Miami's Dion Kerr on Free Jazz and Following "Monk, Mingus, Miles, Coltrane, Paul Motian"

Upon first impression, Dion Kerr may be described, simply enough, as a real chill dude. But his relaxed demeanor prevails in spite of an incredible workload.

The 25-year-old, Delray Beach-born fixture of Miami nightlife plays concerts and records music at an astonishingly prolific rate. Month to month gigs include running through standards at restaurants, backing up a number of local bands including perennial indie-poppers Awesome New Republic and ex-pat Rachel Goodrich, and flexing his jazz vocab at weekly sessions such as Tuesday night at The Corner.

While signed to the Grammy-nominated CAM record label, Kerr has recently self-released his first suite of entirely original compositions, Self-Portrait in Pale Blue. We here at Crossfade shot him some questions in anticipation of his forthcoming debut album and a big record-release show planned for December 16 at the famed Van Dyke Cafe on Lincoln Road.

Crossfade: Tell me about the Dion Kerr Trio.

Dion Kerr: This is the first time that I have a group under my name, featuring all of my original compositions. I picked Jean Caze and Dave Chiverton specifically. We had played together a long time ago when I was still developing, and I knew back then that there was a special sound with these guys, and the upright bass, trumpet, drums formation. These are two of my favorite musicians out there and I love the way they interpret my writing.

And whose writing do you like to interpret?

I'm influenced by all kinds of music, crossing over many genres. I have a strong passion for jazz and free jazz. I admire the greats like Monk, Mingus, Miles, Coltrane, Paul Motian, and all the musicians that were in these bands. I love to play music that allows a lot of interpretation from the performers. I enjoy hearing unique qualities in music. It has to be original and have a strong vibe to it.

You're prolific within the jazz idiom, but you've also been in a lot of rock bands too, right?

I have been a part of Chronic Youth, Partial People, Sure Charm, and Face. Then Jelly is my solo project. I write and record everything and have different people play with me, usually my brother, Andrew Kerr, who is in most of these bands with me. A lot of this music is available on the Concerned Relatives Bandcamp.

How did you compose and produce Self-Portrait in Pale Blue?

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I usually write on the piano at my apartment, but a couple things I prepared were just bass lines or vamps I wrote on the subway in New York the day or two before the session. We recorded at a studio in Manhattan run by Armand Hirsch and we mastered it with Luke Moellman. We didn't rehearse that much, and read down the charts. Since this was the first session we did as this band, it was more a matter of choosing material that all fit, sonically and cohesively, rather than seeing if the music actually worked.

Talk to me about the title. Blue is a common signifier in jazz.

I named the record Self-Portrait in Pale Blue as a nod to two big influences Charles Mingus and Self-Portrait in Three Colors, and Miles Davis and Kind of Blue. I enjoy slow, dark music and the color blue is a reference to the somber qualities of the music on the album. The album is a reflection of my material and myself.

Dion Kerr Trio. Performing three sets. Monday, December 16. Van Dyke Cafe, 846 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. The show starts at 9 p.m. and admission costs $5. Call 305-534-3600 or visit thevandykecafe.com.

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