Lou Grassi: Joining Two Worlds
Also, another thing I'm trying to find a home for - I did a duo with Marshall Allen at the Guelph Festival in 2001 and two days after that 9/11 happened...and we just sort of forgot about it. We recently listened to it and it's a really good recording... Something that's worth commenting on, Marshall Allen, Joseph Jarman and John Tchicai - all three of them were people that I didn't know and all three of them I contacted them out of the blue...They all accepted and just were enthused about the music. It's just incredible the musicians of that generation. Guys who are ten years older than myself, they have a spirit and an attitude about the music - it's always about the music. I was amazed that they would record for the money that's available. There's something about the guys in that generation; they really have that spirit - it's not just about business.
AAJ: Do you think that spirit will live on?
LG: I hope so....I'm really impressed with the young musicians on the scene - guys in their 20s and 30s play great and, I think I can speak for many of my contemporaries, much better than we were at that age. They've got their heads on straight...they have a sense of community. They create situations not just for themselves, but for themselves and others to play. Throughout history people have always said the younger generation was going to the dogs and I really can't say that. These guys are really taking care of business, I'm really impressed. But I hope they don't get so involved with taking care of business that business takes precedence over everything else.
AAJ: You're leaving for Europe tomorrow. Which band is that with?
LG: I'll be touring Europe with the NuBand, which is Roy Campell (trumpet), Mark Whitecage (reeds), Joe Fonda (bass) and myself. That's a cooperative band, there's no leader. That's been together for about three to four years. We have 16 concerts in 17 days in five countries - France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Austria, and we'll be hot by the time we get back (laughs)!
AAJ: Whose compositions is that band playing?
LG: Everybody's we've all contributed stuff, and it's also a band with compositions and open improvisation. That band has a bit of a political side to it. There are some pieces that are anti-war. Roy's written some poetry, and Mark has some things that he reads. On the US tour in Spring 2003...Joe Fonda spoke first about Bush...and we hit "free jazz" hard. This band has had a political side to it from the beginning.
AAJ: Are you finding big differences still exist between European and American audiences?
LG: We'll they're always more enthusiastic over there, really. I guess for a number of reasons. One is that they have a history of culture, and they tend to be more open minded; their tastes aren't as controlled by the media. Over here the media gets your mind at about the age of eleven, and tells you what you're supposed to like. Unfortunately, it's changing, now. American pop music has its claws everywhere. My wife and I just came back from a vacation in Italy, and the restaurants we ate in, we never heard Italian music, we only heard the worst of American pop music in the background all the time. It's a financial thing. In Europe the government felt the arts were something they had to support...and they really can't do that anymore...there's a worldwide recession...they're all looking for corporate sponsorship for their festivals, car companies, it's just like here. Once you're beholden to those powers, you have to become more commercial.
I've sometimes played in Germany, in situations where sometimes there were only 12 people, and we got paid well, and there was no static, nobody minded. And they said "Oh, we're sorry we didn't get you a better audience". They believe that art should exist. It has value for the culture; it's not expected to be profitable."
AAJ: When you're leading your own band, how are things different?
LG: I'm a kind of a low-impact leader. Some leaders really try to control everything. I trust the people that I have to do what's needed, and to undoubtedly show me some possibilities of what could happen that I would have never considered....I'm not such a great composer that my music is sacrosanct, or something. I want to see what they can make of it in fact, I count on them to make it something (laughs)! If they're creative people you don't have to give them a lot to work with, you give them a seed, and they create a flower and tree from that.
AAJ: You transition from straight-type bop to music that's totally free. Do you see the two as being different worlds?