Doing a band interview in a church is a first for me, but since it is The Bridge Trio's practice space as well as grounds for their master class, these boys were right at home. Adorable children ranging in age from three to 12 were hanging out with me in the pews of this beautiful Treme church, as drummer Joe Dyson, bassist Max Moran, and keyboardist Conan (Khan-an) Pappas conducted their lesson of the day. Teaching comes naturally for the group, and education is an important element to the band's path, with each member of the band having been taught and inspired by legends Alvin Batiste and Donald Harrison Jr. Dyson and Pappas first met Donald Harrison at the Louis Armstrong Jazz camp as child musicians. The boys eventually entered the internship program offered through the Tipitina's Foundation where they met Moran, and became friends at an Essence Fest performance, where Moran and Dyson performed together.
They eventually all entered NOCCA and started their band. Joe Dyson explained; "Our senior year at our recital is where we really started to focus on having a band. This is also when we created the name." The Bridge Trio has a contemporary sound that is layered with complexity, and they've become masters of structure and improvisation. They believe in art as expression of the soul and the times, and they've found the lessons to do so from Batiste, Harrison most notably, and other musicians during their journey. Max Moran talked about learning under Alvin Batiste, and the balance of composition and free form. "He did talk a lot about theory and structure, but he was really good at explaining things in an abstract and metaphorical way," Moran said. "That's when he talked about improvisation, and he had all these sayings, like 'It got to be jelly 'cause jam don't shake like that.' That's how he would coach us."
The band's relationship with Donald Harrison helped them have some amazing experiences, touring both at home and internationally. While still in high school, they became members of Harrison's band and got to travel the country. This proved to be a tricky situation. "We would have to get all of our homework done ahead of time, and set up special times with our teachers to take tests early," Dyson explained. "Conan and I went to St. Augustine together." Dyson had to make a sacrifice to go to NOCCA, which meant he had to give up being in the biggest marching band in the country. Pappas was faced with school politics. "I had a special situation because I was on an academic scholarship, and I wanted to go to NOCCA," he said. "The school told me and my dad that it had to be one or the other. We told the school that I really wanted to go there, and they eventually let me do it." Moran ended up at NOCCA as well, and they became a band, all on the same musical path.
Most of their international touring started during their first years of college. The practice they had in their last years of high school touring in the United States prepared them for juggling college and touring in Europe. A tour Harrison booked literally made them miss their college orientation. "We moved into our college dorm rooms, our parents helped and visited us, and when they left for home we left for Switzerland," Dyson explained.
Dyson and Moran attended Berkley College of music, and Pappas went to the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music. I was curious to know if the Boston and New York jazz scene made any impression. Dyson explained his experience: "The people in Boston were open, and when telling them that we were from New Orleans, they would want us to play the style. The thing about saying you're from New Orleans in any regards, you always get a particular reaction." New York having such a huge scene still made room for Pappas. "New York is the most critical city," he said. "There is a big jazz community, with some players that are cool and others that are cutthroat. But I feel blessed to come from a very musical city. When I would sit in and tell them I was from New Orleans, they definitely wanted to hear me play."
Assuming each member focused their studies on their instruments while in college, I was surprised to hear that they all took a different route. But they've been performing since they were kids, so they had a pretty good grasp on their instruments, to say the least. For Dyson it was motion picture. "I didn't want to get a performance degree because I felt like all the playing I had done with Donald and other musicians in the scene was a lesson in itself," he said. "I wanted to pick up another craft. So I focused on writing and studied film." And Moran focused on recording techniques. "I joined the music production engineering major," Moran said. "I graduated with a professional music degree. A friend and fellow musician who also went to Berkley suggested I learn something that I didn't know how to do before." Pappas has always enjoyed the electronic aspect of keyboards, and he mentions the ultimate set of keys. "My first instrument was a Casio that I had six or seven months before I even had a piano," he said. "So I kinda started with the electronic stuff before I really got into the keyboard. NOCCA gave us such a strong foundation in ear training and theory, I tested out of a lot of classes when I got to Berkley, which gave me the opportunity to learn new grounds like production and writing for big bands."
Still in their early 20s, The Bridge Trio has only just begun to realize their abilities and are continuing to enhance their horizons. They are all-natural and genteel teachers of music and want to make sure they educate and inspire younger players. It is important to the band to make a difference musically and socially. "Our mission as a group, being young artists within this music, we try to always make sure to extend the music and bring it to a younger audience," said Dyson. "We wanted to make sure that information wasn't being missed, and to pass on what was taught to us. We want to take the stigma away from Jazz being elite music for an older generation. We want to incorporate a social climate. To be able to reach people of all ages, that's bridging the gap, the bridge." The Bridge Trio can be seen all over New Orleans, especially at Snug Harbor. You can find their music via BMI and ASCAP. As our city continues to give us amazing musicians, artists, and teachers, The Bridge Trio has been added to the atmosphere.