A Fireside Chat with The Cosmosamatics
“ And when you truly and dearly love something so much, you are going to endure anything and persevere to keep it alive. ”
All About Jazz: The Cosmosamatics have been in play for a handful of years.
Sonny Simmons: That's true. Absolu monde. We are very close Marcman and I. We not only love the music and are true to it, but we are very good friends from long ago. At this particular time, Cosmosamatics are getting a little bit of recognition in the world because we made a trip to Poland and Paris and now Cosmosamatics is beginning to get a little notice. We play free, avant-garde, but we're rooted in bebop. We respect the classical music before us. We respect Charlie Parker's great compositional skills and the genius of his improvisations and his mastery of technical ability, which was astounding. The Cosmosamatics is using the concept and not just going free, lawlessly wild, without direction that creates nothing but frenetic bullshit.
Music is a higher art form and we must stay true to playing music not noise. We have a lot of noise today, but Cosmosamatics is moving into another galaxy of sound.
Michael Marcus: I have a complete respect for Sonny's artistry. We have a telepathic communication, which is not something you find with a lot of other horn players. When we decided to put this group together in 2000, it was easy for us to play together. I hear what he's doing and can adapt to his style easily. I am able to adapt to his way of phrasing and his spiritual message.
AAJ: How has The Cosmosamatics evolved on record?
MM: We're tight. In fact, we just got out of the studio day doing a record for Not Two out of Poland. Half the record is Charlie Parker cuts. It is really incredible to record with Sonny on that because he is really a disciple of Bird, one of the last, true disciples. It was an honor for me to be in that situation and see The Cosmosamatics evolve to that point now where we're documenting Charlie Parker classics in our own image. The group has evolved because we are really tight harmonically and spiritually. We can hear each other and the original compositions are developed with a group sound. That was the concept, to make it a group recalling The Art Ensemble, the Modern Jazz Quartet, or the World Saxophone Quartet, make a group like that. It has been a wonderful experience.
AAJ: Has free jazz' maturation been frustrated by noise?
SS: I think so. It has been a saboteur to the music. For a person who has talent, but doesn't know scales, but yet he is a great free playing artist without knowing any laws, which we all must live by in the universe, the music is without law or formidable substance that represents music, to me, it is bourgeois.
MM: It is interesting because I was hearing a lineage between Johnny Dodds, the clarinetist, and Albert Ayler. Sonny is trying to hear that foundation of tradition in some of the younger players and he is not hearing that. But I do think there is some great avant-garde music being produced like William Parker and the late, great Steve Lacy. So there is vital stuff happening. The Cosmosamatics is one of the few groups that is bringing that tradition and honors melody and harmony and tries to bring a message with free jazz. Free jazz is 50 years old now.
AAJ: Then modern free jazz is a contradiction - without reason and conservative.
MM: It seems like now, everybody is in their own community that they want to be in. The problem we noticed is there is not a lot of camaraderie among the musicians like there used to be. It makes it more difficult to make the music a statement of the times. The new music of the '60s was a reflection of the times. But if you have a love for the music and a goal to present beautiful art, you can try to bring that forth to a reality.
SS: It is not for everybody. The population is not that wise. You have to consider that. That is true. You can't reach everybody. A few of them will dig where you're coming from, but not all of them. In the times we are living in, it is critical that we keep our integrity because there is exploitation of black artists. Brothers are desperate, trying to pay rent, trying to survive and live a decent life, but the system is so out of order. The record companies that popped up in the '60s, ESP was a new breed that recorded the new music and great artists of that time, but they exploited us, but we had no choice. We had to comply so the music would be out there and exist.
AAJ: While free jazz is manipulated by a traditional ignorance, does artistic exploitation remain with technical advances allowing for creative independence?
SS: Absolu monde. Absolu monde. Yes, it is very prevalent today. It never has stopped. Certain little record companies, the big ones, and the small ones, they all do that. Music is the biggest money making industry in the world. But they are quibbling over a few grand from artists that really need everything they got coming to them. The artist has to suffer every step of the way. It is a challenge and everyday, you have to be strong and keep your integrity toward your art form.
MM: Almost anybody now can make a record. Whereas back in the day, when a Blue Note came out, it was something. Now, anybody can make a record and it dilutes the art. Also, the music is isolated. Everybody gets in their own world and it is hard to connect with each other. That is why now we have so many tribute bands like the Herbie Nichols tribute band.
AAJ: What is the proverb for maintaining intergrity?
SS: For the love. For the love. Whether I make any money or not, I was born with this spirit and I'm going to still remain true to the God given talent that he gave me because I love it. I just love this. And when you truly and dearly love something so much, you are going to endure anything and persevere to keep it alive. If you don't love it, you are being a false prophet. We can do without those false prophets.
AAJ: And the future?
MM: I did a follow up to Blue Reality on Black Saint with Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits. That will come out next year. I will be performing in January with that trio at the Blue Note in New York.
SS: Jewels (Boxholder) was recorded in August 8, 1991. That is the masterpiece of great saxophone artistic improvisation.
AAJ: Lofty reverence.
SS: During that period, I was playing a lot. This session came about through a challenge. The gentleman that wanted me to do this said, "Sonny, I don't think you can play 60 minutes non-stop." And so I took it to 70 minutes nonstop right in his home. They recorded it there and it stayed on the shelf a long time. I finally got it and it is out.