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Ralph Alessi: Enjoying Musical Possibilities

By Published: April 7, 2005

Students from all over participate and stay in the city for a week while they are attending seminars conducted my notable musicians. "In a lot of ways that speaks to why we are doing it," says Alessi, "because a lot of these people fall outside the mold of what a teacher's supposed to be and the qualifications they're supposed to have. Our idea is that the people that are the most qualified are the people that have been doing it. They speak from experience.

"Not to say that if you don't have that type of experience you don't have anything to offer," he is quick to add. "I'm not saying that. But we feel like this is something that is easy to offer. It's easy to offer something we feel is the absolute best way to educate people wanting to choose this path. That's really what this is about. It's about teaching and encouraging people to get on this path if they're not on the path. That takes care of everything. Because once you're on the path it takes care of everything in terms of being a musician, being a human being. In my life, all of these experiences I've had with these people, you can see there is a common thread through all of them. A certain way of living your life, a certain way about thinking about life, a certain way about thinking about music. A passion for music and the idea that when someone uses the term 'playing' it's really about playing the way playing was when you were a child. Eternally young. That's the thing that's common to all of these people that have been part of this experience...

"There is something magical about this music and living this life. I think we're trying to talk about that, in addition to talking about fundamentals in music and also talking about the state of music nowadays. These types of things aren't really offered in music programs. They usually have a very codified, crystallized way of teaching jazz. Our thing is more liquid. We're trying to make the information as useful and as inspirational as possible to the students. It's a very, very important thing to me."

As for future projects, the versatile trumpeter says there are musicians he'd like to play with, like Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter and Bill Frisell. And he'd like more opportunities to write. "I feel very confident about my writing and I feel I should do a lot more. I just need to do it more. I would like to write for different configurations."

Future recording ideas could take an interesting twist, as Alessi sees it. "I'm not really big on themes. But one would be '70s music. I feel very partial to pop music from the '70s. I would only do it if I could make it sound fresh and not make it sound trendy and a device. But some of my earliest memories about ('70s) music made me really excited and made me want to be a musician. That music remains that way. I feel like it would be a nice challenge and something to explore. And then the question would be, Could I get to something? That's the only reason to do it: to make some great music. That's a thought I've had. I don't know if I'll do it."

Doing more with his classical music influences is also something that appeals to Alessi, which could include arranging some of the music, an important part of his musical upbringing, in an improvised setting.

"What people like Uri and Don Byron and Dave Douglas have done has really opened up new ways of dealing with classical music, where it doesn't sound like jazz meets classical. There really is a middle ground. I always want my music to be a middle ground. I don't want it to sound like: 'Oh. He's trying to do this type of thing here...' I just want it to all sound like music. I feel like they've done a very good job of doing that. And a lot of it is this generation of players now that went to music school and studied both classical and jazz. That's kind of a new thing. And you're seeing musicians that are really equipped to deal with it."

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