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Bill Kirchner: Renaissance Man

By Published: February 23, 2004
AAJ: The future of jazz in general. You and many others, your livelihood depends on that. Does that look good to you? Do you see problems for the music in general?

BK: Put it this way: I'm old enough to remember in the late 60s when people were going around, with absolute seriousness, saying 'Jazz is dead.' So it's 30-some years later and it's still around. I don't know how well it's doing. You read the reports of jazz record sales as a percentage of the overall market. A decade ago it was about 4 or 5 percent, now it's less than 2. So I don't know what that means. Of those, probably at least half, or more, are reissues. So, it's in a period of transition, to be sure. And I think jazz is going to be around for a long time. What form it's going to take? I don't know any more than anyone else. I think it's continuing to grow, but I think the nature of its growth is changing. Whereas in the past, we kind of depended on and expected the appearance, about once every 10 years, of a new seminal figure. A Louie Armstrong, a Duke Ellington, a Lester Young, a Charlie Parker, a Miles Davis, a John Coltrane.

I think the growth is going to come in a more subtle and less spectacular way from a variety of sources, and a variety of people. And it's not going to come from a handful of giants, the way it has in the past. There hasn't been a single musician since Coltrane died who's had the kind of impact that Coltrane had on virtually every aspect of the music. And some 30 years later I think people are getting accustomed to the fact that that's the way it's going to be and the music is going to grow in a different way. I think they're getting accustomed to that and accepting it. Whereas, until recently, many people were in a panic.

AAJ: Waiting for the next prophet.

BK: Exactly. The music is on the move; it's just in a different way. The influences are coming from all over the place. Mike Zwerin in his essay on jazz in Europe said something good. He said it's moving closer to the ground. I think that's a very good point.

AAJ: I think projects like yours help it, and people like you help it.

BK: Thank you.

AAJ: If you suddenly had the opportunity to play more and compose and concentrate on performing, would that be what you'd prefer?

BK: Probably, yes. Although I wouldn't want to cut everything else loose. Part of it is simple self-preservation. You know that even when things get good in a certain area, you know the bottom can suddenly drop out without warning, So I think it's just prudent to keep as many balls in the air, if I may use a juggling metaphor. I think it's good to keep all those balls in the air as much as possible, because things can change overnight in any given area.

AAJ: I admire your energy. You've gotten a lot of awards in various fields, are there any you hold above others?

BK: I've never quite thought of it that way. I've got a Grammy, I've got a NAIRD Indie award. I'm pleased with having both of those. But the main reward is just doing it. I feel like I've hit home runs in all these areas that I've been involved in, and I'm very proud of that. I think the reward is doing work that you're proud of.

AAJ: Future projects?

BK: Oh a couple of book projects that are in the wind and some other music projects of my own that are also in formation. Basically, keeping out there in as many different ways as possible. It's like John Hicks, the pianist, said: 'If you're not appearing, you're disappearing.' So the main job of all of us in this business is to keep appearing.

Visit Bill Kirchner on the web at .

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