Brian McCarthy Quintet play jazz at the Side Door club

Saxophonist Brian McCarthy performs with his quintet at the Side Door Jazz Club Saturday.
Saxophonist Brian McCarthy performs with his quintet at the Side Door Jazz Club Saturday.

Like any artistic form, jazz morphs and splinters and evolves and devolves and turns left and trampolines forward and ...

You get the idea.

Sometimes, though, it's best to forget the labels and just open your ears and let the musicians take you where they will.

In that spirit, a tremendous opportunity presents itself Saturday when the Brian McCarthy Quintet performs on the Side Door Jazz Club stage in the Old Lyme Inn. McCarthy is a fluid, inventive saxophonist whose band includes two generations of sterling players all committed to the idea of full-blown, swinging, hard-driving post-bop.

Along with McCarthy, the quintet includes Ray Vega (trumpet), Steve Myerson (piano), Evan Gregor (bass) and Quinn Blandford (drums) - and save for Myerson, these are the players who appeared on McCarthy's very fine 2013 album called "This Just In."

For all his sophistication and groove, the 32-year-old McCarthy was a late-comer to music. In youth, he wanted to be a basketball player. But a concert by Branford Marsalis opened McCarthy's eyes in a big way, and he dove headfirst into the pursuit of jazz - not just in terms of his own development as a musician, but also as a student of the form. He's established a fine reputation and is now well represented on jazz radio and on the touring circuit.

Now based out of Burlington, Vermont, McCarthy is also a dedicated music teacher.

He is a jazz faculty member at St. Michael's College, the University of Vermont, and Johnson State College. He's also active with students at the high school level as a clinician, adjudicator and guest conductor.

Here are excerpts from a recent interview with McCarthy.

On his baptism into jazz and the allure of the lore:

You know, I never really even liked music until I hit middle school, and I was even less interested in music history of any kind. But when jazz hit me like a lightning bolt, I dove right into the history. I lucked out, too. Jazz is an art form that's about a century old but has been well documented from the start. Not just the music, but the historical contexts that impacted the evolution of the music. Oppression, the Civil War, Reconstruction, world wars, renaissances, economic booms and collapses - they all shaped the course of everything, including jazz.

On his work as a teacher:

I've been very fortunate to have learned from some of the most respected elders: James Williams, Mulgrew Miller and Clark Terry. I had a realization from my time with them. You're always a student, a teacher and a player. These aspects fuel each other. The more you learn, the more you can speak the language of jazz. The better you can speak the language of jazz, the better you can teach it. And the better you can teach it, the more you learn. A positive feedback loop.

On the difference between interpreting the time-honored repertoire and composing new material:

Jazz is a language so, in simple terms, I want to be well-spoken. Learning repertoire is like studying the great stories and storytellers. Their songs and solos teach the topics and storylines that were important to them. Now, when I sit down to write, I don't feel the weight of history. Instead, I feel the support of history allowing me to create my musical stories from a responsible and informed point of view.

Brian McCarthy Quintet, sets at 8:30 and 10 p.m. Saturday, Side Door Jazz Club, 85 Lyme St,, Old Lyme; doors open at 7:30 p.m.; $20; (860) 434-0886, thesidedoorjazz.com.

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