Marc Copland: Growth Through Collaboration
Copland has collaborated with a wide range of artists over his career, but there are a few who stand out as the most significant. Always capable of finding the middle ground that links musical sensibilities that can sometimes, on the surface, appear to be disparate, the ongoing relationships that Copland has forged have resulted in some of the most deeply intuitive music of the 21st Century. "The common thread," explains Copland, "in the different collaborations is this: making music with a partner or partners who have their own approach, someone who sounds like himself or herself, allows the making of music that sounds like its own thing. I feel fortunate to work with players of this nature."
Copland has collaborated with Gary Peacock many times over the years, from trio efforts like At Night to quintet records like Softly. Perhaps the most compelling collaboration of their work together was the '04 duet on the sadly-defunct Sketch label, What It Says. "Gary Peacock is an old friend," says Copland, "and a very thoughtful guy. He's perhaps the most harmonically aware bassist. When Gary hears a complex chord from the piano, he'll cock his head to one side, listen for a moment, and then run his hand up or down the neck of the bass, playing an arpeggio that nails the chord. He also plays piano, and that no doubt contributes to this kind of awarenessit's quite a talent, one that few musicians have. A bassist with ears like that is remarkable."
Aside from the two recent trio collaborations with Kenny Wheeler, Copland has worked with Abercrombie on a number of past projects, including Second Look and My Foolish Heart. "Other than the Brecker brotherswith whom I grew up in PhillyI've been friends with John longer than anybody," Copland explains. "We met when I was 23. He's such a considerate guy, not your prototype guitar personality. And the wonderful thing about John is that he's a direct descendant of Jim Hall's approach to guitarhe thinks about what he's going to play before he plays it, what kind of chord he'll play and how it'll sound. When piano and guitar play together, if it's not bebop or something with tightly organized changes, the road can go one of two ways: one way, a beautiful orchestral mélange of textures and sounds; the other way, a complete train wreck.
"John listens so well," Copland continues. "He's very into joining hands and making the music work as a cooperative effort. When you listen to all the recordings we've done, and all the gigs we've done, there's just no clashing. That's the result of two players giving up their egos and saying, 'we want to make this work.' Sometimes that means one of us laying out while the other comps behind Kenny Wheeler; but even more important is how we comp together. Even as far back as Second Look we did that a lot. It becomes a question of, on an eyes closed, intuitive, listening kind of level, seeing where the other guy's going with his chord, and then saying, musically, with a chord coming back, 'that sounds good, let's continue there,' or 'wait, how about we go in this direction?' with the confidence that the other guy will come back and say, 'OK, let's do that.' We get a lot of grins going back and forth when we play together, which is always nice."
Copland's association with Kenny Wheeler is more recent, but no less significant. "Kenny's such a sweet and shy man," Copland says, "who probably somewhere down inside still doesn't think he plays very well. There are a lot of trumpet players out there, but when you put on a Kenny Wheeler CD you know it's him from the first note. How many trumpet players can you say that about? Not many! I think his prodigious talent as a composer has contributed significantly to shaping the way he plays, and the kind of progressions he comes up with in his writing and his playing have a certain beauty and poignancy that are really his.
"Other than all the obvious things that have been said for years about this cat," Copland continues, "I can only add that when I'm as old as he is, I hope I'm playing half the music he's playing. I see it all the time, when we play, these young trumpet players in the backs of rooms shaking their heads, going 'how does he do it'? The trumpet is, with the possible exception of the oboe, the most physically demanding instrument, and Kenny's not a big strong guy. It reminds me very much of descriptions I've read of [cellist] Pablo Cassals in his later years. He was gnarled and bent over, and when he got up in the morning he looked like a frail old man. He'd walk over and sit at the piano and play some Bach chorales and the minute he started playing it was like his whole physical appearance changed; he straightened up, he seemed to have more power and then by the time he got to the cello he was wailing. That's Kenny."
While Copland has worked off and on with Greg Osby over the years, he has only recently recorded with him, specifically on two subtle and sublime albums on Nagel-HeyerRound and Round, and the followup, Night Call. "Where to start?" says Copland. "He plays lines unlike any other saxophonist; absolutely unique. There are many saxophonists who draw from different sources and mold their influences into something original. Greg is familiar with all these sources, knows them as well as the next guy, but at some point in his developmentit's as if Salvador Dali had been painting like Rembrandt, and then one day stopped on a dime and said, 'Wait, I'm going to paint like Dali now, that's the end of Rembrandt.' And here's Greg who all of a sudden developed this entirely new way of approaching linear development on the instrument that is totally unlike anything I've ever heard.
"There are several things linking us together," continues Copland. "A great friendship, a genuine artistic and professional respectbut even more important, the desire to get off the foundation tonality and add to it and paint around it. We each do this in a different way, which is cooltwo palettes going at once.
"This is how we met," concludes Copland. "We knew each other, and played together a bit. In the '90s I had the quintet that recorded Stompin' with Savoy. Bob Berg was the regular tenor player, and he couldn't make some gigs coming up. I tried a couple of cats who were logical choices to fill in, who played in a similar direction, and they were busy. I was speaking with my friend Bob Belden, the composer/arranger/saxophonist/producer, and asked his advice. He said, 'What about Osby?' I said, 'But it's a tenor chair,' and he said, 'So what? Rewrite the book.' Bob and I know each other very well, from working in his band many years, and we can almost read each other's mind. I said, 'You know, you're right.' I rewrote the book, and Greg played the pants off it. So that's when we began working together more. When the opportunity arose, doing a duo record seemed like a natural."