- 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
- AG: I think the
answer is sort of yes, but that being said, there’re
a lot of people who move between cliquesit’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
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
Bar. It’s really not fair to say that those guys are
in different cliquesthey 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.
- AB: [laugh] It’s
all New York City!
- AG: It’s
New York City and it’s notstylistically 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 greatnot 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.
- AB: They have
a Knitting Factory out here in Los Angeles now and they book
- 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 bandsthey 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.
- AB: From what
you are saying it seems that maybe the jazz press, however small
it really is, somewhat constructed these things.
- AG: They’re
absolutely constructed. I think the idea of a wall between Lincoln
Center and the downtown sceneall this kind of shitwas
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.
[Marsalis] likes to shout his mouth off and there was always
someone who wanted to shout against him
- AB: Well, he’s
a polemicist, he likes to argue
- 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.
- 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 musicit’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.
- AB: When you
play with him, though, are there certain demands put on your playing?
- 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.
- 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.
- AB: The negotiation
with him doesn’t seem to be two-way
- 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 youre 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.
- 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
- AG: 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 teacherbut,
no, not on the bandstand.
- AB: I imagine
he already pre-selects players
- AG: Yeah, totally.
People definitely have this false image of him as some kind of
musical facisthe’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.
- 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.
- 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 its 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.
- AB: Does change-running,
the bebop language, does that get in the way?
- AG: From his
perspective or mine?
- AB: From both.
- AG: I don’t
think that it gets in the way. I think ultimately Bird was not
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 guysplaying beautiful melodies over extremely
complicated forms, structures, harmoniesare taking bebop
and making it ten times harder. At their best, those guys are
also playing beautiful, highly complex melodies.
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