Denys Baptiste: Jazz Missionary, Part 2-2

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AAJ: There's a feeling I get from your CDs and from your labelmates on Dune Records. The feeling is that jazz music matters, that it's a powerful, positive, even irresistable force that is spiritual, social, even political. Do you have any opinion about that?

DB: I do. I think all of us, including Gary—Gary Crosby, he's kind of the center of the record label, at least on an artistic level. And I think all of us—I can speak for myself, Soweto Kinch, and Abram Wilson—are all people who think a lot about what we do. We're not just doing it to be rich and famous or to be adored by fans. There's something that we're trying to put across. In England—although jazz has a certain listenership—it's still very hard getting it out there, especially to the younger people. And getting it so it's respected in a way that maybe it is in other countries; on the Continent, there are bigger communities of people that are serious jazz listeners. Here you still go to [London club] Ronnie Scott's and there's people chatting when you're trying to do a solo [laughing ruefully]. This is possibly the greatest art form that has been invented by man; it allows us to express our individuality, to explore spiritual aspects, intellectual aspects. And there are not very many forms of music that really allow you to do that. Classical music is great. I love it, but you can't spontaneously compose in the way same way you do with jazz.

AAJ: It's got the odd cadenza, but it's essentially written music.

DB: Yes. But I do love it and wouldn't say it doesn't inspire me; it has. But I think all of us on the label—as you've rightly said, we are really serious about trying to get the message out there to the listeners in the country. We're trying to build an audience and put jazz back where it belongs. I'm fed up with listening to this McDonald's music that sort of coming out; it's just stuff that comes out and six months later the artist isn't even—[laughing]

AAJ: Yeah, he sold a million copies but he got dumped by his label because it was over.

DB: Absolutely. And I'm here for the long term; I'm just trying to put jazz where it belongs, to do my little bit. All of us musicians here are trying to something really serious about it and I think particularly on Dune: it's a family—we're not just individuals working on our individual projects, completely divorced from each other. We talk, we hang, and we're very much involved in the way this particular movement is developing and that whole sort of Jazz Warrior attitude of trying to spread the word and find a way to make jazz something which is popular—without ... compromising what we're trying to do to put the music out there because it's important! And it's something that I think, if people gave it a chance—because people here hear the word "jazz and they go, "whoa! You have to have an IQ of 200 to understand that! So therefore I'm going to listen to something else.

AAJ: There is some of that notion over here as well and I'm always taken aback, because, you know, you can tap your foot to it. You can dance to it!

DB: Absolutely, And when you listen to a great record, when it washes over you, if you stop thinking about it—stop thinking about intellectualizing about the notes, and just let the emotion of it wash over you—that's the only understanding that there really needs to be. That's what got me into the music [laughing] before I even understood what a D minor seven chord was. Just feeling what these musicians were trying to say. Listening to Our Man in Paris, Dexter Gordon, for the first time. Listening to A Love Supreme or Miles Smiles for the first time. That's what it's about ... when you hear those pieces of music. I mean, for me, it sort of prickles on the back of my neck because it's real: it's not some computer churning out some naughts and ones to create the facsimile of music, it's the real thing that real people produced. Real people were interacting to make something on that particular spot that would only work and exist for that particular moment. That excites me; it always has. That's what jazz music is about, and I think if people were given an opportunity and were the music presented in the right way, I think people will be flocking to it because that's freedom, that's what we want. That's what everybody wants, to be free and to have that feeling that, hey, you can do anything you want to do!

Visit Denys Baptiste on the web.


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