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Frank Glover: Going A Different Way

AAJ Staff By
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Intelligent and outspoken, Frank Glover began playing clarinet when he was eleven years old. On entering college, he trained for nearly two years at Indiana University before striking out on his own; upon the independent release of Politico in 2004, he was signed by Owl Studios and the album was re-released under that label in 2009. Initially training as a classical clarinetist who also plays saxophone, the music of John Coltrane grabbed him; he experienced a musical epiphany as a result. An institution in Indianapolis, Glover has a long history enveloped in a diverse range of musical styles. Abacus (Owl Studios, 2010), a journey across many colors and spaces, demonstrates the range that is possible when a composer of Glover's imagination takes a jazz quartet and weaves it seamlessly within the workings of a classical orchestra.

All About Jazz: Your music has a film noir sort of impression and feel to it. Can you tell me about the making of Abacus?

Frank Glover: The last person to really change the way clarinet was heard was Eddie Daniels. He has a very pretty sound, a very feminine sound. I wanted to make a really ballsy clarinet record—hard harmonies and dark sounds. I'm a big James Bond fan; I like all those film noir, guy kinds of movies. But I didn't have any specific idea of where I wanted to go with it; I just write what I write, because of the things I've listened to—and the music that I want to hear. Since I can only play one note at a time, I can't hear my music played with many instruments, but I hear an orchestra in my head. I just hear some big orchestral chords; Abacus just has some huge chords in it.

This is a real orchestral record from end to end. It has separate tracks, but I was asked to do that for the radio; it's really a three-part concerto for orchestra. That's why Politico was so hard to write, I was hearing orchestra, and I was thinking, "I've got to make a quartet record." I just can't write a pure jazz record anymore, that's not the music that comes out of me. The standard is really high now—Wayne Shorter and other people who write for orchestra—Abacus is not just a '50s Blue Note Record—it's influenced by Igor Stravinsky, Astor Piazzolla, composers like that.

AAJ: Which tracks correlate to which parts?

FG: "Two Shades of Green," "Lost Sumino" and "Domino" are the first part. I actually found scraps of the first two pieces at the bottom of my closet. I almost threw them away, but after playing with them a bit, I realized that they could work as part of the first movement. "Ballerina" is the middle part, and "Lighthouse" to "Robot" is the third movement. It goes from a really classical string line with "Two Shades of Green" to completely rocking out. "Robot" is just completely bashing, the orchestra is just screaming loud. I think this sounds very African; it has a lot of marimba and vibraphone in it. I wrote "Lighthouse" for Jack [Helsley, acoustic and bass guitar], and I wrote "Ballerina" for Zach [Lapidus, keyboards]. "Lost Sumino" was written for someone I lost who was important in my life.

AAJ: What was the inspiration for calling it Abacus?

FG: I think because I had a lot of marimba in it, and marimba reminds me of wood and, of course, an abacus is made of wood. It has that kind of resonant sound that wood has when you use it. What do you call someone who sees colors when they listen to music? A synesthetic? I'm not quite that, but almost. Music possesses colors for me; I have some of that in me. I think it would be interesting—I'm also an abstract painter—to see if there is a general set of mathematical rules documenting how colors move from dark to light or from bright to brighter. I'm not sure where I want to go with that, but it's reflected in my music, I think.

AAJ: Who are the people that influenced you?

FG: I heard Coltrane and I quit college, it was his spirit that drew me in to jazz. I then started taking lessons from Harry Miedema at Indiana University; he was the musical director for the O'Jays. I did summer sessions with Robert Marcellus, who was the principal clarinetist for the Cleveland Orchestra for 20 years. Shortly after that, I started driving to New York to take lessons from various guys; Eddie Daniels, Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz. Pete Fountain is another influence, a clarinetist from New Orleans, my grandfather had a collection of his albums. Dave Liebman, he was another teacher of mine for a little while. He's a real colorful saxophonist; he's one of most colorful players I know.

AAJ: I know you have some issues with the current state of the music industry. What do you see as a possible solution?

FG: It's kind of disconcerting in a way, you get halfway through your life and you discover that what you do has no value to society whatsoever. None, actually—if you were a janitor it would be more useful. So you basically have to beg to live as a working musician. I'm just an artist, everything outside that world I know very little about. The only choice we have is to try and carve out your own little tiny piece of happiness and that's all there is. I could be a symphony musician, go play with a symphony, but that's not what I do. I've done that—it's OK. Or go in a studio and play some BS music for people. It's OK, I've done that, but it's not who I am. I guess we're required to be more than we are. But you don't get paid for inspiring people in this culture—you don't even get paid for winning a Grammy Award.

I can write some Kenny G BS, maybe people can make money and sell it, but I wouldn't want to put my name on it. And this is happening everywhere. So you have to just carve out your own little niche, which is cool. Which is what I've done, but when it works its way down to club owners canceling you, and that's where I'm at, then you're talking about a major part of your income disappearing.


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