I was recently interviewed about the state of jazz by culture journalist Bjarke Due Gunslev for the Danish newspaper Information. For reasons of space, he only used a few quotes in the final piece. I’ll now post below the entire interview we did in English via email, then at the bottom is the final article in Danish.
– Are there in your opinion criteria that has to be met for it to make sense to define a piece of music as jazz?
For me, there are traditions you can point to, or trends that emerge over time, but there’s no checklist or rulebook that says jazz must conform to one theory, aspect, formula or principle, and I’m glad there isn’t. That would be boring; the sort of thing rigid, humorless people dwell on. You might say such an attitude goes against the sprit or soul of jazz. Or, to borrow a term from the moldy figs of the 1960s, that paint-by-numbers approach is “anti-jazz.”
Journalist Margo Ormotsadze first interviewed me for Forbes last summer with provocative questions about the state of jazz. She recently followed up by asking a new set of questions via email. Here is her published interview in Russian which appeared in YEP.TODAY. The original interview in English is below.
How the XXI century changes jazz? What new time can give to the new music?
We know that music is a language and languages are rarely static. We always have new idioms, new expressions and reinvention of older styles. We’re seeing increasing numbers of students wanting to study and learn how to play jazz or become jazz musicians, but there are limited numbers of jobs and it’s becoming more difficult to make a living as a player. There’s just so much competition, and in the U.S., very little public support. Even in Europe, subsidies are shrinking. Oddly, jazz music, which has always had a finger on the pulse of politics, seems somewhat apolitical these days. We’re not seeing much much original new work focused on what’s happening politically. Musicians will often speak about and share their political opinions, but that is rarely reflected in their music, except maybe in oblique ways. The jazz intelligentsia also seems to have a chip on its shoulder and overreacts to any insult about the music that can be found on the internet.
Apart from that, we may see some developments involving formats (such as high definition vinyl), new modes or models of distribution, new theories, new hybrids, new audiences, etc. But the differences and developments may not necessarily be fundamental. There’s still and always will be the matter of creative people coming out of the jazz tradition expressing themselves in ways that may or may not be compelling to the general or esoteric audience. It’s a safe prediction that there will be greater challenges ahead when art tries to reconcile with commerce and the marketplace, especially when it comes to venues for live music.
What young musicians deserve attention?
There’s a new crop emerging every year. Joey Alexander, for example, is still a very young man, barely a teenager, so I look forward to hearing his journey as he matures. I think Cecile McLorin Salvant and Esperanza Spalding are doing interesting things, although they’ve been out there for a while (Esperanza is 31, Cecile is 26). I could also point to Marquis Hill, Kayon Harrold, Jamison Ross, Linda Oh, Kendrick Scott and many others. And these are just the Americans. This music is played all over the world and it’s always exciting to discover new talent deserving of wider recognition.
How do you choose what music to listen to?
I would rather be moved than impressed, so anything that makes me feel something will catch my ear.
Which page in the history of jazz is most important to you? Why?
I like many different styles, but I suppose what interests me most are the transitions from one era to another. And I like both innovators and stylists.
What importance do you think about Ukrainian jazz?
I think it’s important to Ukrainians. They tell stories with their music that resonate with anyone who is open. But I think that Ukrainians may be able to appreciate these stories and better understand without having to translate or think about it. At the same time, there is a need to get out there into the international marketplace, to travel, to exchange views and experiences with other musicians from around the world.
What you can wish to Ukrainian musicians?
The courage to go deeper and not give up.
What important events of 2016 year in jazz you can denote? What you expect from the jazz year?
I’m always hoping to hear something new that will blow me away. Next month I will interview both Maria Schneider and Abdullah Ibrahim, and I’m working on arranging to give some lectures in Europe this summer, including at the Alfa Jazz Festival in Lviv. So it will be nice to revisit and catch up with my Ukrainian friends.
This year I’m celebrating my 40th year in broadcasting. The first 5 years were spent knocking around various college radio stations (WFNR, WMUC, WDCU). For the past 35 years I’ve hosted a jazz program on WPFW-FM.
Jazz journalist Aidan Levy recently interviewed me for a piece on jazz radio for the JazzTimes Education Guide (Nov. 2015 issue). For reasons of space, he had to edit my responses to a few quotes. With thanks to Aidan and JazzTimes, here for the first time is the complete interview.
This telephone interview with pianist, composer and bandleader Muhal Richard Abrams was recorded a few days before his 1996 orchestra concert at the Kennedy Center. That performance also marked the world premiere of an Abrams’ commission, Duet for Violin and Piano. Eighteen years later to the day, Muhal returned to the Kennedy Center, where I shot this pic at close of his concert.
Why don’t you tell us about the music you’re playing here this coming week?
Well, each piece is completely different. It’s original music; some older pieces and some newer pieces recently composed, of course.
I’m so used to interviewing others, I found it stimulating to be on the other side of the questions for a change. This interview was conducted by journalist Margo Ormotsadze via Skype on June 20, 2015 and published in both Russian and Ukrainan in Forbes Ukraine.
Here is the English version:
During a State Department-sponsored lecture tour of Estonia last April, I had the pleasure of talking to students in Tallinn, Pärnu, Narva and Tartu. Here is the talk from the Heino Eller Music School in Tartu. I sort of like the noir-ish effect of being shot in shadow.
Had the pleasure of interviewing Lou Donaldson, Michael Cuscuna and Jason Moran at the Blue Note at 75 panel discussion, May 10, 2014 at the Library of Congress. I was a bit under the weather that day, but the conversation lifted my spirit. Special note of thanks to Bruce Lundvall for his contributions to jazz and American music.