Born in Nashville, Greg Bryant dabbled with piano in his youth, but was primarily introduced to music by immersing himself in his parents’ record collection. “My education has been [through] listening to a lot of records,” he says, reflecting on those early years via email. “And, I mean a lot of them.” In his teens, Bryant began sharing his love of music with others, taking on his first radio position at age 15 where he began working with a local college station. “Turning people on to the great masters of the music is a special responsibility I feel I’ve been given,” he says. “So doing broadcasts and getting involved with radio was a natural step.” Transitioning into the role of player a few years later (when he picked up the bass while attending MTSU), Bryant’s relationship with music — and particularly jazz — has since become layered, landing him at the intersection between musician and champion.
“[A]s I was around the music more and more,” he continues, “it forced me to want — or created the need — to participate and make music.” The Human Sound and the Cornerstone Jazz Trio marked his first attempts at playing with bands while still in college, each allowing him to gain perspective as a player while he continued to pursue broadcasting. “We investigated a lot of the classic jazz repertoire,” he says of those early groups, “but not always in the classic way.” After graduating he relocated to Chicago to pursue his studies, a move that would impact his relationship with music for years to come.
“Strangely enough,” says Bryant, “aside from a few jam sessions, I didn’t play much in Chicago.” The larger city did give him more opportunities to see and hear influential jazz musicians in the live setting, however, which further solidified within him an urge to not only continue investing himself in the genre, but hone his own sound. An internship in Washington, D.C. followed, which only further ingrained within Bryant a new direction which he would take his music. “The players were way better [than] I was and played with more fire than I had been accustomed to,” he says, relating the period to something of a musical baptism. “The way the drummers swing on the east coast continues to be intense and playing with that rhythm changed me.”
After briefly returning to Chicago, Bryant headed back south in 2004, where he transitioned his new experiences back into performing and broadcasting. He later took on a position with Middle Tennessee Public Radio — then branded JAZZ 89 — while quickly re-establishing himself musically by opening up shop with a pair of new groups in Nashville. The Greg Bryant Quintet was formed with saxophonists Reagan Mitchell and Chris West, guitarist Brian Mesko, and drummer Jason Hoffheins, while Concurrence took form as an improv duo, featuring Bryant alongside pianist Paul Horton. While on one hand the Quintet allowed for a blend between new compositions and covers, Concurrence presented itself as a way to experiment more with sound. “Paul is my musical soul mate,” says Bryant. “We can just show up on the stage and start playing. No tunes or anything. And it will end up in places that inspire us both.”
While Concurrence remains a part-time project, and he has performed, recorded, and toured with numerous other acts since, following the dissolution of the Quintet, Bryant began forming ideas for what would eventually take form as the shapeshifting Greg Bryant Expansion in 2008. “I like to groove as well as swing — and while I don’t like the connotations of ‘jam band’ either — I wanted to make music and play before a diverse audience, definitely including younger folks and people in my generation.” The new group has seen a revolving roster of players, with the consistent being a soft musical focus, allowing for “[improv] and groove as well as swing.” Last year the Expansion released its debut EP, featuring six songs recorded live-to-tape, as performed by Bryant, James DaSilva, Paul Horton, and Joshua Hunt. The Equal Ground blog called the set a product of “incredibly talented musicians flexing their muscles for six songs showing you guitar, bass, piano and drum work people will be in awe of.”
While his radio broadcasting days are now behind him, Bryant continues to represent the scene via the digital airwaves, as in 2013 he resurrected his “Watchman” moniker when he founded the JazzWatch Podcast. And not unlike his position as a jazz advocate, Greg Bryant’s role as a musician continues to evolve and expand. “Simply put — music is about vibrations,” he says, “and to allow them to pass through you creatively and instinctively is a big responsibility. It’s not a job, but more like a calling or a mission.”
[This article was first published by the Nashville Fringe Festival.]