Interview by Dave Reitzes, Part 4
PSF: You've really got me thinking now. I think one difference between Ellington and, say, Wynton Marsalis playing Ellington at Lincoln Center -- I think Ellington, in his time, really had an idealistic belief then that a few years from now, all these racial problems are going to be conquered.
PSF: Especially during World War II. He thought, 'Look, we're fighting intolerance with this World War -- we're fighting the Nazis; we're fighting prejudice.' He really thought, 'This is going to change things at home.' He wrote "New World a-Coming," because he really thought, 'There's a new world a-coming.'
PSF: And it didn't come.
No, and it's not coming. (Laughs)
PSF: And I think the beboppers were of that next generation that knew it didn't come, it's not coming. So there was kind of a jaded kind of a sensibility there.
Well, I don't know if it was jaded. I think it was . . .
I think they were dealing with the energy of who they were and the information of how they wanted to live. None of us can really, in retrospect, be sure what was going on. We can just view the energy and make abstractions from where we stand, on what that energy was. Obviously, a Monk or a Duke Ellington is very aware of people. Even Monk, within his iconoclastic way of being and whatever insanity or personal problems he had, had an extreme awareness of himself and the fact of what he's dealing with and the intersection of that. But at times I sense a narcissism -- not a narcissism, but they know there's many forces they're dealing with, and maybe they're dealing with music as a force within that, a self-imposed world. They're trying to present maybe this miniature world that's perfect and they don't really care about the outside. I don't think they had any need to make society a certain thing, and in some cases there's such a level of -- narcissism's not quite the word, but a self-indulgence -- not in music, but in a personal lifestyle, that I don't think they even gave a fuck. I think maybe there was even a certain hedonism involved. In SOME individuals. (Laughs) I want to very clear about that. And I think you know what I'm speaking of (laughs) when I say that.
PSF: Even somebody like Duke could talk about that, though it would go over people's heads. Duke could say something with such tact. I remember seeing him, very late in his life, on some talk show, and they were talking about life on the road. And he said something like, "Well, I didn't get these bags under my eyes from staying up late practicing piano."
Actually, I wasn't talking about him.
PSF: But he had so much class personally that people would miss it.
Well, he was a master psychologist.
PSF: That's true. In many ways, yes.
Master group leader, master organizer, master, um . . . he's a master master. (Laughs) But my original point was about that punk aesthetic and how weird it is to see Lincoln Center presenting concerts the music of Monk or Charlie Parker, but they do it in the realm of old Caucasian money, presenting them in tuxedos --
PSF: Like in a museum.
In a classical museum kind of setting, just how funny that clash between the genesis of the gesture . . .
PSF: That context is lost.
PSF: And obviously some people look down at the music, I'm talking about Wynton and the neo-classicists, as some people call them -- I don't have a particular ax to grind against them --
No, I don't either. But I will say this -- that musical language is an alive force. And given that as it is, I think anybody, anachronisms -- anything is allowed. I mean, this is an open world. Somebody can come along today that could truly be, for some mysterious reason, tied into that old life force that made music what it was in the Forties, and they could do that with verve and with, um . . .
PSF: No pun intended.
Yeah, (laughs) no pun intended. With the real understanding of what that language was, and I think there are people that do that. I think there's -- and I'm going to use the word -- I think there's neo-cons that are not cons. I think that for whatever reason, that's just the music they love. And there's a place for that in the world; it should be done. But I do think in the context of the Lincoln Center, if you take it as a context and an entity, I do think that the language cannot exist in that envelope. It's like if you take an organism that lives in the water and put it on land, it's going to die. I think it's the same. I think in the context of that place, that language cannot live in there; it just dies in that setting. It's not meant to breathe there. A language is a living thing. You can take any language as having its own subconscious life force and it knows where to go and where not to go. And it -- for obvious reasons -- just can't go up there; the language can't breathe in the Lincoln Center. It cannot exist and it's just that simple. Those tuxedos they wear when they play choke the life out of the music. It can't exist in that environment and it's just that simple. And that is meant as a dogmatic statement. The language is alive and like anything else, it goes to bizarre places. You know, a life force that exists on subconscious realms where humans can't control it, it'll go to a bizarre place and manifest there. And by the time the old Caucasian money catches up with it and puts it in a place like the Lincoln Center, by virtue of it -- the language being an alive force -- it can't be manipulated by the old Caucasian money and it can't breathe -- that's what I call the type of "classical" money that controls it; that's not meant as a racist thing. It can't breathe there; it can't go there. So I mean, it's just a very interesting thing, because by the time an Afro-American like a Wynton or Stanley Crouch can get in a position where they can manipulate the old Caucasian money, and they're Afro-Americans, the language is going to run away from them, because it just can't exist in that envelope, being a live thing.
PSF: Now, Crouch you have a little bit of a personal experience with.
(Laughs) Well, there's no reason to bring it up. Yeah. This is not meant -- I'm actually trying to talk about the metaphysics of language and language being an alive force.
PSF: No, I'm with you, but you bring up Crouch, and he's somebody -- he and Wynton both are people who have used their position to denigrate certain kinds of musicians.
PSF: Which is unfortunate.
Well, it's not unfortunate -- it's evil. I mean -- (Laughs)
No, it's evil for people to get in a position of power, especially in conservative times, when money will obviously flow to the conservative entity. And then to use a position of privilege and money and power that's based in conservatism, to denigrate other people's efforts is evil. I mean, that's evil. That goes beyond, like, I mean, it's the ultimate evil. And that's where they've gone with the Lincoln Center. To me, it's utterly evil.
PSF: Yeah, and I don't want to harp on it, but --
And I don't either.
PSF: But it's sort of this "circle the wagons" thing, where it's like, "We have to protect this art form," that really, in my opinion and yours, probably, doesn't need protecting.
Well, that's the major point. But basically once you get down to it, you can't even look at it as anybody protecting music. It's capitalism. Period. So what you have is this stupid motherfucker -- and, you know, I'm including myself, when I say this -- this stupid motherfucker's out here claiming to be the protector of what art is and this stupid motherfucker's out here claiming it, and basically, everybody's just trying to get paid. Language doesn't need any of our protection -- it's what it is; it will manifest itself for whatever reasons it chooses to: mystical -- when I say mystical, I'm including the idea of a musician getting paid, economics, as a mystical language -- so mysticism, that word, is encompassing a lot of things right now. The language doesn't need any of our protection. We're all human beings out here, trying to make ourselves happy in our own lifestyle with the decisions we make in life, trying to get paid so we can live a comfortable lifestyle. And then trying to put our work out here so people can get a chance to get to it for whatever uses it will have in their life, [if it] inspires them in their own work, in a political way, in a mystical way, and just a relaxation way. But the bottom line is all of us in the media -- musicians, myself included -- put ourselves out here in a position like we're the ones trying to define what art is or language is, and the language does NOT need us. (Laughs) If we weren't here, it would manifest through somebody else.
PSF: You've each got your own voice. and why should one voice say, "I'm the language?"
PSF: The thing is, you say there's a place for what Wynton does, but he doesn't feel the same way back.
Right. Well, that's the thing. There's a place for what he does but when you really look at him, he's an academic, and that's the bottom line. And these are academic times, so a lot of times the musicians in this time that get over are academics. And there's a fear for a musician being able to get over -- Monk got over, eventually, over a period of decades -- for people to deal with his music for what it was, his music. That idea in the modern world is almost impossible for anybody to get to. They have to have a reason to deal with it. You were talking earlier about the idea that somebody can see it on paper; that's a way for them to psychologically get to it. And it all gets to this ingrained academicism that exists in society today. Wynton Marsalis is an easy figure for people to digest because he's an academic, whereas I think a Charlie Parker or a Monk or the figures that we have come to know in jazz are not academics. But in this period, for a jazz musician to actually be digestible, he's had to be an academic. The idea of somebody relating to someone's music for what it is -- their music -- is something that somebody can't get to as an idea. It's almost like, "What? How dare you?" Getting back to the punk aesthetic and then the idea of the energy behind Charlie Parker and Monk -- which is radically different, which we've covered, than the kind of energy behind Duke Ellington -- and then the energy behind Wynton Marsalis . . . there's a lot for people to think about. There's just a lot.
All of us are out here trying to get people to buy our CD's, but at the bottom line, you really got to deal with the language for what it is and you got to deal with society for what it is. In a certain way, you just got to look at the language you're dealing with and realize it's just not easily digestible in society for these reasons. But then at the same time, your presentation of it can't be elitist, because that's what scares a lot of people off. There has to be a balance between knowing the stance is maybe confrontational or not easily digestible, because of the preconceptions people have for these reasons, and presenting your thing in a way that's not elitist. You know, Monk, playing his licks and then getting up, doing his little dance at the piano because he's Monk. That's part of his language. It somehow comes down to having a real sincerity, and if there's a real sincerity and organic quality that's generated from the sincerity of the language, you know, then communication will occur.
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