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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.

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Interview with Norma Winstone

February 2, 2013 1 comment

norma winstoneI have been lucky in all my playing partners.

Last week I interviewed Norma Winstone.

Winstone sang in the early sixties mostly in pubs in East End of London (where she was born). She did sing around the Dagenham area too  (Norma moved there when she was 10) but quite a few of the London pubs featured jazz at the time and were a great learning opportunity.  Later on Norma joined Michael Garrick’s band in 1968. Her first recording came the following year, with Joe Harriott. In 1971 she was voted top singer in the Melody Maker Jazz Poll. She recorded the album, Edge of Time, under her own name in 1972.[1] Winstone contributed vocals to Ian Carr’s Nucleus on that band’s 1973 release Labyrinth, a jazz-rock concept albumbased on the Greek myth about the Minotaur.

Winstone has worked with many major European musicians and visiting Americans, as well as with most of her peers in British jazz including Garrick, John Surman, Michael Gibbs, Mike Westbrook and her former husband, the pianist John Taylor. With Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler she has performed and recorded five albums for ECM as a member of the trio Azimuth between 1977 and 1994  their CD “How It Was Then… Never Again” was given four stars by Down Beatmagazine. In addition she made an album with the American pianist Jimmy Rowles (Well Kept Secret, 1993). (Wikipedia and Norma Winstone)

Norma Winstone is a singer of of brilliant virtuosity and flexibility; she can handle very complex lines and wide intervals, improvise with the fluency of an instrumentalist and also breathe life into a simple song. Her favourite singers are Frank Sinatra, Joe Williams and Carmen McRae, and other inspirational figures for her are Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor (Ian Carr, Jazz, the essential companion).

Mrs. Winstone, you’re active in music for more than  4 decades. How has jazz music evolved since you started performing or singing. We know there are labels for different kinds of music, can we label your  music?
I would rather that music did not have to be labeled. I guess the music I am involved in and have been involved in for many years is jazz. What I wanted to be involved in was music like I had heard from Miles Davis, John Coltrane etc but I have always loved cassical music too and I think that somehow the music has evolved to include these influences too.
According to the Penguin Guide to Jazz, “Edge of Time” is your best album. Is this your favorite too? Which album you produced do you like best? Why?  Is this album your best appreciated album?
No, this is not my favourite album and I can’t see how they think it is my best. It has a spirit of the jazz scene in London at the time and it was fairly ambitious for a first recording under my own name, but I was much better recorded later on ECM. I began to be able to listen to my voice and hear what I had hoped I  sounded like. Edge of Time did have an urgency about it and was unusual in terms of a vocal album at the time (and probably even now), which is probably why the Penguin Guide thinks it’s the best, because I sound as if I am searching. I really like “Somewhere Called Home”, “Azimuth ’85” and “Distances” because I think that here I achieved something beautiful. “Distances” was nominated for a Grammy and won various awards for best vocal album so I would say that this has been my best appreciated album. 
Bill Evans. He’s been your inspiration, as he’s been for a generation of  (jazz)musicians. This year it’s thirty-three years ago he died. What does this mean to you?
Bill Evans always touched me with his playing. I saw him twice at Ronnie Scott’s club and as soon as he touched the piano he made it sound so beautiful, even though at the time it wasn’t such a great piano. He always made me cry. He had his own voice which is what we always want to hear from a musician. His harmonies were always the best you’re likely to hear.
Do you still learn from your youthful colleagues and what should they learn form you? Are you inspired by them as you were by the colleagues you played with in the seventies and  the early eighties?
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.
norma winstone  visibelli group
Jazzcritic John Fordham called your cooperation with pianist Jimmy Rowles one of the highlights of the mid-nineties in his book Shooting From the Hip (published in 1996). How did you experience working with Mr.Rowles?
It was a great experience even to meet him and singing with him was a delight. I always loved the way he played the whole piano (not just the middle), rather like Duke Ellington. I remember breaking into a smile when we slipped into time after the verse of “Where or When”: it felt just right. He said that he felt that it was his job to make the singer sound as good as possible!
Next tuesday I will interview well known jazzsinger Sheila Jordan, who was very succesfull with her album Portrait of Sheila (1962), do you have a question for her?
 I love Sheila. She is such a warm and lovely human being and it shines through her singing…. what could I ask her? How did she remain so dedicated and determined to carry on through the bleak times?  but I guess I know the answer. She loves the music. What more do you need? To keep healthy, I guess, to cope with all the travelling.
Is there jazz in the future? Jazz is the most recorded musicstyle by now, but do you think jazz will reach our youth? According to saxophonist and flautist Dave Liebman the future of jazz lies with how it will be absorbed and transformed by parts of the world where it is new to the people. Do you agree with him?
 I’m not sure I understand what he means… do we have to keep on until we’ve run out of people who have not been exposed to jazz? Lots of young musicians are still interested to play jazz albeit sometimes with influences from different genres of music as Dave suggests. It shouldn’t  have to stay the same. I think though that it gets more and more difficult for our youth to be exposed to jazz by chance, as it doesn’t have enough exposure in the media, but it was never easy anyway. It will survive in one form or another.
Your musical activities span a wide range of styles and combinations. Which projects do you have in store for us?
 I have just recorded again with my trio (Glauco Venier, piano and Klaus Gesing, soprano sax and bass clarinet) and we have included some more contemporary/ popular songs as well as originals. At the moment we seem to be about conveying the meaning of a song more than experimenting, but that may change. I will also be working in England this year with a group of great British musicians we call “The Printmakers” including Nikki Iles, piano, Mike Walker, guitar, Mark Lockheart, saxophones, Steve Watts, bass and James Maddren, drums. There is quite an age range in this group but we seem to have the same musical objectives. Other than this we don’t know what’s round the corner but as long as the voice holds out I shall be singing.
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