I had the pleasure to speak with saxophonist Trey Sorrells about his participation in the residency program at the Mansion at Strathmore and about his unique blend of jazz, gospel, and R&B. Sorrell is full of lively energy as he discusses his art and his journey through the residency.
Jane Franklin: What is involved in being an artist-in-residence at Strathmore?
Trey Sorrells: Each year, the Strathmore Artist-in-Residence program picks six artists to develop and showcase in the Mansion. It’s an artist development situation and we do seminars. The topics are things artists should know about: doing taxes, getting grants for albums, just so many artist development things. We do quite a bit of performing outside of our residency. Each artist has a designated month at the Mansion but we do a bunch of cool things outside the Mansion as well: gigs, performances, interviews. It is a school year of artist development.
The residency is every Wednesday of your month. June 5th will be the start of my residency. I’ll do a private performance for the Strathmore donors. The second Wednesday, June 12, that will be a public performance identical to the one for the private donors except hopefully better since I’ll get to do it two times in a row. The following Wednesday I’ll do a Masterclass/Workshop. My masterclass will be on developing a career in music and how to do that. I think it’s important that young musicians understand all the things they can do to make a career and a living from playing music. The final Wednesday, June 26, I’ll be doing my final performance which premieres my commission by Strathmore.
Are you from the Washington DC area?
I’m from Portsmouth, Virginia close to Virginia Beach. I graduated from VCU in 2015. Since I was about 14, I started realizing that my favorite musicians were from Baltimore and Washington DC, and I noticed I had a lot of friends here doing really good things which inspired me to move here. It feels like home.
Did Strathmore seek you out or was it a competitive application process?
It’s a competitive process. You have to live in the area. This year, it was very competitive. There was a lot of really good talent. The process starts with a pre-screen: what have you been doing, what have you done and then they will invite you to the audition. You audition with a five-minute piece and then you are asked a question or so. It is really scary. After that, you do an interview with the director, Betty Scott. That was better for me after I made it to that round. I felt pretty confident after getting that far because I like to talk. I thought I was not going to do well but I spent a lot of time on the questions, and I was clear about what I wanted to accomplish in the program.
Tell me about the project you’ve done through this residency.
I have a commissioned piece that sums up my residency. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about the piece itself since it debuts at the end of next month, but and it is one of my favorite things that I’ve written. I think it is an uplifting and inspiring piece of music that will feel good to listen to. It’s catchy and will make you feel much better.
Is it a solo piece or do you play with other musicians?
I play saxophone, so I typically play with other musicians. My band Future Prospect is out of Richmond. We have an album out on Rope a Dope Records called The Climb. The band will be performing alongside of me on June 26. The first two shows will be a quintet with tunes and nice songs and stuff that I write. The June 26 show with my band Future Prospect will be full on high energy music that we’ve all written and developed together.
Is it a collaborative process with your band?
It’s pretty collaborative. The gigs I do under my name Trey Sorrells with the Trey Sorrells Quartet or Quintet is me saying this is what I want and how I want to do it. With Future Prospect it’s really collaborative because those musicians are some of the best I’ve ever played with. The reason I think the band is so cool is because every time we play I immediately want to practice and get better. We push each other a lot which in turn makes the band sound better and makes the chemistry more fun to witness. It’s a very well put together band. Everybody writes stuff.
Do you ever collaborate with other art forms?
I’ve been performing with the dance company Company E. We did a project called Voyagers: A Dance Among the Planets at the Kennedy Center. They commissioned Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Eric Shimelonis to arrange Holst’s The Planets for five pieces: sax, bass , piano; percussion/drum set. We performed it one week in March, two shows a day, and that was one of my biggest collaborations with another art form. Working with dancers, you have to step up to the plate. If your choreography is to match a recording, to have five humans come in and play just like the recording is a tall task. The amount of work and the amount of responsibility, the amount of compromise between dancers and musicians, it really made for a beautiful project. I think the dancers responded to it, and the musicians walked away as better musicians.
What time are the Mansion performances and where can people find your music?
Next month I’ll be performing a lot of original music that will make you feel good. I hope people will come out and enjoy it. The performances June 12 and June 26 are at the Mansion, and they begin at 7:30. I’m really looking forward to the June 12 show. My birthday is June 11 and my family is big on birthdays and people are flying in. If people can’t make it to those shows, I have an album out on streaming and on digital platforms, Future Prospect: The Climb. Plus there’s stuff on YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud. Plenty to enjoy.