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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?

marilyn-crispell2-resized 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? 

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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).

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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)?

 Of course the ear is of primary importance in playing music, but that doesn’t mean it’s not related to the intellect!  When you play, everything is involved- the ear, the intellect, the emotions-  you can’t separate them like they’re in little boxes-  they’re all part of a greater whole.

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:

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Interview Carla Bley

April 26, 2013 Leave a comment

I am proud to publish the interview I had with Carla Bley.

Bley was born in Oakland, California. Her father, a piano teacher and church choirmaster, encouraged her to sing and to learn to play the piano. After giving up the church to immerse herself in roller skating at the age of fourteen, she moved to New York at seventeen and became a cigarette girl at Birdland, where she met jazz pianist Paul Bley, whom she married in 1957.  He encouraged her to start composing. The couple later divorced.

In 1964 she was involved in organising the Jazz Composers Guild which brought together the most innovative musicians in New York at the time. She then had a personal and professional relationship with Michael Mantler, with whom she had a daughter, Karen, now also a musician in her own right.

Bley has collaborated with a number of other artists, including Jack Bruce, Robert Wyatt and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, whose 1981 solo album Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports was a Carla Bley album in all but name. She arranged and composed music forCharlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and wrote A Genuine Tong Funeral for Gary Burton. Her arrangement of the score forFederico Fellini’s 8½ appeared on Hal Willner’s Nino Rota tribute record, Amarcord Nino Rota.

Her current partner, the bassist Steve Swallow, has been her closest and most consistent musical associate in recent years and the two have recorded several duet albums.

In 2005 she arranged the music for and performed on Charlie Haden’s latest Liberation Music Orchestra tour and recording, Not in Our Name. (sorce: Wikipedia.org)

carla 2Mrs. Bley, you’re active in music for more than  5 decades. How has jazz music evolved since you started performing? Is Jazz the right label for your music?

I’m satisfied to call my music (or at least most of it)  jazz, but others might disagree.  My feeling is that jazz is a very big, inclusive world.  It is clear to me that jazz has greatly expanded its vocabulary over the century of its life, but sometimes when I listen to the past masters I question this assumption.

According to the Penguin Guide to Jazz, “Escalator Over The Hill”, “Tropic Appetites”, “Live”, “Fleur Carnivore”, “The Carla Bley Big Band Goes To Church,” “Looking For America” and “4 x 4”  are your best albums.  It seems that the critics cannot choose wich one is your best. Are these records your favorites too?

Albums are like children.  It’s unwise to favor one over any of the others.

Which composition do you like best? Why?  Is this composition your most appreciated?

As is the case with albums, I generally like the song I’m presently working on best.  I’m currently in the final stages of a long piece for “classical” musicians and steve swallow and me.  It’s in my mind almost all day, and often a good part of the night as well.  It’s difficult for me to think for even a moment about any of my earlier pieces.

In 1965 you and Michael Mantler founded the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. The group’s last performance was in 1975. You composed Escalator Over The Hill, which Joachim Ernst Berendt called the “the largest complete work that has so far emerged from within jazz.”, as well you arranged and composed (parts of) Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music.  From this point on, you was more of a composer than an instrumentalist. How you look back to that time?
From my earliest days I’ve seen myself as a composer who also plays.  But over the years I’ve faced up to the necessity of presenting my music to its audience, which has caused me to focus on playing as well as composing.  I practice almost every day, even when I feel I’m stealing time from composing.  Days aren’t long enough; they should contain at least 25 hours.
Satie and the Beatles. They have been your inspiration, as well as Charlie Parker.
This year it’s fifty-eight years ago he has died (as many great musicians you played with passed last decades). What does this mean to you?

For the last two nights, after dinner, we’ve listened to Charlie Parker.  And the night before those we listened to Satie.  Each of them sounded fresh and contemporary, continually inspiring.  It’s good to know that music can outlive its own time.

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 sixties?

I think most young players are unaware of their effect on their elders, but it is considerable.  I love being surprised by a phrase or a gesture in music, and this most often happens when I listen to young players.  I’m not sure what young players might find useful in what I do; that’s for them to figure out.Carla 1

As you said to John Fordman 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?

I’d say the clock is always turning.  That’s what clocks do.

Later on in 1991 you said to Fordham “Since I’ve been teaching more, I’ve realised again that the music I loved back in Birdland in the Fifties is the music I love now. I know now that this music has stood the test of time, and it will turn out to be the great music of the age.”

I still listen to recordings of the Basie Band of that time, a band I heard night after night when I worked as a cigarette girl in Birdland.  tTat band, and the writers who supplied it with music, continue to amaze and delight me.  I hope to become Ernie Wilkins some day.

You went to Holland january 1966 to record “Jazz Realities” and do radio and TV work. Why Holland?

Holland asked.  I went, as is still the case, wherever I was called.  That’s the way life is, in the world of music.

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?

There appears to be some truth to what dave says, as an increasing percentage of my work seems to happen in places I haven’t been before.  I’m happy about this; these places are as new to me as I am to them.  I’m always looking for food I’ve never tasted, buildings I’ve never seen, languages I haven’t heard before.

Sheila Jordan, I interviewed yesterday, had one question for you: “if you compose a new opera, can you put me on the list?”

ABSOLUTELY!

Next week I will interview pianist Ran Blake. Do you have a question for him?

How do you manage to continue to expand, when so many of your contemporaries are contracting?

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

I mentioned my current piece, involving “classical” musicians.  I’ve also recently finished a long set of pieces for big band and boys choir, which i’m hoping to record soon.  And there will also be an album out soon of trio music wit Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow; we’ll be touring in Europe in the fall.

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