June 14, 2024

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Interview with Darrell Katz: I’m 67, and I cannot claim to know “the meaning of life”. It’s a mystery: Video

Jazz interview with jazz composer Darrell Katz. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Darrell Katz: – I grew up in Topeka Kansas. Music got me interested in music … my father listened to lots of jazz and classical music, so I grew up in a house full of music.  When I was very young, my father took me to concerts of the local big band, the Topeka Jazz Workshop … I can still remember a few of the songs they played. In sixth grade: I discovered top 40 radio. In third grade, I played the clarinet … in eighth grade, I got an electric guitar, and took up rock music. Followed by a big interest in blues and the soul music of the 60’s, later jazz and classical music. I was 25 before I realized I wanted to be a composer.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

DK: – My compositional style has grown and changed in many ways over the years. I have a lot of different interests, and a wide variety of influences and inspirations. As I said, I got into composing late, until then, my aspirations were to be a guitar player and a novelist. My first arranging experience, thought I didn’t think of it that way at the time, was arranging the tunes I played in rock group…And later, at first, like my people, I was trying to emulate things…like Thad Jones, Mingus, Monk…but I’ve long since left that behind, for better or worse, I am mostly influenced by myself., despite being inspired by countless things. Things that interest me include: setting text to music, it’s what I feel that I’m best at…collective improvisation, controlled by the composer/conductor, but combined with extensive writing, blues, expanded forms, 20th century harmony. I think of myself as a story teller more than anything else.  As I said, early on, I wanted to be a writer of fiction, and I found composing music and writing words to involve mostly the same parts of myself. For the first ten or fifteen years, I was writing instrumental music, but then setting prose and poetry became my big interest, and it felt very related to my earlier literary aspirations.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

DK: – Are you asking about my guitar playing? I’ve released 12 albums. 4 were with the collective group of JCA composers, the others were all mine. On all 12, I’ve played guitar on three tracks, and rarely played in our concerts. I’d much rather have our regular guitarist, Norm Zocher, play my music than do it myself. I did play on one track on the new CD: it’s a very personal statement, that song (Red Sea). The rest of the tracks with guitar are Norm. I still practice the guitar, but I rarely play, and I haven’t even come close to having the skills or expression on my instrument than I have as a composer (plus, now arthritis in my hands has become a big issue). In composing, I am very concerned with rhythm…when setting poetry to music, I generally start with the words. I come up a rhythm that lets them speak how I want, and then the pitches, and then what accompanies them (although the process is different in every piece). I am also very interested in rhythmic surprise, hence the asymmetric phrases and mixed meters that I often use: the goal is to not have the phrases end where you might except, and to be moving the downbeats. But: they have to feel like they’re flowing and natural, not contrived, and serving a real purpose…some metric things are carefully constructed, others are purely spontaneous; it’s how I hear. But it’s also something that I work at…I focus on: adding or deleting measures from a phrase, adding or deleting beats from a measure, and adding and deleting duration from beats. As a composer, you don’t practice in the same way that you do on instrument, but still: I read, I study scores, I try things just to see if I can write them. Learning music NEVER stops.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

DK: – This question is odd for me … I don’t really consider myself a guitar player. I’m a composer. I have enough musicality to play the instrument a little (but I’m limited), but I have NEVER developed a real voice on the instrument, though I have (I hope) as a composer. I love playing and have done it all my life. My own playing is more conservative and “straight ahead” than my compositional style, and I can’t produce the kind of intensity that I often seek from soloists.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

DK: – I thrive on disparate influences. I jokingly described my piece Manic Depression/Variations On A Theme By Jimi Hendrix, as celebrating the night that Jimi Hendrix and Igor Stravinsky got into a fight while having dinner at Duke Ellington’s house (and then: were chilled out by Sun Ra. Afterwards, they drank cognac and smoked cigars), but there’s some truth to it.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

DK: – As Satchmo famously said, “If you don’t understand it, don’t mess with it.” Louis Armstrong.

You can’t have one without the other. I hope that I’ve found a balance; it’s hard to thing to judge about one’s self.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

DK: – I studied with George Russell. He told me that he always wrote as if HE were sitting in the audience…he wrote music that he’d like to listen to. And that’s what I do: I try to write music that I would want to listen to. I hope the audience likes it too. I think I have good taste.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us? 

DK: – One of my most ambitious compositions was The Death Of Simone Weil, which is a 65-minute-long setting of a narrative poem (by Paula Tatarunis) about the French writer/philosopher. Many parts of it have been played separately over the years, but only twice has the whole thing been played (the earlier performance resulted in an album on Innova), and both times, despite it being difficult to conduct something so long I was in a good place….and the over an hour performances went by like time had ceased to exist…that’s music is when it’s at it’s best: completely in the moment.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

DK: – I’m not sure, but: I don’t think the standard tunes are as important as they once were. So many current jazz performers are focused on their own compositions. Two weeks ago, the JCA Orchestra put on a concert, and various connections led to having 150 high school students in the house, along with our regular audience. They were wildly enthusiastic. They didn’t know who we were, and my guess is that they’d never heard music like ours. But performing for them was joyful.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

DK: – I’m 67, and I cannot claim to know “the meaning of life”. It’s a mystery. But music is probably the most spiritual part of my life. At the best moments, both writing and performing (as a conductor of my music) I feel connected to something…

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

DK: – I’d bring back record stores, ban digital music, and have lots of jazz clubs open. And increase funding for the arts…but none of those things are going to happen. A realistic change…. don’t know…. I think this is not a good era for music.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

DK: – My number one thing is always Duke Ellington. I listen to a lot of current and recent composers, like Louis Andriessen, Lutoslawski, Rzewski, Ligeti. I love Bach, Ornette Coleman, B.B King, Muddy Waters. Mavis Staples. The Soul Stirrers. Bobby Previte, Tim Berne, Oliver Lake, Jason Moran. The Band and the Beatles. Great jazz peformers from every era, Fats Waller to Cecil Taylor, all of the greats like Coltrane, Parker, Dolphy, Mingus. Gospel quartets. Lake Street Dive. I try to listen to music that’s new to me all the time, but: there is SO much music in the world. Like, for instance, I keep thinking I should listen to more world music, but it’s hard to get to everything.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

DK: – NOT into the future; Trump and others are destroying the world, and I fear that they might get even worse. I don’t really ever think about moving through time, but: would be great to be around in any of the previous eras…30’s, 40’s, 50’s….for me, maybe the 60’s and 70’s would be good, I think I’d fit in (I mean, I was around in the those times, but I mean: an older, wiser me).

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

DK: – Oh … what do you have to say about the new album? Did you write a review of it?

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

DK: – I don’t understand this question, I guess. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to get everything I want into music, but I am always trying.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Картинки по запросу Darrell Katz

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