Vibraphonist Behn Gillece began his musical training in his teenage years. With an early interest in jazz, he began his studies in percussion. Inspired by such greats as Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson, he decided to make a commitment to vibraphone and composition. Gillece has performed throughout the country. Some of the venues include the Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Kimmel Center, Smalls Jazz Club, Smoke Jazz Club, Fat Cat, Yoshi's, Chris’ Jazz Cafe, and others. Gillece has also appeared at jazz and music festivals worldwide, including the North Sea, Montreux, Nice, Molde, Ghent, Montreal, and Toronto festivals.
Gillece has distinguished himself on the New York jazz scene as a sought-after sideman, as well as leader. As co-leader with tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser, they have four critically acclaimed recordings on the Posi-Tone label. “Top Shelf", their most recent album, features original music that they have performed at venues in NYC, NJ, and Philadelphia. This new recording enlists the support of some of today’s top musicians, including Michael Dease (trombone), Steve Einerson (piano), Dezron Douglas (bass), and Rodney Green (drums). Their other recordings for the Posi-Tone label have been well received by critics, and have received international acclaim and extensive radio play.
As a recording artist, he has appeared as a co-leader/sideman on 20+ recordings, and continues to tirelessly compose for new projects. On the educational side, Gillece conducts clinics and masterclasses at colleges and universities throughout the area. He has prepared over 200+ lessons for online instruction via vibesworkshop.com, where his lessons reach members internationally. In the spring of 2008, Gillece finished his master’s degree at SUNY Purchase College. Some of Gillece's awards and honors include winning the 2008 Jazz Improvisation competition at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, participating in the 2009 Betty Carter Jazz Ahead residency, and winning the Generations competition in 2009.
What is your first musical memory?
Some of my early memories go back to when I was a teenager and wanted to play drums. I wanted to start a rock band with friends. I loved grunge, and I liked all those different types of bands like Nirvana, Alice and Chains, and Pearl Jam. So I started taking drum lessons and I ended up getting tied to some of the music stuff in my high school. So I was getting a lot of different experience from playing rock and drums, but I was also learning how to play percussion and classical. I was getting into that stuff, playing local gigs when I was about 17. There was this vibes player in town, and I thought that was really cool so I started dabbling in that. At college, I took two years of classical lessons, but I more or less switched to jazz a couple years in and made the switch to vibes and that just kind of took over. So I’ve always had an interest in it, but I was coming from drums.
I guess the other thing is that when you’re a percussionist, especially in an orchestra, you just kind of play a part in the background, sometimes you’re just sitting there for a half hour, waiting for your one cymbal crash or something. For me, playing vibes is a way to be part of an ensemble--play the melody or play a part of the song. That’s always been kind of intriguing about it.
Who is the most influential character [relative, teacher, player] in your musical development, and why?
My parents. They’ve always supported what I’ve done from the very beginning. And I admired this, maybe not at the time, but when I first started playing, I wanted a drum set. My parents forced me to take music lessons before I could even get one. They went out and bought me a practice pad and a pair of drumsticks and said, “if you’re serious, then after a couple months we’ll get you a drum set.” And they did. And I kept practicing and started doing some good things. I remember the first time I did a region band concert, a couple years into music, I needed a suit, and I didn’t have one, so I had to get my first suit. And they came out to the concert, and it was one of the first times they had ever seen me play in that sort of context, and they were pretty much really supportive of me from that point on, and helped me get through college. So they were definitely the primary influence, because they were behind me the whole way.
If you could play with any artist who has passed, who would that be and why?
Naturally, the giants come to mind: Miles, Trane, whatever. And that would be a great experience. But then there’s a guy like McCoy, who’s actually out there still playing--that would be a dream. He’s one of my favorite musicians and influences, and he happens to still be alive. Or certain drummers--Philly Joe or Elvin, Billy Higgins, guys like that.
Is jazz relevant today and, if so, how?
YES [laughs]. Then there’s the “how” part. It’s just relevant because there’s so many great musicians out there still, you know, and without trying to sound too negative, I think that a lot of times, musicians put ourselves in this trap or something and say, “things aren’t what they used to be,” or “things will never be the same.” Or you hear people say, like, “jazz is dead,” or “we shouldn’t use the term jazz,” or we shouldn’t say this or that. So there’s all this stuff that gets tossed around. And I think that it’s kind of overthinking it sometimes. Because when you really do think about it, there’s a lot of great musicians out there and there’s a lot of great stuff happening if people choose to seek it. And there’s also things that maybe aren’t so great, too. I’m not saying that everything you go out and see performed on a given night and you’ll be knocked out, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t good stuff in the mix. I just think that’s probably pretty reflective of how things have always been, to some extent. We like to think that there was a certain time or a certain era that was better than now, but I don’t really believe in that. I don’t think there was a “better than now.” I think that it’s all relative to the times. If you read interviews with certain musicians of that “era,” they’re saying the same things that we’re saying now: “I’m not making a lot of money,” “I wish I made more money,” “I wish I had some more gigs.” And the way jazz was in the 60’s when the Beatles came out, people were saying that it was over. But here we are, 50 years later, and it’s alive. It’s just evolving. It doesn’t mean it’s gone, and it probably won’t be, ever really. I think there’s always a place for it.
I just think that it’s as relevant as it ever was, as long as people are out there looking for the good stuff. There’s always thousands of great players out there doing great things, doing cool things.