- AB: You read a
lot in biographical accounts of peoples first gig or their
first time out playing with better musicians and getting their
ass kicked. Did you have experiences like that where on the gig
you think, whoa
theres a lot more I need to learn?
- AG: Definitely.
Well, there are probably a couple of them. Playing with Betty
Carter was something like that. I was timid, I didnt
have a lot of confidence, and I think I was intimidated by
situation. I got my ass kicked basically because I didnt
have the requisite confidence to perform in that setting in
moment. It was a wake-up call that my first responsibility to
myself as a musician was to play with confidence, with some
of conviction even it was false [laughs]. That was kind of an
unexpected skill that I didnt realize I would have to
- As far as specific tunes, there was this time when I
played a gig and I was seventeen or sixteen. Bob Sinicrope
Crook, and Hal Crook played and it was great and I was
very happy. My charts looked like crap, very unprofessional
stuff, however. I expected that he would be able to sight-read
all this horrible-looking music that I brought in my own terrible
I woke to the real world of real people. All the time, it happens
on a smaller level: you play with people and they call a tune
and you don't know
and you have to go home and learn it.
- AB: You know it’s
funny, what you are talking about reminded me. I was watching
this great documentary about Thelonius
Monk called Straight No Chaser, have you seen it?
- AG: In Copley
Square theater [in Boston], on the marquee it said, The
Loneliest Monk—that was the name of the movie, The
- AB: [Laughs] There
is a movie out now called the Bulletproof Monk. In Straight
No Chaser there is this great scene and when I was teaching
a jazz history class I showed it. Monk was on tour around Europe
with this octet. Phil
Woods was there [in the band], and hes like, Is
this a C or a C#? and [Monk] hes like, whatever
- AG: Monk said
- AB: Yeah. Hes
a peculiar guy. You couldnt quite tell if he was joking
or if he was really serious. It was a very interesting
- AG: I think he
was probably joking because if you listen to his recordings
hes kind of a stickler for details in all his tunes.
- AB: We were talking
earlier about subdivisions in the field and its construction in
the New York Scene. I hate to bring it up—but race politics
becomes inescapable in the jazz world because of the nature of
the music and where its from.
- AG: I dont
think race politics becomes inescapable. I think racial diversity
- AB: There is a
difference between our backgrounds and someone who is black, who
might face systematic discrimination, a lower class position,
or economic disadvantages. Those structural inequalities do create
differences in the way we look at the world, in the way we operate
through the world.
- I have a two-part question: have you experienced racial tension
or hostility on the bandstand? Im thinking mainly
between black and white, but obviously the spectrum is wider
And second, taking in the larger issue about race and politics,
do you have some responsibility as a jazz artist to larger
rights or political activities in the African-American world.
Is your music political? Should it be?
- AG: On the bandstand
I have never experienced any racial hostility. I think that
was much more in vogue as a topic on everyones mind—in
the press, in the musicians minds themselves—about
ten, fifteen years ago, even stretching back into the late
early 90s. I feel like since I moved back to New York in 1996–97,
within the jazz community (definitely not to say within the
world at large) its kind of a non-issue in the sense that
Ive personally experienced no racial tension and I have
been aware of very little racial tension between other musicians.
tons of racism out there in America. It just doesnt exist
within the jazz community in New York City, insofar as I can
see it, either in its original white on black
form or its reverse form, black on white.
- To be fair, New York City is one of the most liberal and educated
cities in America, and it is also a city where everyone lives
top of one another. New York is a city where the music scene
is completely integrated—black and white people play together
all the time. Also, I tend to play in a particularly integrated
of the integrated jazz scene, and am someone who has always played
with black and white people together throughout my career.
- There is a racial demographic—I dont want to say
demographic divide—that does play a role in who becomes
your friend, whether for social reasons, for geographic reasons,
reasons, for plain old cultural reasons. On the other hand, in
the music world as a whole, that demographic usually doesnt
stop musicians from playing with people of other races, and
with people of other races. In New York in particular, there
is a priority placed on being the best musician
be. Everyone pretty much just wants to play with the best musicians.
Some of them happen to be black, some of them happen to be
If you can play, for the most part, everyone is cool to you because
they respect you first and foremost as a musician and not
as a black
person or a white person.
- AB: I think it
sounds like a kind of model space
- AG: I think in
a lot of ways it really is. About fifteen years ago it wasnt
quite as much this way. Im not sure about all the reasons
for that but I think that there was some kind of race politics
in the so-called halls of jazz power [laughs]. The media kind
of bit on that. Lincoln Center and company were making a lot
valid points, reminding America that jazz was African-American
music. Now that the point has been made convincingly and has
the mainstream, which I think it hadn't completely say fifteen
or twenty years ago, all the people who were formerly harping
about race pretty much just let it go. So you dont really
hear anyone ever asking silly kinds stuff, like, can
white people or can black people play, or do you like to play
with black people—no ones been asking that kind of
bullshit for a long time. I dont know of any black musicians
who only play with black musicians, and I dont
know any white musicians who only play with white
musicians, as a matter of principle. Sometimes it works out
that way, but when it does it's for simple social reasons or
as a matter of happenstance.