Sunday, October 16, 2011

Colorado Connections Concert Series

I'm excited to announce the first Colorado Connections Concert:

Colorado Connections is a concert series I am hosting that will bring back musicians from Colorado who currently live in other cities.  In addition to performing at Dazzle, they will be connecting with the community as clinicians, mentors, and teachers.
Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge
November 20th, 2011

Colin Stranahan - Drums
Mark Clifford - Vibraphone
Kent McLagan - Bass
Danny Meyer Saxophone

(This event will be sponsored by JJ's Sweets (a local and amazing candy company), Dazzle and Beacon Concert Series.

In addition to this concert, Colin and Mark will also be teaching a clinic at Denver School for the Arts - the school they both attended while growing up in Colorado.  They will be available for lessons and other clinics during that time, so please feel free to contact me with any ideas. 

This was a wonderful event.  It was wonderful to play with my old friends.  They're the coolest.

Here's a tune from the concert.

Children by Danny Meyer
Mark Clifford - Vibraphone
Danny Meyer - Saxophone
Kent McLagan - Bass
Colin Stranahan - Drums

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Art Lande Interview Part 1

Art Lande is an institution.  Here's an excerpt from his bio just in case you aren't already familiar with his (really heavy) career.  

Grammy-nominated Art Lande is an internationally known pianist, composer, improviser, drummer and educator who has performed with a long list of the Who's Who in jazz, including Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, Steve Swallow, Charlie Haden, Kenny Wheeler, Sheila Jordan, Mark Isham, Paul McCandless, Jan Garbarek and many others.
His band, Rubisa Patrol, was formed in the mid 70's and worked through 1983, traveling to Europe often and recording with ECM Records.

Art is also a wonderful teacher.  This a list of places he has taught:

Lone Mountain College, San Francisco (1978-1979) 
Cornish Institute, Seattle (1979-1983)
San Jose State College, San Jose, California (1983-1984)
Jazz School of Migros Klubschule, St. Gallen, Switzerland (1984-1987)
Jazz School Lausanne, Switzerland (1986-1987)
Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado (1987-1989)
Students of Art Lande include Eric Deutsch, Colin Stranahan, members of KneeBodyMike Thies and just about every other great musician to come out of Colorado. Moral of the story:  If you're in Colorado, take some lessons with Art Lande.  Seriously. 

If you've never heard Art Lande and would like a good place to start, here are my recommendations.

This is art's first album on ECM.  He's all of 26-years-old.  
Art Lande Solo Piano
More people should know this music.  

You can also hear a recording of Art Lande (drums and speaking) playing with Sam Yulsman (Piano), Kent McLagan (Bass), and I here:
A record featuring this band will be out by Spring 2012.

And that's your introduction to Art Lande. 


<Special thanks to Andrew Trim who was nice to proof-read this interview for me.  Andrew is a great guitarist, composer, and friend currently living in Chicago.  Check him out.>

DM:           Can we talk about finding balance as a musician – being a whole person.  Being a musician that really connects with all of the aspects of their life.  I think a lot of musicians have a trouble with that.

AL:            I think it’s important to remember that music is not about music – that it’s about life.  It’s an expression.  It’s a form.  It’s just like a language like Portuguese is a language to talk about life.  Music is just a language to talk about life.   Of course, just as somebody has to learn vocabulary and how to be understood in their language, there are elements of practicing and of learning enough tools in order to be able to communicate.  But then, the other part is to remember why you’re learning those things, which is to talk about the life you are living.  Therefore, you must live.  Connect with nature, connect with beings, connect with yourself, connect with the physical, emotional, spiritual, and the intellectual.  If you read a book on philosophy and then play a piece, it’s different than if you haven’t read the book.  If you go and hang out by a pond and then play a piece, it’s in there.  So, when you get so insular about your art form that everything is self-referencing, then you’re out of touch somehow.   In terms of connecting with other people, you should remember that most people don’t know much about music.  So, you can’t play music about music.  They could care less if you play a minor chord or a diminished scale; that has no meaning to them.   If you play the minor chord because of some somber sense of the universe and they feel the somber sense of the universe, they don’t have to know that you’ve used a minor chord.  They can just hear that sound from your life experience that’s in common with theirs. 

This also applies to the relationships musicians have with each other.  What we know and what we don’t know divides us.  Instead of integrating us, it can separate us.  That fact that somebody knows how to do cool things with their dominant chords and someone doesn’t – you should be able to play together.  A lot of times, people don’t do that because it’s all about that instead of, “you touched that note because you’re trying to bring tension.”  It’s simpler.  It’s not about all of the technique.  Somebody might know forty ways to talk about tension and another person might know ten, but that doesn’t matter so much.  When it does matter, it’s a problem.  Just like the listener , if the players are only playing about music, they feel “I can’t hang with that.”  It’s set up to be divisive.  It’s set up in a way that says, “this is a certain thing and only certain people that are in to this can get anything out of it.”  I think it should be rooted in simpler principals.  We should be asking, “Why do you play this slow thing?  Why do you play the dissonant note”  “Why do you play that kind of exciting rhythm.”  It might be in 15/8.  I might not even know how many beats there are, or maybe I do, but it’s not the point.  We can make beats that are erratic if we are talking about the erratic nature of life as it’s lived. 

            It’s about realizing when technique or knowledge is used for itself or it’s used to communicate something that’s more universal.  It matters most that you’re making something together in a band and that they’re trying to work with your language.  Even there, you can have a lot of different so-called levels or kinds of understanding that can exist in even the same group as long as technique is not the point. 

I also think that some of these art forms are divisive in a way that is just talking about style.  Instead of people worrying about whether it’s folk music or rock music, or reggae, or jazz, or something like that, we can go beyond the style thing as being the most important thing and just be more direct.  It’s important to be able to jump over the idea of style things and to really feel what is actually happening.  I think that sometimes, whether it’s because of insecurity or people – as you’re saying – not being balanced enough to integrate it with the entirety of their life, it becomes out-of-proportion.  The important thing becomes the genre or the specific knowledge that’s needed – to be in the "in" club.  Then there’s an "out" club.  To me, the art that really speaks is not made of that and it’s available for everyone. 
Personally, [when I’m in the audience] I try to go into everything as though it’s there and it’s my opportunity to connect with it.  I try to leave my prejudices at home.  Instead of asking how one piece is better or worse or more refined or more important than another, I just try to enjoy how yellow looks or crookedness feels. 

DM:            I think that something that you are particularly good about is creating a space for community and I think a lot of that has to do with what you just said about everyone being allowed to play.

AL:            Yeah.  It’s an invitation.  This is really essential.  The arts – or whatever it can be…basketball…it can be everything – are in invitation rather than a challenge. Its not about asking, “can you deal with this.”  To come to a concert and say, “Well, if you’re hip enough, you can enjoy my music.”  Who needs that?  It’s more to say, “I welcome you into this realm and I invite you to have your experience with it.  It’s about welcoming rather than intimidation.

DM:            Could you talk about the way that you think about being a teacher?  I think you’re a great teacher and you have helped a lot of people become better people and musicians, myself included.  So, how do you approach teaching.

AL:            Well, it’s very similar in the sense that the impetus needs to come from the person who wants to learn or be exposed to something.  So, I never advertise my teaching or try to get people to learn from me.  It has to come from the person saying, “I would like to learn about this, are you willing to help me with this?” or “Please help introduce me to this world? or “Help me along on my path?”  So, pretty much every lesson, I ask, “What would you like to do today?" or “What would be helpful for you?”  I think these kinds of questions are important.  “What are you interested in?  What are you curious about?  What are you excited about?  What do you want to go deeper into?  What are you ignorant about that maybe I can help you to discover?"  So, it’s definitely centered on the person who wants to learn and not on the teacher.  I’m not sure every teacher works like that.  A lot of them teach their things that they want to teach.  I think it’s really important that the student is the one who feels the energy and sets the topics and it’s the job of the teacher to keep checking in and asking, “Is this what you want to be doing?”  I think it’s important to honor the wisdom in the person. 

            The other main thing is that I don’t have knowledge, or secrets, or something special that you don’t have.  You actually have them.  We’re born musical somehow.  We’re born with all the knowledge.  It’s just about learning to make an environment where it can be accessed and that we do it together.  So, it’s not, “I know this and you don’t.”  That’s not accurate.  I might have a little more experience in something or remember my connection to that a little easier than you.  So then to create an environment so that you can come into that – you can be invited in – so you can see it and you can experience it.  That’s my job. 
            We can both be excited about what we can discover.  I need to learn in the lesson, too.  I don’t just spout my things.  It’s more like, “Let’s find out something about long notes, or playing fast” Finally, we forget who’s the teacher and who’s the student.  It’s more that we participate in something together.  That’s to me the essence of the relationship.  It needs to be alive for both people.
            It’s an inquiry.  I think that’s a key in performing, teaching…actually anything.  It’s not an answer.  When there’s an answer, then there is right and wrong.  When it’s an inquiry, then it’s always a process.  We’re actually living something together.  This is where there is real energy.  Life energy.  The rest is just, again, divisive. 
All these things…good, bad, right, wrong, true, false.  I think this is the advantage of the arts.  The arts aren’t about right and wrong.  At least the playing I try to open up is not about that.  Like, “When you played that note, how did that affect you?”  And it may be different, how it affected you.  Well, when you played it, I thought it was funny.  When you played it, it made you angry.  Cool, man.  When you want to make me laugh and you want to feel angry, play that.  E-flat.  Play that note at that point.  And maybe the next time, it will even have a different effect.  It’s much more playful.  It’s not all this black and white; it’s a lot of different colors. 

DM:            What are your thoughts on being a composer?  In music, what do compositions represent for you?

AL:            I think there are a couple aspects.  To me, the music is flowing all the time.  If you start singing, other songs are coming through all the time.  I don’t know who’s they are, whether they’re in your head or they're flying through the atmosphere, they’re being sent by Chopin or by a rhinoceros…I have no idea [laughs].  But if you want to go into the stream, just as there is air flowing or thoughts or anything, there is music playing all the time and you can access it.  Sometimes, we can transcribe that and we can fix it.  Then it can be something we can work with later.  So it’s kind of like canning for the winter.  You can actually put it down…freeze it…this moment of the passing music.  
It’s just a resource.  For me, it’s not that important whether you do that or you don’t do that.  I’m kind of neutral on that.  There was a time earlier in my life where it was more important because I think I was trying to elucidate things that mattered to me.  Now, everything is more or less equal - everything matters to me and in another sense nothing matters.  So, to have it just fly past or to grab it for the moment and let it go, this feels appropriate to this time in my life, which is more about letting go of everything – including my own life as I get older and closer to death than I am to birth.  So, it’s more about relinquishing and letting go than it is about keeping or showing, “here’s me” or “here what I hear.” 
When I was younger, it did help me understand my own sense of the world, because I was trying to grasp that.  There was some sense of forming…I was forming.  Now I’m falling apart.  At that point I was still forming.  I was growing.  I was still becoming something instead of not something.  Also, it was an opportunity for me to create a something that was comfortable for me, because there were less places where I was comfortable.  So, I would make these worlds where I could breathe well and I could express myself.  My compositions were a place that I could live rather than always having to live in the worlds of other peoples’ songs and places where I was - in varying degrees – uncomfortable.  It’s like building your own little “huts” or places to play.  “Here’s my idea of a playhouse.  It has a high ceiling and it’s this temperature.”

            Also, most of my pieces are dedicated to something.  A piece is also an acknowledgment.  [You can] go on a walk in a certain time of year and then come home and be filled up with that and hear the song of that.  You can just improvise it and let it go away like the walk goes away or you can write the poem about it or write the piece about it.  In almost a devotional way, you’re saying, “I honor that.”  And also, I want to share that experience without having to talk about it.  I talk about it through the music or through the poem or through the painting.  You can visit that with me even though you weren’t there. 

DM:            Something that is inspiring to me about your path is that you have been able to maintain very long musical relationships with people. 

AL:            These are life-long friends – someone like Bruce Williamson or Mark Miller.  These are people I met forty years ago and we were young and learning together about music.  [We were] finding out about music together and playing each other’s songs.  [We were] finding out about relationships, marriages, divorces, and babies.  I remember Mark – soon after I met him – we went to Yosemite and he had Aaron – who is now thirty-four; my older boy – on his back.  We had only known each other a few months, but we went on this weekend together.  Then, last Sunday, we played a gig together with Aaron who is not three months old anymore. 
So, the reason that they are long musical relationships is because they’re long relationships.  Because we keep producing life energy: heart, joy, challenge, truth. It’s a wellspring that never ends.  It’s still fun and exciting and crazy and beautiful to be together.  And when we play music, it has all that in it.  

Three Way Stop
Sam Yulsman - Rhodes
Danny Meyer - Saxophone
Art Lande - Drums 
(Art Lande is also a great drummer)
This is a video from a performance at Absolute Vinyl in Colorado.

DM:            Were there any important mentors that helped you form your ideas about life and music?

AL:            Well, yeah…my mind just floods.  In the music area, I think of my Dad who was a kind of jazz piano player.  That wasn’t his profession when I was growing up, but he would play every Sunday for a couple of hours and I would lie on the couch and listen.  He would play all of the standards.  They went in me.  I kind of liked it.  I didn’t have to do anything…I would just lay there and listen and every once in a while, I could play a little bit with him.

            Another man we called Uncle that wasn’t really an uncle, but a very close family friend.  He was also a pianist.  He hardly ever played, but he played such gorgeous chords.  He was the station manager of a radio station in New York and he would bring me records – Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner, Marian McPartland.  So, that was a lot of my education of hearing jazz was through the records he’d bring.  Then he’d sit at the piano and he played so different than my Dad – my Dad had this really bombastic style – and he played so gentle and so naturally.  He didn’t even know really what he was doing, but he a great ear and a beautiful touch somehow without much training.  I would just listen to him play.
            Then, my classical teacher was Joe Conn who played with the NBC symphony.  He was a fantastic classical musician.  He was just a friend of the family – he lived down the block.  My Dad was kind of a hard guy, but Joe was so sweet and so nice.  A lesson with Joe, I mean, he had so much knowledge, but he was so generous with me.  I’m a bad student.  I didn’t practice enough.  I’m still bad at arpeggios because I don’t like practicing these hard things that aren’t fun…that aren’t so musical.  I’d hardly practice the arpeggios or this one piece that I didn’t like or was too hard and he’d say, “Oh, well it’s getting better.  You know, things take time.”  And I would feel like a moron.  Like, “I should practice more.  Joe is so nice and he should be telling me I’m full of it and instead he’s saying, ‘It’s ok.’”  It was just the opposite of my Dad who would yell at me.  That generosity was so great and it would inspire me to practice more.  He didn’t make me into some prodigy; he was more interested in how beautiful the melodies were or in bringing out different voices because they sounded nice.  [With him] I played a lot of Chopin and Bach and because he was so into the beauty of it, I could enjoy the music instead of it being about whether I was any good or not.  He would always say it was good even when I played bad.  So, that was a very good environment. 
Also, he was my friend.  I could go over to his house and sit around.  And when I got excited about jazz I could go over to his house and play him things that I like and he would say, “That’s great.  I never learned jazz like that” or “I really liked that piece.”  He was just so encouraging and good-hearted.  It was about the spirit of the music and not just about getting great. 

DM:            Were there any other teachers – maybe as you got older – that were really helpful.

AL:            There was actually a teacher before Joe.  He was a little bit of a hard-ass, but he was good, too.  His name was Morton Estrin.  After Joe, I didn’t study at all for a long time.  I took music in college, but it was more just classes about common practice harmony and stuff like that.  I didn’t take private lessons again until I was twenty-five.  From eighteen until twenty-five I didn’t take a lesson. 
Then, I was living in San Francisco and I was driving by the San Francisco Conservatory and not even knowing why, I pulled my car over and I parked and I went in and there was this class in progress.  [It was being taught by] this guy named Bill Mathieu, who later was called Allaudin Mathieu who was the arranger for Stan Kenton for years and subsequently a teacher at Mills College.  [He was] really a master of harmony and someone who could teach improvisation well and had a lot of knowledge about overtones and things I didn’t really know a lot about.  So, I walked into this class and people were doing this thing called, “News of the Week in Review.”  A person would play a piece and they had to play it about something they had experienced in life.  Like, “I had an argument with my Grandmother” or something like that and during the piece – the improvised piece - they had to say the sentence that told what it was very clearly.  They had to make a commitment to what the piece was about.  It was a fascinating class.  It was really great.  After the class ended, I meekly went up to him...maybe not totally meekly...because I was already playing with Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw and people like that.  But, something hit me about the way that this guy taught and his energy and I said, “I think I could learn something from you if you’d let me” and he said, “Sure, come on.”  Then I studied with him for six months every week.  I mostly learned about voice leading and harmony and overtones and these were really…they completely changed my playing and my perception of music as well as informed the way I teach as well.  [I remember] that when he told me about the overtone series, I got so angry.  It was like, “How could I be a musician for all of the years and nobody ever told me that?”  It’s like the birds and the bees of music.  It’s the science of what is sound.  I was so grateful to him for showing me that. 
I played for him the first lesson and he said, “Well, I’ll never be able to play jazz like you - you’re an amazing jazz player – but you’re only hearing about a quarter of the music you’re playing.  He said, “Play a chord” and I played a chord.   Then he said, “Just sing the second highest note.”  I couldn’t.  Then he said, “Just sing the bottom note.”  I couldn’t.  I could only sing the top one.  Then, he said, “Well, it’s amazing that you play what you’re playing, you don’t even hear it.  Also, you’re missing out on three-quarters of the music.”  And I said, “Wow, I want to hear more.  That sounds exciting.”  So, we worked on all these kind of ear training exercises and physical exercises.  I played five-part Bach fugues and I had to sing all the parts.  He helped me come more into the life…feeling my fingers on the keys and the shapes I was making and understanding the music intellectually and then relating it all to overtones.  It just made it more actual.  That was an explosion for me.  And after six months, he said, “Well, I could teach you counter-point, but you actually understand it perfectly without me giving you all the technical things.  I’ve shown you everything I know and you seem to get it, so have fun now.  Bye.”  So, that was my time with Allaudin. 

We’ve stayed really close friends and he comes when I play concerts near where he lives in Northern California and he kisses me after the sets and tells me how wonderful it is.  If I show him my chorals or something that came really out of his lessons, he just laughs and says, “These are all jokes.”  He said, “You trick our ears and then you make it seem like something is happening, but you’re making jokes.”  He was just playing through them and laughing the whole time and I thought that was really fun, because he basically opened up that world for me.  So I’d say he was the most important teacher I’ve ever had.

Then, there are all the players I’ve played with and continue to play with that have things to teach me.  The famous ones…Gary Peacock and Charlie Haden,Tom Rainey and Ralph Alessi…I’ve learned something from all of them.   Even the ones that are much younger than me, like you or Amy Shelly.  They teach me something whether it’s patience or simplicity.  [There are] all kinds of mentors.  Even when a person knows hardly anything, they might be more adept at something than you.  They have more insight into energy or wildness or low notes or something [laughs].  “Yeah, man…this person really plays some low notes.  So, these times of playing in bands, with great players, touring, or recording, you learn some things that you can take with you.  It’s a cast of thousands, actually.

DM:            Is there anything you would like to say about your time playing with some of the better-known players?  Maybe what you learned from playing with that kind of player.

AL:            Well, the bass players, for instance.  I was thinking of both Charlie [Haden] and Gary [Peacock].  Although I’m not saying that those were the most successful collaborations.  As far as successful collaborations go, I think of Bill Douglas in San Francisco, Johannes Weidenmueller, and Dwight Kilian who I played with a lot longer and went a lot deeper and further with.  But, just the sense with those bassists that they were the “Lords of the Underworld” and that I had no idea what notes that they were ever going to play or even what beats they might play on – Kent McLagan is another one.  So, it really forced me to be collaborative.  It wasn’t good enough for me to know the song or read the chart.  I had to actually be present to deal with what they were making.  I had to be totally on it, listening, paying attention, being smart, and leaving space.  “Ok, he did that, what am I going to do?  I have no idea, so I’m just going to be silent.  Now, I’m just going to hold this note and see what happens.”  They forced me into present time of listening and working with what they put out there because they were so inventive…so courageous about their choices.  So, that was really inspiring. 
            The drummers…Tom Rainey, Eddie Marshall, Alan Hall, and Zakir Hussain…Some of these people are so adept with rhythm, so really they can play anything against anything – Tony Moreno is another one.  So, if they are taking eight bars or something and I don’t pay amazing attention and really keep track of what’s going on, I have absolutely no clue of where I am.  [It’s surprising] how easy it is to get thrown because they’re so amazing at playing what they play and keeping form.  I have to be completely focused and if not, in one second I’m completely lost. 
Eddie Marshall was so kind to me when I was young.  He’d play sixteen bars and I’d come in on the wrong beat and then afterwards, I’d say, “Eddie, how do you put up with me” and he’d say, “You’re doing great.  Everything sounds great.  Don’t worry about it” Again, that kindness…when I knew that I was barely hanging on for dear life to play with this guy. 
I remember having a rehearsal here at my house with Tom Rainey and in the middle of his solo realizing I had no clue and then coming in and him getting kind of mad.  I realized that if I’m going to play during his solo, I better play my entrance correctly because he’s building this whole thing based on the fact that I’m going to play my kicks in the right places.  So, either I lay out and just admit that I have no chance or I really do it well.  He’s building his house upon that foundation.  He’s so skilled and also so dynamically and emotionally involved in what he’s playing that if I come in on the “and of one” instead of “one” that the whole solo makes no sense.  It doesn’t work.  
            I was thinking of Chet Baker.  It was not that long before he died and he wasn’t well, but just the way that he would sit by me when I soloed and listen to my solo with the same intensity that he played.  No difference.  That it was the music and it was the piece and that he valued my contribution at such an essence level. 
Also, just how integrated he was.  You know, this thing about singing through your instrument.  That all through the evening, I couldn’t tell whether he was playing his trumpet or singing.  I play a lot with my eyes closed and I would think, “Oh, Chet’s singing now” and it would be the trumpet.  I was tricked every time.  It was amazing how completely he had made the trumpet his voice so that it sounded exactly like when he sang.  That was unbelievable to me.  Also, I could try to track his melodies – and he’s more or less a mainstream player – but so original, so intuitive in his playing.  You could never pigeonhole him.  I would think, “Oh, I know what he’s going to do here.  He’s going to hit a G.”  He would never hit the G.  I was wrong ever time and I loved being wrong every time.  It meant that I hadn’t played with him enough, but it also meant that he wasn’t just formulaic.  Then, when he would hit the “Ab” instead of the “G” I would say, “Oh, of course.  It’s a more alive note.  He’s going to play that!”   But I would be wrong most of the time and I can usually intuit these things.  I loved it, because it meant that he was completely in the moment.  Then, what he ended up doing would be way more eloquent than what you would think he would do.  That gave me tremendous respect for him as an improviser.  All that.  The whole thing. 
The humbleness of him and Kenny Wheeler, Lee Konitz, and Ron Miles.  These people are so humble.  It just breaks my heart in the best of ways.  To be recording with Kenny Wheeler and have him play this killer solo…this unbelievable solo… and to have him say, “Well, this take is probably ruined by a car horn or something, because this is the first thing I’ve played in this session that is worth anything and this probably won’t be usable.”  Then we listened to the take and we couldn’t use it for some reason and he said, “Told you!” 
These people that everybody admires and wishes they could play like and they just think they’re just so flawed that they don’t deserve to be playing at all.  They can’t imagine why anyone would want to listen to them.  Chet saying after the gig, “Why are the clapping?  I played so badly.”  Lee Konitz…same kind of thing.  How completely self-effacing they are.  It’s totally amazing to them that anyone would even want to play with them or listen to what they do.  These things are inspiring.  They help me. 
Or Barr Phillips…wow.  Doing a whole tour of improvised music with him and how challenging it was to play with him, because he doesn’t play like a bass player.  He doesn’t hold any tones.  He plays melodies the whole time.  “Well, how do I play with that?”  To spend those weeks trying to figure out how to intersect with that and work with that…this kind of earthquake that’s going down below you.  Dave Holland is similar.  These bassists that play a lot of motion...Paul Warburton.  How do I stabilize in the face of this fantastic musician who’s doing something I’m not used to?  How do I find balance while playing with this person?  You just have to be present and keep sensing how to make it work.   They’re such forces and they have such a clear way of playing.  They’re kind of uncompromising…it’s just the way they play.  I want to be able to make music with them, but I can’t run my old stuff.  I have to find what really works with that. 
And while I’m doing that process, Barr is staying at my house and then one morning, he takes Otis [Art’s son].  Otis is one or two-years old at the time.  We wake up in the morning and Otis is gone with Barr and there’s a note from Barr saying, “I took Otis out for an adventure,” and he’s gone all day.  I thought that was incredible.  He comes home and says he says, “We had a great time.”  Otis was smiling.  It was amazing that he had made that bond with my son.  And then Otis ends up becoming a bass player.  Maybe it’s because of that day.  Who knows?

DM:            What are your feelings as to what we do as musicians - and in particular, as musicians who play art music – why that is something that is important to society?

AL:            Well, I’m not sure that it’s important to society, actually.  I just think that it seems to serve a need – no matter how small – a specific need in some people to express their being in a really direct and poetic way.  People – for some of us, it’s important to have a potent and direct way to tell how life is…in action.  To enact who they are and what they’re sensing in a form…whether it’s painting or poetry…and the arts are a way of doing that.  [They] are languages that are… how can I say? - in some ways more specific and in some ways less specific than normal conversation.  So, we need a kind of non-verbal – and I think of poetry as being non-verbal just because we’re using language as sound and using language in sometimes non-linear ways.  Were we can just kind of tell the truth of our existence without having to tell it in linear language way.  And then we can have these discussions in these forms, like in music or in mixed media – mixed arts and we can commune in that way.  So, in that sense, for those of us who have that need and joy in doing that, it’s a way of us getting together.  And then for the people who are not participating directly in that language, for them to get a chance to be a part of that through witnessing it, whether it’s reading something or going to a performance or hearing a CD or whatever.  To participate in that discussion by allowing the things to play on their inner beings – emotional and some other parts of their being that aren’t purely intellectual or practical.  That’s what I think the other side is…the work or commercial world of things, where things are done.  You know, you do this and you get that.  But these things are not about that.  They’re more about, “What is it like to be alive?” and they’re not particularly goal-oriented.  They’re an exchange of energy in a kind of simpler state.  Kind of like animals – they’re physical and emotional…I don’t know…aesthetic or something…they’re not practical and their not “getting stuff done.”  That’s how I see it.  So, in that sense, it does fill a need, however again, I’m not sure it’s important, but it is essential somehow. 

DM:            So then, largely what’s important in society – in the relationship between the arts and society - is the connections that people are allowed to make through the process.

AL:            Exactly, the present time that you can enter of, “that makes me feel like that” and to acknowledge that.  If you’re doing it, you can say, “It makes me feel like that, therefore I make a loud sound.”  That you’re actually, in the moment, able to respond in very primal ways in the communal arts like that.  And in the private arts of painting and writing, then you can say, “I’m going to put more yellow onto this canvas – it makes me feel good when it drips and it looks like that – that’s what I feel like doing.”  Or when you look at it, you feel the freedom in the expression or the joy or the pain, whatever it is that you can connect with.  It’s more open ended.  It’s not what your supposed to do…you’re allowed to sense it in a more personal way than, “turn that cam-shaft so that the car will run.”  Which is very directly about getting a job done – you do this and that happens.  But when you throw the yellow paint, one person might feel joy and another person might feel disgust and another person might feel very little at all.  This open-endedness seems to be part of our essential humanity. 

DM:            So, then how can we continue to develop the connections that we’re able to make in society?  I’m frustrated, because I’ve noticed that a lot of improvised music is still performed in bars and clubs and I think that is more representative of where we’ve been than where we are now.

AL:            I agree with you, but that’s changing.  That’s not where I mostly play, for instance - even internationally.  I play at people’s homes, at little community centers, churches and rooms.  [In] New York, more and more, there are just rooms.  It’s just a room.  There is nothing in it.  It’s just a place where people can make things.  In Santa Fe, my friend, Bruce Dunlop has a place that is called, “Gig.”  It’s just a room.  [Also] realize that we don’t need alcohol and all of these distractions.  We don’t need commerce.  Just charge $10 or $5 or whatever people can pay. 

            I’m doing a concert series at a church in Boulder with the Boy/Girl Band called “Deep Listening.”  People can come to the church and sit and feel things through music.  Just as they would go to meditate in a church for spiritual reasons. 

            So, I think these things are changing.  It’s up to the artists and then the people who have spaces – all you need is a space, right?  People just need to start asking things like, “Hey, would you like to use your furniture store in the evenings for poetry.  It’s happening, actually.  It’s happening more and more.
            So, the creativity has to not only be in the music or the poetry or the drama, but also in answering the questions, “How do we want to present this?”  And we can ask our friends and neighbors, “Hey, would it be fun for you to sponsor this or let us use your space?  Then, people can see your store.  You can have the fun thing of having music in your store or your house or your garage.  Many kinds of spaces are being used like that.  It’s moved away from being about getting away from something – going to the bar and getting drunk.  Instead of it being a relief from normal life, it can function now more like a retreat like we do for mediation or spiritual awakening or joining.  I think of all these as kind of churches.  Places where stuff can happen and people can commune together in these very simple ways.  They’re not doctrinaire, which is what I like about it.  I mean, hopefully their not – I guess they are sometimes, but because it’s not about language and its so open how its interpreted, if you just make noises or play music or just say words or do movements, its not trying to convince someone, “don’t believe in this” or "believe in that."  It’s a lot more open ended. 

<That's part 1 of my interview with Art Lande.  Stay tuned for part 2.  Have a great day.  ~ Danny>

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kent McLagan and Danny Meyer - Background Music

I love that there are kids laughing in the background.  This is from a Beacon house concert at Jane's.  Thanks again, Jane.

 Background Music by Warne Marsh
Danny Meyer - Saxophone
Kent McLagan - Bass

Right now, Colorado is a very interesting place to be a musician.  People can play.  I'm excited to see how this all develops. 

For now:
Go team.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ron Miles Interview

Danny Meyer: Music has developed an incredible amount in the last few decades. I think as a language, so much has happened. I also think it’s wonderful that as a community, we seem to be doing much better. In the past, a lot of musicians had problems with drugs and alcohol and now so many musicians are going to college and really studying the language.
So, I feel very blessed because I think it is a very exciting time to be a musician. The music that is going to be made over the next fifty years or so is going to be very interesting. But along with this excitement, I also think that this generation of musicians has a responsibility to society that is very important. That is to try to explain to society what it is that we do. Without that explanation, I think it might be become more difficult to develop the language of music. I think we need to start explaining what is going on. I have a feeling that the general population probably has about the same understanding of what we do as they have an understanding of particle physics. The difference being that particle physicists seem to be better supported by society – I think they are doing a much better job of explaining what it is that they are doing to the rest of society.

Ron Miles: Well, I think there are a few things. I think the idea of explaining what we’re doing to society is good and that ties into your other point, which is that so many musicians have degrees. We’ve actually studied being able to talk about music. A lot of us have. So, those of us that can talk about it should. We both know Kent McLagan. He uses language so efficiently and so well – I think he’s a great person to do that. I think that there are some people who maybe don’t explain things well – and that’s ok – I don’t think everybody has to do it, but those of us that can…I think it’s very helpful.
Also, to make sure that we spend a bit of time – we have a lot of classes on [jazz] history – but, it’s good to find a way to talk about what is going on now. How can we do that? How can we have presentations of new music like classical musicians sometimes do? And these parlor concerts you read about where pianists would get together and play new pieces or their new compositions and people would come and check it out – and they’d talk about it. That kind of gathering I think is something that we can also explore.
We are seeing more of these kinds of house concerts pop up where people feel more comfortable with that kind of interaction. Sometimes in a club you have the stage, and there’s the audience and a performer. It’s difficult to negotiate that balance. If we can set up more opportunities where people can play, ask questions, and maybe play something again – that kind of thing can be really nice.
DM: That’s great. So, at one point, you mentioned clubs and one thing I think is interesting is that while so many of us in this generation are educated musicians we are still performing in a lot of the same types of places – playing a lot in bars – and I think that is more reflective of where we have been than where we are now.
RM: Well, I think that you want to play at a place where people who like music can hear the music – and that’s really important. Sometimes you play at a place and it’s kind of hard to hear the music and you think about how hard that is for the musicians, but think about the people who paid $10 to come. They came and they’re totally frustrated and they’re like, “I came and paid and I couldn’t hear anything.” So, I think it’s good to work those things out the best you can. That’s part of our responsibility as musicians to do that. Good venues exist but some times you have really look for them. When I was coming up with Fred Hess, we would call art museums; we’d call libraries, because they have summer concert series or series through the year - we’d say, “Hey, can we get on your series and play.” You might have to find those kinds of places and then get the word out so people can come and listen. Be consistent about it, too. You don’t want to make it too far on the other side so that people don’t know if there’s going to be a place you can hear the music. We want our audience to have faith that they can come out and really have a good time and enjoy some music.

DM: I think that artists and musicians understand that there’s value in the arts, but I don’t know that we’re particularly good at explaining that value.
RM: I agree. It’s very difficult to deal with abstract concepts like music and art in the same way. We’re a society that loves numbers and loves being able to show that, “this is the best of this,” or, “this is the second best.” So, we just have to – as a society – think a little deeper.
As musicians, in explaining the value of the arts, there are a couple of things that come to mind. For one, to seek out people who are really good at explaining things – it might not be us – but to find those people and have them get on our side and have them be advocates for us. And the people in our community who can do it – like we talked about earlier – have them make the case, because not everyone is good at it. I’m not sure that I’m always so good at it – but I know people who are.
We were just working on this bill in the legislature here in Colorado about making sure that arts and arts education stays in the public schools. There’s a great fellow, Dorian Delong, who was actually a student here – worked in the office - and now he teaches at Thorton High School. He had me come out every year for a few years to talk about the Harlem Renaissance and play music for the whole school – not just the music students. And this guy is savvy, he’s politically connected, and he’s very smart, and passionate about the arts and he was able to drive this thing home. But he had folks like me come in and play some music. And this community got this thing through – and it worked! When he called and said it passed, I said, “Man, it did work." That’s great…at least the legislature. What I think is important is looking at – even outside of our community - for who is skilled at making the case. When you think about really successful art institutions like symphonies and big museums, they have folks like that who make their case for them.
Also, as a community of improvisers, we’re spread out. Even a small community like Denver, we’re still kind of spread out. I still think that there are hopes about forming organizations to kind of get that going. Creative Music Works used to do here in town, but they haven’t been around so much here lately. I still have hopes that we can get something like that going and present the new music on a more consistent basis - consistent as far as the number of performances, consistent as far as the quality of the performances, consistent in the experience the listeners have in the coming out to the performance. All of that.
DM: What, do you think does the community need to hear?…I’m not sure how to say it…to get everybody to go over to the same place - to work together? What do we need to be on the same team?
RM: That is a very good question. I think…to get everyone on the same team…there are a couple things. First off, the community of art musicians needs to be less territorial. I think the symphonies hold on to their territory, and other groups of musicians are holding on to their territories. Almost in the sense that “We can’t let people know what’s going on over there because they might not come to our thing.” My thing has always been like, “If you come, I think you’re going to have a good time – I’m not saying don’t go over there, you might have a good time over there,” but I’m not going to tell you not to go over there to get you to come over here. We’ll just present our stuff as strong as possible. There are a lot of people that are really entrenched in kind of an old-school thing. It’s going to take a moment to loosen that thing up a little bit. That’ll be the first thing, for people to be a little less territorial.
And then, while we’re trying to get things to open up…I think that the community of improvisers in this area…we’re just going to have to form an organization. I’ve been thinking about it a lot that last few months. It’s not necessarily our nature, you and I, to kind of step out there and be like the front person. We’d rather play some music, be supportive, and if someone wants to get some shine on, “go ahead…take it all,” but there might be a need to – I feel for myself that might not be the natural place for me to be, but I might have to step out there a little bit more. While there’s some kind of…notoriety or whatever here – which goes up and down, too – but while it’s here might be a time kind of see if we can generate some force around whatever small notoriety that some people have in this town. That’s what I’ve been thinking a lot about.
DM: Alright, the next thing - What is your advice to a someone who is just going into college, what is your advice to them in their studies.
RM: Going into college… First word is “humility” when you get to college, because, chances are that if you’re going to college you were probably dealin’ at your high school. So, [my advice is] just to come in and be humble and take a step back and learn. And also realize that school is not the end of everything. School is school – it’s like a laboratory to work some stuff out. So you learn stuff in school, but make sure you’re playing outside of school where you can just play music and remind yourself why it is that you are[in school] – it’s because you love music. Sometimes in school we’re constantly being confronted by things we don’t know and we’re not good at, and so it can beat you down - you think, “Man, I’m not good at anything.” It’s good to play with people that are saying, “We like playing with you because you’re you. That’s what we like. We’re not hearing what you can’t do…what you’re doing is great! We like that.” So you’re just adding into that with school.
That’s the thing, because when I was in school I would be confronted with that a lot, too. I would go take a lesson from people that I admired like Jane Ira Bloom or Lester Bowie or different people who would say, “You’re alright. I mean, you still have a lot to learn, but you sound all right. Don’t let school bring you down.” Then I’d get together with my friends we’d play and like, “yeah, this is great!” Then I’d go to school and the jazz band director would yell at me, you know. I had it in perspective. That’s a big thing - just keep it in perspective. And take advantage of this opportunity that’s there to learn from your peers, learn from these teachers, go to the library – listen to all the records that are there. It’s really quite remarkable. And take classes outside of your discipline because there are some bad people at your school. Unfortunately, not everybody in your area might not be one of those bad people, but some place there is. There might be a baroque scholar or somebody who does electronic music. Get with them…kind of see what makes them tick. Take advantage all that while you’re there.

DM: Beautiful. What about somebody who is getting out of school, or maybe has been out of school for a little while?
RM: Get a band. GET…A…BAND. Play with people that you like to play with and people that like to play with you, and develop some music. Again, it’s always groups of people that develop music. I mean, Prince developed his music, but that’s why it always sounds better on record than it does at those concerts - and Prince is my favorite living musician, but honestly, if I want to hear the best Prince performance, I just put on one of those records where he’s playing everything, because it sounds great. The gigs sound good to, but it’s different. But in our music – which is a collective music – it takes all of us working together and that exchange of ideas.
When I first had that trio with Eric [Gunnison] and Kent [McLagan], I wrote a lot of music before then with a lot of specific things to play. When I started playing with Eric and Kent - Eric was so great at coming up with these chord voicings, so why am I writing chord voicings for him? That’s what he does. Or, why am I writing bass lines for Kent when he likes to be inventive and move things around. So, you learn…how do you communicate? Like, “Well, I want this kind of vibe…and you know…you’re on your own…go ahead…this is kind of what I’m after.” Or, “This chord here…I hear this sound…is there a more official way to write that chord?” You’re constantly learning and expanding. Just hearing their sounds gives you stuff to play. You learn, in forms, how much openness, balance, structure, or free – you learn all these possibilities just from playing with folks – that’s so great. That’s, I think, the biggest thing for folks who are in school, but especially when you’re out of school. Get a band. The collective energy of finding gigs - that’s hard to do for one person, too. Then everyone is invested in the music. It can do something.
Even that new band, Mostly Other People Do the Killing…out in New York…Peter Evans…they’ve been able to make dent out there because one, they’re all great players and two, they have some point of view that they’re putting out there. That’s really what people want. They don’t need you to give them a thesis when you’re doing a concert – which is another thing that school teaches you that’s totally wrong. “Well, your set should show that you can play bop and you can play free and you can play this.” Man, nobody gives a crap about that when they go to see a concert. I don’t go see Joni Mitchell to see here play baroque music [laughs]. I want to hear her do what she thinks we want to hear.
That’s what bands do. Present some music. Great. When I hear someone great or a great band, I’m not thinking about what they can’t do. I’m thinking about what they’re doing and I’m appreciative of that. That’s another reason why it’s good to play some music outside of school. People who play in school too long, every time they do a gig it sounds like their trying to show us that they can do something. Just do something. That’s what you need to do. Do something. Stop trying to show me you can do something.
DM: That’s very good advice. So, one of the qualities of your playing that I’ve most enjoyed is the way you interact with other musicians. The way that I’ve described it is that you seem to say, “yes” to everybody. We’ve talked about being on the same team. It always feels like you’re on everybody’s team…all the time. It’s great. So, could you talk about the way that you think about being a part of an ensemble?
RM: I think that as horn players we have a very unique position that rhythm section players don’t have. Rhythm section players kind of have to do it, because they’re playing all the time. Horn players, get a chance to come in and out. I’ve had the chance to play with a lot of folks over the years and one of the reasons that I’ve tried to approach music in that way is because that is when I always had the nicest times – when people are on the same team with me.
Matt Wilson does this thing – he’s such a great clinician by the way. Some people do these clinics at schools and you can tell they’re just try to, you know, get enough money for the hotel so they can make this tour happen. I mean; you know what I’m talking about. But Matt, man, he’ll show up and he’ll have someone come up and play with him. He said that, “improvising is a way to even the playing field.” Whoever you’re playing with, you’re job is to make some music with them. Again, not this idea that you’re supposed to show them, “I’m better than you.” No, if you’re really great, then you should certainly be able to play with someone who’s not that great. The hardest part is when you’re not – you’re very limited – to play with somebody. So, it’s all about what can we do to make this work? If we have some disagreements, we can deal with this later, but right now were all here together to make the strongest thing we can do.
Louis Armstrong - I remember this story all the time – he would talk about him and Bix Beiderbeck getting together – they only got together a couples times. He said that, “We closed the door and tried to make the music sound as good as it possibly could.” And that was like, “There you go, man.” Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbeck, I’m sure that music sounded pretty damn good - with those guys playing with that mindset. It’s not competitive, it’s like, “let’s just see if – how we can really make this great.”
In the 80’s, they had that dream team – basketball – for the Olympics. The first one with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and all those cats were playing. I’d read the box score: Michael Jordan, 9 points; someone else, 20 points…it would just change all the time. When I would watch them play, they just played and passed to the open person – who was great. They’d talk about [how] their practices were the most fun, because they would just get together and play.
Just remind yourself, reinforce that, and play with people as much as you can who have that. I think what starts to happen is that sometimes we play with people who don’t have that mindset and it confuses us. It’s like, “Maybe that’s not the way…maybe I’m supposed to get out there and cut this cat…[laughs]…you know what I’m saying…I’m going to shake this cat down, because that’s what just happened.” No…hold on…play with people who have that mindset, too – which is most of the people who can play, by the way. Just to reinforce that. Again, that’s our whole idea: for this hour, we’re all here together to make just the best musical presentation we can. And it’s not that hard. You get to play music for an hour. That’s great. Give it up, for that hour. And then like I say, if there’s some issues, don’t come back next time if it really wasn’t fun. But for that hour, just go ahead and deal. Again, I find most people are that same way. It’s rare that I have a performance where I leave and think, “That really was – people were dealin’ that way. They kind of had another thing.” I just go and put that on my list. Next time I won’t be there for that one...unless we can talk about it ahead of time.
The next part of the interview is the discussion of some important figures in music.

Wayne Shorter – 
RM:  I think one of the things that I find when I look at musicians who are really great is that they have their music. I think that’s one of the things that we sometimes don’t get from folks. Somebody like Wayne Shorter, he writes this kind of music that…he improvises the way he writes. Even so much these days that I hear in his solos these old compositions showing up – in his solos. And he understands every element of his music. You get the sense that he – you see the scores that Danilo has some times that are incredibly… – and you know that Wayne really hears all that stuff. So you go to this part and he knows how to react. Part of that has come from the fact, – well, he’s obviously a genius, but – he really practices his music. That’s a thing that I think is going to be true about the folks that we talk about and it has to be one of the things that we remember about ourselves. We really need to practice our music…. really hard…so that we have a really good understanding of it. When you go to a rock band and – whoever it is…Metallica – they have nineteen songs and they are going to play the heck out of those nineteen songs. And I don’t even like Metallica that much. God Bless ‘em, but I’m not really a big fan - but that kind of idea. Sometimes as jazz musicians, we have so much music to learn that the thing that gets the least attention is our own music. We’re always working on standards; we’re working on transcriptions. We should be mostly transcribing our stuff and figuring out what didn’t work on that…or what did. I mean…I don’t do that enough. I don’t take all of my songs through twelve keys. I’ve been doing it lately. Why do we do that with All the Things You Are and don’t do that with our own songs? That’s the kind of thing - that’s what I hear when I hear Wayne Shorter.
The other thing about Wayne Shorter is that he and Miles Davis – to me – are the people in the last generation…since the post collective improvisation music…that really understand the idea of a horn player in collective improvisational format with a rhythm section. That they don’t take solos as much as they weave in and out of the texture of the band. And they don’t play for a long time. They have more patience than anybody I can think of as far as not playing for minutes and then coming back in – or playing for little about and coming out – or playing for another couple of minutes. Whatever, but they are always engaged. Which is why bands that try to play their music don’t play it is well. It isn’t because of the rhythm sections’ approach, it’s because of Wayne and Miles. Their playing is so hard to duplicate. As horn players we’re never allowed and we don’t allow ourselves that idea that you can come in and out of the music that frequently.
Prince – 
RM: Prince, like I say, he’s one of those guys who – when I came up – was, like Wayne – not afraid to have his own music and also not afraid to be totally outrageous - outrageous in both extremes: outrageously deep and outrageously corny. He could do all that in the same song - same album certainly. There are some songs on albums that I can’t listen to because they’re so corny and others that I can’t stop listening to.
And [he’s] somebody who’s able to create a sound world…I remember when Sign of the Times came out. It was about to come out and I had moved back here – must have been 1988 – and I got a Village Voice and it said there was a new Prince Record…Sign of the Times. I stayed up that night listening on the radio to see if I could here it. It starts out with this little drum machine…[sings] and I thought, “That’s the new Prince song…” he had hasn’t even sang yet. Because no one would put out a song that spare with just a little drum machine and claps. No one would do it. Obviously it was him, but that idea that somebody could have a sound-scape so clear that you would hear – without them even singing or playing, because it was just a drum machine…it was like he was playing…just a pattern. Must be Prince.
And his ability to – for me as a religious person – the kind of passion that he would bring to discussing his religious fervor that was only used to address things that were more sensational…like sex at that kind of…he would use that same kind of approach in discussion his passion for religion – his love for God – I always found that to be so powerful. The idea that you can be this kind of freakish guy and this religious guy at the same time and you don’t really even have to figure out why. It’s like, “I am. I’m kind of freaky and I’m religious. How’s that?” Ok. I guess so. That’s what I’ve always loved about him.
Ornette Coleman – 
RM: Yeah…Ornette Coleman…like Wayne, somebody who not only had his own music, but was confident early on to have music that was so different than everyone else. Wayne’s music doesn’t necessarily have new rules. Ornette’s music has different rules. The idea that we would concentrate on the foreground more than the background – and what does that mean? That we would play the melody and let the melody develop? Ok…how do we do that? Well, this is how we do that. And to find people like Charlie [Haden] and Don [Cherry] and Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell who also shared that kind of vision. Again, those guys rehearsed all the time. His bands still rehearse all the time. What do they rehearse if they’re playing free? Well, they’re rehearsing learning how to play together. How to play that music and how to recognize where people are going.
We’ve talked about this, but the lesson that I took with him where he would write a note and ask me what the note was…like a first space note…and I’d say it was an “F.” Then he’d change the clef and say, “What note is it?” Not really explaining it, but me taking away from that, that as improvisers, we sometimes approach it like we know something, because we’ve studied all this stuff, – we know this theory – but when we’re really improvising, we can’t know anything. We have to approach it like, “I’m getting together with this person, and let’s really play together. I’m not going to play this thing I practiced. Were just going to start playing and let it develop.” That’s really scary to do. He’s developed a whole music that was based on that and he’s lived eighty years doing that. [It’s] so powerful in that regard – that you really can improvise. When he came up, there was that sense that “we’ve learned all this stuff that we’ve practiced…and that people don’t really improvise anymore…we just kind of put stuff together that we’ve practiced in new ways.” Just to blow it up and say, “No, let’s really improvise. Let’s do that.” That really does even the playing field. That does make it possible for everybody to play together.
DM: He recorded with his ten-year-old son.
RM: Yeah, exactly. That’s right, man…Empty Foxhole. That’s one of my top ones. Then, that most recent records - Sound Grammer - is also one of his greatest records. This guy can still keep doing it, because it’s possible – if you’re really improvising – that you could do something really spectacular. You don’t have to worry about topping yourself, because it’s a new day – a new approach.
That clip that they took down – it was Ornette and Sonny Rollins – on Youtube that was just up for couple of days. That just spelled it out so clearly, to see this guy show up. And Sonny Rollins, too, who is a great improviser.
Don Cherry – 
RM: You know, Don Cherry is such and interesting person, because when I came up I didn’t listen to him. Because I would listen to those Ornette records so much, and I would stop it after Ornette’s solo and listen to it over and over again and I would never listen to Don’s solo. It wasn’t until…I’m sure it was after My Cruel Heart and that stuff that I really started to get into Don and that was because I had really started to get into Ed Blackwell. So I bought El Corazon with Don and Ed and I got Old and New Dreams and I started to check out Don more and more and he’s just one of my favorites. And also, I love the way he plays over changes. He plays over changes so great. That…what’s that record with Lacy where they play all those Monk tunes? I’m actually doing this song, Who Knows, by Monk that I learned from that record. He really hears stuff. Just beautiful melodies…and Don is somebody who…we minimize his technique, because he would crack notes and all that kind of stuff, but he created a sound-scape that…it doesn’t sound right, unless it’s all there. That timbre, the articulations – the kind of spit-y articulation…it all is a perfect package together. When I took that lesson with Mr. Coleman, I played these split tone notes, he was like, “Ah. You should play every note like that.” And at first, I said, “I can’t play every note as a split tone,” but that kind of sense about...creating a sound world that’s yours…and you should play every note with that same concept of an entire sound. I took one lesson with him for 2 hours…I don’t know how long ago…it’s been 20 years or something, and I still get things from that lesson that I go back and think about. Yes, indeed. 
Sonny Rollins –
DM: He just had his 80th birthday.
RM: Well, that’s where Ornette played – at that concert. I think of Sonny as – to me – as complete a player that has ever been. [He] can play over any set of chord changes in an inventive, spontaneous way. Time that is immaculate – you can’t have any better time than him. So, that’s what I think – I think about him being so strong. Somebody that can really play quarter notes in an improvisation, and eighth notes, and all that stuff in between. I just think of him as maybe the most complete of all the improvisers.
Public Enemy – 
DM: It’s there a hip-hop artist that you’ve been really excited about?
RM: Well, I was really familiar with Public Enemy. To me, that’s one of my favorite, most important bands that I’ve heard in my life and Fear of a Black Planet would easily be in my top five albums ever. For one, at that point in hip-hop, it was still possible to use it as something other than pop music. It really was powerful social commentary. The music was powerful in that it was kind of like music concrete. That you’d hear it the radio and there’d be all these crazy sounds and stuff going on. I love those first…well, the first four records or so I thought were just outstanding. To me, that’s my favorite of all the hip-hop bands.
It became really hard – it’s almost like Jelly Roll Morton. Jelly Roll Morton is one of my favorite musicians ever. He had way of dealing with New Orleans polyphony in such a way that it’s almost so complete that there’s nowhere to go in that music. He kind of ends the style, because he’s so great at it. And Louis Armstrong shows up with this new rhythm which he can’t adapt to and so, it kind of ends this thing. [It’s] the same thing with Public Enemy to me, they create such a high point in that music that it didn’t leave any place for the music to go. And I feel like it kind of stopped after that point. The same way that other pop forms sometimes stop and then elements of them get reconstituted to form a new pop style. So, for me, that’s kind of the end of the development of hip-hop in a lot of ways. I mean, it really becomes a new form of pop music at that point. There are expressive pop records after that I like - Late Registration by Kanye or The Black Album by Jay-Z or other albums that show up after that…even Eminem’s first records, or Chronic, that Dr. Dre Record…Chronic and Chronic 2000. I love all those records, but that’s a different thing. It’s pop music at that point. 
Bill Frisell – 
RM: Bill Frisell is, I think, somebody who is very trusting of what he hears. In the sense that, as jazz musicians sometimes we’re taught that what we hear is cool, but there’s kind of a complexity of jazz that has to be there to really make it valid – and he went through that. He talks about – at his first composition class at Berkelee, he wrote music like he writes now and the teacher is like “No, that’s not going to work. It sounds like some folk music,” and it made him stop writing music for a long time. [He thought], “That’s what I heard, but that’s wrong.” So, when his own records came out and I heard – because when his records first showed up, when I first heard about him, it was this period where people were getting signed and who were talking about signing me. I was dealing with record labels…and this guy at Gramavision wrote back and he said that, “You know, I really like your music, but the melodies aren’t always all that strong,” and I thought about that and it hurt me at first. I thought, “Aw man…my music!” But I thought, what if I really, really, wrote the strongest melodies I could without any worry about anything? About whether it’s hip or cool or anything. So, My Cruel Heart and Women’s Day and all those records were my first attempt. My Cruel Heart, I had even done a version of My Cruel Heart before that, that got scrapped and I kind of reconstituted it and rearranged it and wrote some new music with that thing in mind. And I heard Bill’s music and it kind of had this country thing that I thought was so cool, but nobody was doing that. It was really melodic and really true, it felt like. So, it just sent me down that path. When I started to play with him all the time I was just realizing that he really hears a lot of music. And he is technically really solid. I mean, his foundation is so strong. And it reminded me that too, that you have to make sure to deal with that, too – a strong foundation will not be a hindrance to you. It will be very helpful to you.
Playing with him was important for me, because I really got to apprentice. We’ve talked about that a little bit, too, that I think that’s a really important thing to do. Just to be out on the road with this guy. To see how he deals with interviews; and how he deals with the public; how he deals with the clubs; how deals with the travel; how he deals with putting together a set; and how were going to deal with playing with the same musicians for three weeks in a row. You have to change the set – we’re going to do the set and kind of move it around. Just to hear all of that and dealing with that. It was really something. It’s great. It was like going to school in a different way. I think that’s really important to do, too. So as we talk about people forming bands and playing with their peers. That’s incredibly important, but this idea, too, about somebody who maybe is more established offering a gig, particularly a tour, it’s also really important to do that, too. Not even for the notoriety it gives, – which is great – but just the chance to learn and see how they approach it. It might not be the only approach, but it’s just a way.
One thing with school – that’s why I don’t like faculty bands in school. I can’t stand that concept of faculty jazz bands, because they always sound just like really good student band – because they’re trying to do too much. I like more the idea of artist in residence. Just have a band come to your school and talk about what they do and play…play with them. It’s not the end all. It’s just a way. It might speak to you and not speak to her or speak to him and not speak to him, but somebody is going to take something away from it. Then the next year, another band shows up – same kind of thing…just approaches a way to do that. So, I’m trying to work with some of these things here at this school or other schools, too, but that’s some of the things that I’ve thought about. But, that idea of apprenticing under Bill has been so great.
And he’s so generous. I think that’s the thing about Bill, too, that I’ve learned. You get the sense…when you play with him…you’d do something and get totally housed. Like, “Oh my Gosh,” and he’d play and there’d be no applause…because he was playing something so connected to the song that it was almost like you didn’t realize that he had soloed. That he had played something so beautiful that the audience didn’t know that the song had stopped. And it’s just like, “Wow.” Now that’s some other level, you know what I mean? I mean, it’s obvious that you’re not playing the song. You’re playing something, whatever, it can be great too, but it’s obvious that you’re not playing the song. You took a solo, but I didn’t know that he had even taken a solo. Bill Frisell, man.
He’s just such a great guy, man and he’s totally down with playing music, too, with folks. I feel so blessed to be playing with him, because all my peers that play trumpet have had to have them on their records, because they all want to play with him, too. I get to play with him on his records. I feel so blessed and to have him on my records, too. All of us – from when I came up and obviously from your generation, too – Bill Frisell is one of our icons. He’s like Miles Davis or Wayne or those guys for us – and he should be thought of that way. He’s done music as great as anybody who has ever played this music.
DM: One thing that I’m trying to sort through and this is another thing that they don’t talk about so well in school…I guess we don’t talk about it in general that much as people, but finding balance in life as a musician? Something challenging for me is that I make a living teaching, but I practice. If you want to play music– to be able to have discourse in this language – you have to work really hard. It’s like having a job and then having a hobby, which is also your job. It seems like you deal pretty well with that.
RM: It’s a work in progress. I mean, I don’t think there’s a final answer, look at your life situation and you’re constantly improvising and making adjustments. For example, my daughter needs to be at school at 7:30 and so I take her to school and make breakfast for her and my son. So that means, I get up at 5:00, because she gets up at 6:30.
DM: You wake up at 5:00 to practice?
RM: Yeah, to practice or do stuff. Practice ear training, do some exercises, just to try to get some stuff in. And I stay up late. I look at my day or my week and plan how I’m going get all this stuff in that I’ve got to do this week, because I want to get it all in. The tricky thing is, of course, that things show up that you don’t plan on and that kind of throws a wrench in things, but for me – as a busy person – you kind of have to have a plan…and realized that it has to be adjusted, but the stuff still has to get done every day. It doesn’t matter to me that, “Well, I guess I get to sleep 3 hours tonight. I planned on getting 5 or 6, but I’ve got stuff that I’ve got to get done.” So that’s kind of how I’ve approached it in my life. Luckily, I’m one of those people who doesn’t need a lot of sleep.
That’s what I do, I make sure to get the stuff done that needs to get done, which, as a parent, it means being present for your kids. I mean – now really mean present for them can’t be like, “I really should be practicing right now instead of being here at this concert.” No, they’re my kids. I want to be there for them. It’s like, “They’ll be asleep at 9:00. Dad will get to work then, but while they’re here we want to be present with them.”
DM: That’s really great to hear you say.
RM: The thing also, is that music - and I know you know this, but a lot of folks think of music this other thing. No, music can be that thing…that very central thing in our life, even if we have a job. The job is a job and it’s not better or worse than we think of music as a vocation or whatever. They’re not better or worse, they’re just what they are and they both have their responsibilities. We are musicians, and that has its responsibilities and we have this job, which has its responsibilities and sometimes they meet up and sometimes they don’t. The key is that we meet our obligations in these areas. I think sometimes we get out of school and we’re taught that our job is here and then your music is over here…get to that when you get time. No, no, no, they can both exist. We juggle a lot of things – we wear a lot of hats in this society right now, and so we don’t have make a judgment about what is more important. We just get stuff done.
DM: And finally, do you have any performances or projects that you’re really excited about that are coming up?
RM: Yeah, well, on Tuesday, I go to L.A. with Wayne Horowitz’s Gravitas Quartet and I haven’t played with them in a while, so I’m looking forward to that. Then in November 12th and 13th [2010] I’ll play at Dazzle. That was going to be a band with Rudy Royston, Kent McLagan, Glenn Taylor, and Doug Wamble on guitar. We might do Parade and some other songs that I haven’t played in a while. We’re going to do some Blind Willie Johnson music…Let the Light Shine and John the Revelator. Doug wrote some songs that he sings. We’ll do some Tom Waits music. And we’ll do some of those vocal songs that I’ve covered lately, but no one has sung, but he might sing them…like, I Woke Up in Love This Morning, I’ll Be There, I’ve been playing Anne, lately that the Beatles covered. What else? Oh, and this old song, There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears that Bix played in Paul Whiteman’s band in the 20’s and Bing Crosby sang. We’re going to do that for sure, whether Doug sings or not.
Going into the repertoire, I also learned from Bill…I’ll go back to this…is that in picking out standards, Bill taught me that you pick out standards that you really have something to say on. That’s why you do a tune at a gig. It’s not…you know…let’s do All the Things You Are or let’s do this…You do it because, you really want to play All the Things You Are. And he plays them a long time, in every band, for years. We’ve played Subconscious-lee for years. You look back and you see Thelonious Monk or these people…when they would introduce standards, it’s not like they would show up a bunch. A tune would show up in the set…you’d work it out and play it a bunch and get used to it. I talked to Jason Moran recently and I asked him how his band learns songs. He said that he introduces repertoire slowly. 
DM: I think that’s something that jazz musicians have stepped away from. I would like to see more of that…I would like to hear more people playing more music that they really want to play. That would be great.
Have there been any recordings that you’re involved with or that you’re putting out that might show up in the future.
RM: I’m trying to think if there’s anything. Oh…Carmen [Sandim’s] recording is going to show up soon. We’re on that together, so I’m looking forward to hearing that. I hope to do a recording next year – a trio recording with Bill Frisell and Brian Blade. They said they want to do it, so that’s big. We just have to find out when we can do it. That trio – playing with that trio…I learned a lot and I had a great time doing that, so I’d like to see whether we can do that in the next year.
DM: Well, thank you.
RM: Thank you, Danny. It’s been good having a chance to talk to you about music. It was really great…I mean, you’re one of the musicians that I have the most respect for, so it’s to get a chance to chat with you.
DM: Likewise. That was a lot of fun.
The interview took place on October 30th, 2010