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Interview with Bill Carrothers

October 27, 2013 Leave a comment

I’m more inspired by where I live and my everyday family life than I am by particular musicians or music. Family, trees, open space, solitude.

Last month I had the honour to interview Bill Carrothers. He has played with many people at so many places in the world, but home is where the heart is,  in particular with his family in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. His passion is history, silence means home.

His cooperation with pianist Marc Copland. on the wellreceived album No Choices (which finds two artists on equal ground, deeply committed to the interpretive, interactive and conversational fundamentals of improvisation, John Kelman, All About Jazz, August 2006) has left the jazzworld breathlessly. At his last album Love and longing (2013, La Buisonne) Carrothers proofs his singing is of high level.
carrothers

Bill Carrothers (born in Minneapolis, 1964) began his career as a teenager, when he played with local bands in his hometown; then in 1988, he moved to New York City. Carrothers has played many venues throughout the U. S. and Europe including the Village Gate, Knitting Factory, Birdland, Blues Alley, New Morning (Paris), the Audi Jazz Festival in Brussels, the Nevers Jazz Festival (where he shared the bill with Abbey Lincoln), the Montreal Jazz Festival , Jazz Middelheim, and the Marciac Festival in France. In the 1990s he played with Bill Stewart and Scott Colley, Herwig Gradischnig; in 1997 he worked on Dave Douglas’ album moving portraits. Birdology 1999 was a duo album with Bill Stewart. In October of 2000, Mr. Carrothers headlined the prestigious Rising Star Tour throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. He has been a leader on seventeen recordings, all of which have received critical acclaim. His sideman credits have included some of the greatest names in jazz, including Joe Beck, Scot t Colley, Buddy DeFranco, Dave Douglas, Curtis Fuller, Eric Gravatt, Drew Gress, Tim Hagans, Billy Higgins, Ari Hoenig, Lee Konitz, James Moody, Gary Peacock, Dewey Redman, Charlie Rouse, James Spaulding, Bill Stewart, Ben Street, Ira Sullivan, Toots Thielemans, and Benny Wallace. In the 1990s he played with Bill Stewart and Scott Colley, Herwig Gradischnig; in 1997 he worked on Dave Douglas’ album moving portraits. Birdology 1999 was a duo album with Bill Stewart. In trio with Stewart and saxophonist Anton Denner he recorded in 2002 his album Ghost Ships. In 2005 Bill recorded a duet album with pianist Marc Copland (No. choice, 2005). Read the critics on Penguin Guide.

Mr.Carrothers, you are professional active in music for 3 decades. How has music evolved since you started performing?

It’s getting more world music oriented. Less swing, less storytelling. It’s also becoming harder emotionally. More distant, more math-like, less playing with your heart on your sleeve. I don’t very often get the feeling that improvising musicians are “reading their diary” when they play. It’s emotionally cooler (and safer) now.

You started to play the piano early in your childhood . Why did you choose this instrument? Which instrument do you like best, beneath piano?

I’ve been playing the piano since I was 5, so it’s always been a part of my life. My mom felt that every child should have musical training at the piano as part of a rounded upbringing. Besides the piano, I really love playing the drums. I’m not particularly good at it, but I enjoy that.

You’ve been working with so many beautiful musicians, among many others: Buddy DeFranco, Dave Douglas, Curtis Fuller, Tim Hagans, Billy Higgins, Lee Konitz, James Moody, Gary Peacock, Dewey Redman, Charlie Rouse, Terrell Stafford, Ira Sullivan, Toots Thielemans and Bennie Wallace. What have you learned, working with them?

That’s too open-ended a question… I’ve learned from everyone that I’ve played with over the years. There would be no way to parse out what I learned from each of them. Except for Billy Higgins. He was the first really great drummer that I ever worked with and his pure love of the music is something that I have always remembered from the gigs we played together, and have tried to emulate in my own musical life.

You were inspired by Clifford Brown, Oscar Peterson and Shirley Horn. Who are you inspired by nowadays?carrothers and copland

I’m more inspired now by where I live and my everyday family life than I am by particular musicians or music. So my answer would be that it’s not so much a who but a what I’m inspired by now. Family, trees, open space, solitude.

What means silence for you?

Home.

You have your own pianotrio, you play solo, duets… What is your favourite format? Why?

I don’t have a favorite format. It’s more like I have a favorite way of going about making music and playing with people that feel the same way. Open ended, with little or no discussion, and ready for anything. And playing every night like it’s your last night on earth. As long as that’s there, the format is irrelevant.

One of your duets was with drummer Bill Stewart, a long time companion of you. What makes playing with Bill so special?

We have a nice repartee that makes playing together really easy. We never talk about the music much. It just happens. He is always inspiring to play with.

At your albums Part of the Solution Problem and The Electric Bill you play the Fender Rhodes. I think you are one of the few musicians that can play jazz with an electric instrument without making too much noise. At certain times your music sounds like the narration of a fairytale. How do you experience playing the Fender Rhodes?

carrothers and winstone

Unfortunately I don’t play the Rhodes much anymore. It’s such a hassle to tour with and lug around that most guys don’t do it anymore. When I was young, I hauled a suitcase 88 around for many years. It was HUGE and heavy as hell. I’ve always loved the sound of a Rhodes because of its bell-like tone on top and the growly bottom, and I always loved the smushy feel of a Rhodes. It’s fun to play.

Talking of narration. At some of your records you really tell story’s, the history of the Civil War, the Armistice in 1918. How did you prepare these albums?

I never prepare recordings. I learn the tunes because I love them and then I copy them out for the other musicians and we play them. I try to never bring in any preconceived notions of what I want to “get” out of a recording session. Armistice 1918 was almost completely improvised. Folks hear that recording and they think I through-composed and planned a lot of it. I’m not that smart! I pick the people who I think have something to say about the music, people who I like to play with, and then I let them do their thing. Most of the CDs I’ve made are not the CD I thought we were going to make. They take on a life of their own in the studio and we all just go along for the ride. And then you accept what it turned out to be because that’s what it really is. I think many recordings made now feel like a doctoral thesis, where every T must be crossed and every i dotted. The studio has become a place where perfection must be achieved. I don’t look at it that way. It’s a one or two day slice of where you were at that moment. It’s a snapshot. The affection for the music and for each other is a lot more compelling, in my opinion. I almost never edit the music. It goes on the CD pretty much the way we played it, warts and all. If you can capture the vibe, the love, the moosh of the playing, chances are it will be something that people will want to listen to more than once.

In 2012 you played with singer Norma Winstone. Recently I interviewed her. She said: “ I am always inspired when I sing with musicians who love the music and are prepared to be a bit adventurous. I don’t know what I’ve learned from my younger colleagues except how to make music with them. It is a precious thing when you find musicians with whom you don’t have to discuss anything and playing together just works. I have been lucky in all my playing partners. “ You were one of these palying partners. How was it working with Norma?carrothers 5

Norma was great. Adventurous, open-minded, trusting. A real musician, not only a singer. It was very cool.

In 2013 you recorded your beautiful solo-album Love and Longing. Beneath you are a highly favored pianist you have a beautiful voice. How do you look back at (making) that album?

It was fun to do, very casual, unplanned. When Gerard said he wanted to release it, I was surprised. I’ve never thought I had a particularly good voice. I just did it for fun.

A few months ago I interviewed bassist Peter Ind. He stated: “To me the greatness in jazz lies in improvisation and from improvisation there developed the musical language that we recognize as jazz.” Do you agree with him?

I would describe it the way Duke did… “The sound of surprise”.

You play a lot in Europe, about 12 weeks a year. Do you think jazz in Europe develops a different direction than Jazz oversea?

Artistically, I think the scenes are converging pretty fast now. Of course there is still a lot more financial support for the arts in Europe, but that’s beginning to change too.

carrothers love and longingIs there jazz in the future? Jazz is the most recorded musicstyle by now, but do you think jazz will reach our youth?

I hope so, but who knows? Art forms come and go, since they are all a reflection of the times in which they are born. Once an art form no longer expresses the pathos and soul of a given time, it ceases to be relevant and dies.

Last question: which projects do you have in store for us?

I have a choral hymn cd coming out in mid-November entitled “Sunday Morning”. I’m writing a commission for trio, male and female vocalists, trombone, and a boy choir, for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. And I will be recording a CD with the Dave King Trio next year. The Armistice 1918 group will also be touring in Europe next year as part of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.

Interview Marc Copland

October 10, 2013 1 comment

There will always be listeners, and musicians, old and young, who get bored by pop music and are looking for something more. And jazz has what a lot of them want.

coplandThe story of pianist Marc “The Piano Whisperer” Copland is exceptional. He started his career in jazzmusic playing the saxophone and later on changed to the piano. His trio, including giants Gary Peacock and John Abercrombie, is groundbreaking. His cooperation with pianist Bill Carrothers on the wellreceived album No Choices (which finds two artists on equal ground, deeply committed to the interpretive, interactive and conversational fundamentals of improvisation, John Kelman, All About Jazz, August 2006) has left the jazzworld breathlessly. I’m happy I have interviewed both Copland and Carrothers.

First, who is Marc Copland?

“Copland (may, 27, 1948) became part of the jazz scene in Philadelphia in the early 1960s as a saxophonist, and later moved to New York where he experimented with electric alto saxophone. In the early 1970s, while pursuing his own harmonic concept, he grew dissatisfied with what he felt were inherent limitations in the saxophone and moved to the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area, where he remained for a decade to retrain as a jazz pianist.”

He returned to New York in the mid-1980s, his own keyboard style firmly in place. Since that time Copland has enjoyed considerable success, both as a solo performer and a group leader. (wikipedia.org)
Mr.Copland, in 1966 you moved to New York City where you became involved in the city’s jazz scene. How has music evolved since you started performing?

Everything is totally different. The business side has changed enormously, with respect to the clubs in NY and with respect to record companies. The music has changed dramatically also. It would take many hours to go through all of this. But one constant, for me at least, has remained: European record companies often remain dedicated to producing music that they believe in, that they think has merit. In America—and this may be the biggest change since the sixties– most of the record companies are now owned by large corporations, and have been so for twenty-some years or more. The focus of these American record companies is very different from what it was in the 1950s and 1060s.

You started to play the piano since you were 7 years old. Why did you choose this instrument? Later on you switched to the saxophone and eventually you switched back to the piano. Which instrument do you like best by now, beneath piano

I started taking piano lessons, like many young children, around the age of 6 or 7 years. When I reached age 9 or 10, the school I attended offered me a choice of band or orchestra instrument to learn–and I chose saxophone because my aunt had a toy plastic one that I thought was cute! I still love the saxophone, I love playing with saxophonists! But for the harmonies going on in my head for the last forty-five or fifty years, piano is the best vehicle.

You’ve been working with so many beautiful musicians, among many others: Randy Brecker, Bob Berg, Hank Crawford, Art Farmer, Curtis Fuller, Tom Harrell, Eddie Harris,Harold Land and Blue Mitchell, Dave Liebman, Bob Mintzer, Chico Hamilton, John Abercrombie, Gary Peacock, and Sonny Stit, Bob Belden, Jane Ira Bloom, Joe Lovano, Herbie Mann, James Moody, John Scofield, Jim Snidero, and Dave Stryker What have you learned, working with them?copland 3

Again, answering this question could be an entire article by itself. I will concentrate on just a few:

From John Abercrombie I learned to play only from the heart,and to play honest music.

From Dave Liebman I learned what it means to be dedicated to the music.

From James Moody I learned that as a leader, it’s important to treat the members of the band the way you would want to be treated.

From Gary Peacock, I learned that I was not alone in this musical world. We both believed that it was important to feel free to go with the feeling of the moment, and if the music came to us, to get out of its way.

You are an innovator in jazzmusic, an example for many pianists. What music do you listen to yourself nowadays? Are you inspired by contemporary jazzmusic?

I listen to all kinds of music, especially orchestral music written from the 1890s thru the 1950s. The use of colors and harmonies in this music is so varied and sophisticated, one could study it for a lifetime, which is more or less what I’ve done.

I am happy to say that there have been some younger players coming up in the last several years who are really trying to say their own thing, and are very talented. I have listened to their work and been moved by it. I almost hate to mention names, because I will doubtless leave some out, but in particular there are some players who deserve much more recognition for their work: (in alphabetical order) Bobby Avey, Bill Carrothers, Jason Moran, Craig Taborn.

In 1988 you recorded your debutalbum My Foolish Heart with drummer Jeff Hirschfield and longtime playing partners, guitarist John Abercrombie and bassist Gary Peacock. How do you look back at making this album?

It’s a nice album, and certainly I’m in good company there! The first albums I made that really seem to capture the sounds I hear are “All Blues at Night” (Jazz City, same label as “My Foolish Heart”) and “Haunted Heart and Other Ballads” (Hatology). After that, it became easier to put the sounds in my head onto cd, and most of my recordings since then are a pretty fair representation of what I was hearing at the time.

In 2006 you recorded the album “No Choice”, a dual-piano recording with Bill Carrothers. Please, tell me more about your your cooperation with Bill.

For many years Bill seemed to be the only other pianist who heard harmony in a way that relates to my own work. Recording the CD seemed like a logical outcome of this common feeling for harmonic usage, although stylistically we are quite different.. The session was very enjoyable, but that’s a once-in-a-career thing. I have no plans to do another piano duet album.

copland 5You played a lot as front- and sideman in many different formats, you play in a trio, a quartet, as well as solo. What is your favourite format? Why?

Trio can be very intimate and one has partners up there helping make the music, so that feels easy and personal. It’s easy to do night after night and watch the thing develop. Solo piano is very, very personal, but it’s also very draining. I like doing it, but not every night!

Miles Davis. I have interviewed your companion Randy Brecker, Miles taught him: ”How to tell a story in as few notes as possible. Sound comes first. Take chances. Fuck whatever anyone else thinks. Rehearse as little as possible since as he said :’ You can’t rehearse the future!” Do you agree with this method?

In many cases this is exactly right. Sound does come first. Taking chances is the essence of playing, this is something I always felt, and when I started playing with Gary Peacock, I knew I’d met a musical soul who believed this as much as I did.

But that only works for me if I’m practicing, listening, expanding my ears. Going out for a drive with no plan, with just the desire to explore new places and see new things, works fine—but only if there is gas in the tank.

Your latest record, Some more Love Songs, is a beautiful one, and received very well, as we can read at Allaboutjazz (http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=42219#.UieSSpLp2t0 ), what is the secret of the succes of this album?

There’s no secret to making a good recordiing. It’s always worked for me like this: go in with a plan, but don’t follow it, just let the music happen. Go in to express what’s in your heart, not to show what a terrific musician you are. Go in with musicians you believe in and feel comfortable with. Don’t go in to try and play. Go in with the thought that you need to sit at the instrument, find a quiet space, and let the music find you.

In his book Primacy of the Ear, pianist Ran Blake, 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)?

Yes and no. The intellect is, as I see it, responsible for learning the tools of the trade, exploring and working with new musical materials. The intellect can also be an important guide in making sure one remembers to be artistically honest. If the intellect had no role at all then an animal could play jazz.

That said, when you start to play, you can’t think. You just go for it, and what Ran says applies….but the intellect has worked in the background, and continues to observe and learn.

Think of it this way. An athlete or dancer learns all sorts of techniques and strategies, which are practiced over and over with a great deal of thought and self-observation, until they become second nature. But in the heat of competition, the athlete doesn’t think a whole lot, there isn’t time. Of course sports and music are very different, but I believe this analogy makes sense.

You played a lot in NewYork, but also in Europe for different European recordlabels. Do you think jazz in Europe develops a different direction than Jazz oversea?copland 1

Jazz is kind of worldwide now, and the directions of the music are more than ever independent of where the musicians live. However, record companies still decide what gets recorded, and as noted above, this does affect what type of music is released on CD in Europe, and what time is released in America. And I think there is a difference there, although it’s not all black and white.

Charlie Parker. This year it’s fifty-eight years ago he has died. Sheila Jordan said to me in an interview: “people don’t talk about him anymore,The younger generation of jazzmusicians say they are inspired by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Parker is a forgotten part of jazzmusic. That’s a pity, because he is an important part of the jazztradition.” What is your opinion? Do you regard yourself as a part of this jazztradition?

Without the tradition, I wouldn’t or couldn’t exist. And Bird’s not dead, certainly not for me. He’s a big part of the foundation on which everything else has been built.

In an interview with allaboutjazz (you quote at your website), you said: “Commercial interests often lose sight of important artistic developments – or, sometimes while recognizing them, lose faith in the public’s ability to do the same. As a result, a lot of great art goes undiscovered; and when an art form loses opportunities for growth it is all the poorer for it.” What does this mean for the future of jazzmusic?

What it means is this: we’ve all got to hope that enough people will continue to come out and support good music to keep it alive. We can’t count on the record companies developing the best artists anymore. Some of the record companies are still dedicated to this, particularly in Europe; but many of the companies, in American and also in Europe, are not. One positive development is the growth of artist-owned labels and the use of the internet to spread the music. These are hard roads to travel, but in some cases the artist may not have any other alternative.

copland liebmanDave Liebman, one of your playing partners, said to me: “If you compare music to the Amazon River, jazz is one of the major tributaries. Its future lies with how the music will be absorbed and transformed by people from other parts of the world other than the U.S. and Europe. For these people, jazz is new and exciting. This is the hope for jazz, that by spreading its wings, it will stay relevant.”do you agree with him? Jazz is the most recorded musicstyle by now, but do you think jazz will reach our youth?

I only know this: there always seems to be an audience of people in any age range who are looking to hear good jazz. I see it every few years, here in NYC, at the clubs. There will always be listeners, and musicians, old and young, who get bored by pop music and are looking for something more. And jazz has what a lot of them want.

Your musical activities span a wide range of styles. Which projects do you have in store for us?

A new project in quartet with John Abercrombie, under his name, is being released at the ECM label as I write this. As to future projects, there are ideas and plans, but I’d rather not say until it happens!

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