Audeze talks with musician Joe Saylor

Joe Saylor is a musician based in New York City. He currently plays with Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the house band on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

 Joe Saylor listening to a vinyl record with his Audeze LCD-2 headphones

"Wow!!!! Just incredible. The clarity and warmth…I’ve never experienced this quality before." - Joe Saylor
Here's our chat with Joe:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Yes. In 2018, I recorded a week at the Village Vanguard with Jon Batiste & Friends that resulted in two albums (Anatomy of Angels and Chronology of a Dream), one of which was nominated for a Grammy last year. It was a special week with a great band and the recordings really capture the energy that was in the room. Another recent project I’ll mention is an album by saxophonist /composer Tivon Pennicott entitled “Spirit Garden”.  It came out last year and features all (but one) original compositions for jazz quartet + string orchestra.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

My main role on most projects these days is that of a sideman. Definitely a supportive role, but most of the artists for whom I work allow for freedom of expression. I try to do what’s needed to best serve the situation and moment.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

Both of my parents are musicians. We always had music playing in the house, whether we were listening to records, CDs, or my parents teaching private music lessons. I also grew up being very involved in a church that had a full time music ministry, so music was always around. At home we listened to a lot of big band jazz, drum corp and contemporary Christian music. My dad played recordings of people like Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, Harry Connick Jr., Phil Driscoll and Ron Kenoly. When I was 12 years old, I started listening heavily to more of what you would call bop/hard-bop/post-bop jazz. That took me through my teenage years and when I moved to New York City in 2004, my ears were exposed even further to all kinds of sounds ranging from electronica to opera to avante garde music. While studying at The Juilliard School, the late Phil Schaap deepened my listening experience with early jazz and American roots music.

Can you name any factors you feel majorly influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

The single greatest musical influence for me was the great Roger Humphries, who I met when I was 12 years old. Being around Roger focused my sights on where I wanted to go musically speaking. He introduced me to the music of Art Blakey, Horace Silver, John Coltrane, and so many others that would have a profound impact on me as a musician. I also had the opportunity to hold down the drum chair for about 2 years with Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks Orchestra. They are the preeminent jazz band interpreting the music of the 1920's and 1930's. That experience also had a lasting influence on me.  

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

The potential for frustration occurs often, especially in collective improvised music when someone takes the music in a direction you don't necessarily agree it should go. A great lesson I've learned is that my way isn't always the best way. Or, there can be many good outcomes. I've had to learn to humble myself and surrender to what is happening, and adjust accordingly.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

Yes, I play Tama drums, Zildjian cymbals, Remo drum heads and tambourines, and Vic Firth sticks. I have a variety of models that I like, depending on the project.  I recently acquired a vintage Tama Superstar drum set from the early 1980's. They might be my favorite drums at the moment. I have a Zildjian prototype 22" ride cymbal that the great drummer Rodney Green gave me many years ago when I didn't have anything good at the time. It's a great cymbal and I still play it. Remo makes the greatest and most durable tambourines in the business.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Yes. Be serious about it. Work hard. Enjoy it. Have fun. Discover what's unique about you and grow in that. Find others with similar vision and collaborate. And most importantly, carve out time to be still and hear the voice of God for direction. Read the Bible.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

I've been listening with headphones for as long as I can remember. I mainly use them for analytical listening and for the great experience of enjoying music.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

Wow!!!! Just incredible. The clarity and warmth…I’ve never experienced this quality before. I’ve mostly been just enjoying listening to my record collection and also, critically listening to some advanced vinyl pressings of some of my colleagues’ upcoming albums in order to give feedback.