A Fireside Chat with The Vandermark 5
“ The issue is, is music going to survive. That's the thing I'm concerned about. The music has to function and has to speak to people. ”
Although The Vandermark 5 bears his name, Ken Vandermark is practical enough to realize V5's success should be credited to members Jeb Bishop, Tim Daisy, Kent Kessler, and Dave Rempis. For it is their commitment and loyalty that allows V5 to be a seasoned quintet unlike any other in modern music. V5's popularity obscures musical genres, cultural boundaries, political divides, country borders, limits of age, to command consideration from post-Cold War Yugoslavia to the bright lights, big city of Chicago. Yet debate continues among critical and elite circles of V5's "jazz" worth. The iconic Albert Ayler's responded to knee-jerk reaction to his approach, "It's a new truth now. And there have to be new ways of expressing that truth. I believe music can change people. Our music should be able to remove frustration, to enable people to act more freely, to think more freely." And perhaps that is V5's (unedited and in their own words) progressing legacy, not as free jazz, but as freedom, an idea that has become as cryptic as the word "jazz."
All About Jazz: Being the last man on an already formidable deal team is imposing.
Tim Daisy: When I was asked to join the band, I pretty much knew that I wanted to do it. I was really interested in what they were doing and I had already formed working relationships with some of the members of the band already, particularly Dave Rempis.
AAJ: V5 is a touring band. There isn't much of a learning curve.
Jeb Bishop: I've done more gigs with this band than any other. It has been the main place where I have been able to develop my approach to trombone playing in the last eight years. It has had a lot to do with my evolution as a player.
TD: Yeah, it's a challenge. It is amazing. It's a great opportunity and I don't take it for granted. We play night after night and I just try to step up to the challenge and hopefully, come out successful.
Dave Rempis: It is interesting. Just as a band, getting to play together that regularly, we really have an opportunity to get familiar with each other's playing and get familiar with the music that we're trying to deal with. That allows us to explore the compositions more fully.
Ken Vandermark: The willingness of the guys in the group to deal with the demands I make on them. The band works a lot and we work hard. We tour and rehearse constantly. I am always bringing new material into the group that they have to learn and execute.
AAJ: No one is getting rich doing this. V5 sacrifices monetary gains to play nightly.
JB: We're able to get beyond executing the material and to where we're doing something interesting with it.
TD: Being the youngest in the band, I am doing what I've always wanted to do. It is not really an issue for me because while we're certainly not getting rich, I am able to pay rent. I am able to pay bills and I couldn't ask for anything more than that because I am doing what I love to do.
DR: It is one of the things Ken is going for with the band, sort of an older model of regular work. The thing that made so many of those bands great, whether it is the Miles quintet, or the Ellington band, or Ornette's group, is just that they were playing together every night. Coltrane and Monk playing six months in a row at the Five Spot, that leads to something when you have that much time to work and push through various lulls that you hit. It brings new things to light. That is the model Ken is going for with this band, to really be a working band. Our mission is to play regularly and sometimes that means we're not getting paid as much to do it.
KV: For me, it is very clear even on nights that I am not completely happy with the way I've performed or played, that that's what I am supposed to be doing. The thing I get back from working with The Vandermark 5 is the opportunity to explore on a regular basis what it means to be an improvising musician right now and face that challenge in front of an audience with fantastic musicians, who are willing to collaborate and work together. That is a privilege. We sacrifice a lot. It's hard work. There is an immense amount of sacrifice on the physical and mental drain of traveling. When I am on stage playing, I don't feel as though I'm not getting anything back. That is why it is really crucial to be out on the road or performing in Chicago for me because it is a feedback relationship with the audience. We're putting out these ideas and we're playing this music and the feedback that we get, the connection that we have with the audience, that's really the process how all the creative stuff is going to work. We can rehearse as much as we want and I can write as many compositions as I want, but it doesn't matter until we're in front of an audience, wrestling with what the issues are of a particular piece, on a particular night. That, for me, is the whole thing.
AAJ: So it is remains fresh?
JB: Ken is so prolific and he rotates stuff through the book so quickly and he is always finding new approaches to how he writes for the group that it stays interesting for me.
TD: Strong compositions, strong arrangements, and everyone's attitude in the band, particularly, the fact that the level of communication is extremely high in the group. Ken writes all the arrangements and the pieces, but he is completely open for suggestions from anyone in the group. That is really what keeps it together. There are no hidden frustrations. That's what makes it a really healthy relationship and very successful, the fact that there is this very high level of communication among all the members of the group.
DR: Ken's an extremely open-minded person and draws on the people in the band. I think what makes the band work is that he is very much interested in having it as a collaborative.
KV: I present the group with new material. We don't sit in the past book of the group. This year alone, I wrote arrangements for nearly a dozen compositions by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, which will be included in the first pressing of the new album, which comes out in June. I've written new compositions that we're working on the tour that we will be doing in June in the States and Canada to support the album when it comes out, working towards the next album, which we will record in July. It is unbelievably fortunate to have four other people who are willing to do that much work over so many years and on such a consistent basis. We're able to do things in performance that a lot of bands can't do, not because they're not technically capable, but just because of the time factor. We play together all the time. With The Vandermark 5, we're able to circumvent fundamental communication issues because we're rehearsing, doing a tour, or playing a concert on an ongoing basis. Not many bands playing the kind of music we're working with have that kind of privilege. We're aware of that, so we're really trying to seize the opportunity and do something with it.