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Brian Carpenter: In Between The Cracks

Brian Carpenter: In Between The Cracks
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To write that Brian Carpenter has had an interesting career would be an incomplete statement since he holds so many. By day Carpenter is an engineer, but there's also his radio shows, his acting career, a film he's working on about Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
, his band Brian Carpenter and the Confessions where he sings and composes, and more befitting for our purposes, there are his two groups, Beat Circus and The Ghost Train Orchestra.

A quick glance into Beat Circus and Ghost Train Orchestra's music could put the listener in disarray and leave them wondering if both groups contain the same Brian Carpenter. Beat Circus is an Americana and country type group with flashes of avant-garde while Ghost Train Orchestra was conceived as part of a commission to play music from the early swing era. But there are connections and similarities that lie in both groups (not counting Carpenter's involvement). The connection is in the spirit of both the music of Beat Circus and Ghost Train Orchestra. Both groups are very—for lack of a better term—weird. But strangeness isn't necessarily a bad critique, it's just a visceral reaction the listener normally clings to when being presented by music that s/he is not accustomed to. This is what Brian Carpenter relishes, bringing in music that falls by the wayside of today's—and yesterday's—music in order to share them with his audience.

All About Jazz: During a previous interview, I heard that you were playing really complex Don Ellis
Don Ellis
Don Ellis
1934 - 1978
trumpet
charts during high school? That must have been super hard. What was that like?

Brian Carpenter: That band was led by a guy named Mark Nelson who was in his second year as a band director, so he was very enthusiastic and ambitious. [Nelson] brought in all these kind of complex arrangements by Bob Curnow—who was a great arranger for the Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
1911 - 1979
piano
band—and some Don Ellis things. It was an eye opener to arranging for a trumpet player—or any musician playing in those bands. At that time I had only played classical music. I started out playing trumpet, but just like you [would] normally do in a middle school, and then I got into jazz in high school due to this particular band director.

He would bring in all these really hard charts. I don't know if we played them that well. I think it was a pretty good band; I'm sure if I heard it now I would be horrified. But it was a lot of fun to play those because it wasn't standards. One of the things he did was bring Bob Curnow arrangements of Blood Sweat & Tears tunes. It was from a record called Stan Kenton Plays Chicago (Creative World, 1974). [Nelson] grew up playing in the '70s and went to college during that time, so he brought in all the stuff that he liked, and Stan Kenton Plays Chicago was one of the records that he liked. It was Stan Kenton's band playing early arrangements of Chicago and early Blood Sweat & Tears and it's crazy!

We played a few charts off of that and it was super inspirational. The material was really bizarre and I think that [Nelson] was the one who turned me onto Don Ellis. I think we played a couple of Don Ellis pieces, but I don't remember what they were. But I don't think they were anything like what you might be thinking, like things that are in 19/4 or something like that.

AAJ: That was my next question actually. I was under the impression that you were playing really difficult meters. Even something in 7/4 would be difficult for a high school student.

BC: [Laughs] No, I think even the Don Ellis charts might have been in 5/4 or maybe 7/4. But it was progressive for a high school band. It was just an ambitious band director. He was young and ambitious so he was like, "I'm going to try these things out with my top jazz band and see if we can do them." I don't know where he got the arrangements for it, maybe UNT? He was basically playing college charts for a high school band.

AAJ: I know that you have a healthy respect for third stream jazz. When did you become aware of third stream? Was it around the same time you were playing in this high school band, or was it during college?

BC: I think it was during college, I think I got introduced to Carla Bley
Carla Bley
Carla Bley
b.1938
piano
by a friend who was in Sam Rivers
Sam Rivers
Sam Rivers
1923 - 2011
sax, tenor
' big band. Sam Rivers was an amazing multi-instrumentalist and composer who passed away not too long ago. I knew him really well, he moved to Florida. He kind of retired down in Florida, but he didn't really retire. He was still playing and writing all the way up to his '80s.

He had this big band—a lot of my friends played on this big band—and one of the guys said, "If you like this band, you should listen to Carla Bley." So that was my introduction to Carla Bley, and I went out and bought all these Carla Bley records. I really liked her writing. I got into Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
1937 - 2014
bass, acoustic
through that; it was not until I got into Carla Bley that I realized that she was involved in Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra (Impluse! 1969) and that's how I got that record.

When I was in college, I was really interested in Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
as a trumpet player. Every trumpet player has to go through a Miles thing. I got a lot of those records; I still have the vinyl of Miles Ahead (Columbia, 1957), Sketches In Spain (Columbia, 1960), and Porgy & Bess (Columba, 1958). But it wasn't until much later— decades later—that I was listening to those records with an ear for arranging. That's what's so interesting, you can listen to those records as trumpet player and be blown away by Miles, and then you can listen to them as an arranger and be blown away by Gil Evans
Gil Evans
Gil Evans
1912 - 1988
composer/conductor
.

I've had those records forever and I pulled them out about five years ago. I listened to them again and said, "This arranging is so brilliant!" [Evans]' use of the tuba in Miles Ahead is just amazing! His use of the low brass and French horn— instruments you don't usually associate with jazz—was very informative.

So the Ghost Train Orchestra is an arranging vehicle for me. I'm using that as way to learn arranging and voicings in order to apply it to original music that I'm writing. That's how that band is a challenge for me.

AAJ: Did you get most of your arranging chops from listening to these records or did you ever formally study with someone?

BC: I never went to music school and never studied with anybody. It was really more of sitting down and seeing if I could figure it out. It took a long time at first to transcribe those pieces and now I'm so much faster because I can hear better, my ear is attuned to those kinds of voicings, and I can pick up things better. But I think you learn best by doing. A lot of times I would bring in charts and the band would say, "This doesn't sound right, the clarinet should be lower." A lot of these things—for a while—was kind of trial and error. I would bring in charts [that] wouldn't sound exactly right; there would be a reed section that didn't sound exactly right. So I would go back and maybe take it down an octave or change a voicing. But there's very little of that now because I've learned how to do it. Over the course of 10 years I've sort of learned how to do it.

In terms of transcribing, I just try to take some of the voicings and I try to forget about it. I have a turntable that has a usb cable and connects to my computer, so I have a digital version of what I'm transcribing. So I don't have to sit by the turntable and listen to the record a thousand times. With the digital version, it's much easier to pick out a particular section that might be hard to hear. I think the idea is to transcribe what you need to then re-arrange for this particular band because the instrumentation is different, I might want to open it up for improvisation, or I might have different idea for an ending. It's not exactly the same. In some cases it's wildly different, it just depends on the piece. There are some pieces that I might want to take into a whole different direction, other pieces some good the way it is, or maybe I want to put an ending somewhere. So there are a lot of liberties taken when it comes to that.

But you can learn it on your own; it just takes a lot longer. If I had gone to music school, I probably would have had the arrangements done a lot quicker earlier on in my career. I would have known how to voice particular instruments. But you know, that was the great thing about having a working band; you could basically use the band as feedback.

AAJ: Let's talk about instrumentation on Ghost Train Orchestra's latest record, Book Of Rhapsodies (Accurate, 2013). Billy Kyle
Billy Kyle
b.1914
played piano on John Kirby
John Kirby
1908 - 1942
bass, acoustic
's Sextet and there's a keyboard instrument on Alec Wilder's recording of "It's Silk, Feel It!" Is your decision to leave out a keyboard instrument for this project come down to timbre? Or is there something about guitarists that you prefer?

BC: It really came down to the people in the band. The original idea behind the band came out of a commission for doing a series of shows at a theater. The idea behind that was [that] was really interested in music from 1926 to 1931 so I wanted to play their instrumentation, which is three reeds, tuba, trombone, banjo, drums, trumpet, and violin so you have a nine-piece band. So the core of the band came out of that commission and when it came time to do this record, I really didn't see any need to add a pianist. It just felt like I wanted to work with this guitarist that I've known for a long time named Avi Bortnick who I met in Florida in the mid '90s. Like I said, it came down to the people, who have you always wanted to work with, and I wanted to work with Avi. I also wanted to bring in a bassist, so that's how Michael Bates came in for this record.

I think what you're hearing in the Alec Wilder thing is a harpsichord, which is really interesting that Alec Wilder was interested in the harpsichord and actually built the octets around the harpsichord. So I felt to have that done on a piano would have been disrespectful because the harpsichord is such a strange sounding instrument. Actually, the guitar sounds closer to the harpsichord than the piano because of the plucking nature of the instrument. So I just felt like, "Well, let's see how the guitar sounds." I don't know why I was hearing guitar, I knew that I wanted to work with Avi and I knew that there were some pieces that I had in mind for guitar, so I might have felt that it would be more interesting. Plus the guitar has all this spectrum of sounds; every solo he takes has a different sound. There's a surf guitar solo sound on one song, there's another song that sounds psychedelic, he might use a roto-box pedal on one song, and use a fuzz box on the other. And the thing with the guitar is that it just gives you this huge open vocabulary you can use that you can't really get with a piano. So those [might] have been the things that might have been going through my head in terms of instrumentation.

But I think it really came down with wanting to work with Avi. It's funny when someone comes back into your life 20 years later you know? Before the rehearsal I hadn't seen him in probably 15 years.

AAJ: What did you guys work on before?

BC: He's from the Bay Area and he moved to Gainesville, Florida to pursue a Master's Degree in Acoustical Engineering and for that short period of time, maybe two or three years, we played in some funk bands. Right after that, he got the gig with John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
. I think Scofield was originally using Charlie Hunter
Charlie Hunter
Charlie Hunter

guitar, 8-string
at the that time but Charlie Hunter was unavailable so he brought in Avi and they've been working together ever since.

But he moved back to the Bay Area and it wasn't until after he moved to New York that I was like "I have to look him up." I was trying to find a vehicle—a project—that could work. The funny thing is, he's known as one of the world's great rhythm guitar players, but he doesn't play any rhythm guitar in this record.

AAJ: Let's stay with the topic of instrumentation. What made you want to use a choir on this record?

BC: I love choirs and when I was listening to the Alec Wilder pieces, I found myself singing along, and I asked myself "Why am I singing along to these strange pieces?" I realized—while listening to it—that [Wilder] is doing a lot of contrapuntal writing because he's a big fan of Bach and he was taking that into his work with the octet. So I thought it would be interesting to have a choir and have each voice singing different contrapuntal melodies. That's where the idea came from. But I also just love the voice. I think the voice is so expressive if you can use as an instrument. We actually used a lot more choir than we ended up using.

AAJ: Really? So there's more than what was released on Book Of Rhapsodies?

BC: Yeah, there's a second volume of this that we might put out in the next couple of years.

AAJ: Wow, I can't wait to hear those.

BC: Yeah, but a lot of it didn't work. We recorded choir on "The Children Met the Train," but it didn't need it. But on "Dance Man Buys a Farm," I can't even imagine that [song] without the choir because the choir adds so much to it. It's funny because I was reading a book, an Alec Wilder biography, [and] somebody was quoted saying that the Swingle Singers—this French pop vocal group—was doing what Alec Wilder was doing 30 years earlier. The Swingle Singers, their claim to fame was taking Bach pieces and setting them to voice and having them swing. Alec Wilder was doing that with original music back in the late 1930s. What I was trying to figure out when I was listening to it was that I couldn't really figure out another composer who did contrapuntal writing in jazz that early. [Wilder] may be the first. If you put voice on top of that and it integrates well then it almost sounds like Swingle Singers because of the nature of the contrapuntal melodies.

It was an experiment and we just brought in this choir. I happen to know some people in New York and Boston that I thought could [sing] it, read it, and nail it. I think we recorded almost 10 songs but we didn't release them all. It was an experiment that worked because the voice is so expressive and the melodies are so strong. Why not have a voice sing the [melodies]? Not to say that the instruments aren't expressive.

But I was hearing the [voices] when I was listening to the records. I was hearing a Swingle Singers thing. It's funny, you almost wonder if the Swingle Singers had heard some of this early Alec Wilder material because that's what it sounds like to me.

It was a blast to record the choir and it was really fun. We could tell during rehearsals that having a choir was really great and we were like, "This is really going to work." Even during the vocal rehearsal we knew it was going to work.

AAJ: The addition of the choir really grounds—not to put a definition or pigeonhole what you're doing- -the music in the whole idea of chamber jazz. Was chamber jazz a term that you coined? Or is this a term that's been around for a while?

BC: I don't know who coined that or who came up with it. Maybe someone else did? I just thought it was a way of describing the [music] in a way that was clear. That this [music] was somewhere between jazz and classical. I think that's actually why the Alec Wilder Octets aren't very well known. I asked musicians—I probably asked 50 musicians in New York, "Have you heard of Alec Wilder?" I probably got two people say, "Oh yeah, I know who that is." Musicians! Not people off the street, musicians! That's stunning! Why is that? I think it's because he's a footnote in the swing era because he didn't adhere to the jazz formula. He wasn't interested in the jazz formula, whatever the formula was, he was writing original music. That's why a lot of these composers that were writing in between the cracks get lost in history.

I love connecting the dots and finding composers that people don't know about or may not know about. It's almost like an honor, you almost become an evangelist like, "Have you heard of this?"

AAJ: You're Alec Wilder's Billy Graham.

BC: [Laughs] Exactly! But so many people didn't know who he was. Maybe this record might change that a little bit. But I would love to keep playing it live— it's very hard to play it live, it's deceptively simple. I think the reason is that the feel constantly changes. Within a piece, there could be straight eights then four bars later it could swing like crazy. That's really strange.

Another thing is that the lead lines are constantly changing. In four bars you could have the clarinet could have the lead melodic line then he hands it off an alto saxophone that has the lead line for seven bars and it's this relay race. There are definitely different melodic voices happening at the same time, but in terms of the arc of the whole piece, the lead melodic line is constantly changing every four or five bars. It's just constantly changing and the ground is constantly shifting. "It's Silk Feel It" is a perfect example of that, the ground is constantly changing every eight bars and that's actually how we mixed it. We would mix eight bars, then go to the next eight bars, and then the next eight bars. Danny Blume—who mixed the record—would ask, "Who has the lead line here?" because it's not really obvious.

It's one thing to mix it and another to play it live. Everybody in the orchestra has to know where the overall arc of the piece. They have to know whether they're supposed to be playing the lead line, loud, or quiet. You don't know that unless you can really hear the whole piece. So it's subtle and it's really hard to play live and we only played two of these Wilder pieces in the CD release show.

You also have to wonder how [Wilder] recorded it too. Did he write all that stuff on the pieces? Did he write swing, light swing, heavy swing, straight eights? What was on the charts? I'd be interested to get some of the charts. I think Gunther Schuller
Gunther Schuller
Gunther Schuller
b.1925
composer/conductor
has some of the original charts. George Schuller
George Schuller
George Schuller
b.1958
drums
told me that Gunther has a few original charts of the Alec Wilder Octets and I just sent him a CD so I'd like to see what he thinks. But I'd like to see those because I'd be interested to see what's on the charts. It would just be interesting to see what [Wilder] wrote there.

AAJ: What do you think are the main differences between the chamber jazz that you're doing and third stream jazz?

BC: Those are just terms, chamber jazz and third stream. I don't really know what those mean except to say that they're meant to instruct the listener that the music is somewhere between the jazz and classical domain. All I can say is the Wilder Octets—if you want to take that as an example—Alec Wilder was using compositional techniques like contrapuntal writing and he was putting that into a jazz domain by virtue of the rhythm section. The rhythm section is swinging on a lot of those pieces. The other thing is that there's not a lot of improvisation in the original Alec Wilder Octets. So that differentiates that music with Gil Evans' big band, Carla Bley's big band, or big bands of the '40s. Although of course, Carla Bley is very progressive in terms of her writing. But Gil Evans, in terms of the stuff he did with Miles was of course all centered on Miles' playing. It was basically meant to be a springboard for Miles.

So every arrangement and every orchestra has different purposes and you can't really come up with a term—well maybe you can—but there's no strong term for it. It all depends on what the arranger had in mind. Gil was thinking about Miles when he arranged all those pieces from Porgy and Bess. Alec Wilder was basically—I think based on interviews—taking his love for Bach, harpsichord, and jazz and putting it together for an original music.

Another thing that was interesting about Alec Wilder was that he was basically told that if he wasn't writing well as Raymond Scott
Raymond Scott
b.1908
, they weren't going to record him. So that was another interesting discovery that no one has talked about. So I think that's where he came up with the weird titles. You can't help but wonder that he knew Raymond Scott's music and he was taking a cue from Raymond Scott in terms of the writing. They're definitely short because of the length of the 78s, but they're very descriptive in terms of the melodies and the worlds they're creating. "Her Old Man Was (At Times) Suspicious" tells a story through music, much like Raymond Scott's music did.

The interesting thing about these discoveries is that it's a community. It's a community of musicians and composers, between 1935 and 1941, who were listening to each other and were influenced by each other. But [they] were writing original music in their own signature way. But you can definitely hear the influences.

In terms of what Gunther was calling third stream, that's all much later. There was a lot of improvisation, whereas these pieces aren't really opened up for improvisation. Even within the Raymond Scott pieces, those improvisations are basically set in stone. If you hear take one and take two, the [solos] are very much the same. So it's a very different time.

But I think when I mention [third stream] in the liner notes, I think what Gunther Schuller was talking about in terms of third stream could be easily applied to Alec Wilder. Like I said, it would be interesting to hear what he says. I didn't talk to him before hand but I think it's interesting that this music is kind of lost.

AAJ: How did you actually stumble upon these composers? Was it a day inside a record store?

BC: It's almost never in a record store. The Alec Wilder was almost stumbling upon a footnote. I was reading a section on something completely different, on John Nesbitt. I was leafing through this book and I saw this huge footnote, it was almost like a David Foster Wallace footnote that took up half a page. So I asked, "What's this all about?" So I ended up reading about Alec Wilder and these strange titles for songs.

That's how I found out about [Wilder]. I think I found a 78 on eBay. I think the first one I bought had "Dance Man Buys A Farm" on side A and side B was "Neurotic Goldfish," which is another crazy piece and I was immediately blown away. We recorded "Neurotic Goldfish" but we didn't [release] it in this particular record.

With this record, I wanted to showcase a community and unity of composers, like I did with the first record. When I found that there was an interview, an audio recording of an interview with Alec Wilder where he talks about this meeting with a Brunswick record producer. The producer mentioned Raymond Scott saying [to] Wilder, "Raymond Scott's really successful. Can you do that?" It was an audio recording and I almost fell out of my chair. I couldn't believe it. It didn't [occur] that the two guys (Scott and Wilder) had any connection whatsoever.

AAJ: How did you make the connection from Wilder and Scott to the John Kirby Sexter?

BC: Well... John Kirby, the first time I heard that was on a CD by Don Byron
Don Byron
Don Byron
b.1958
clarinet
.

AAJ: Yeah, I noticed that Byron has a rendition of "Charley's Prelude" also.

BC: That record came out in the early '90s also. I don't think anyone really knew who John Kirby really was until Don Byron released that record. So I had known about [Kirby] through that. The Reginald Foresythe... I think that was from listening to Irwin Chusid's radio show on WFMU. [Chusid] had a 78 that "Revolt of the Yes Man" on it. Irwin was the person responsible for the re-discovery of Raymond Scott in the early '90s. In fact, he got to meet [Scott] and so forth. So I listened to his show a lot and he mentioned Reginald Foresythe and he said that it was similar to what Raymond Scott was doing.

So that's how I found out about that; it was all very organic. Those four composers are all very much in line with the same kind of thinking. Similar composition techniques, short pieces, strange instrumentations, a lot of similarities but of course very different also, and not a lot of improvisation. So it's interesting going into these worlds and connecting the dots. And you know, Alec Wilder has mentioned that Reginald Foresythe was a huge influence on him. So that was another connection that I had made from reading [his] biography.

AAJ: Let's go back to the songs on the record. "Beethoven Riffs On" is based on the second movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony. How much did you refer to the original symphony when arranging this particular song?

BC: I did bring that up and listen to it. I didn't like the ending of the Singer arrangement, so I bookended the piece and made a few changes there. But yeah, I think I did bring up the Beethoven symphony just to hear what was the voicings were. I'm not sure how I used it? It's been so long since I arranged that piece. But I had more to deal than Kirby had in his band. I have strings and guitar, so I had to figure out an arrangement for The Ghost Train Orchestra because we have a different instrumentation. I had to figure out a way that worked.

There were a lot of things in the Singer arrangement that I didn't like. I think he had great ideas, but there was a lot of things I didn't like about it that I changed. But otherwise, I think it's pretty close in terms of the form.

AAJ: "Charley's Prelude" is based on Chopin's Prelude, Op. 28, No. 4.

BC: That's a beautiful piece.

AAJ: It is! When I first heard "Charley's Prelude" I thought immediately that it sounded a lot like Chopin's E Minor Prelude. Radiohead has based a song from it and Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau
b.1970
piano
has covered that Radiohead song that is based off of that prelude.

BC: Really? I didn't know that!

AAJ: Yeah! Have you heard "Exit Music (For A Film)?"

BC: No, I haven't. What album is that off of?

AAJ: It's from OK Computer (Capitol, 1997), the fourth track in.

BC: Wow, that's so funny. I have to check that out.

AAJ: Did you look at the E Minor Prelude at all when you were arranging for "Charley's Prelude?"

BC: Yeah, sure of course! I had the Singer arrangement. I think it was Louis Singer who arranged that song, but I think I pulled the Chopin prelude to hear what was going on. The difference between the Singer and what I have is that I have trombone coming in at the end. I don't remember what I used... I had the Singer arrangement, I had the Chopin piano piece, and I kind of used both of those.

AAJ: The record came out in October 2013, but how long ago did you start working and arranging for this project?

BC: It was recorded in April of 2012, I think it was in 2011—early 2011—that I started working on this stuff. It's funny because the band had recorded the first record in November 2009, so right after that—around 2010 and 2011— I started working on these arrangements and it took a long time until we could record it because the [songs] are hard.

AAJ: During the release of the first Ghost Train Orchestra record, Hot House Stomp (Accurate, 2011), you made a comment during an NPR interview saying that you liked early jazz and avant-garde jazz because it gave you a "visceral thing without any intellectual component." But now, based on what you're telling me, it seems like the music for this album is very concentrated. Do you still get that visceral feeling when you play the new material?

BC: It's different. It's funny you mention that because it's different. When we play the Hot House Stomp stuff, it definitely feels like we're just floating. It's almost like a party and people are dancing—maybe because we've also been playing it longer or it's like a free music almost. But this material is more like what Marty Ehrlich
Marty Ehrlich
Marty Ehrlich
b.1955
reeds
—who played on a few gigs—said when we played two sets, one set of the 1920s stuff and one set of the 1930s, and he said afterwards, "The first set felt like a party and the second set felt like a concert." I think he really nailed it. You have to concentrate harder because things are changing so rapidly in the 1930s material and everyone is just so focused. In the '20s stuff—because we've been playing it so long—we don't even need the book. It's like taking a bath in a vat of butter. It's like the most amazing feeling, there's nothing like it when it works. It's gotta click, it's one of those things, but when it's on... that music is so powerful. Everyone loves it. It's an interesting genre of music because it's a genre of music that everyone likes. When we played it live—I mean live, like we're talking about the live performance— it's very strange because there's not a lot of music like this being played. It just appeals to everyone because it's just so good, fun, full of life, and joyous even when the pieces are sometimes haunting and heartbreakingly beautiful. Like when "Boy in The Boat" is played slow, which it should be played slow and lumbering, it's the most beautiful piece. It's sad and beautiful. It's a gorgeous piece! This stuff just goes over live like no other music does. It's really interesting.

AAJ: It seems that a lot of critics were stunned when you started Ghost Train Orchestra. You were with Beat Circus, which was this sort of avant-garde band then you shift to a project that focused on music from the swing era. The transition looked out of left field, but it's been done before. Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
's first records were very bluesy records before he went on to free jazz. Do you see a connection between avant- garde jazz and early jazz?

BC: Certainly! It commands your attention like no other music can. That's what I meant about the late 1920s music. That particular period of early jazz is very much like that. It's a live music really [and] it's hard to capture on record. The band live is just so much crazier than what is on the recording. It's hard to describe, but it's closer to a free jazz aesthetic than you would think.

When I first saw Sam Rivers' big band, the first thing they did when they got on stage was this big free jazz freakout. It lasted for five or 10 minutes and you think, "Is this what's going to be for the next hour?" Then suddenly he counts off this piece that's super intricate with crazy time signatures and it goes into Sam Rivers land. That was inspiration for "Mojo Strut," at least our arrangement of it when we play a set. It's basically a free jazz thing over this arpeggiated thing, and then I'll count off the piece. So people when they come to see it, the first thing they hear is a free jazz thing, and it's not what they expected. They're like, "I thought I was going to see an early jazz kind of thing but then the guy's singing through a bullhorn." Then suddenly, I'll count it off and we'll go off.

But it works. Something about that piece—something about what Tiny Parham had written that piece—just works. So there's definitely a connection when you're playing live, it's not so obvious when you're listening to recordings. It's definitely similar, there's an emotional component to it where it's just the same.

AAJ: Are live performances from Book Of Rhapsodies similar to what is on the record or do you open it up more?

BC: Yeah, we open it up more for improvisation. The pieces are short in the recording. But basically the band has to watch me for cues. I mark everyone's part when we're going to open things up. It makes it a little more interesting for the audience. You're watching it, seeing these cues, and you're waiting for things to fall apart. It's kind of more interesting because I'm kind of up there cueing people and it's not really clear what's going on. If it was that tight [during] a live performance, then I don't think it would be as interesting. So we do open things up a little bit.

AAJ: The first record was music coming out of Chicago and Harlem from the '20s and '30s, this record highlights chamber jazz composers like Alec Wilder from the late '30s, and you might still release some previously recorded tracks. Do you see yourself moving towards the '40s and '50s and maybe share with us some other composers that were left in the cracks?

BC: I don't know. There's just so much to mind from the '20s and '30s right now. We just recorded the third record in September. That record is kind of a continuation of Hot House Stomp. It's basically those same composers: Tiny Parham
Tiny Parham
b.1900
, Fess Williams
Fess Williams
b.1894
, and Charlie Johnson. We added another [composer] named Cecil Scott
Cecil Scott
b.1905
who had a band out of Springfield, Illinois. We brought in this bass saxophonist named Colin Stetson as a fourth reed.

We're going to be mixing that I think early next year [and] hopefully we can release that next year if we're lucky. Like I said, there's an entire volume of Book Of Rhapsodies that we might release at some point. So there's just so much there.

There's another interesting period of time in Berlin in the late 1920s and that's also an interesting area to explore as well. We've sort of just kind of started working on it. So, there's so many records to do, it's just a matter of how many can I possibly finish, or have time for. I have these other bands; I'm working on this band with the Confessions where I'm writing original music for that. So there's a push and pull here to figure out what I want to spend my time on. But I love working with Ghost Train Orchestra.

AAJ: In the economic state where it's hard to get a good paying gig and the trend are these small quartets or quintets, how do you manage to keep a larger ensemble afloat?

BC: I think it's hard to do. A lot of people I know don't do rehearsals and they structure the music so that they don't have to do rehearsals because rehearsals are expensive too. You're not paying people for rehearsals but there is time involved and not everyone is going to want to come to a rehearsal if they don't feel like the band is an investment in someway. I'm fortunate that I went to engineering school and I don't make a living off of music. It allows me to work on what I want to work on. If I don't want to play weddings, I don't—I don't have to do that if I don't want to. So the music that I'm involved in is exactly what I want to do and no more than that.

AAJ: Are you still currently working as an engineer outside of your music career?

BC: Yes, I do. I made that decision a long time ago and it was one of the best decisions I made. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. The issue is that I'm not as prolific as a lot of my peers because I have this day job and that's the real issue because I can't devote myself full-time to it. So that's problematic for a lot people and it's not for everyone.

How am I able to keep the band together? Well, I think we don't play that often and when we do, we try to make sure everyone tries to get paid something decent. Every once in a while we get a really good paying gig at a festival, a museum, or something like that makes it worthwhile. And it took a long time to find the right people for the band too. It's a matter of really finding the right people, finding people that believe in you and the music. That's really hard actually, to find that match, but once you have it then it's quite obvious.

I was talking to Steven Bernstein about this and he said, "Miss a beat, lose your seat." If someone is continually missing shows then they have the risk of losing their seat. But the reason they're missing the shows is because they need to make money—they're full-time musicians—and if the show is only going to pay $50, they're not going to take it. But what happens is that the missing seat potentially opens up a seat for somebody else and that's what happened in this band.

So it's a hard thing to run a band. Basically, the musicians are putting their faith in you that you're going to take this band to another level financially. It has to do with booking and it's almost like a family business. You don't want to book too many gigs because you don't want to hurt morale. You just have to be kind of selective about what you do. It's a tricky business for anybody.

Selected Discography
Ghost Train Orchestra, Book Of Rhapsodies (Accurate, 2013)
Ghost Train Orchestra, Hot House Stomp (Accurate, 2011)
Beat Circus, Boy From Black Mountain (Cuneiform, 2009)
Beat Circus, Dreamland (Cuneiform, 2008)
Beat Circus, Ringleader (Ringleader, 2004).


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