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Mays finds his creative groove

Composer and pianist Bill Mays, drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Martin Wind of the Bill Mays Trio will play Monday at the Sheraton.
Composer and pianist Bill Mays, drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Martin Wind of the Bill Mays Trio will play Monday at the Sheraton.
Judy Kirtley

For musicians — especially jazz musicians — creativity is a key ingredient in both artistic success and personal fulfillment. Recognizing that, pianist Bill Mays left a successful studio career in Los Angeles for a successful career in New York, performing jazz and playing his own music.

"I did the studio thing for 15 years," Mays said, "and just decided I wanted to play more creative music, do more of my own music. I started my career as a jazz recording artist in around 1978 and continued doing studio work and occasionally played jazz. In '84 I broke away from all of that and moved to New York where the focus just flip-flopped.

"I now do primarily jazz-related work, whether it's as a writer or a player, and I occasionally work on a film score. But that part of my life is almost nothing in that regard. I worked on two movies all of last year, whereas when I was in Hollywood, I would be doing seven days, six days a week of recording."

Mays' most recent project is a CD released on Palmetto records, "Bill Mays Trio: Live at Jazz Standard," where that creativity finds an expressive outlet. "We're playing a mix of original music, of my things, and of standards. Some of the standards that I'm doing get some unusual treatments. I've perfected a technique where I play inside the piano, as well as on the keys. I use the strings in the piano in a method where I pluck them or strum them like a harp, and so that comes into play on two or three numbers on this record."

On "Live at Jazz Standard," Mays also had the luxury of recording three nights in a live setting, as opposed to eight hours or so in a studio. "We did seven sets of music, so we had enough for three records, but we took the best material from the three nights and compiled it. This really represents kind of the epitome of where I am right now in my own work as a soloist and a trio bandleader."

Mays said he'll draw from the album when he performs in Salt Lake City, although he'll also play music that hasn't been recorded yet. All three members of the trio — Mays, drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Martin Wind — are composers, so he said that they'll all be represented as composers on the program.

The three met about six years ago when Mays and Wilson were hired as sidemen to play with Wind's quintet. "That was the first time Matt and I played together," Mays said. "The feeling was so great between us that we decided to stay after we finished that album, and we put down three or four tracks — just the trio, with nothing in particular in mind. A few months later we came back in the studio and finished up an album's worth of material, which I released on my own label."

Now, they are the Bill Mays Trio. "I lead my trio as much as I can, probably 30 to 40 percent of my work, and the rest of it is with other people. I also work a lot still as a composer."

As to the source of his creativity, Mays said, "I've been around for a long time in a lot of different kinds of music, not just jazz, and I've played a lot of different kinds of music. I've been an accompanist to many great singers. I've had a long career in Hollywood playing on many great movie and television soundtracks. I think my work as a studio musician/sideman helped broaden me in terms of textures and the colors that I sometimes pull into my jazz playing.

"And I've played a lot of classical music. I'm fond of especially the impressionist composers.

"And I believe that all comes into my music — not exact musical quotes, but the technique and all that I have in my hand is a mix of my classical background, as well as the gospel music that I played in church when I was younger."

What: Bill Mays Trio

Where: Sheraton City Centre, 150 W. 500 South

When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $25

Phone: 278-0411