May 29, 2024

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Interview with Paul Austerlitz: If I feel that I’ve reached a point … Video

Jazz interview with jazz ethnomusicologist and bass clarinetist Paul Austerlitz. An interview by email in writing. – When you improvise, you know where you’re going. It’s a matter of taking certain paths and certain directions?

Paul Austerlitz: – Improvisers of course, generally, have some kind of template in mind before diving into the sound; even in free improvisation, this is true to a certain extent. The magic of making music in the moment, howeve, really happens in interaction with other musicians, and even with the audience. As a player, I never know what the other cats are going to do, and that’s what inspires me. I’ll play something, and then listen for the response. Based on what I hear, I offer something else. Before we know it we’re in a sea of sound, in which cause and effect dovetail, creating a audible collective consciousness.

JBN: – Do you ever get the feeling that music majors, and particularly people who are going into jazz, are being cranked out much like business majors? That they are not really able to express themselves as jazz musicians?

PA: – With the institutionalization of jazz, it’s inevitable that students will come out playing in more prescribed ways. This is often criticized, ans perhaps rightly so. On the other hand, the young players, In my view are doing a great job. They’re expressing themselves in the way that they can express them selves right now. As they mature, they will settle into their own identities as musicians. My friend John Chernoff wrote a book called “African Music and African Sensibility” which shows that among the Dagomba people of Ghana, old musicians are valued because they play“cool;“ they play from a relaxed place where improvisations are appropriate for the musical and social setting. Young players play “hot“; they have so much fire and ideas that they lose sight of the larger sound context as well as the larger social implications of their contributions as artists. But the beauty is that young people grow up and become old players. I think that’s ok; it’s  just the way of the world.

JBN: – What about somebody who is really gifted and puts together a band and just gets upset to the point of quitting because of the business aspects-the agents and the clubs?

PA: – The economic challenges of playing a spiritually motivated music such as so-called jazz in our capitalist society are formidable. It’s certainly understandable that many players  become frustrated. And one time, playing this music was a solid career, something that people could rely on to support their families. Now, it has become almost a spiritual path; people do it in spite of the economics, not because of the economics. This is a sad state of affairs perhaps, but on the other hand, there’s something beautiful about it; it’s amazing how many people choose to play jazz in spite of all the economic problems. That’s also inspiring.

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

PA: – Interesting question. For me, possessing multifarious influences is not a detriment. Building upon my core influences from my mentor Milford Graves to luminaries such as John Coltrane, and Jimi Hendrix, I’ve had the privilege of delving deeply into the music of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Finland, where I was bon ( although I grew up in New York City).  Influences from these and other world traditions come together in my being, and they’re all expressed in my music. And come to think about it, every sound that I’ve ever heard, and every emotion that I’ve ever held felt, every thought I’ve ever had, all come together into my music. I like having lots of influences. Charlie Parker said “if you don’t live it it won’t come out of your horn.  Building on that, I would say this: “everything you live does come out of your horn.“

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

PA: – Wow, another excellent question!  I am proud that musician and music critic Allen Lowe once wrote that my playing demonstrates that “intellect IS feeling.“.  I’ve always tried to break past the Cartesian mind-body bifurcation. If you play pay close attention attention to your inner ear, listening to your heartbeat,  to your breath, to any wisdom that you may come out of your gut, you will be in touch with a highly developed plane of consciousness based on both soul as well as analytic processes. For me, if I feel that I’ve reached a point where the bifurcation of thinking and feeling. is no more.  I hope it comes through in my music.

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

PA: – In pop music, or rock ‘n’ roll, the point is to entertain. Jazz also grew out of popular dance traditions, and the audience traditionally had a big role in influencing what happened on the jazz bandstand. Many jazzers, of course, moved away from caring about the audience. I think it’s OK to approach this in various ways. Of course jazz today is not primarily made to please the listener.  To a certain extent it’s a kind of meditation that musicians make among themselves, which audience members are invited to hear. At the same time, I dig connecting with audiences, and the things that I like are usually the same things audiences like, so there’s no conflict there. My mentor, Milford Graves, always taught me that there were three kinds of music: 1) music that you play for the audience, 2) music that you play for the clique, music that is  for other musicians, and 3) music that you play just for yourself, when you’re alone, like a solo meditation.  Professor Graves says that all three kinds are important, but it’s important to know what you’re aiming for, even if you’re blending aspects of the three. Does that make sense?

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

PA: – I recently played in the Dominican Republic with the great singer and drummer Jose Duluc, who is featured on my “Dr. Merengue” album.  After we played the head, we started engaging the audience, getting them to dance, and responding to their vibe: the interaction was transcendental!

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

PA: – I think that the jazz education scene on the primary school level is really remarkable these days. I have observed children from age 6 to 14, learning  jazz improvisational techniques at an amazing pace of discovery. At that age, their minds are like sponges! In fact, to me, the most interesting thing about the jazz scene today is the way that very young people are learning. As we know, young people learn foreign languages quickly. It’s the same with improvisation. So I’m not worried about jazz surviving among the younger generation. I’m more worried about older people being comfortable with changes in the world.  Remember, jazz is just a word, and creativity will never go away whatever happens to any particular genre of music.

JBN: – And lastly, being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?

PA: – Professionally, I work as a college professor, as well as a researcher in the field of ethnomusicology.  Of course it’s a challenge to also work as a professional musician but frankly, all my endeavors build on each other. As I mentioned earlier my compositions and improvisation grow from my ethnomusicological work. My playing also grows from my teaching, because as I break things down and help young people to learn, I’m actually teaching myself. So for me it’s all part of one circle.

JBN: – How important is it to you to have an original approach? Can you comment on the bridge between being a musician and being a composer? Do you have an idea of what it is you’re trying to say or get across? Is it an idea or is it just something that we feel?

PA: – As I mentioned before, my approach is the sum total of all the influences in my life. So my sound ends up being original, it’s just because no one else has my personality. I focus on the bass clarinet, merengue, and Vodou.  I’m not seeking to be different, or to be original, but because nobody else plays Vodou-merengue bass clarinet, my sound ends up being a personal statement. My horn is me.

JBN: – What do you see for your extended future? You know what you have going on? You have life?If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

PA: – Moving to the future, I’d like to continue building on what I’m doing now. I want to keep  playing with good players, and keep playing for open minded audiences.

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

PA: – Lately, I listen mainly to ritual music from Haiti, as well as the Dominican Republic. Many people don’t realize that the Vodou traditions also exist in the Dominican republic. I love listen to a lot of this music, especially in live ritual settings.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

PA: – I guess, implicitly, the confluence of world influences in my music conveys a message of world unity. Pulling together music from my own European background, with decades of experience in Afro Caribbean cultures, as well as grounding in the jazz tradition,doing all this in one breath may just mean that there is some kind of global unity as possible on this planet after all.

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

PA: – Well, from a Jazz perspective I’d love to go to 52nd St. in the 1940s and 1950s to hear the music and feel the vibe. At the same time, really I’m too focused on the now to really think about moving into the past. And as far as taking the time machine to the future:  no, I’m OK, I don’t really need to know what’s going to happen, ha ha!

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

PA: – What are you trying to get at with your questions?

JBN: – And we and our every day more 63 000 + readers want to know from musicians who are with intelligence, who are not.

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

PA: – I’m just trying to be the best person I can, the best musician I can, stay healthy, and be a positive force in this world.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Картинки по запросу Paul Austerlitz

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