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Marilyn Crispell: Uncompromising Power and Grace

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By
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I have wished for a long time that somebody would do a film called the "The Lost Decade." About the lost scene in the '60s and all the incredible creative music that happened at that time. A lot of these people are not paid attention to by the mass market, but as far as I'm concerned, it was one of the most brilliant periods of the music. I can't mention everyone's name, but people in particular who come to my mind with whom I've had personal contact are Cecil Taylor, Oliver Lake, Anthony Braxton, the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, George Lewis, Sun Ra, Wadada Leo Smith, Billy Bang, Abdullah Ibrahim, Reggie Workman, Anthony Davis. There are just so many and I don't know where to start or end. I also don't want to leave the impression that these people are overlooked or ignored, but in other cultures, they would be considered national treasures and I don't feel they have received the support and place they deserve.

LP: Does the global situation today affect you artistically?

MC: Things can get so bad that you can sometimes feel as if you are butting your head against a wall. Have you ever seen the film My Dinner with Andre? It's a great film and the guy who made that film, Louis Malle, talks about times like these, where it feels impossible to do anything. And rather than waste energy fighting it, he retreats to underground pockets of light. Things do tend to turn around, but I think that because we live in a technological age with so much information available; people are overwhelmed. It's not like the old days where you'd go to the concert and were able to hear this music. Now, people can just put on a CD. And everyone is putting out CDs and you can burn them at home. People are overwhelmed by a glut of information, which I think can have an effect not only on me but also on many other performers. I feel like being an artist is a political statement in a certain sense. Just by the very fact that you are being an individual and you are doing what you do and not bowing to big market corporate influences and are being true to your soul. You are trying to put something real out to the world and people do hear it and I know it affects them because people tell me that it does.

LP: For many, music is a way to get away from all the garbage that surrounds us.

MC: I think the arts feed the soul. They are a very important part of our society equal to technology and science. There is a great book called "Care of the Soul" by Thomas Moore. It's wonderful and he talks about the place of art in everyday life, not just by going out to galleries and to museums, etc. There are aesthetics and beauty in everyday life.

LP: Do you connect to any of your music spiritually, politically, or socially?

MC: Spiritually. It's interesting because these are all just words and music is something that happens on a very instinctive level. And though I don't necessarily work within those contexts, I do feel that it does come from a spiritual place and is very connected with that for me. If music doesn't reach me emotionally, then I'm totally not interested in it. And there are techno wizards on their instruments who just don't get to me at all. As a friend of mine recently said after a concert, "It was brilliantly forgettable. There was nothing in it that curled around my heart and stayed there." And I thought that was a very beautiful way to put it.

LP: Cecil Taylor said that "Music has to do with a lot of areas which are magical rather than logical; the great artists rather than just getting involved with discipline, get to understand love and allow the love to take shape." How much of your music is from logic and how much from this other place that Cecil Taylor describes?

MC: You do music as a whole person, with your intellect and your heart. Everything. And I also totally relate to what Cecil says about love. And I agree with him about magic. For me, performing is like a ceremonial ritual, almost akin to a kind of Shamanism.

LP: Do improvisers have a unique ability or awareness of what's all around them?

MC: I think everybody has that awareness.

LP: Is it on a different level perhaps?

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