"A New History of Jazz" by Alyn Shipton, a major writer, critic, broadcaster and publisher, has been recently published by Continuum. The three hours I spent interviewing Mr. Shipton was a jazz education in itself, covering topics as diverse as double bassists who play cello, lost musician autobiographies, the Gullah language as it relates to jazz analysis, early English Indo-fusion and even Lawrence of Arabia! The book, which is billed as "The Antidote to Ken Burns' Jazz", explores in detail the earliest history all the way through current jazz in enthusiastic and enlightening terms.
AH: Let's start out with the general and predictable question-How did you become interested in jazz and jazz writing?
AS: I became interested because my father came back from the war with a whole stack of 78 records that he picked up in Hong Kong. There were things like Fats Waller and Earl Hines. So I was brought up with this music playing around the house.
AH: How old were you at this time?
AS: I remember listening to them when I was five or six and then starting to pick the tunes out on the piano. I guess it was another five or six years before I really started playing seriously. At that point, like a lot of twelve-year olds, we had a band at school. I played the cello but very quickly wanted to play the bass. I studied cello formally. I never actually had bass lessons but I kept the two instruments going right through college and at that point I traded my cello for a better double bass and that's what I've done ever since.
AH: How does this translate into wanting to write about jazz?
AS: The first piece I wrote about jazz was when I was 21. My grandfather had died and left me some money and I spent it going to New Orleans. I went during [The New Orleans Jazz] Festival, hearing a lot of the pioneers of the music who were still alive and still playing at that stage. This was the mid-seventies and Mingus was in town. I heard one of the great Mingus quintets plus a solo recital of Mingus. Elvin Jones and the Jazz Machine were playing. It was a full spectrum. Elvin in 1976 was pretty much on the edge, Mingus was the great individualist he always was, and at the same time you could hear people like Eubie Blake and Little Brother Montgomery. These are people I have written about at some length in the book. When I came back from that festival, I wrote a review of it for an English magazine called Footnote and they liked it and said "Why don't you start reviewing for us", so I started reviewing records and concerts. I'd been to a lot of concerts in Britain beforehand so by that time I'd heard firsthand people like Basie, Oscar Peterson, all of whom played at Oxford while I was at university. I had this insatiable curiosity-I found it was fascinating to hear in the flesh those people I had heard on record and to see how they'd changed over time. Watching Oscar Peterson was like watching a pair of hyperactive squids attacking the piano. It was just amazing. That's the moment at which you either become someone who does a job and hears jazz in their spare time, or you do a bit more about it and go to concerts more because you just have this drive to go. You get suddenly taken over by the whole thing. I've had two great sadnesses: I never heard Louis Armstrong live, and I just couldn't summon up the necessary money, funds and everything else to get to Earl Hines. So after that, I tried to make a point that if somebody, who I wanted to know more about, played anywhere locally, I tried to get to hear them. It's something that marks out what I said earlier, this insatiable curiosity, because this music is of the moment, so much of it is about live performance as opposed to recorded performance, that it really matters to be part of the performance experience.
AH: You've written many different kinds of books: music books for children, biographies of specific musicians and now this sweeping history of jazz. How is the approach different with each?
AS: Let's deal with children's books first. That's about answering the questions that I wanted answered when I was a child. They're really all about how things work, about instruments, what happens when you hit them, squeeze them. The children's books are really about introducing the instruments of the orchestra, and not the orchestra, and put them in a World music and Jazz context so that it's completely even handed about things like the mellophones or the didgeridoos right along with the Western orchestral instruments. [After getting a job with Grove] the first big project we did was the Grove Dictionary of instruments, a huge three-volume encyclopedia of musical instruments. Then the Dictionary of American music, which was four volumes, and then my passion, which was the great Dictionary of Jazz. And as well as being its publisher, I was also a consulting editor, with Barry Kernfeld, for the first edition. It put my publishing skills together with my enthusiasm for the music. That is very rare in publishing; the chance to chart something in quite so comprehensive a way, and actually make a difference to the discipline. A lot of people were very snippy about Grove when it came out, measured it by who wasn't in, by the number of inches in a column given to a certain artist, rather than by whether there was a lot to say about an artist. So you have all sorts of things to try to get right in terms of projecting a set of values onto the reader that are often going to be misinterpreted by simple casual things like how long is the article.
AH: People are very sensitive to jazz criticism, wondering why their favorite player has been slighted. Fusion fans are notorious for this.
AS: Fusion is actually a case in point. There is a chapter in the book on Fusion, which is there precisely because you can't leave it out of the story. You can if you're Ken Burns, but you can't if you're really going to take a serious view of what's happened to that whole movement. It has changed for people who were very much a part of the '80's and '90's fusion movement, they're all moving on to some other kind of music. At the time I did Jazz Grove in the '80's you couldn't see that; fusion looked like the future. Now it's one of the number of futures. What I've talked about in the "Fusion in the Wake of Miles Davis" chapter in the book is how many of the musicians who worked closely with Miles, took away what they needed from the Miles fusion period and developed it in their own direction.
AH: Did you envision yourself writing a jazz history from the beginning, or did it develop from your other projects?
AS: The Grove experience taught me a lot of things. First, it taught me what I didn't know. I was well-informed about music up to and including the beginning of Bebop. But my knowledge thereafter was very sporadic and spotty. So I wasn't ready, at any level in the '80's, to start thinking about a history of jazz that would have gone any further than 1945. And then two or three things happened. In my publishing career, I started publishing musician's autobiographies. Not anything by me-these were things that other people had edited and put together, and I simply acted as the facilitator to get them published. It was motivated by the realization that what people say on an oral history program never gives the full picture that's possible in a book-length portrait. There was no consistent effort which I wanted to do, which was to capture the autobiographical memories of the swing era generation before it was too late. Even now you read almost any history book that deals with the Swing era, you will see the memories of those people that I sought out and helped to get their books published. So I got very deeply into the idea of publishing very extended narratives by musicians, governed and dictated by what the musicians themselves wanted to say. Around that same time I started broadcasting. That was because [after] my first book, which was the Life of Fats Waller, the BBC approached me and said: "Would you like to turn this into a series?" So I did a four-part series on Fats Waller for the BBC and almost immediately got a job as the host of the local radio jazz station where I live in Oxford. For two years I've co-hosted the avant garde late night BBC jazz program with Brian Morton, the co-author of the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD. A lot of the background of this history of jazz was something that Brian and I thought about together. We did some pretty way-out things; we broadcast things like Keijo Heino, the Japanese sonic terrorist working with Derek Bailey, for example. That was a never-before-happened meeting. We got them together in the studio and sat back and watched the fireworks. We were doing a lot of interesting concerts which we incorporated into the program, things like William Parker and the eclectic quartet, Evan Parker, Ned Rosenberg, a whole sort of stack of things that were really extending my education at a rate of knots. That was beginning of believing that I could actually write authoritatively about an area of jazz that up to that time I thought I didn't know enough about. I'm very fortunate that the BBC has backed me to make a number of quite interesting jazz documentaries. I did, for example, a four-part series on Ascension, where I'd tracked down everyone who had been involved and interviewed them. I see Ascension very much as a fulcrum, a central point in Coltrane's career, whereas a lot of others see it as the beginning of something so awful they dare not write about what followed. I think it's an absolutely central work because it's the beginning of looking at the union of freedom with what Coltrane had been doing in a much more structured context beforehand. And it acted as sort of a pivotal point, not just for him, but for many of the AACM players, for many of the other free players that came afterwards. It was also important because it validated a lot of people, people like Pharaoh Sanders, John Tchicai, and Archie Shepp, who hadn't really had the kind of recognition that could put them on a major label before.
AH: I came to Jazz through the Miles Davis' Fusion period, and from that into other things. Do you feel that jazz is something to be learned chronologically, or is any starting point valid?
AS: I think you can start anywhere that your fancy takes you and I think that's like any kind of music. I think the problem with jazz has been that a lot of the more interesting developments of the early years have been marginalized because they weren't seen as part of what I describe in the book as the "relay race"-the baton charge of jazz where if you couldn't see the baton being handed from one innovatory generation to the next, then perhaps it wasn't important. I think it's more important to find a group of related approaches to the music that you like and be drawn by your own serendipity and curiosity than it is to take strictly chronological approach, because if you do that you may find a lot of stuff that just doesn't interest you.
AH: Your book is called "A New History of Jazz". How is it unique? What drove you to do another history of jazz?
AS: The same curiosity that drove me to listen to a lot of music drove me to find about its story and where it came from and how it was played, coupled with getting to know many of the musicians whose autobiographies I'd published, almost all of them said at one point or another, "Well, of course you realize, this isn't the full story." Jazz has suffered and benefited jointly from its historical treatment so far. It has benefited because it has been written about by enthusiasts. You always get the feeling that it's something being written about by people who appreciate it as sort of living, breathing and visceral music. Now, that is a huge advantage, but one of the disadvantages of enthusiasm is that it sometimes leads to completely suspending some of the normal processes of historical writing. There's been a kind of cumulative building up of a picture of jazz in which very few writers have really seriously questioned, not just the historical sequence of the music, but do we have an explanation for how jazz developed and why it developed in the way it did, that would stand up robustly as demonstrated by contemporary source material, and the accounts of musicians who were part of it. Now, the first recordings that were reported to be made to demonstrate African retention were made 12 or 15 years after the first jazz records. You know as well as I do, that people who've listened to one kind of jazz record will be thrown off track by it in their own musical development and take things from it. So, I don't believe that field recordings alone are the only way in which we can learn about African retention. So a huge amount of the beginning of this book is trying to look at other forms of documentation, other kinds of writing. Not many writers have dealt in terms of ethnomusicology as a method of understanding African retention. I've tried to do that, or at least I've tried to say is that what the other histories have tried to suggest is either borne out or not by what you can find in other documentary sources. When we come to the Bebop revolution in my book, I've tried, in a very limited scratching-at-the-surface way, to look at the literature of psychology to suggest there was a different way of thinking about things that began at that time, and it was a consequence of total immersion. The sheer volume of music that Swing era musicians had to play for their daily bread got them to a point where they were able to think about it a level stratospherically more developed than the same musicians would have been able to do 20 or 30 years before. When you read about the number of houses that the Calloway Band played and then often did an evening session somewhere else, and a recording session during the day, those musicians were playing more than 12 hours a day. So what do you do-you start thinking of ways of developing what you do, and I think that the reason that musicians, like Dizzy and Parker and so on, began to be able to think of building melodic lines on extended chords, was because that was second nature to them. Now those are two examples from the book in which I tried to have a new idea in every chapter, some reasonably fresh way of looking at the music.
AH: In the book, some chapters deal with particular genres, and other ones are devoted exclusively to a single musician. Are there some musicians who cannot be discussed in terms of genre, who transcend what goes on around them to create an individual style?
AS: I think that's very well put. It's more or less exactly how I would have answered the question. There is a huge movement against what most publishers, and I imagine most historians, refer to as the "Great Man School of History". And Jazz, that exactly characterizes the spirit that you articulated, between the generic chapters where I think there was a kind of consensual movement with a lot of people arriving at similar solutions to problems at the same time compared to people who, Ellington is the supreme example, stood completely outside the development of jazz. If you think of jazz in terms of a kind of development from Dixieland to Swing to Bebop to Postbop to Hardbop to Cool to whatever, Ellington never actually goes through any of those phases at all. He is completely sui generis the whole way through. So you can do no other than treat him, as I have done, in a series of supplementary small sections, which look at his development because it had a sort of symbiotic relationship with the development of jazz right the way through.
AH: The book has a 33-track companion CD. Did you write the book with this idea in mind?
AS: Well, I actually had the disc in hand because it was published by Columbia as a Millennium project. The original plan was that another record company was going to collaborate with us [Ed. note-this company was merged with another and the project dropped]. I'd gone a long way towards wanting to use a particular company's catalogue, which was not the Sony/Columbia catalogue, to demonstrate a lot of what I was writing about. And I'd indeed written about two-thirds of the book at that point. So, Continuum very kindly talked to Columbia and I said that this collection more or less fit the bill of what I wanted to do. The notable omission is Charlie Parker because there's no Charlie Parker on the Columbia catalogue. But, it allowed me to go back and look at sections of the book that I'd written, intending originally to use slightly different examples, and nearly all of them slotted in just as easily.
AH: I was slightly surprised that, with only 33 tracks to cover the history of jazz, one would be devoted to the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
AS: Well, that would have been there anyway. McLaughlin is germane to a whole school of thought in the book about internationalism in jazz. Here's an Englishman writing about an American music, or predominantly American music; at least one of things I have to say about it is that it's much more international than many Americans tend to think.
AH: McLaughlin would continue that international idea by working with Indian musicians later on.
AS: I think Shakti is a great case in point, because I don't think he'd have been able to do that, had he not made the reputation he'd made working with Miles and then with Tony Williams and so on. That was really fantastically important to give him the buying power, the muscle with his record company, to be able to say "Hey, I want to do this completely different thing, bring in Indian musicians, and do something completely new."
AH: One of the strongest parts of the book is the fully international approach to the music, something that Ken Burns, for example, chose not to discuss. No mention is made of the strong personalities working in Europe and England. American and European musicians often played together and it's important to mention them in a history.
AS: That's a key point because the distinction between European and American music was never there in the minds of the musicians. It has been there in the minds of critics and categorizers and, indeed, previous historians of jazz. Sidney Bechet was in Europe in 1919 and influencing people, just as many Americans were influenced by those Europeans that came here. Bobby Jasper is a great case in point, a hugely important musician in Europe who made a great splash when he came here. There was no distinction, no divide between "Hey these are Europeans, can they play the music?" It was all to do with people being good musicians or not.
AH: The MPS session "Gittin' to Know Y'all" matches up the AACM players with all the free European players at the time. It doesn't seem like forced internationalism, rather a simple coming together of like-minded musicians.
AS: I think though that there is a subtext to that, which is that there were labels, BYG/Actuel and MPS typified them, that were making sure that there were a lot American free jazz players in Europe at that period. I've gone into great detail about the Art Ensemble's period in Paris, which I think is extremely important, because it was the moment when what the AACM were doing really fueled international interest for the first time in a way that the things that they'd done for Chuck Nessa or Delmark really didn't. Delmark was a label you simply couldn't get in England unless you were the aficionado of two record stores and that was it. Once the European labels started recording this music, and once Paris became a focal point for many of the great Chicagoans and other musicians to work, the whole thing changed. MPS is an extremely interesting label because at the same time they did things like recording the great traditionalists in Europe. So there's a wonderful album that has Wallace Bishop, who was Earl Hines' drummer, Benny Waters, Joe Turner-the stride pianist, all these great expatriates from the '20's and '30's who'd come and settled in Europe. The same label went out and recorded them at the same time. Let's go back to Ken Burns. My take on Ken Burns is that if you start from the premise of being not just a filmmaker but an American filmmaker, then the importance of jazz as Americana and the importance of jazz as a visually attractive subject may take precedence over the real importance of the music-that it is an oral form. Somebody who allowed almost no piece of music to develop to its full length through all those hours of programming is somebody, who in my view, simply hasn't understood that an audience must respond to music in its own terms. There's that great footage of Coltrane and it was never allowed to play at its full length. You learn more about Coltrane watching him play, than having a voice-over, telling us in stentorian tones, what was going on. That was one of the saddest things, apart from the editorial shortcomings of it, that it just didn't let any of that develop adequately.
AH: Burns' documentary fit everything into a preconceived idea. He has said that he didn't really listen to jazz so this is not the case of the enthusiast approaching the subject. Roswell Rudd's sole comment in response to the film was that "Jazz is not a war and jazz is not a sport."
AS: Someone like Roswell's voice needs to be heard. He's someone who completely turns around theories of free jazz because he jumped straight from playing Dixieland to playing with Milford Graves and all the other people he worked with. Roswell's a valid musician; he's an extremely important musician. Very few of his peers were represented in Ken Burns' series at all.
AH: Burns claimed that, as a documentary filmmaker, he was a historian, that anything after 1960 or so was the realm of the modern critic.
AS: Evidently, if he were a social or political historian, and he was doing a history of Marxism, that's like saying "But of course I'm not interested in the period after the wall came down in Germany." It's bizarre. Nobody who styles himself as a historian could possibly get away with that. Especially if he's trying to document a 20th century art form. I think documentary filmmakers can be very upfront about their sources and where they got stuff. This wasn't; it retreated to the kind of educational film you see on the Knowledge Channel, particularly with the style of the narration which would say things like "1929, The Depression" and then you'd have this kind of fatuous, very two dimensional view of what the depression was about. Jazz actually developed incredibly rapidly the two or three years after the Wall Street Crash. Not all of that was recorded, but many bands continued to work in a kind of frenetic knee-jerk reaction to it, rather like what's going on now, saying, "We're going to continue life as normal." Now in the Burns version, you don't get this sense of life continuing as normal because no one was making any films. And so consequently, if you're taking a filmic view of the music, if you can't illustrate something, what do you do? You change the story to fit what you've got available. He simply didn't look at the areas that are hard to tell in filmmaker's terms.
AH: One of the stronger sections of the book is Chapter 18 "Politicization". Much has been made of the overt politics of rock during the '60's. Why did you feel it necessary to put jazz into a political context?
AS: It's actually quite important that politics formed a very serious part of the whole story of jazz. I think you can't look at 1960's America without looking at the real tinderbox of racial politics of the time. Racial politics is a real hot potato for any American writer, and I hope that as a European I can look at it with the kind of distance that we felt at the time in Europe. Now to have a history of the music of that period and not look at it [from a political point of view] would be a dereliction of duty. You can't ignore the whole importance of Horace Tapscott, a fantastically interesting figure, somebody who, to some extent, helped keep the lid on racial politics of the time. He offered a channel for people just as the AACM did, and just as the BAG in St. Louis did, where people who might have been delinquents on the streets, going round setting fire to cars and looting shops and so on, had a creative outlet. Not nearly enough is made of it. Joseph Jarman is probably the most eloquent spokesman on this, as someone who very nearly went that way himself and was pulled out of it by Muhal Richard Abrams. I always felt that way about Lester Bowie, somebody who to me seemed to combine all the joy of jazz with a political message as well. And that was never far from the surface. I feel it's extremely important that the story is put into a political context because the music isn't easily comprehensible without it.
AH: Being British, you could probably give me a good perspective on this. Is there a connection between the 1960's racial climate in America and the Brotherhood of Breath's arrival in London after escaping Apartheid?
AS: I think that the barriers were down immediately for Chris [McGregor] and all the Brotherhood and for all the other musicians. In Britain in the '60's, almost anyone who was into the jazz scene, from the most hardened traditionalists to the most avant garde, was left of center. So jazz was equated with the left wing of politics right away through. The climate of jazz at the time that Apartheid really bit, and the Brotherhood and everyone arrived in 1965, was such that they were welcomed with open arms by musicians who wanted a political cause to identify with. So this group of musicians was immediately seen as both a symbol for musicians of the left to rally around, and people who could teach us a lot. I'm very glad to say that the new generation is coming through. Johnny Dyani's son is playing now, so there's a whole new generation of the children of the Brotherhood who are very much plugged into the scene. I think that the Brotherhood was a role model for a kind of freethinking fusion that's continued in British jazz. It touched people like Keith Tippett, Paul Rutherford, Annie Whitehead.
AH: Your book is referred to as the antidote to Ken Burns' Jazz. It's fairly obvious that "JAZZ" was directed towards an uninformed audience. What type of audience were you trying to attract with your book since you address, for example, both the colorful history of Charles Mingus and what he was trying to do theoretically with the music?
AS: That's the question that any author of a non-fiction book dreads most because you're never quite sure of the answer. Originally, I conceived it as a college text. When I started to write it, I realized it couldn't be because I wanted a level of depth that very few college texts have. I very much hope that some of the more radical thinking in it gets absorbed even in diluted form into the way that jazz is looked at in colleges. I think you're right in saying that many people with no interest in jazz at all bought the Jeffrey C. Ward book that went with the Ken Burns series, because it is a beautifully designed book. There are no pictures to speak of in my book, there are 31 pictures and they're all designed to make some of the less familiar characters in history more familiar to the reader. Jesse Stone, he gets a picture in there because he's an extraordinary character.
AH: Or Malachi Favors in tribal paint.
AS: But that's extremely important. You hear a hell of a lot of lip service paid to people saying Jazz is African, a good example being the folks down the road at Lincoln Center, who will talk forever about the tradition and how it relates to Africa, and then will shy away from what the Art Ensemble is doing which is much more African in many ways than anything that comes out of Lincoln Center.
This interview was conducted over the phone in May 2002 on the occasion of the release of DeJohnette's duo album with John Surman Invisible Nature (ECM).
AH: You have had many collaboration with versatile reedmen. What do they bring to music?
JD: Well, at the time, what it means is that it provides a variety of colors, a palette of colors, sound colors. That's why I like the ability, like with John [Surman] for instance, John plays the baritone, the soprano and the bass clarinet, but each one of them has a different personality when he plays them. So you get a variety of shapes and colors and moods with the shifting of the instrument.
AH: Do you change you playing?
JD: Maybe, sometimes, dynamically. If you play the bass clarinet, it might be a little softer because of the nature of the timbre of the instrument. But otherwise, it depends on what we're playing and how the dynamics of the music are produced."
AH: Can you talk about your relationship with Surman?
JD: I first met John in London, and I actually met him again during some touring in Europe when he was playing with the collaborative trio with Barre Phillips and Stu Martin. And we jammed a bit and actually came here [Woodstock, NY], and stayed a bit sometime in the '70's I guess at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, Karl Berger's place. And he actually stayed in Woodstock for a while and we got the chance to hang out and play together on and off and then I think we did [Mike] Goodrick's In Passing and then Simon Simon came out after that. So then we decided to a duet and then after that, subsequently, we would do some dates in England, a few dates, Arts Council tours, doing the duets. We had an instant rapport. We bring out the best in each other. We sort of just know each other real well but at the same time we know each other so well in the sense that we can't take each other for granted. We always have to be on our toes. So that the music is stimulating and rewarding at the same time. So we've done back and forth occasionally over the years duet concert dates. A couple of years ago we decided we should do it again but do a tour and record what we do live, get that feeling so we did a two week tour and the results are the Invisible Nature CD. Some of the compositions, the improvisational compositions developed over the time of that 2 week period. And we also, the way we work, its such a full thing that we have, the two of us by the use of sequencers and prerecorded CD's for ambient sound which John's son Ben who does sound for us, he's sort of the 3rd engineer, created this full, sometimes orchestral effect we get when we're playing, and we bring these things in and out so it really feels very complete, it feels like band even though its only two of us.
AH: You always had the intention to record the tour?
JD: Well, we hoped it would. You're taking a risk when you record live, these two concerts that we use were at the end of the tour, we were pretty tight by then.
AH: All the pieces were improvised?
JD: Well, they are improvised, in other words, the first piece, that happened just like that. Most of it is. It is exactly what John says on it. What I'm saying is that one developed over the course of the tour, "Song for World Forgiveness", that we had been doing and that has chord changes but we approach it differently every time. But all the rest of it happened right there on the spot.
AH: Was it based on discussion? Sketches?
JD: For the most part, yes. Put it this way, we do a concert, well we do have a CD out so we have developed some pieces from that, even with that, we just did a concert in Italy and John will come in with a sequence. Or maybe I'll come in with something on my electronic drum. And for sound check we'll come with ideas and say that sounds good, we'll work with that. And then we'll develop them that night out of performance.
AH: So it is a fully cooperative situation?
JD: There's room for John bringing in a piece, like my piece "Song for World Forgiveness, that was a sketched, written recorded melody. And John may bring in a piece too. So there's room for that too, for fixed compositions. But mostly we're spontaneous composers, in other words, we understand the discipline of form, so when we are playing without a roadmap we can create one in realtime while we're doing it."
AH: Has your approach to improvisation changed over years?
JD: I think I'm growing older and wiser, more grounded in one sense and freer in another. You would describe it that way.
AH: You have two very different projects in your duo with John and the Standards Trio with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock. Do you prefer to work with peers rather than younger musicians?
JD: It's just a different adjustment basically. With younger players, you have to spend time with them, get to know them and you develop a rapport out of that and the same thing happens with the peers, knowing each other all the many years, you know where you can go with certain players, with younger players it depends on how developed they are, where you can go with the younger players. There's a freedom in that as well, getting to know one another, challenging one a another, working with younger ideas, for me its just, its just a matter a making different adjustments to both situations, I mean I have a lot of fun both playing with the younger players as well as the older players. Because younger players bring some different things, their youth into it and their energy and enthusiasm, and I like to work off that energy as well. The older players like Keith and John just to name a few, let's say for instance Sonny Rollins, they're older players but they still have a youthful energy to what they do. They're not, to me anyway, old. They're still challenging envigorating and stimulating and fun to play with and I look for that same thing in the younger players as well as the older players. I look for both of those attributes.
AH: Spending time together helps the fluidity?
JD: Yeah, that's true. It also means if you've done enough improvising in enough different situations, you come to someone like John or Keith, just from the experience of doing that so much, there's a sort of trust there that allows you a certain freedom within the way you play, play together, play off of one another.
AH: Does John's international background affect his playing or is jazz a music irrespective of borders?
JD: More that. Because John is also an accomplished composer, you'll get a chance to hear that on his next release which is John Surman, and I'm on that too, with the London Brass, which he's a written a nine-piece suite called "That's Right" based on a few of the articles of the charter of the UN. John is quite well-versed in European classical music and folk music. He likes a lot of folk music, in fact you hear a lot of that in a lot of his melodies. But he's composed for chorus, for orchestra and ballet and film so he wears a few hats. And of course he's really broad in his musical thing so I don't think where he comes from, I guess some of that English and Scottish stuff comes in as an asset into his world view of his music sensibilties. But I don't think being in America or Europe makes any difference because most players now listen so much to everything from around the world. Its definitely really global now. Musicians seek that out now. They like the diversity. The challenge comes in how to put that diversity together into a woven fabric and communicate it to your listeners.
AH: What are your thoughts on the duet format?
JD: You know its more intimate. You can have that with three you can have it with four, it depends how the energy flows between the participants. But then the one-on-one thing, you're reall y quite naked, you're even more naked when you do solo, but duos is close to that. It has to be interesting. There's a a challeng to that. There's also a freedom with that exposure also. You're free to do quite a few things. For instance, the pattern on the begininng [of Invisible Nature], I played that manually, spontaneously,. Now we do it, I program that bass pattern, a variation of that pattern into my Roland HPD15, I have both hands free so I can color the music more. So, people say what about bass, well we have a keyboard, if we want bass things, we can have that, technology helped us, sequencers and things like that and sampling make it possible to add these things if we need them.
AH: You use alot of electronics on the album and in concert.
JD: Well, that other person is just an extension of us because those are the things that we set up. So it more in a way kind of orchestrating and arranging for ourselves.
AH: Some of the pieces are done without electronics.
JD: When there are just two of us playing, there's melodic and harmonic ideas going on between both us and we're working with that at that point. We're working with melody, rhythm, sound, color and I think it can be more intense or can it become very delicate. There's enough going on between the two of us but even when it gets dense you can still hear enough separation in everything to pick out exactly what's happening. I think also in the duet format, the drums, the way I play them, the drums particularly are more exposed so you can actually hear the melodic and orchestral approach, the way I approach the drums, you can hear that pretty clear because its exposed in a way that maybe you wouldn't hear it in maybe other circumstances, Depending on how busy the music and how many other instruments are involved. But with the drum and horn, there is an exchange going on that's really pretty easy to detect. There's a harmonic and rhythmic thing going on with us so that John is free to change keys or go in any directions he wants to go in, if he changes a key or if I change rhythm or play a certain tone color it will set him off harminically into something elese. And it goes back and forth like that. Its a continaul revolving exchange of ideas.
AH: You've done many ECM records as a leader. What are the changes from each? Each project is a little different.
JD: At the moment, I'm not leading any bands, I'm more interested in these collaborative things at the moments. They just seem to have a strong call on me at the moment. That's where I am now at this moment. That's not to say I wouldn't put together a group of people, put some music together and do something in the future when the spirit hits me. But right now I'm in the place where I'm enjoying doing this thing with Keith and also the project with John and myself, and actually getting John over here and exposed to American audiences. I think that will change hopefully. When he comes over and does this, I think we're planning on doing some more dates in the fall over here.
AH: In the same format as Invisble Nature?
JD: It will be some of that. But John and I never do the same thing twice. Its not a pop record. What's documented there is two evenings, so what we do live there will some of the Invisible Nature but there will also be fresh things. We're coming up with new ideas all the time.
AH: In Montreal, you be playing at the Salle de Gesu.
JD: It's a nice intimate room. The sound is really excellent there.
AH: How do you compare Montreal against the JVC Jazz Festival where you'll be appearing with Jarrett and Peacock?
JD: I like the atmosphere of Montreal, definitely has quite a vast of program with a variety of artists from around the world. I think the Montreal festival is one of the best in the world.
AH: Do you like festivals?
JD: Well, I mean the difference is you have to adjust to different places when you play concerts, festivals, when you play in a club its more intimate because you get adjusted to the room and the sound. Its a little smaller space, its a little more intimate in that sense.
AH: The people more open?
JD: The other advantage you can also reach more people, its a practical side, you play the music for the people so thats also an important aspect, to communicate with the people, with as many people as you can.
AH: Are American audiences different?
JD: I don't think so. If people like something, they like it. There have been great American audience that I've played for and great Euorpean audiences. Maybe there is a slight difference, maybe that European or Montreal audience are more eclectic in their tastes but I think that Americans are coming along to some degree but its definitely a little slower. The festivals will bring out certain things, differences that you mentioned before, will get people to listen to things, music that they won't normally listen to if they were in a club.