Listening Session with Arkady Shilkloper

IMG_0009Moscow-born Arkady Shilkloper is one of the leading horn players in jazz. In the 1970s and 80s, he played French horn in the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra and the Moscow Philharmonic Symphony. Since then, he’s collaborated with folk, fusion and progressive rock ensembles, and is perhaps best known in improvised jazz circles for his work with the Moscow Art Trio, Elvin Jones, Lew Soloff, Pierre Favre and the Vienna Art Orchestra. While I’d known Shilkloper’s recordings, I finally got to see him perform in the summer of 2012 at the Alfa Jazz Festival in Lviv, Ukraine. Two days later we met for this session. [Photo by Larry Appelbaum]

1. Julius Watkins

“Sparkling Burgundy” (from Julius Watkins Sextet (Blue Note)

Watkins, French horn, Hank Mobley, saxophone; Perry Lopez, guitar; Duke Jordan, piano; Oscar Pettiford, bass, Art Blakey, drums. Recorded in 1955.

Julius Watkins, maybe with Oscar Pettiford?

What tells you that’s Julius?

I generally can tell the sound of Julius. He was the first jazz [French] horn player. His horn doesn’t sound like mine; It’s old. And the sound is even better because this is almost a natural horn in F. So the range of the F-horn is not the same as B-horn. The B-horn is a modern one, shorter, and the air flows differently. It’s more compact. That’s why i can play with more groove and more attack. Old instruments like the one Julius played are much more difficult. It’s not even a matter of the lip but of the way you push the air. If I push like I do, I can play like a valve trombone you know, and if I play F-horn it’s like playing organ – sound comes a half second later, with this kind of delay. It’s almost like an alphorn, a long way for the air to get from the lips to the audience.

And what do you like about Watkins’ playing, his approach?

Generally, he’s a jazz player. He knows its phrasings and chord changes. But man, he did more that 100 LP’s! I have, maybe, 60. I even have one very good and unusual recording from Belgrade Radio, a live studio recording – it’s not even a full CD, but 2 pieces on each side of the LP. I know people who collect all Watkins’ CD’s and LP’s. But they don’t have this recording. So I feel so cool.

I assume you never met him. If he were with us today, what would you want to talk to him about?

Since he was the first, I’d ask how he came to jazz, why? And why to play jazz on this horn, not a flugelhorn, piano, whatever? He was a classical player and then he switched to jazz, His first experience was with Claude Thornhill, I guess. So it’s much like my experience. My first experience with a jazz-rock band wasn’t that I wanted to improvise. I just wanted to be a part of music that I liked so much.

2. Adam Unsworth

“Swing” from Excerpt This! (self produced). Unsworth, French horn. Released in 2006.

Hey, I’ve never heard this. Who is this? This is a very good horn player. He’s more from classical world. Adam Unsworth? He’s fantastic.

What tells you he’s from the classical world? The attack, the articulation?

It’s articulation and sound. His sound is real horn sound – not like Tom Varner, John Clark, Mark Taylor, Vincent Chancey – all of these guys are more jazzy. And even Julius Watkins sounds better, generally. Of course, Tom Varner is a fantastic bebop player and John Clark is a fantastic improviser.  I know Mark – never played with him but we met. It was a great band with Julius Hemphill – Henry Threadgill’s Very Very Circus . Adam is fantastic. I’m actually a big fan of Adam. For me, he is the most interesting horn player today. And he likes me, too. Somehow we have a similar background. I came from classical world – I was at Bolshoi Theater, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, and then switched to improvised music, and all kinds of styles, not only straight ahead jazz. I did some jazz rock or free, folk with the Moscow Art Trio.

You’ve mentioned he sounds more like he’s from the classical world. Is that what you like about him? Is it about technique?

Technique and articulation. He also knows how to produce real jazz articulation and phrasing, which Julius Watkins did 100%. And also he’s a fantastic classical player with a full horn sound. In this particular piece, you can hear a little bit of valve trombone. But this is probably not his problem but a recording problem. If you record a horn directly, close-mic’d, you will have a sound like a valve trombone or a mellophone.

What is the best way recording a French Horn?

I never place the mic direct into the bell. I always need some space, air between microphone and horn.

How much space?

Depends on kind of a microphone and the kind of equipment. And sometimes I don’t like the sound of my own recordings because they’re mic’d too direct. It’s not a real horn sound, rather a trombone or mellophone. For example, when we recorded with ECM, Manfred never put a microphone close to a bell. But for ECM I didn’t play jazzy, it’s sort of forbidden[laughs].  Mostly it was a real, wide horn sound. Like we did “Her First Dance” on Misha Alperin’s CD. My own piece we did with a cello and horn.

It’s interesting that most of your comments are mostly about sound. Is sound most important to you?

Sound and articulation are important for me.

How about ideas? Does this sound improvised?

Sure, he’s improvising. But I think this piece is composed – not entirely, but composed. That’s what I actually like – when you can’t recognize the border between composition and improvisation.

I like the word comprovisation. I think many jazz musicians believe in improvisation too much. He comes onstage and he can improvise, and all this situation with the audience, and connection with the open sky, and they become more influenced to play, deeper and deeper. I’m not this kind of a guy. I think in the whole jazz history, only a few people could improvise like, say, Coltrane, Davis, maybe, Parker. Probably if I drink too much I could improvise for 1 hour. It’s not a big deal. But even Herbie Hancock was listening to young improvisers, well-educated kids from schools in Moscow. But it’s not a big deal really. Russian and Ukrainian people understand the language. So Herbie listened to 15 bands, and then he said “Okay, perfect: everybody can play but nobody tells me a story.” I would like to listen to some story from anybody. No matter what kind of story, but anything about your life, about your love, roots or nation, tradition, whatever. For example, last night’s John McLaughlin concert… Technically it’s fantastic. But it’s the same story. I know this music since many years.

3. John Clark

“Airegin” from I Will (Postcards). Clark, French horn; Bruce Ditmas, drums; Bob Stewart, tuba. Recorded in 1996.

[after a few bars] John Clark. This is John’s sound. He has a small mouthpiece. And because of that he sounds like [produces thin, pinched sounds]. It’s not my cup of tea but he’s fantastic in it. If I wouldn’t be a horn player, I’d never recognize that this is (French) horn. Maybe mellophone or the valve trombone, whatever… Also, he’s a very nice person, a nice guy. We have good connection. When I was in NY, I visited in his apartment. I don’t remember what did we drink, but it wasn’t vodka. I have many CDs from him, but I’m not sure which one is this. He can play very high because of the small mouthpiece. I remember when he played in the Gill Evans Band, and he played some cornet, like me. And this tuba player is Bob Stewart? I played with him too. Bob is fantastic. I played with him in a very funny situation in Switzerland. The band was fantastic: Tom Varner, me, Bob Stewart, and a jazz trumpet player named Hans Kennel. And we all played Alphorn.

What is the real challenge to swinging with horn?

That’s a problem for many horn players. This is what I cannot explain. I can play. I tell to classical people, even if you play détaché, you play it  legato, but using this “ptam” [all the way]. It’s like Vengerov, a famous violin player, wanted to study improvisation and jazz phrasing. He came to Didier Lockwood asking him “what I have to start with?” He said: “No problem: first you play détaché, just in C maj, and then you make an accent on the second beat.” And Vengerov said, “I cannot do it”. So, first is phrasing, articulation, and the second it’s meter. And many people don’t understand what the meter is about. I tell classical musicians:  “Listen 4/4 is not really 4/4 – it is 16/16.” It doesn’t matter what kind of music you play. (sings syncopated, “in the pocket” pattern opposed to “square” one). That’s what I always explain in master classes for all the people. And the problem is they don’t understand how this works physically. So first I stand up, dance and sing, (clap hands and demonstrates how a 4-beat song can be made in 16), and it works, but we need much time, and probably the next day they will forget this. But it works for no matter what kind of music, even classical – Vivaldi, Bach. [sings Bach]. And Glenn Gould played like… like [Oscar] Peterson. When I’m listening to Gould, for me he’s a jazz player. Bach for me it’s jazz.

I like your selections.

You say that now, just wait.


4. Michel Legrand

“Nuages” from Legrand Jazz (Philips) Legrand, conductor/arranger; Ben Webster, saxophone; Herbie Mann, flute; Frank Rehak, Billy Byers, Jimmy Cleveland, Eddie Bert, trombones; Major Holley, bass/tuba; Don Lamond, drums, Hank Jones, piano; George Duvivier, bass. Recorded in 1958.

I don’t know this music. First I thought that it was French Horn For My Lady, but it’s not so. The trombone player is Urbie Green, no? Sax player is like Zoot Sims, Ben Webster kind. I hear flute and 4 horns.

I  think they are trombones. Do you like the arrangement, the texture?

I do. Actually I’m very interested in being more harmonical. That’s the part of what I miss for last 12 years, because I mostly play in small bands – like trio, duo. And last few years I started to compose myself with arrangements for big band and also for chamber orchestra. And I’m more and more focused on arrangements. I even have a book translated into Russian, a famous book about modal harmony, polyphony.

And can you describe what they’re doing with harmony here?

I like polyphony. For example, with big bands: it’s not like the whole band plays beautiful harmonies – 11ths and 13th. It’s nice but I like orchestrations more like in classical music – when each group has its own. Like a contradiction between groups that finally comes together, but when they start… you know. I like things that Hermeto Pascoal does, this kind of ideas. And Henry Threadgill, I like also; his textures like 2 tubas, French Horn, flute. That makes me very into it: strange sounds, strange color. I like sound colors more that just 4 trombones or French horns. It’s okay, but nothing special.

Should I tell you who this is? Ben Webster was only playing tenor, but the record is by Michel Legrand. What do you think about him?

Oh, he’s a fantastic composer. I didn’t expect he was such a good jazz man. I knew something but he doesn’t always show this part of his career. He’s more famous as a film composer. And that’s what I actually know.

It was made in 1958.

So now I understand. He did it before he became famous as a film composer, but he was also a jazz musician. But I know Andrey Kondakov played jazz with him, as a duo. Michel Legrand is a very good composer and musician.

5. Tom Varner

“Elephantasy” from Second Communion (Omnitone). Varner, French horn; Tony Malaby, saxophone; Cameron Brown, bass; Mat Wilson, drums. Recorded in 2000.

[immediately] Tom Varner (laughs). Tom I know very well. His phrasing and playing is very direct. He’s very much a bebop player. He’s probably the most bebop French horn player that I know. And he pushes sound very strong; playing very hard. This is very difficult for a horn, not so many people can do it. He’s rather like a trombone player. So his articulation and (air) pushing is on the level of saxophone. For most French hornists, for example Julius Watkins, he sounds behind the beat, and he makes all sounds softer. But in this case, Tom plays together with a sax, and even harder, aggressive. And he’s also got great technique. I played with him couple of times on tour when I was in the Vienna Art Orchestra. From this tour we even made an album ‘Artistry in Rhythm’ (VAO) And this is very interesting – how two guys can play different. I don’t know this record you’re playing now, but I know the sound. He always likes to play without piano, though I know some CD’s he played with. He prefers drums, bass and two horns. It gives more open sound. Me too. But it’s interesting. Tom is a good guy, and we are the same age.

He’s now teaching at the Cornish School of Music. 

That’s good for him. I remember times he was a bread baker.

6. George Shearing & Barry Tuckwell

“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from George Shearing & Barry Tuckwell Play the Music of Cole Porter. Shearing, piano; Tuckwell, French horn. Recorded in 1986.

I guess this is Barry Tuckwell with George Shearing. I saw him just couple of weeks ago. He was at our concert and he said: “Arkady, great job.” And I remembered him thanks to this wonderful CD. He was not really happy with this CD. He said: “Ahh, I’m not a jazz player”. But Shearing loved the horn’s sound, though it was a problem with recording session. I don’t remember exactly which one, but I like this CD. It’s nice, with beautiful melodies, and this Barry Tuckwell – one of the best horn players in the world.

That is  a great compliment.

Yeah, there are 3 or 4 people:  Dennis Brain, he died very early, next was Barry Tuckwell, he now is already over 70, and German one Hermann Baumann, who’s also over 70, and Peter Mann. Those four guys are the kings of French horn. Barry Tuckwell is fantastic, and he’s president of the horn society for many years. And now he’s returned to Australia, he’s from Melbourne. He lived in England, and in Baltimore, but now he came back home. I guess he doesn’t play anymore. But  a beautiful musician, beautiful horn player.

Beautiful sound.

So deep. It was my dream. I was never a first horn in a classical orchestra. I always concentrated on technical stuff and phrasing, and improvisation. That’s why I miss good horn sound. And for a couple of years I worked on sound, because I worked with classical guys. And I compared my sound to good classical players; how you produce the sound, breathing, quality of horn. For me, that’s important. Horn sound is a special voice in the jazz world. Great selection, Larry.

7. Vienna Art Orchestra

“Reflections on Aubade” (from The Minimalism of Erik Satie, Hat Art). Recorded in 1990.

[listens closely] Esthetically close to Willem Breuker Kollektief, from Holland. But Breuker never had a tuba player. Not Gil Evans because it’s too modern.

Can you describe what it is?

Some modern jazz with free jazz, and some kind of modern classical elements. It’s more European kind of music, in my opinion. I played myself that kind of idea. Vienna Art Orchestra is quite possible to play this kind of music. But this is an American band.

No, you already got it.

I heard this Erik Satie album many, many years ago, so I didn’t recognize it. But this sounds for me like Carla Bley or Willem Breuker. Breuker works for years on this kind of ideas, even earlier than VAO.

This humor is almost like a kind of circus music?

I’m not a big fan, but I heard him live twice, even had some videos… he has a very interesting band.

8. Sharon Freeman, “Monk’s Mood”

“Monk’s Mood” from That’s The Way I Feel Now (A&M). Freeman, French horn, arrangement; Willie Ruff, Vincent Chancey, Bill Warnick, Gregory Williams, French horn; Kenny Barron, piano; Buster Williams, bass, Victor Lewis, drums. Recorded in 1984.

This is a distant recording. Ohhhh. … Reminds me Indian phrasing. Interesting. First I thought it was an English guy, but then I thought it was Willie Ruff. But William never played so beautiful.

This was beautiful to you?

Yes! Again the recording is distant. But the playing is fantastic. Good arrangement and horns background.

Do you know the song?

No. Never heard this.

This is a horn player Sharon Freeman…

Oh! Did she play it? I never expected this kind of sound from her. I thought she was a kind of a sidewoman, but I know Sharon.

What about the arrangement? And this composition is by Thelonious Monk – “Monk’s Mood”.

Very good. Thank you for that, because I had thought about Sharon badly. She plays a lot with various bands and in different combinations, but I never heard such a good sound and recording of hers. Nice to hear. For me it’s a big surprise.

9. Michel Godard/Dave Bargeron

(from TubaTubaTu, Enja) Michel Godard (tu, serpent); Dave Bargeron – (tu, sackbut) ;
Luciano Biondini (acc); Kenwood Dennard – (dr). Recorded in 2003.

Yeah, it’s Michel Goddard and another Blood Sweat & Tears tuba payer, Dave Bargeron. I gave this CD to Arkady Freeman. I got it from Michel, and gave to Arkady because he’s very into tuba.

What do you like about each of them?

Oh, come on! He was the first… I even transcribed his tuba solo from this fantastic live recording with Blood Sweat & Tears. It was my first transcription (sings it). I couldn’t play it the way he did, and played it 4 up because it as too low (for a horn). But this solo for me, I think is like Lew Soloff  with Blood Sweat & Tears, his famous “Spinning Wheel”. And Soloff’s is #1 for me, and number 2 is Bargeron’s solo on this live concert in late 60’s—1970, don’t remember exactly.

How old were you then?

Hm… I was at Bolshoi Theater already, 21-22 years old. I was already into BST, Chicago, Tower of Power – into this jazz-rock groove stuff. And Bargeron’s solo was always the best for me. And I met Michel probably 20 years ago, we played together in different project. Quartets, quintet, sometimes they invited me because Michel was busy and I played the tuba part. Some concerts we played together in some interesting combinations. He’s a great tuba player, and I like how he plays serpent. Maybe he’s not so deep a musician as I’d wish. He plays with so many musicians, and I guess sometimes it’s probably good to be more focused on your own projects – deeper, kundschtuck as Germans say. Sometimes it’s too jazzy, as jazzmen who play in 50 different bands. But it’s okay – he has job.

10. Tom Talbert “In a Mist”

“In A Mist” from Bix Duke Fats (Sea Breeze). Talbert, arrangement; Joe Wilder, trumpet; Joe Soldo, flute; Danny Bank, reeds; Harold Goltzer, bassoon; Jim Buffington, French horn; Barry Galbraith, guitar; Oscar Pettiford, bass; Osie Johnson, drums. Recorded in 1956.

Woodwind quintet? No? It’s interesting. Never heard this. Sounds of trumpet is very like Clifford Brown or Lee Morgan. I think it’s 60’s. So… maybe Gil Evans? But in the beginning it was very modern arrangement and harmonically, too. John Graas? No? [puzzled] Then I’ve no idea. Arrangement is quite interesting. And lines, trumpet lines, too. If it’s the 50’s…

What do you find interesting?

For me for the 50’s, I find the lines and arrangement unusual., very interesting They are harmonical with a dissonance, which is very unusual for this kind of music, for jazz in the 50’s. They were brave, courageous people then, maybe like Gil Evans. Or Henry Threadgill. One of the greatest guys for me in the 50’s is Stan Kenton – his album when symphony orchestra played with big band – “City of Glass”.

Music of Robert Graettinger.

Right. These people remind me this music. But trumpet played is not Miles Davis. The trumpet sounds like Clifford, Lee or maybe Art Farmer. For that time it was the sound. Actually I prefer softer sound – like flugelhorn. But there are some people who play trumpet very soft like Sergey Nakariakov – though he’s a classical musician. Maybe that was Lew Soloff? But he, as well as Nakariakov is my god.

The leader and arranger here is Tom Talbert. The  composition is from the 1920s by Bix Beiderbeck “In a Mist”; he paraphrased a little bit of Stravinsky in the opening sequence, and the trumpet solo is Joe Wilder.

Never heard him. But the lines are very interesting: usually, jazz trumpeters play like [sings], but here it’s different. I like when people improvise as if they build a building. Very good.

11. Dave Douglas

“The View From Blue Mountain” from Spirit Moves (Green Leaf). Douglas, trumpet; Vincent Chancey, French horn; Luis Bonilla, trombone; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Nasheet Waits, drums. Recorded in 2008.

I’ve never heard this.

Is this something you like?

It’s not the kind of music I’d like to play myself. They are people like pocket brass band, guys like Mark Ellis, he played also with Lester Bowie Brass Fantasy. So this reminds me of Bowie’s Brass Fantasy. I also know a Norwegian band called Brass Brothers. It’s kind of this idea: trumpet, horn, trombone, tuba and drums. But they have 2 trumpets. I don’t know this music, though I probably know the musicians.

Is it something you would listen for your pleasure?

Well, it’s interesting for me, because first of all it’s a brass sound; it’s also a comprovisation: some part is free, there is some groove – today any tuba player can make this groove. It’s okay. I don’t want to say I like so much this kind of music but to listen to this maybe once, it quite okay. But it’s not so much organized. For many years I played free music myself, and since that time I like free combined compositions with no borders, and I can recognize what is free and what is composed – not so interesting for me anymore.

The leader of this is trumpeter Dave Douglas.

Oh, I see. Is Tom playing here?

I think it’s Vincent Chancey.

If he played solo, I’d recognize, because I know him too. There’s an interesting story. I played with Louis Sclavis at one festival in Germany. Louis Sclavis, Pierre Favre, me, Bruno Chevignon, and Ann Streiziger, a cello player. And then I heard the same music, same program, almost the same band but it was Dave Douglas who played it 2 years later. I know that for sure because they recorded it for ECM. It was different personnel, and Dave Douglas played my part. (laughs) That’s why I remember this: he couldn’t play it – Dave Douglas couldn’t play what I played. I know this music very well. Some pieces like Britonian folk music with some triplets, but Douglas played them not straight, but in a jazzy way. Well, he’s a good musician, and every year he wins the best trumpeter of the year.

Not any more.

I have a couple of CD’s of him, but I never was a big fan. That’s my personal stuff.


12. Miles Davis

“Moon Dreams” from The Complete Birth of the Cool (Capitol). Davis, trumpet; J.J. Johnson, trombone; Gunther Schuller, French horn; Bill Barber, tuba; Lee Konitz, saxophone; Gerry Mulligan, baritone; John Lewis, piano; Al McKibbon, bass; Max Roach drums. Recorded in 1950.

Esthetically, it’s cool jazz of the 50’s. John Graas? Something like Phil Woods, but more interesting. John Grass is not so original but this band is. I like this kind of music. Very interesting 3rd Stream arrangement with classical ideas, some jazz elements – what I like without long solos. Their improvisations are like colors, not like the main theme. Hmm. Gil Evans?

It is actually Miles Davis and a Gil Evans arrangement of a Chummy MacGregor song recorded in 1950.

Ohhhhhh, yes, I got it! I had the Lp and heard this record so long ago I couldn’t remember.

Do the music hold up for you?

Yes, of course. For me, I think Gil Evans is probably the most beautiful arranger in jazz world. I know many modern contemporary composers and arrangers who are fantastic. For example, Maria Schneider. But Evans for me still is almost the best.

Why is he almost the best?

First, he’s a real gourmet. And he likes to combine different timbres of different instruments, using mutes and all that like spices. So he’s a music gourmet. Maria Schneider is very good, but she’s not a gourmet. She like a building with glass, of a very high quality glass. But for me it’s okay, and it’s not like you see some old palace or castle, whatever, and you can see each hand-made detail of it. So Evans is a gourmet, he’s a hand-made, and he cooks a very fine dish. You can eat it and (literally) feel the taste of it.

13. Henry Threadgill’s Very Very Circus

“King Kong” from Live at Koncepts (Taylormade). Threadgill, sax and flute; Mark Taylor, French horn; Brandon Ross, Masujaa, guitars; Edwin Rodriguez, Marcus Rojas, tubas; Larry Bright, drums. Recorded in 1991.

This is Threadgill? It has two tubas, and it’s his style of music. I think it’s Very Very Circus. It’s stylistic, with strange guitars and colors. Horn player sounds like Mark Taylor. Fantastic selection.

So is this what you like?

Yes. I like Threadgill. This music is not so easy, with all these colors and unusual movements. All compositions looks like some ambient amoeba, with no borders. You don’t know where there are the borders. And this open kind of sound… It happens with many people with big ears. It’s an ensemble. And nobody pulls the blanket on themselves. Every one listens to what goes further and tries to connect to it, and not to show up, here. I myself like to play ensemble, with the group feeling, I have a great respect to people who listen and don’t immediately start to play, who try to get the feeling. They can play maybe one or two notes. Of course, for 30 years I was different, I was showing how good I was, but nowadays I reduced my ambitions and ego. So that’s what I appreciate – when there’s not the degree of ambition that most jazz musicians have.

To finish, name some recordings, by anyone, that changed your life?

Deep Purple ‘”n Rock.” I was 15 years old, and that album changed my life. I started to play guitar and became interested in all kinds of music aside from classical – rock, jazz rock, fusion, folk jazz, whatever. Second one was the next year – Yes “Fragile”, their first album. That also changed my life. And I even made a Tribute to Yes with classical orchestra, so I’m still a fan and even met members of the band; this group made me crazy. Because art rock came from classical – 20 minute long compositions, classical with rock instruments, colors and taste. Together it was fantastic – a very good integration of classic with rock instruments, esthetics. And then Hermeto Pascoal; not any particular records but he himself; his ideas, his fantasy, his creative life. For me he’s the kind of person that I like a lot, because he’s a kind of a crazy guy. There are no borders for him. He doesn’t like borders; he thinks they don’t exist. And if we talk about jazz, then “Kind of Blue’.” This is still my favorite album.

Recorded June 3rd 2012 in Lviv for the Ukrainian magazine Counterpoint.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s