1. AB: You live in New York and that seems to be the center of the jazz world. The scene seems small enough that everyone plays with everyone but that’s not really true, is it? Is it subdivided into smaller scenes?

  2. AG: I think the answer is sort of “yes,” but that being said, there’re a lot of people who move between cliques—it’s a community of people. Ultimately there are no fixed rules because people change. First of all, they change their musical interests, they change their skill set, they change their friends and as a result the scene is fluid. So there are people who might be in one kind of…you could call it a “clique,” but that sounds too exclusive. They might be in one little community and then a second community and then move between them, and then a third if they meet somebody that likes their playing. Nonetheless, there’re still a bunch of guys who mostly play uptown, there are guys who mostly play at Smalls or Fat Cat, and there’re guys who mostly play at the 55 Bar. It’s really not fair to say that those guys are in different cliques—they just have different groups of friends, or they might live in differents part of town such that they are more affiliated with musicians who live or play in their particular region of town. All could very well have turned out very differently just by circumstance. I am always struck by how many guys I haven’t seen in a long time just because I live in Brooklyn and they live in Harlem.

  3. AB: [laugh] It’s all New York City!

  1. AG: It’s New York City and it’s not—stylistically we would sit together great. It’s just that they happen to be in a different place from me on a given day. On the other hand, there are guys I always keep coming back to even though they are on the road and I don't see them very often. I think I am somebody who tends, maybe more than average, to span some of these groups. So from my perspective perhaps it seems like everybody does play with everyone. But I know full well, in the back of my mind, that that is not really the case. There are some guys, like Matthew Shipp, whom I’ve just never run across in my life. Even though he is in the New York jazz scene, and he is a piano player, and he is supposedly great—not only have I never run across him but I’ve never really even heard him. It’s not for lack of interest, it’s just like a different scene. And then you say there are people in what you were calling the Knitting Factory. The truth is the Knitting Factory scene isn’t really a jazz scene. The Knitting Factory mostly books non-jazz. They book like alternative rock bands.

  2. AB: They have a Knitting Factory out here in Los Angeles now and they book virtually no jazz.

  3. AG: That’s kind of the way the Knitting Factory in New York is now. All the people that supposedly comprise what you call the Knitting Factory scene, they’re playing at Tonic and a few other places. A lot of guys I play with also play in those bands—they play with people like Dave Douglas, who has gotten press as being part of that scene. All my friends play with Dave Douglas, and my friends play with me. I haven’t personally played with Dave Douglas, but I consider myself in the same scene as Dave Douglas. I very well could play with Dave Douglas tomorrow if the right circumstance arises. I think a lot of these boundaries are not really boundaries; again they’re very fluid.

  4. AB: From what you are saying it seems that maybe the jazz press, however small it really is, somewhat constructed these things.

  5. AG: They’re absolutely constructed. I think the idea of a wall between Lincoln Center and the downtown scene—all this kind of shit—was always bullshit, just a media construction. I think in a certain way it was a good thing to keep jazz in the media eye, because any press is good press, anything is better than being forgotten. Wynton [Marsalis] likes to shout his mouth off and there was always someone who wanted to shout against him…

  6. AB: Well, he’s a polemicist, he likes to argue…

  7. AG: But he doesn’t believe a lot of that shit, and when it came down to it he played a couple of benefit concerts for the Knitting Factory. He’s all about supporting jazz music in all its forms. He’ll sit and pontificate about how some shit is “sad,” but it’s not that he even believes it’s sad, it’s just more that he believes other stuff is better.

  8. Every time I have played with Wynton, which isn’t that often, he always gives you his vision of what jazz is and what jazz should be and what the best in jazz is. He really cares about that, and he really cares about the music—it’s up to you whether you disagree with him or take his advice. I appreciate him for where he is coming from. I don’t always agree with everything he says, but it’s absolutely his prerogative to have his views and mine to accept or reject them.

  9. AB: When you play with him, though, are there certain demands put on your playing?

  10. AG: I would say so. I wouldn’t be called to play with him unless I had the set of skills that make him feel relatively comfortable and make good music with him. There are lots of great jazz musicians who probably would not want to deal with those kinds of demands.

  11. I actually enjoy it. I enjoy the challenge of playing with somebody who has specific expectations and specific desires, who demands of me and then sees if I can rise to that challenge. At any given moment, the music is only as good as the ability of the guys to work together; sometimes that means crossing stylistic divides or negotiating stylistic differences and finding some sort of common space. To me, someone like Wynton could be more flexible than he chooses to be.

  12. AB: The negotiation with him doesn’t seem to be two-way…

  13. AG: It could be. Last time I did this gig it was interesting because the first night we played tunes chosen by the drummer and Wynton was totally capable of doing that. We played a bunch of Wayne [Shorter] tunes, all kinds of stuff. And then the second night, Wynton was like, “ok, I did your shit, now you’re going to play my shit.” And we played Cherokee and Caravan and all his old favorites. Stylistically it went where Wynton was coming from. He sent a message: “alright, we all know that I can do that shit but this is what I am about; you all are going to come with me.”

  14. AB: When I go see gigs I always find the interaction of the players fascinating. Because you are just imagining what’s going on: sometimes you sense that there is conflict but you’re not sure, and if they’re good performers you’ll never know. But when you are on the bandstand with someone like that, you’re playing “Cherokee” and one time through a chorus you put some unusual changes in, will Wynton turn around and say don’t do that?

  15. AG: No, no, no, no…definitely not. He’s a jazz musician, he’s not going to sit there and tell you what you should play in your solo. He’ll give you a comment after the gig is over about what he thinks you should be studying, what he thinks the really great shit is, but he would never try to tell you in the moment what you should be playing or not. Maybe if you were a total student, or if you were in a teaching situation and he was your teacher—but, no, not on the bandstand.

  16. AB: I imagine he already pre-selects players…

  17. AG: Yeah, totally. People definitely have this false image of him as some kind of musical facist—he’s totally not. He’s in a position of extraordinary responsibility; he chose that position for himself and that’s the way he likes it. He really cares about what his vision of jazz music is, passing it on to future generations, and carrying it on at a higher level.

  18. AB: When we were hanging out in Boston you were
    actually speaking about how Wynton sounds like himself. I thought that was really remarkable because personal style is highly valued in jazz and somehow he has done that.

  19. AG: I think he has found a musical voice at this point in his career. I don’t think it was necessarily true back when he first came out, but I think it’s definitely true now that he’s found a convincing, compelling, and recognizable voice on the trumpet. I also think that he highly values melody. Through the example of his playing, he’s reminded everyone in jazz that being a great jazz improviser is really about your ability to create spontaneous, unpredictable, new melodies.

  20. AB: Does change-running, the bebop language, does that get in the way?

  21. AG: From his perspective or mine?

  22. AB: From both.

  23. AG: I don’t think that it gets in the way. I think ultimately Bird was not change-running, Bird

    "Shadow of Your Smile,"
    performed by Aaron Goldberg, et al.

    was playing a whole bunch of extremely complicated melodies. I think change-running is a term that you would use for someone who plays bebop badly versus someone who plays [it] well. Someone who plays bebop well is making beautiful melodies over complex harmonies and complex forms at fast tempos. Ultimately, Wynton is carrying on that tradition, as are we all. We should get off the topic of Wynton because he gets so much attention as it is. There are lots people like my peers, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark Turner. These guys—playing beautiful melodies over extremely complicated forms, structures, harmonies—are taking bebop and making it ten times harder. At their best, those guys are also playing beautiful, highly complex melodies.

back    intro   1    2    3    4   5 

table of contents         top of page         write to echo


Berish: Dissections and Intersections

Review Essays

Carson: El Niño

Courtier: Long Road to Freedom


Grigg and Murphy: Opera’s Second Death

Niebur: The Film Reader

Jorritsma: Amandla!

Conference Report

Garrett: Criss Cross