Interview with Marilyn Crispell
Why is everyone so intent on fitting things into previously determined categories, rather than just being open to what’s happening?
Last month I had a short interview with pianist Marilyn Crispell. Lately, Marilyn has brought out her album Azure. A cooperation with bassist Gary Peacock “You have to have an open mind – even no mind, a clear mind” to play this way” (Gary Peacock).
Who is Marilyn? A short bio.
Marilyn Crispell is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music where she studied classical piano and composition, and has been a resident of Woodstock, New York since 1977 when she came to study and teach at the Creative Music Studio. She discovered jazz through the music of John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor and other contemporary jazz players and composers. For ten years she was a member of the Anthony Braxton Quartet and the Reggie Workman Ensemble and has been a member of the Barry Guy New Orchestra and guest with his London Jazz Composers Orchestra, as well as a member of the Henry Grimes Trio, Quartet Noir (with Urs Leimgruber, Fritz Hauser and Joelle Leandre), and Anders Jormin’s Bortom Quintet. In 2005 she performed and recorded with the NOW Orchestra in Vancouver, Canada and in 2006 she was co-director of the Vancouver Creative Music Institute and a faculty member at the Banff Centre International Workshop in Jazz.
Besides working as a soloist and leader of her own groups, Crispell has performed and recorded extensively with well-known players on the American and international jazz scene. She’s also performed and recorded music by contemporary composers Robert Cogan, Pozzi Escot, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Manfred Niehaus and Anthony Davis (including four performances of his opera “X” with the New York City Opera).
In addition to playing, she has taught improvisation workshops and given lecture/demonstrations at universities and art centers in the U.S., Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and has collaborated with videographers, filmmakers, dancers and poets.
Crispell has been the recipient of three New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship grants (1988-1989, 1994-1995 and 2006-2007), a Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust composition commission (1988-1989), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2005-2006). In 1996 she was given an Outstanding Alumni Award by the New England Conservatory, and in 2004, was cited as being one of their 100 most outstanding alumni of the past 100 years (http://marilyncrispell.com/bio.htm).
Mrs Crispell, you’re professional active in music for almost 4 decades. How has music evolved since you started performing?
The main change in my music is a greater use of space, silence and lyricism.
.In an interview with Lloyd Peterson in 2009 you say: “As far as I’m concerned, I’m ready to say that I don’t play jazz and to hell with it. I just play my music, although I consider jazz to be a primary influence on my playing. How would you like to list your Music?
I call my music improvised music or jazz (yes, jazz)
You started to play the piano at age seven. Why did you choose this instrument?
My parents decided to give me piano lessons when I was 7, so it was really their choice.
You’ve been working with so many beautiful musicians,Anthony Braxton, Paul Motian, Gary Peacock, Henry Grimes and Reggie Workman among many others. How do you look back at working with them?
It has been an honor, privilege, and great adventure to work with so many incredible musicians they have been a great inspiration to me- I think I have been very lucky in this respect.
You were inspired by Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, Paul Bley, Leo Smith, Ornette Coleman and of course John Coltrane, all great improvisers, how have they influenced your work? Are you still inspired by them nowadays?
Yes, I’m still inspired by all the musicians you mention- emotionally, spiritually, compositionally, intellectually, etc., etc.
You like to play piano solo, as you said once in an interview:”The more people you have the more you have people playing all the time and the less transparency there will be.” . A few months ago I spoke to pianist Ran Blake. He also likes to play solo. Do you know his work?
Yes, I know Ran and his work. (By the way, I also like to play with groups- I was just describing one of the different aspects of playing solo- it shouldn’t be taken out of context).
In his book Primacy of the Ear he states “one’s single most crucial ally in the exploration of music is the ear. When you listen, the ear reacts before the brain has time to process; it is an honest broker.” This means jazz or improvisational music cannot be related to the intellect. Do you agree with him? Why (not)?
In march I interviewed pianist Misha Alperin, who also recorded for the Manfred Eicher-label ECM, he said. “As well I have no exclusive deal with ECM, as most of the artists. Depending on whether Manfred likes the idea or not….” You also recorded for this label. Does this dependency disturb you? Why (not)?
I don’t have a dependency with ECM- I have a relationship with them.
Last week I interviewed bassist Peter Ind, He stated: “in striving to become cleverer than the next player, many jazzy musicians have lost their following – simply by becoming too clever.” Do you think nowadays jazz- or creative music is too complex?
I can’t judge if music is too complex or not- it’s whatever it is for each person- music can be complex and sincere at the same time.
Carla Bley said in ‘72: “I think rock and roll is jazz. And jazz is classical music. And classical music has become rock and roll. They’ve all gone round one turn on the clock” Has the clock turned again since then? How do you look at the future of creative music?
The clock is always turning. As I said, it’s anybody’s guess where things are going. In this day and age, things are very interconnected- everything is influencing everything else- there’s a lot of information out there. Why is everyone so intent on fitting things into previously determined categories, rather than just being open to what’s happening?
Your musical activities span a wide range of styles and combinations,. Which projects do you have in store for us?
About future projects: I’m especially into duos at this point- they have many of the advantages of playing solo, are still very transparent, while being able to have a conversation with someone else. I hope to continue playing duo with Gerry Hemingway, Gary Peacock, and others. I have some months off now, and am looking forward to being able to compose some new music. Also, I hope to do more work with dancers.
Marilyn plays Dear Lord: