Inspiration can sprout anywhere. In one especially vivid instance — namely, an original composition on his new Purple Sounds album titled Brooklyn Ballad — Zach Brock discovered it towering from the ground.
The inspiration the internationally-acclaimed, Lexington-born jazz violinist found was something exceedingly precious for any musician working in New York: a tree. Specifically, it was a massive linden tree that grew outside of the one-bedroom apartment Brock and his wife lived in for eight years after relocating from a fruitful jazz scene in Chicago.
"I don't know how old this thing was, but it went up at least eight stories and was just gorgeous," Brock says. "There is so much ugliness in New York all the time that just to have one beautiful tree you can look at out of your window when you're trying to write some music was wonderful. I didn't realize how much it meant to me.
"Then, right before I wrote the song, this is probably in 2010, I came home one day and these guys sent by our landlord came in the front yard of our apartment building and cut the tree down. People lost their minds. I mean, there were people in our building throwing things out their windows at these guys. There were people crying and wringing their hands. I couldn't believe we were all freaking out about a tree, but it was like they came in and took away the most beautiful thing we had. Coming to understand what that meant to myself and this little community I had become part of ... the music kind of came from that place."
Much of the rest of Purple Sounds explores the kind of community that exists between jazz violin and guitar. In doing so, Brock chose works that celebrated several historical alliances that employed such instrumentation, including Frank Zappa and Jean-Luc Ponty (Twenty Small Cigars), Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti (the standard After You've Gone) and Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli (a fresh arrangement of the duo's signature tune Nuages).
For Purple Sounds, Brock's guitarist of choice was Norwegian born Lage Lund, Brock's roommate when the two studied at Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
"Lage is a dyed-in-the-wool musician's musician," Brock says. "I think it's pretty hilarious that he doesn't even appear in the Downbeat polls and stuff like that. But people come to his gigs and study his playing. It's crazy. You play gigs with him and he's got admirers from all over the world. You go online and there are people trading Lage Lund solo transcriptions. So I just wanted to rekindle my musical relationship with him."
For his homecoming concert tonight at the Moondance at Midnight Pass amphitheater, Brock will go local with Lexington jazz mainstays Raleigh Dailey (piano), Danny Cecil (bass) and Paul Deatherage (drums) along with local guitar mainstay Bruce Lewis, who lived and worked for many years in Eastern Europe.
"The last time I saw Bruce Lewis, I think, was in Vienna," Brock says. "I was playing there with a band, and he was living in Budapest. He drove over with his two sons just to see our gig. I remember when I was a youngster playing some gigs with him and seeing him with all the different groups he's played in.
"Raleigh is a real monster, too. All of our opportunities to play together have been in stuff where he and I might be doing sideman things, like when we played with the (Lexington) Brass Band. That's great, but it's also like you hardly get to play together. So I'm looking forward to this. I'm just excited to get back to Lexington and kind of chill at the end of the summer."