Interview What’s Up: musician Joe Potenza of the roots-jazz band Evening Sky


There’s a special album release party on Saturday, March 12 at the Parlor in Providence that you won’t want to miss. (Note: this first show starts at 5:00 p.m.)

With a quartet of local musicians steeped in jazz and other genres, the Evening Sky group holds a unique place in the music world. The band plays a style they loosely call “roots jazz”.

So, what is “roots-jazz”? I spoke to well-known local musician and bassist Joe Potenza to find out more about the genre and the new version of Evening Sky. First order of the day, just go out and do live shows.

“It’s been getting a little busier lately, which is a pleasant surprise,” Potenza said. “Of course, as we kind of learned, everything could change at any moment. I’ve been trying to embrace uncertainty lately.

Potenza recalled when pandemic restrictions came into effect two years ago.

“I was having brunch on March 15and, I think it was a Sunday. I was supposed to start at noon in a restaurant and someone said, “Let’s watch the press conference first.” And then the governor came and stopped everything…we played a set and then went home for two years,” Potenza lamented.

Two years later, the new album, The desert at night is outside. “Since Friday, March 4and, the recording became available for streaming and download on Bandcamp. We will have copies of the CD at the show,” Potenza said.

The band’s last full release included several covers as well as original compositions. “This album is made up entirely of instruments and all of the band members’ originals,” Potenza explained.

So what does the music sound like?

“I don’t know if we necessarily want to be labeled by a lot of people as a jazz band…I would say we’re jazz informed, in the sense that there’s a lot of improvisation, the way we approach compositions . There’s a track called “Bill’s Porch” which is quite slow and uplifting. The title comes from the fact that it was inspired by Bill Frisell. Now, is Bill Frisell a jazz player or is Bill an Americana guy? The answer is yes,” Potenza joked.

“So it’s not one or the other of those styles, ‘Bills Porch’, for example, even when you do it live, it opens up. It’s very open improvisation but not aggressive, sometimes it sounds like Bill Frisell, sometimes it sounds like the Grateful Dead. We grew up listening to that stuff too,” Potenza explained.

“On the other hand, improvisation is informed by guys who have jazz in their training. Then there are other tracks that are blues or funk, and also a couple with Wendy Klein, the flautist who joined. These have more of a jazz side to them, they are in ¾, and they swing a little more.

Listening to Evening Sky, music fans may need to think outside the box a bit.

“That was the message…. we just want people to hear the band because they’re going to be surprised. If they’re jazz fans, and they see a pedal steel guitar and they wrinkle their nose and think they’re not going to like it, well, they’re going to like it. Because our pedal steel player understands Bill Frisell and John Coltrane,” Potenza explained.

Given the mixed identity, choosing a group name was a bit of a challenge for Evening Sky.

“We didn’t want to give it a name like Jazz the Prairie or anything like that, or overtly use the word Americana or roots,” Pontenza said.

He explained that the name comes from the feeling the band evokes. “We think it kind of evokes a sense of peace, but perhaps a little worryingly, there’s a lot of the unknown in the night sky.”

The core band includes Potenza on bass, Eric Hastings on drums, Chris Brooks on pedal steel guitar and Gino Rosati on guitars. The album launch party will also feature flautist Wendy Klein, who directs the jazz programs at the RI Philharmonic School of Music. “She’s a great improviser and was part of Joe Parillo’s ensemble for years. Gino wrote a few tracks with her in mind,” Potenza said.

Post-pandemic, the band is looking forward to doing more live gigs in the months to come. “The Parlor in Providence allowed us to have the second Saturday of every month from 5-8pm. They were great, we did live streams there and they let us shoot a video in the bar. We want to find places where people really want to listen to the band.

To learn more about Evening Sky, click here.

Learn more about the Parlor show.

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Henry R. Wright