A Fireside Chat with The Vandermark 5
AAJ: Do you foresee an end?
JB: No, one thing that has kept it interesting is Ken is actively searching for new ways to approach writing. It is clear that he is trying new things out and new things to explore.
TD: I don't right now, absolutely not. If we continue to work like this, at a really open level, I don't see what anything like this would stop. We're playing a lot. We're having a lot of fun. Ken keeps challenging us and we're just doing it. It's a wonderful opportunity to be involved in.
KV: Right now, I feel like we're in a creative peak. I hear a lot more music I can write for the group and a lot more music that the band can get to. The issue is the commitment from the members of the group and so far, the enthusiasm from the people in the group has been fantastic. And as long as that remains, I don't fore see a period where the group can't continue to be creative and find new stuff to do. I'm very committed to it. I just hope that the rest of the guys are too.
AAJ: Hip everyone to Elements of Style, V5's latest recording.
TD: The overall group sound is tighter. I am playing with more confidence within the compositions. I also feel like the level of musical interaction is higher. We're all a little bit more used to playing together.
DR: We included a suite, which is about 22 minutes called "Six of One." We haven't done too many pieces of that length with this band. Figuring out how to play a piece like that, how to pace it, how to bring it to life was an interesting challenge. Ken's writing, he is more interested in component parts. There is a lot of juxtaposition happening on the record.
KV: Having had Tim in the band for a longer period of time and being able to work with Tim on rhythmic ideas, hopefully, it will lead the band towards a better idea of what a groove is. Having more time to work with Tim has been significant to the way the band's working now and the way it's developed since he joined the group. The Vandermark 5 is the answer to the question of, "What would a jazz group do now?" Each album for the band has been a step for developing those ideas.
AAJ: Has V5's notoriety tangibly increased?
JB: Crowds have gotten better and the band's been around a long time now and has a fair number of records out now. There is an awareness.
TD: I could sense a little bit even from the first European tour we did and the next European tour we did. The guys talk about that at times. I certainly see it.
KV: Yeah, I would say that is true. In Europe last year, there was a significant shift. The easiest example I can give you is the first time I played in Spain, it was last February and in the fall, we played with The 5 in November and the presenter booked us into a big concert hall that held more than 500 people. This is the second time I had been to Spain at all, so I was concerned about the size of the performance space and told the band that in past experiences, there is maybe a hundred people there and when the hall holds six hundred, it feels like it's empty and to be prepared to play for ourselves and whoever's there. When we were told to go out on stage, we're walking out and the place was packed. It was standing room only. Before we played our first note, people were cheering. That was a very significant moment for me because the word of the music had gotten there before us in a significant way. In March of this year, we played in Krakow for five nights and one night, it was full and every other night, it was standing room only. In some cases, people had traveled four hours to see us play. Those kinds of experiences are unbelievable and they do point to a change in terms of the awareness of the group.
AAJ: With recognition comes the baggage of expectation.
DR: The last couple of years, I've noticed we're asked to play more European festivals, but outside of that, Ken is the one who has to deal with taking pictures, so fortunately, he is the one that has to deal with the popularity issue.
KV: It is dangerous to be received in such a positive way. We need to keep searching and we need to keep challenging ourselves. To me, the music that we play in The Vandermark 5 is music. It's not crucial to me that people understand the entire history of jazz for them to fully appreciate what we're trying to do. Yeah, it is great when that happens. The more people know about the way an art form works, the more they can get out of an experience. But for the music to survive and for the music to continue, it needs to function as a musical outlet for everybody. It can't just be for specialists. I'm not interested in playing music for elitists. I would be more than happy to bring The Vandermark 5 and have them perform in any context, in any city, of any festival of any kind of music because I think that the music that we play speaks to people. I think that is a really crucial thing. Otherwise, the music becomes pigeonholed, categorized and stuck in some stupid box that, in many cases, the jazz media caused to happen.
They want to save the music from commercial destruction. The arts going to work out fine. It doesn't need to be protected. In the long run, we will figure out what is worthwhile. You don't need to protect it. All the people that criticized Miles Davis' electric period, they may not like the music and that's their prerogative, but to say that he was misguided is crazy. It is incredible music, way ahead of its time. To call that music a commercial concession is to actually not have listened to it. Agharta and Pangaea are not commercial records, or On the Corner. Those are really unique perspectives on what music could be at that time. He set the bar incredibly high for what we should be doing, our responsibility as jazz musicians. I think that the music has got to survive in the face of what it means to have music around now. As I travel in the United States and in Europe, the issue isn't whether jazz is going to survive or whether it sells three percent of record sales. The issue is, is live music going to survive. The percentage of people who actually go and see live music in the world is dwindling because of what they're spoon-fed in the mass media. The threat that people seem to be concerned about in the jazz media is idiotic.
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. Yeah, the music I play is not commercially oriented. It is challenging and asking a lot of an audience. But we ask a lot from each other when we make it and I think it's fair to ask a lot from the people who listen to it. But that doesn't mean they have to know the entire history of the music before they can appreciate the first note we play. The music has got to make sense and has to have something to say to people who like music. I'm a music fan, so why would I create music with a concern about whether or not it's true to the jazz tradition. Artists that I respect most from that tradition are all people that went their own way. There is amazing music happening in the underground. That's where it's happening.