“The memories that stop being memories due to constant use…”
“Beauty is a puppet that keeps dangling in front of me.”
((Rogueart): 247 pages + CD)
Not since John Zorn’s Arcana project and Art Taylor’s Notes and Tones (which bassist William Parker says in his brief intro is the book that inspired him to do this project) has there been a book of interviews so vital, so down-to-earth, and so personal as this one. What we have here is 34 interviews conducted by Parker over approximately the last decade, 30 of which are with free jazz/improvisers, two with new music composers. There are also interviews with his wife Patricia Nicholson Parker—a dancer and organizer of such events as the ongoing Vision Festival—and photographer Jacques Bisceglia, who also contributed a beautiful centerfold (27 photos, many in color) of most of the artists interviewed, and with whom I had the privilege of collaborating on another Rogueart project (Reaching into the Unknown). Though primarily known as an independent CD label out of Paris, Rogueart has thus far published three books, the two just mentioned and another, Logos and Language, a collaboration between pianist Matthew Shipp and me.
As Parker points out, these talks represent “oral histories” by artists who have dealt in and with the creative process and all its joys, hardships, and discoveries. He states that one of his goals for this collection is to bring these artists out of the realms of myth and more into the realms of reality. Their range runs the gamut from the well-known to the lesser known to the almost obscure, and hopefully one thing this book will do is familiarize people with their lives and make them want to go out and hear their art.
We are also fortunate enough to have interviews with musicians who only just recently left us, like Billy Bang and Fred Anderson, as well as Frank Lowe, who departed a few years back and whom Parker got to interview in his hospital bed while he was dying.
Parker’s book includes many of the first wave of avant-garde players, like Dave Burrell, Sunny Murray, Alan Silva, and Milford Graves, who state that it’s about what we smell, taste, and hear; the sound spectrum, the frequency spectrum; not to recall the same note, but to adjust to the vibration—a musician’s job is to be the receptor of the vibrations of the planet. What we continually learn from these masters is their complete devotion to their art and why they do what they do. Cooper-Moore puts it this way: “Music gives people great relief … that’s why I do it.” What we constantly see is how these artists grew up, thrived, learned, and developed their craft. We hear their fundamental ideas about the music and how they came to play it or arrived at their process—or, as with Patricia N. Parker and Bisceglia, how they came to play an active role in the “scene.”
Billy Bang, a Vietnam veteran, talks about growing up in Harlem and how his time in Vietnam affected both him and his music. (Later in life Billy made two CDs based on his experiences there, and used musicians who had also served there.) “Vietnam has been such a big influence on me,” Bang says. “That’s why I dedicated myself to music.” Parker at one point says that after hearing about the horrific experiences Bang went through, “those people who sent anybody there should be locked up”—to which Billy readily agrees. When Bang talks about why/how he plays the violin, he states that besides the human voice the violin is an early instrument, and that rather than try to become a unique voice on it he decided to dedicate and commit himself to investigating this area and the instrument’s range and tradition.
Each interview in Parker’s book is prefaced with a beautiful take by Parker on the musician he will speak to, always asking the question, “why do you do this?” One reply, from Chinese composer Ge Gan-ru, is simply, “I don’t know... but this I do know: I cannot live without the music.”
Parker’s interviews are of varying lengths, as short as eight pages and as long as 20. The accompanying CD contains 45 short tracks containing snippets of the interviewees interspersed with short solo bass pieces by Parker.
This is both a learning and survival manual, or as Parker puts it, “Everyone has a story that is part of the continuum … a small piece of the puzzle that is creativity.” So if you want to educate yourself a bit more, pick up this book, listen to these 34 songs from cover to cover, then turn the pages and listen some more to the “sound, movement, and color” that come deep out of the well of creativity. And each time you’ll hear (read) something fresh, different, and new. Sound is a very personal thing, and there is a wealth of knowledge to be absorbed, digested, and learned from all these unique individuals, their unrestrained voices, and the candid music of their language, emotions, and thought.