Sound It Out: “20 Questions” #19 — Devin Gray

Another installment of the recurring “Sound It Out: 20 Questions” feature on, with an artist answering a survey inspired by the famous Proust Questionnaire…

(Devin Gray performing at Greenwich House. Photo: Bart Babinski.)

Following the inaugural Sound It Out show in June 2012 by Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, it was drummer-composer Devin Gray who led the second concert in the series, later that month. He was celebrating the release of the excellent first album by his band Dirigo Rataplan, featuring saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, bassist Michael Formanek and trumpeter Ralph Alessi (subbing for regular band member Dave Ballou, who played on the record). Since that remarkable debut, Devin has been a regular performer in Sound It Out, as well as a great friend to the series. He led Dirigo Rataplan at Greenwich House again in a 2014 concert (with Ballou back in the lineup this time); in the series during both 2014 and 2015, Devin led his quartet Relative Resonance, featuring saxophonist Chris Speed, pianist Kris Davis and bassist Chris Tordini. The drummer has also played the series in Fay Victor’s Herbie Nichols Sung and in the Respect Sextet, as well as in an impromptu trio with Formanek and guitarist Jonathan Goldberger. This past January, he appeared as one-third of the collective Jagged Spheres, alongside saxophonist/flutist Anna Webber and keyboardist Elias Stemeseder. On March 3, 2018, Devin returns to Sound It Out as the linchpin in a double-bill, manning the drum chair for both Daniel Levine’s Knuckleball and the Santiago Leibson Trio.

Devin, who was born in 1983 and raised in Maine, moved to Brooklyn in 2006 from Baltimore, where he graduated from Peabody Conservatory and played with elders like Gary Thomas and in such bands of peers as Powerlunch. Since then, he has earned just praise. Noting Devin as a “musician-drummer rather than a drummer-drummer,” the UK’s Jazzwise said early on: “Gray is interested in making music that is deeply evocative… shaped by a fizzing, often restless push-pull energy.” The Free Jazz blog described Dirigo Rataplan as “intelligent without becoming intellectual or cerebral: This music is all about soul, with technical skills and finesse fully at the service of the end result, full of surprises, emotion and a deep-rooted sense of pulse. One of the best debut albums in years.” Reviewing his album with Relative Resonance, All About Jazz said: “The vitality and viscerality of Relative Resonance can’t be denied… the music here literally sparkles with wit and resourcefulness.” Devin has since recorded twice with Jagged Spheres, as well as with his Cloudsounds trio (alongside saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and pianist Corey Smythe) and his quartet Fashionable Pop Music (with Goldberger, Tordini and guitarist Ryan Ferreira). He also made two vinyl-only releases with keyboardist Liz Kosack and reed player Patrick Breiner as VAX. Of late, the drummer has played with the likes of Dave Liebman and Tony Malaby, along with touring Europe at the head of a trio with Speed and bassist Drew Gress. Devin’s second album featuring his music with Dirigo Rataplan is scheduled for release this fall.

About the March 3 concert with trumpeter Daniel Levine’s Knuckleball (a trio with pianist Marc Hannaford) and pianist Santiago Leibson’s trio (with Formanek on bass), Devin says: “Daniel and I go back many years, and we share many mutual joys in music. He’s also a great guy and a good friend – I love his life energy. As for Marc Hannaford, he’s not just a pianist – he is a thinker-pianist. He’s so clear with his ideas, so sharp. And he has this joyful attitude and dedication to music that sings deeply for me.” About Leibson, Devin adds: “Santiago was introduced to me by a mutual friend – and we immediately started playing music together. As a drummer, I’ve always enjoyed the space of a piano trio, and I really believe in Santiago’s composing and approach to music. And I’ve known Mike Formanek since 2001. As anyone who knows jazz realizes, he’s an incredible figure, as a musician and man. I’m really looking forward to this concert!” — BB

  1. What was the first jazz album you fell in love with and stayed in love with?

Four! by Joe Henderson.

  1. What do you think is one of the most overrated jazz albums ever?

The Epic by Kamasi Washington.

  1. What’s one of your all-time favorite non-jazz albums?

Drukqs by Aphex Twin.

  1. What’s the last album you listened to from beginning to end – and did you like it?

Personal Mountains by Keith Jarrett – YES.

  1. What’s your favorite film score?

A Clockwork Orange by Wendy Carlos.

  1. What was the most recent concert – of any genre – that made you fall in love with music all over again?

Craig Taborn’s Daylight Ghosts quartet with Chris Speed, Chris Lightcap and Dave King, at the Stone, NYC.

  1. Which are your very favorite and least favorite venues for live music?

Favorite: the Stone. Least favorite: Brooklyn Bazaar – please fix the sound…

  1. What’s your favorite quote about music?

“You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.” — Charlie Parker

  1. If you could have a drink with any late visual artist of the past, who would it be?

Jackson Pollack.

  1. What are the top three tools of your trade?

My ears, my ears and… my ears.

  1. What’s your most indispensable piece of technology that isn’t music-oriented?

My computer.

  1. What are your top media sources of writing/opinion/news about music?

Does Facebook count?

  1. What non-musical/non-technological quality is most important to being an enduringly creative musician?

Good weather and good food…

  1. What living person do you most admire – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most admire?

Guitarist Marc Ducret – fearless!

  1. What living person do you most despise – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most despise?

It’s probably too easy to say Donald Trump, so… U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos – overall equality for the students seems low among her priorities…

  1. What’s your favorite place in the world?

It’s a tie between Berlin (fun, loose, relaxed) and the Aosta Valley in Italy (fun, beautiful, fresh).

  1. If you could live in another time period, when would that be?

During the Renaissance – I’d try to hang in Italy with Gesualdo…

  1. What film haven’t you seen that you feel like you should?


  1. What aspect of the past do you miss most – and what’s one thing you look forward to about the future that doesn’t yet exist?

Since I haven’t had a car in more than 10 years, I (slightly) miss driving medium to short distances to hang out with close friends… Re: the future, I look forward to Google solving everything for me…

  1. What would you like your last meal to consist of?

Either French or Italian cooking… Not sure which chef but for sure someone local and unknown and in a weird part of Rome or in Perpignan, or Sicily…