Question and Answer
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|--- Mar 24 1999 Go to category|
|Subject:||Working with heavy musicians|
|From:||musician magazine (usa)|
Over the course of your career, you've had the privilege of working with many of your boyhood musical idols, from Herbie Hancock to Ornette Coleman. I imagine that when someone new enters this particular community of musicians, he or she must feel a certain sense of intimidation.
Yeah, but generally speaking, musicians love the idea of having new guys showing up that are playing great. When I first was starting to play with people like Gary Burton, Paul Bley, and later Sonny Rollins, if I played good, I always felt a good vibe. And that was much more useful to me than the guys who tried to vibe you. The person doing the vibing usually has more problems than the person who's getting vibed [laughs].
Intimidation is not an effective mechanism for achieving a high level of music. Most people that use it as a technique for self-promotion, which is what it normally boils down to, usually feel it on the back end.
>So you welcome new guys.
Sure. It's been exciting to see the emergence of so many capable musicians over the last 20 years or so. There was a period where I was concerned about the amount of people who could play on changes. It seemed like it was becoming a dying art. Now it's no problem at all to find guys who can really deal with the way their instrument has evolved historically and say something, using the correct musical grammar and putting together complete sentences.
>When exactly was this dark period?
I would say from about '74 to '78 or '79. That was an era that actually had a lot of interesting music--I never felt there was a lapse in creativity. But it wasn't that complex harmonically; it tended to be on one chord a lot. And I love to hear chords and harmony. I'm fairly conservative in the sense that when I listen to improvisers and I don't hear the bebop language as being a possibility, I tend to lose interest. That pretty much eliminates most of the avant-garde, virtually all so-called jazz/rock, and weirdly, many so-called bebop players.
> Using bebop licks in a jazz/rock or avant-garde context can sound wrong if you don't choose your spots correctly.
I totally agree. There's nothing more dumb-sounding. But that's not really what I mean. In fact, I'm using the term "bebop" in a way that I probably shouldn't. It's more an understanding of a narrative way of playing that is rooted in the incredible developments that have happened within the linear improvisational world over the last 50 years. It's like language fluency. In order for you and I to have this conversation, we're doing all this complex stuff in our subconscious, putting together verbs and nouns and adjectives, but we're not thinking about it too much. We're both talking about a subject that we know something about, and we may occasionally throw in terms that somebody from that office building across the street isn't going to understand. [As a player] I like being around musicians with whom I can use all kinds of slang and innuendo and asides while telling a narrative story, and having all those references be appreciated and responded to. That setting has nothing to do with idiom. That has to do with a shared language skill, or a shared understanding that's based on a million cultural details. The process of getting to that level of fluency is very difficult, much more difficult than even most musicians realize, and it's certainly a life-long task. To get to that level of fluency without understanding the language as defined through the works of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane is almost impossible. Having said that, I have zero interest in hearing people that sound like John Coltrane or Charlie Parker. If you get to the point that you can do that, there's this incredible temptation to just do it. It feels great, it's safe, because there's this aura around it--but that's the biggest danger of all. Once you can address those issues of language in a fairly effective way, you then have to say, "Yeah, but. . ." And that's where the real work starts.