,” Agid said. “I had already made the decision that I was going to play clarinet, but to be around someone who is at the top of their game, having done all the amazing things that he has done; that forever motivated me to reach that level.”
Agid has been well on his way ever since. He has logged time as a member of Delfeayo Marsalis’ Uptown Jazz Orchestra and backed up soul singer Kristina Morales. The clarinetist also has a regular weekly gig at Maison, a well-known New Orleans hotspot. It’s the vibe of those shows that he and his quartet were aiming to capture on Jamz.
Great as his own music is, it’s Agid’s work with younger players that could become his most important legacy. With the help of fellow musicians, he started the Second Line Arts Collective, an organization offering classes to teen players and which, for the past two years, has held its own jazz summer camp.
“For the next little while, my two main projects are trying to move the quartet forward and helping this nonprofit create educational opportunities,” he said. “And trying to find a way to make the quartet and the nonprofit work together.” DB