It’s time to make time for Time For Three.
It has been five years, almost to the day, since the classically trained jam trio last performed in Jackson Hole, and a whole lot has happened since then: new music, new members, a soundtrack for a new movies, new teaching opportunities and new babies.
“I’ve missed it,” double bassist Ranaan Meyer said of playing in the Tetons. “I’m so excited — we’re all excited to come back — it’s such a special thing.”
Founding members Ranaan and violinist Nick Kendall return to the valley with new musical partner Charles Yang to launch the Grand Teton Music Festival’s new “Gateway Series” at 8 p.m. Thursday at Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village.
Conceived in the early ’00s at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute for Music by Ranaan, Kendall and former co-violinist Zachary DePue — in fact, encouraged by the top brass at the esteemed classical music institution — Time For Three served as an outlet for the three musicians’ extra-symphonic interests, such as fiddling, bluegrass, jazz and improvisation. One night back in the day, while they were performing with the Philadelphia Orchestra, a thunderstorm took out power at the venue, and DePue and Meyer stepped up to ease audience anxiety with an impromptu acoustic jam on the darkened stage. Their heroics attracted attention to what the three classical musicians had been doing on the side, and a new career — and a new hybrid of music — was born.
Since then, about 2003, Time For Three has appeared as a trio and with orchestras in the U.S. and Europe, performing at venues as wide ranging as the Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, San Francisco jazz club Yochi’s and ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” and at an Indianapolis Colts game and on the decommissioned aircraft carrier the USS Intrepid, anchored in New York Harbor. They have commissioned and premiered work by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon, jazz royalty Chris Brubeck and contemporary music eminence grise William Bolcom, and released a half-dozen albums, including 2010’s “3 Fervent Travelers,” which debuted and spent 10 months in the Crossover Top 10 chart.
So, some will invariably ask, what have they done lately?
“We launched a new music festival,” said Meyer, who had just gotten home from the 20-day intensive at the Honeywell Arts Academy in Wabash, Indiana. The members of Time For Three were among the faculty leading small groups of international professionals who were already on to various kinds of musical innovations.
“When I was a student, going from a student to becoming my own teacher, I felt empowered when given the ability or the blessing from people I look up to to making my own musical decisions,” he said. “That’s where we come in — we follow in the footsteps of people like Bela [Fleck] and Edgar Meyer, and now we’re creating the space and fertile ground for the next generation.”
The group also recorded its first movie soundtrack, with fellow classical traveler cellist Ben Sollee, the score for Robin Wright’s directorial debut, “Land,” about a woman who faces deep personal loss in the wilds of Wyoming. It was released in February and was juried in the Sundance Film Festival, among others.
“One of the first times I ever went to Jackson Hole,” Meyer said, “actually was the first time. I was a young adult, and I was staying in Cheyenne with my family. It was the dead of winter, and I took a drive to Jackson to go skiing. ... didn’t have a radio working in the car and I was driving, looking at the scenery and hearing all this music in my head, and I wrote a song based on Wyoming on that drive.”
“Wyoming 307” became a regular part of Time for Three’s set list and helped turn Wright on to the trio’s music and approach.
“We spent about four months during the pandemic writing and recording remotely with Ben Sollee,” Meyer said. “We had the best time in a very intense, compact, saturated artistic environment in most laid-back way creating music together.”
Members would send musical ideas and sketches to each other digitally, with notes like, “needs some piano,” and the next musician would add some piano. Then it would go to the next musician: “Need some bass.” The four managed to create some 25 tracks for the film — more music than a typical album — in just four months.
But probably the biggest development of the last few years is the addition of Juilliard-trained violinist Charles Yang, who has radically changed the trio’s approach to music-making.
In 2015, DePue left the group to devote himself full time to his concertmaster duties with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (after 10 years there, he recently took the concertmaster’s chair with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra in California). Canadian violinist Nikki Chooi took DePeu’s spot, but the following year landed the concertmaster chair for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
“Charles is so like-minded to Nick and I,” Meyer said. “He’s really born from that DNA that Time for Three was spawned from, but he also adds so much.”
Born in Austin, Texas, Yang has a deep classical pedagogic pedigree, and his improvisational skills have attracted the attention of the likes of ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, Youngbloods co-founder Jesse Colin Young and contemporary dance icon Twyla Tharp.
In addition to being a masterful violinist and adept improviser, Yang brought his singing voice to Time for Three, which inspired Kendall and Meyer to add their own voices as well.
“We do two different things,” Meyer said. “We have our instrumental songs, and then we have our singing songs.”
Comparing the trio’s approach to song to The Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek, and their goal of jamming to those peak moments achieved by live Allman Brothers or even prog rockers Yes, Meyer said the evolution of Time For Three has been careful and gradual, developing new musical forms organically from the group’s foundational concepts.
“We’re like mad scientists in the lab,” Meyer said. “We’re throwing all the paint at the wall, trying to find right colors.”
The trio’s return to the Grand Teton Music Festival will be “like a party,” Meyer said. “We started playing back in January, when we had first show with live human beings. Then it became twice, three times a month. Now we’re pretty much back to it, but audiences aren’t necessarily back to it. Which is fine. This might be their first show back, it might be their third or their fourth show back.
“We’re going to invite everyone into our living room,” he said. “The goal is to make it as intimate as possible in a theater setting and to just celebrate with one another.”