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A Fireside Chat With Arthur Blythe

By Published: February 21, 2003

AB: You know the strange thing about that, Fred. I haven't received an eviction notice from them yet. They just evicted me and I had to sort of figure that out. It wasn't a formal thing like they weren't going to sign me again or they didn't need my services anymore. They just backed off and let me figure it out. It was very weird. It turned me off. I just haven't been able to get a major record company deal also, but I was also fed up with those large companies at the time. I am available now.

FJ: You have done a trio of records for Joe Fields' Savant label: Spirits in the Field, Blythe Byte, and Focus .

AB: Yeah, I recorded Spirits in the Field at the Bimhuis. It was a live thing and I enjoyed it. We weren't thinking about making a record at that time, but we got a pretty good take on it, so we decided to try and make it into a record. It was a tour that we had during that period. It was about three or four years ago. It came off, so I decided to put it into record form.

FJ: Did you go with Fields' Savant label because of Cecil Brooks' already established relationship with the label?

AB: Yeah, that was essentially what it was about. I didn't think about that until after the performance. I wasn't recording it to give to Savant at the time. It seemed to work out. I am trying to change it up a little bit with Focus. I am trying to do something interesting, something organic. It came off that way.

FJ: Your rendition of "In a Sentimental Mood" certainly flies in the face of those whom have labeled you "avant-garde."

AB: I thought it was in the pocket. That is where we were coming from, playing it to specifications so to speak. I was playing the form and the changes. The industry is, we live in a capitalistic society and capitalism is part of the industry, a big part of it is about making money. The artistic value is not their first objective. I think the commercial value is more important. Then there are some record companies that might not be as commercial as others, as far as wanting the money first and being concerned about the money. But it is business and they have to make some profit to stay in the business. Sometimes the choice of music that the record companies choose is that which seems to generate the business or the money. I guess they are within their rights to do that. They have to keep the doors open and so they make the decisions on what they want to support and what they don't want to support musically. It is a business, so they have to do what they have to do. I am not just avant-garde. I like to play all types of music as much as I can play, straight-ahead or whatever they call that. I like rhythm and blues. I like music with form, not atonal or aform. I am not only there. Sometimes they put me into a weird bag and want me to be weird, inaccessible. I think I am accessible.

FJ: Having returned to your Southern California roots, how much of a hassle has the hustle been?

AB: Sometimes it is. Part of that is about having agencies and management. It is a little different. The logistics are a little different here in California. Everything is spread out so far and then you need someone working for you on your behalf to get you work out here. Sometimes I can work and sometimes I can't work. Some people have heard of me and some people haven't. It seems like it is harder to do by myself. I need a team, a team of people working on my behalf. It seems likes the business or the industry looks for new talent all the time, fresh talent. Maybe I am not fresh enough.

FJ: You are plenty fresh for me.

AB: (Laughing) I appreciate that, Fred. I have been fortunate to still be able to work in other places, in New York and nationally and internationally too. I can work in Europe. I have some European work coming up. It is a little difficult in LA.

FJ: And the future?

AB: I have a record that is in the can right now. It will probably be out sometime this year. This is with Cecil, Bob Stewart, and John Hicks. I used piano and the tuba bass. I think it came out pretty good. We will see.

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