Clarinetist Gregory Agid has called New Orleans his home for several years and is now breaking out as a member of the new generation of New Orleans jazz musicians, brandishing his clarinet in the air as he performs onstage before audiences–wielding it further into the modern mainstream of jazz. “The novelty of the clarinet kind of died off in jazz during the fifties when Charlie Parker became popular,” Agid says. “Since then, clarinetists haven’t greatly influenced the scene. The clarinet has generally been stereotyped as ‘old-fashioned’ since it’s commonly used to play older styles of jazz, and its sound is rarely marketed as ‘modern.'” While remembering the advice and insights mentors gave him about the legacy of New Orleans jazz, Agid is eager to move the music forward–infusing his own personality and experiences into a generational kaleidoscope of local sound. “My music is very much based on the musical traditions upheld by musicians before me,” he explains. “I see myself as being in a cultural continuum of music–picking up where the greats left off and moving the music to the next logical next step.” He knows, like other musicians, that music is constantly evolving–as required for its purpose of communication. “I’m a listener,” he adds. “I feel that I listen and then react, and that’s a big part of my music. Jazz is this wonderful medium for expressing our true selves and anything else without repercussions, and this communication is the most important aspect of the music. Jazz is sophistication, sexiness, pure joy, and sadness. If my music hasn’t touched you in some way, I haven’t done my job.”
Agid has performed with several distinguished jazz musicians such as Delfeayo Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis, Herlin Riley, Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Marlon Jordan, Kent Jordan, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, and Jonathan Batiste. He has also performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (which has included performing alongside clarinetists Evan Christopher and Tim Laughlin in the Clarinet Woodshed hosted at the WWOZ Jazz Tent). He also has performed on the WWOZ FM radio station and at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 39th Annual Legislative Conference.
Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Agid and his family later moved to Honolulu, Hawaii–where he spent his childhood. During a family vacation in Switzerland in 1994, when he was seven years old, that Agid’s world converged with the world of music–when his uncle, Jean-Yves Savoy, a recreational clarinet musician, introduced him to the clarinet’s entrancing woodwind tones. After he and his family returned to Honolulu from Switzerland, his mother bought him a clarinet for Christmas, and in the fifth grade, he joined his school’s band. After his family relocated to New Orleans when he was twelve years old during the summer of 2000, Agid’s passion for jazz evolved from his love for the clarinet. He compares the clarinet’s soft, seductive musical tones to the sensual embrace of a woman, claiming, “The clarinet’s sound can hold you in her arms with this warm, intriguing, and lovely tone. Alvin Batiste once told me that the clarinet is also like a jealous mistress, and the moment you don’t give her the attention she wants–she becomes spiteful and unruly.”
While attending the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp in New Orleans, Agid was educated and mentored by Alvin Batiste, Kidd Jordan, and Clyde Kerr–musical pioneers of their generation who had also mentored several other successful musicians. Influenced by these men, he would later become involved in educating younger students in the New Orleans community about jazz music. In 2002, he was accepted into the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA)–distinguished for its world-famous arts curriculum through which several New Orleans music legends have been educated and mentored. Attending NOCCA alongside Agid was fearlessly innovative and Grammy-nominated jazz trombonist and trumpeter Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Grammy-nominated trumpeter Christian Scott, and ingenious contemporary pianist Jonathan Batiste, who frequently performs with Wynton Marsalis and Roy Hargrove. Here, venerated jazz musician Ellis Marsalis and Michael Pellera, the current Chair of NOCCA’s Jazz Department, further mentored Agid. In 2005, NOCCA awarded him with a music education grant that provided him with the opportunity to receive instruction from clarinet virtuoso Eddie Daniels at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Daniels’s intense dedication to his own music struck Agid with awe, making him realize that being passionate and sacrificing time and effort were crucial for having a meaningful music career, and even achieving lucrative success. He credits both Batiste and Daniels with inspiring him to eventually pursue a career in music and explains how Batiste influenced him: “He was more of a guide who would point you in the right direction and let you discover things for yourself. Being in the presence of someone who truly loves what he does is a beautiful thing, and he loved music regardless of gaining a monetary reward. Not many people pursue things purely for joy.” Years later, Agid had the honor of performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2008, where he and his band paid tribute to Batiste after he passed away during the previous year.
Agid later graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans with a Bachelor of Music degree in Clarinet Performance. Today, he considers educating students in the New Orleans community about jazz as a duty of his career and desires to promote community outreach through music education programs to merge people closer together. “I want to bring people in through jazz–not intimidate and alienate them through pretentious music,” Agid explains. “I want to be in an environment where everyone can have a good time. New Orleans is place with many different cultures and lifestyles, but as a community, we all share common experiences. I want to focus on the similarities, not the differences.” During summer sessions at Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp and NOCCA, he offers private music instructions to students–hoping to inspire them in the way his mentors achieved and teach them to listen in a new way to the legacy of jazz and move the music forward.
In his hands, Agid allows the clarinet to draw its own line in the sand–to define what it can sound like instead of what it should sound like. Instinctively, it expresses the emotional sounds of “sophistication, sexiness, pure joy, and sadness” translated through jazz, as Agid has described. In a sense, his ballads can be hypnotic–inducing listeners to absorb their soulful, bluesy tunes to feel as though they are carelessly or freely swaying. At other times, he expedites a whirlwind of dramatically zigzagged, jaunty, and effervescent rhythms–playing on New Orleans blues and jazz standards. His music compliments its inspirations–the mysteriousness and frankness of the beauty and adventure of life in New Orleans.
Agid is the leader of the Gregory Agid Quartet, which plays at Maison every week, and is also a freelance musician. He has had the honor of working with Courtney Bryan on her CD, This Little Light of Mine, and he is currently working on his own debut CD, which is not yet scheduled for release. In the near future, he is listed to perform in an series of major music festivals, which will soon be featured on his online performance calendar. You can currently catch him performing with Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra at Snug Harbor every Wednesday night. In addition, he frequently performs at The Spotted Cat and at Mimi’s in the Marigny.
Written by Shweta Kohsmann