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A Modern Masterpiece: Chris Potter on Recording Lift

By Published: July 28, 2004
CP: Hopefully when I'm playing live. That's when the energy comes back, when I get something back from the audience. When you are playing in front of an audience there are definitely things you end up doing that you can't when you are practicing. I guess there's a level of relaxation when you are practicing that can be good. You're not trying to impress anyone, you're just trying to practice. It would be hard for me to say. I definitely get more enjoyment—I don't know, sometimes I really enjoy practicing too—but the enjoyment level when you are playing in front of a really good audience and the band is together, that's just such a high. It's a great feeling. It would be hard for practicing by yourself to compare to that feeling.

AAJ: I want to rewind for a minute to you previous album Traveling Mercies. Another album with the same crew. In the liner notes you very pointedly referenced the events of 9/11. In the years since then, has your perspective changed? Have any of the ensuing events changed the way you were thinking about those issues, and is that reflected in your music?

CP: I'm sure it's reflected in my music because it's how I think about things. In a lot of ways, many of my worst fears were confirmed. I knew it was going to go that way, but realizing now that this has happened you know there's going to be more war and more killing. And there has been. The only thing I can hope is that it ends as soon as possible and that there's the least amount of damage done. 'Cause I have a feeling the policies that the U.S. has been following will just ensure the cycle of violence keeps on going.

AAJ: Before these events, was this something you were tapped into? Following international politics?

CP: Yes and no. I'm not really the kind of person that is obsessed with it. I don't get The Nation. But I do try and know what's happening on some level. I think the thing about it is that when I start reading about it too much, it becomes overwhelming. And depressing. I feel my energy would be better spent trying to make something positive. But I do want to know what's going on, and hopefully try with my music—and how I live, I believe its everyone's duty whether they are politically involved directly or not, to try and live in a way that brings more harmony to the world rather than less. That's how I look at it.

AAJ: I'm always interested in not only how art interacts with itself—which I think is what we usually look at—but also how it interacts with the broader environment. Most of the people in a room listening to music, or consuming any art form, are not practitioners. In your opinion, is your music more descriptive, more introspective , or is it an attempt to send a message out there, to really shift people's opinions and feelings?

CP: Well, you definitely want to effect people. One big function of art is your trying to communicate something that you can't just say in words. You're trying to communicate an experience. This is what it feels like to me. This is what being alive feels like to me and let me share it with you. And that radiates out, and being able to communicate that is kind of a magical thing, and somehow art is able to do that. Music is an amazing phenomenon. It's an amazing phenomenon that you go up there and play an instrument and people feel something. They can recognize something in themselves that can relate to what you are doing. That's the real magic of it.

And it can change how you feel. It's obvious. Every great musician I've listened to—my life is definitely different and richer for having listened to Charlie Parker. Definitely changed my reality of how I think about the world. For him it was probably about exploring what ever he wanted to explore and to express himself. But you put that out in the world and it ripples out and hopefully it can change people's lives in some way.

I'm not a huge fan of trying to cram a message down people's throats. I really would prefer to put it out there and have people think about it.

AAJ: Obviously you're not up there playing folk music with political lyrics.

CP: Right. Right.

AAJ: Which is a more direct way to link your politics with your art.

CP: I feel like if tried to be that direct it would detract rather than add to the music. And that's not worth it to me. I would rather someone from any political stripe—if they're able to get something out of it, maybe that's more important to me. Hopefully I can help change someone's mind in some way, or just effect people in a way to make them care more about their fellow human beings.

AAJ: A longer perspective.

CP: Yeah. Longer, but maybe a little deeper.

AAJ: Do you pursue any other art forms?

CP: Really, really, as a hobby that I don't really have a chance to do that much, every now and then I'll draw. I think as a kid I did a lot more visual art type of things. It's actually something I'd love to do if I had more time.

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