The Governor’s School for the Arts celebrates its 25th anniversary with violinist Zach Brock (1991 GSA alumnus), pianist Harry Pickens, and cellist Ben Sollee headlining an intimate concert. The GSA provides three-week intensive summer programs to high school juniors and seniors at no cost to the students. More than 200 students are chosen each year from some 1,500 applicants; their fields of study include a wide range of disciplines, including music and visual arts. LEO checked in with Brock by phone recently to discuss his involvement with GSA and his new album, Almost Never Was.
LEO: How did your time as a student in GSA influence you?
Zach Brock: It was really a watershed moment for me. I had been in the midst of what I would call my adolescent rebellion phase, but was also really curious about checking out a lot of other things. I had played music my whole life, because everyone in my family is a musician. I was checking out playing different instruments, different styles of music, and really enjoying skateboarding — all kinds of things that really didn’t necessarily have much to do with my going to college and studying.
So I went to the GSA and met a bunch of kids who were really good at what they did; they were roughly my age, but from different backgrounds, into all kinds of exciting stuff. It was the Governor’s School that did that for me — it really helped push me over the edge to go to music school and pursue that professionally. In my senior year in high school, I had a totally different focus.
LEO: Were you involved with any of the planning for the GSA concert?
ZB: Not really. I’ve never played with either Ben or Harry. I know about these musicians, I know they’re really great, I’ve been checking them out from a distance. Especially in the string world, Ben is so well-known, kind of a Kentucky treasure right now, really blazing a trail. I’m really excited to play with them. We’re going to have a good time; whatever happens, I’m sure it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be kind of like the GSA encapsulated into a day, for adults (laughs). We’re going to get together the day before, never having met one another, and kind of put our interests out on the table, our various talents, and be as open to one another’s ideas as possible, and come up with a concert that will entertain.
LEO: What’s the importance of this event?
ZB: I hope that all of us donating our time to the Governor’s School says something about how we feel about the organization and about the importance of music education. This is an organization that’s affecting people’s lives; I know it certainly affected mine for the better. It’s a time to celebrate, and a time to raise awareness around the state, because these kinds of things can be taken for granted. It’s important to emphasize our commitment to programs like this and how they embody our values.
LEO: You have a new recording, Almost Never Was. You have self-released several CDs on your own Secret Fort label; how did you land on the acclaimed Criss Cross for this one?
ZB: I was on tour with my trio, The Magic Number, last fall. I got a call from the Netherlands. I was kind of surprised — it was Gerry Teekens, the owner of Criss Cross Records, which is a jazz label that I particularly have a lot of records from. I asked if he wanted my band, and he replied that he wanted me to “pick a band of players who have recorded on my label, because people who buy my records don’t really know who you or your band are, and I would like to get a leg up like that.” So I got the chance to pick an alternate dream band (pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland).
LEO: How did the song selection take place?
ZB: I was going to try to write some new tunes, but the players advised me to pick a couple of standards and some pieces I liked to play. “Among the Stars” is the only brand new tune of mine on the record. And there’s a piece from Jimi Hendrix’s last studio recording, “Drifting,” and Feist’s “Water,” and that’s how it came together.
‘GSA 25th Anniversary’
Saturday, Aug. 18
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 W. Main St.
$25 (GSA alumni), $30 (general); 7:30 p.m.