It's been a busy few months for Normal native Adam Larson.
The acclaimed saxophonist and composer recently moved from New York City to Kansas City. His new album "Listen with Your Eyes" drops today. And he learned he'll be inducted in the University High School Alumni Hall of Fame next month. The latter caught him off-guard.
“I never gave much thought to it other than, OK it happened once a year when I was in high school. Then a couple months ago I got this email saying that I was the recipient of this Hall of Fame Alumni award. So I’m super honored to have been thought of,” said Larson during a brief return to the Twin Cities in mid-July.
He’ll return again in October to receive the award, where he’ll give a speech in U-High’s Stroud Auditorium and be part of the reception at that evening’s football game. It’s quite an honor normally reserved for more veteran alumni.
“I remember people coming in to receive the award (when he was in high school) I think were a little older than me generally,” said the man heading into his third decade on the planet.
He’ll also be able to show off his new album when he returns. He said the title, “Listen with Your Eyes,” came out of the visual way people consume music in 2019.
“Over the last 10 years, I’ve noticed the trend that the younger the audience is, the more they want to have some kind of visual component. I do a lot of educational work, and when I ask where they listen to music, the answer is almost always some derivative of Spotify or Apple music. Or more common: YouTube, which trips me out because that would be the last place I would go to listen to music. I would open a CD or something more along the audio side of it,” said Larson, who added the YouTube world of music feels “dark” to him.
“People (seem) more concerned sometimes with what they’re looking at than what they’re hearing. For me, that takes away some of the beauty of listening to music.”
Another wrinkle that rankles Larson, and he’s not alone in this area, is the plethora of phones either recording a live show or taking pictures.
“For me, that takes away from the actual experience of why you’re there,” said Larson. “Are you really there to take a video of it or are you just doing it because that’s what people do? At a rock concert it might be a different story, but at a jazz club it can be distracting when you look out and people are on their phones either looking down or watching your concert through the lens of a phone. That just seems counterproductive to me."
Many of those clubs he will now frequent will be in or near Kansas City. It’s where he, his wife Tierney and their now two sons now live after 10 years in the Big Apple. It’s a huge move for a jazz musician to leave the jazz capital of the world, even if K.C. has it’s own storied jazz history. But those now 2 ½ years and 4-month-old sons (Jack and Clark) were a key reason.
“It was time for them to move to a place where they could have a front and back yard with a slower pace of life. And you can get a lot more for your money in Kansas City,” said Larson.
“At the same time we got a rent renewal notice in the mail saying we could renew our place in New York for the low price of $600 more per month than what we were paying. That was the final nail in the coffin.”
He said he also feels good about the move as the many goals he set when he moved to NYC a decade ago have largely been met. And serendipity worked it’s magic as he also landed in academia when he arrived in Kansas. As with the alumni award, it’s another wrinkle he didn’t see coming.
“It’s very hard to get a job in academia these days without that terminal degree,” said Larson. “I had applied for many in New York and had not heard anything. So, I said the doctorate is not going to work on the timeline I need it to, so let’s just move to Kansas City and see what happens. The week of the closing on the house I officially got offered a job at the University of Missouri-Kansas City conservatory. So, I’m already teaching music business and saxophone lessons.”
Larson sounds energized about the move back to the Midwest and for sliding into academia. He’s also excited about the "Listen with Your Eyes," which isn’t a departure from past albums featuring complex and sophisticated modern jazz arrangements. The album also continues a move toward what he calls instrumental rock, and points to the album’s second track “False Pageantry” as an example. He gave a nod to album pianist Fabian Almazan for his synth work over the top of an already intense song.
“There’s improvisation in every piece I write, but a lot of it is definitely not considered straight-ahead jazz. And I always have a little bit of a hard time articulating what kind of music I write or play, because so much of it has grooves that don’t necessarily swing,” said Larson.
Adam Larson’s new album “Listen with Your Eyes’ is available on Amazon, Bandcamp, and others online sites. He returns to Normal in October for the U-High Alumni Hall of Fame induction.
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