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Bill Carrothers: Content in his Corner of the Jazz World

By Published: March 1, 2004
Didn't work. "I lived there five years. It was a disaster," he says, point-blank. "I was miserable the whole time. I hated New York. I'm just not a big city guy. Where I live now, it's nothing but trees and snow as far as you can see."

Carrothers said he worked a dozen, maybe 20 times, on good gigs. He met a lot of fine musicians — like Doug Weiss, Larry Grenadier, Gary Peacock, Marc Copeland, Scott Colley — but a lot of the playing wasn't in clubs, but in people's apartments, including the one he shared with Weiss. Good friendships developed, but career-wise, it wasn't working out. "The whole schmoozing, going to clubs, being seen and hanging out is not my thing at all. If I come to the club it's to listen to good music, or to play good music, or occasionally to just go get drunk. But it's definitely not to schmooze and talk about my latest project. It's not for me."

"It wasn't like it was just this unmitigated disaster, but personally, I had a lot of trouble living in that kind of tension all the time. The mugging and the violence and the smells and all that constant noise. I just couldn't deal. I got really kind of weird," he said. He then tried living in upstate New York, out of the hustle and bustle. But being two hours outside the city didn't bring enough gigs either. So he returned home.

If things didn't happen when he was two hours outside the big city, what bout now — halfway across the country?

"Well, now I don't care," he chuckles. "It doesn't have the same impetus."

Jazz popularity has run in cycles since it was the dominant American music. Currently, younger musicians are saying that it's the big names who are getting gigs, and most others struggle if they can't get hired as sidemen. To get a record deal or club date, they have to use other "names" and maybe not their own bands. That political side of the industry, and the fact that the machine that powers the recording industry shows little interest in jazz (one might argue little real interest in any real creative music) has no effect on Carrothers. He's not just keeping his head above water. He refuses to jump in the lake and be forced to try and swim with the rest.

"It's cyclical. But let's face it. We're not living in an Italian artistic renaissance here. I hate to say it, but jazz is finite. Everything is finite. It reminds me of the tune my wife turned me onto by David Byrne. There's a record called Feelings and the tune is called "Finite = Allright". That's just kind of how it is. It's all right, because it's all finite. And that's OK. Jazz is too. Jazz is finite. It has a beginning and a Golden Age and an end. And it's ridiculous of people to think and keep hoping that we're gong to go back to the 52nd Street of 1955 or that we're going to go back to the Blue Note of the 60s. It's not going to happen. It's gone. You can't get your dead grandmother back. She's dead. And that's OK. I'll never be 19 again. But that's OK. I don't mind not being 19. Life doesn't give us that kind of backward glance, the ability to go back and re-live stuff.

"To me, jazz is no different than that and I see jazz becoming kind of like the Japanese kabuki theater. It becomes this increasingly small fanatical following of people that really love it. We'll always have that. But as far as being some kind of Renaissance the way it was 50 years ago, I just don't think it's gonna happen. People aren't the same anymore. So many things have to come together for you to be able to make that kind of stuff happen. People don't think like that anymore. It's kind of why baseball doesn't make that much sense to people anymore. It's not quick enough. It's not really America's pastime anymore because it doesn't fit what America is anymore. America's much more closely aligned with basketball than baseball."

So Carrothers jumps over to Europe for the majority of his concert work. He finds that the culture there is much more accepting, but there is probably a limit to that too.

"Look at their culture. They don't have a TV culture the way we do. They don't have a computer culture the way we do. You turn on the TV, there's five or six channels and probably 80 percent of the population doesn't have a computer. Their whole culture is built around cafes and being out with other people, socializing. That's their fun. Because there's less TV and less distractions, there's a little more interest. A little more. It's changing there too. You see it coming. You see America and you see a whole influx of technology. You see it changing French culture too. It's slower. But it is happening. It's like the movie Network by Paddy Chayefsky. He says America is the most technologically advanced nation in the world, so we're getting to the end first," he laughs. "We're getting to the end quicker. But we're all getting to the end"

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Download jazz mp3 “The Best Things In Life Are Free” by Bill Carrothers