Poppy Talk: Adam Theis of Jazz Mafia on Left Coast Strings, Live Film Scores and Musical Venues

Adam Theis is one of the busiest and most talented musicians in the Bay Area. He is the founder of multiple groups and ensembles including; The Jazz Mafia Symphony (for which he created the groundbreaking Brass, Bows and Beats), Shotgun Wedding Quintet, Realistic Orchestra, Brass Mafia, and the recent Left Coast Strings, which will be performing this Friday, September 28th at the Red Poppy Art House. This ensemble features new works written by Theis for the unique instrumentation of strings and trombone. Also included in the program will be new film scores performed live and surprise guests.

Adam took some time to talk with the Red Poppy Art House about the Left Coast Strings, musical venues and a preview of the movie he will playing the live film score to, during his show on Friday. And a little about music these days in general:

RP: With Jazz Mafia, you’ve done some mammoth projects and played with a host of talent, can you tell us more about your brand new ensemble, Left Coast Strings that will be performing at the Red Poppy?

Adam: I’ve been experimenting with string ensembles on and off within larger ensembles for about 10 years now. In the past 3 years I’ve finally started working with the string quartet more extensively and really developing a passion for the way my music comes across in that setting. This group is a sort of who’s-who of Bay area string talent; not only is each player top-level in the traditional sense, they are all gifted and unique improvisers. I’ve been writing music with these players (and others like them) in mind because they inspire me so much as a composer. This group includes a lot of composed and arranged material that will showcase the ensemble sound but there is also a lot of space for individuals to be showcased as improvisers.

RP: In this technological world, are you seeing new ways of people combining technology with string instruments?

Adam: Everyday, yes. I LOVE it. Especially taking pure acoustic sounding instruments and processing them and manipulating them—Still keeping the true beauty of their tone and the tone that the musicians have worked all their life to attain. This is something that has been happening a lot over the past decade especially and I think it’s HUGE. As technology advances and becomes cheaper and more accessible, more and more of this will be happening.

RP: In this show you will also perform a live film score, can you give us some background on the film or what it will be like for those new to live film scores?

Adam: I’ll be selecting from numerous film re-scores I’ve already composed as well as a new top secret one I’m working on. One of my film score re-writes I’ve done is a highly involved synchronized swimming segment from the 1920s film “By A Waterfall”, choreographed by Busby Berkeley.

RP: Do you wish to share a link of the film?

Adam: Yep, it starts around 2:35 til almost the end of the clip.

RP: You are also a creator of the Treat Street Social Club, what influences do smaller innovative venues like TSC or Red Poppy Art House bring to San Francisco?

Adam: Smaller venues inspire me to write music much differently than larger ones. If a composer feels that people will be really engaged in listening to the music, they will compose differently than if people will be partying, hollering and passively engaged in the performance. Also, for acoustic instruments, most of them sound completely different in smaller venues and I mean different in a much better way especially if they don’t need to be amplified. Finding venues in this realm has been a huge part of my search over the past many years.

Also more off the beaten path venues like Poppy and Treat offer an experience where I feel like the audience has more open expectations of what could or might happen at the particular show. Almost like they’re going to the event with the hope of being surprised more than anything else. This presents a very inspiring departure point for me as a bandleader/composer.

RP: If you could take one instrument with you to a desert island, what would it be?

Adam: Conch shell…no, wait, there will already be conch shells! Cajon, definitely Cajon!

RP: Anything else you want to share?

Adam: I also love the Red Poppy cuz it’s only 3 blocks form my house : )

Interview by Erin MacDonald for Red Poppy Art House

More about Adam Theis at JazzMafia.com

Adam Theis and The Left Coast Strings play Friday, September 28, 2012 at the Red Poppy Art House. Show is $10-$15 sliding scale. Doors at 7:30pm, Show starts at 8:00pm. All shows at the Poppy are all ages and wheel chair accessible.