This interview was first published in December 1999.
Imagine for a moment that you are a graduate student of American history. The twist to this premise is that you are alive 10,000 years from now. As part of your research you are investigating life in 20th century America. Your goal is to attempt an explanation of life in America through examination of 20th century American music. Assume also that wonderful resources such as All About Jazz have moved on to the electromagnetic afterlife and that your sole source of information is the music itself. Given this set of circumstances, you are not examining 'music history' but instead "music as history. What might you conclude or infer and how might you hear if exposed to the music of Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, George Crumb, Harry Partch, Terry Riley, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Albert King, Hank Williams, Cole Porter, and Rodgers/Hart if considering them as contemporaries ? (remember, that 10,000 years from now, our present century will be less than 1% of American history)
Now take the next step and assume that you somehow discover that jazz musicians of the 20th century were often concerned with capturing the moment and/or were creatively motivated and inspired by socio-political events. You might not realize that the "moment was generally a very small temporal window (seconds, minutes, hours) and existing within a highly localized geography (e.g., a recording studio, rehearsal space, nightclub, concert hall, etc.) with a relatively small set of participants (band members, recording personnel, audience). As a historian, you might naturally expand both the temporal window and the geography in order to get a bigger picture (which would be consistent with preserving a discrete period of time via an aural document). Given this perspective, what might you conclude or infer and how might you hear if exposed to the music of Louis Armstrong, Eubie Blake, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, Herbie Nichols, Anthony Braxton, Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell, Gerry Hemingway, Tim Berne, and Dave Douglas if considering them as contemporaries?
Given that this article is written post-Thanksgiving 1999, the above speculative scenario and inquiries could well be the result of an overdose of festive spirit, roasted turkey and red wine (patriotism, nitrosamines, and alcohol's scary mix indeed).
On the other hand, it cannot be denied that America 1999 is still quite a young nation. Given that music is historically viewed as evolving slowly (remember, hybridization and mutation are not the same as evolution), but that America had very little pre-existing culture plus that Americans are supposed to be genetically pre-disposed to revolution, rebellion, resistance (a new take on the three r's) and independence of thought (this last being my own favorite traditional family value), it can easily be postulated that as a nation, America has authored its own music. Although jazz has been suggested to be America's only true native art form, the various advocates of maintaining the "purity of jazz seem to vacillate over if this simply means that additional elements should be excluded or whether it denies or revels in its inherently ''mutt qualities (blues, gospel, etc.).
Analysis, arguments, and theory aside, one would ultimately hope that everyone reading this would agree that America is blessed with a vast and rich musical heritage, one that should be deeply drawn upon for hope and inspiration in the coming century.
One young musician who seems to incorporate this aesthetic into his music is saxophonist/composer/bandleader Rob Reddy.
Although Reddy would seem to prefer not to use the word jazz to describe his music, the two CDs recorded by his longest standing ensemble, The Honor System, are a clearly worthy and nearly inevitable manifestation of the music that has historically preceded them. Convenient points of reference (and I emphasize the word "reference ) are the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Ornette Coleman's Prime Time, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Albert Ayler, Henry Threadgill, Reggie Workman, Louis Armstrong's Hot Seven, and, naturally, the music which infuses the work of these great artists as well.
Of Songs That You Can Trust (Koch Jazz, 1999), the latest CD from Rob Reddy's Honor System, AAJ's Glenn Astarita writes:
Your speakers are liable to wilt and degenerate into molten rubble while playing the opening track. After listening to this recording it is easy to visualize the sweat dripping from the musician's faces as if we had just witnessed a live performance. These gents put every ounce of effort they can muster into their performances and it shows. The message here conveys tons of impact, zestful compositions, clever arrangements and heated soloing as the "Honor System means what they say. Reddy, along with an assemblage of top-flight proven jazz warriors bring it on home, featuring thrills and excitement along the way. Songs That You Can Trust is just that!
In summary, Rob Reddy's music is truly American: confident without being arrogant, brash but not swaggering, and celebratory to the point of boisterousness and joyous unrestraint.
But most of all it's fun. It doesn't require analysis. You don't need to be a graduate student of anything just to savor and enjoy. All you need is a set of ears. Just listen.
To help celebrate the release of Songs That You Can Trust, Rob Reddy graciously agreed to an interview with All About Jazz. This interview was conducted via e-mail in November 1999.
All About Jazz: Let's start with the obligatory biographical info. Please tell the AAJ readers a little bit about yourself (e.g., when and where you were born and raised, what are your earliest musical memories, etc.)
Rob Reddy: I was born ('66) and raised in Kings Park, Long Island, which is just about an hour outside NYC. Its funny, your question made me think of what my earliest memory was...the Moon landing ('69, I think). Anyway, I am the youngest of six children and there was quite a bit of Music (amongst all the other noise) in the house. Mostly Popular Music of the time, a lot of rock and folk and some R&BBeatles, Hendrix, Joni, Stevie, Zeppelin, etc. I really got into it relatively early on. I loved trying to save up some money to buy an album (I worked in my father's delicatessen at a very early age). I was a fanatic about reading and memorizing creditsmusicians, dates, just general liner note info. Can't quite tell you why.