Joe McPhee Interview
AAJ: So if you weren't in the army, you might not have had an opportunity to have such an intense musical education?
JM: No, probably I would've stopped playing. Maybe I would've come back to it at some point. In fact, I had no intention of playing music in the army; I wanted to study electronics; that was what I was qualified for; I went to school for that; I thought I could get some kind of practical application, you know, for a background that would get me a job at IBM or something, and I went once on a field tripbecause I was studying electronics in college, electronics technology and stuff like that, and I thought I'd get this backgroundI went to IBM on a field trip and absolutely hated it; I hated everything that had to do with it; it was tedious, and awful people; I said, "No, man, this is not for me". And the army was an accident, with the music, because I did have that background and I qualified for this school in electronics. They said, "Okay, but we don't have an opening now, and you're finished with basic trainingwhat do you wanna do? We need trumpet players; if you wanna do that: fine, we can take you now; otherwise you'll end up in the infantry""That's a no-brainer; I'm not going in infantry, and I'm not going to be in some tanks and all that crapNo! trumpet!": I ended up in the band school.
JM: I played in a band that was sort of like a soul band; it was called Ira and the Soul Project, and the other saxophonist, Otis Green, was in it. Strangely enough, in 1974, when we were doing this recording I mentioned called Pieces of Light, with John Snyder, we took a break and we went to this little French restaurant that was just down the road from where we were recording. And while we were there, Otis Green, the alto player, came into the place and we saw him and I waved and I said "Otis, what are you doing here?", and he was looking very confused and so on, and he said "You know, I have no idea". He said "I was driving by and I went down the road and suddenly I slammed on the brakes, turned around, and came back here." He said "I've never been in this place before in my life and I don't know why I'm here now." And he said "But, you know what, I was looking for you Joe; I'm going to have to leave"he worked for IBMhe said "I'm being transferred some place and I was looking for you to see if you would take my place in this band. Would you be willing to do that?" I said "Yeah, okay." So I ended up playing with that band for about five yearsIra and the Soul Project. So that was very strange. It was the end of the CJR recordings, and CJR of course helped to begin the Hat HUT recordings...Ira Frazier was a singer, who sang in sort of the style of Marvin Gaye, and we had a drummer, guitarist, a Hammond B3 player, and myself. We played on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights in a club that was called the Monte Carlo in Poughkeepsie, and before Ira showed up to singand people dancing; it was greatthere'd be a jam session.
AAJ: Actually, while we're kind of talking about soul and rock and things like that, you know, it's really interesting to think about this aspect of dancing to music, and there's like different ways of enjoying music and things, and I guess over the years your music went in the direction where you wanted things to maybe be a little more subtle. The sort of grooves and everything you might've played at one time might have lost their appeal, but do you ever have a feeling that you might want to recapture that sort of simple, straight-ahead kind of groove?
JM: No, because you can't go home again. I mean that was something that happened at the time. You also noticed thatin the progression and stuffthat in those early things there was a drumin fact there were two drummers on that, and a bass player, and a groove and a beat, and blah blah blah, and it was music for dancing. Eventually I moved away fromthere was no drummer, and no bassiston the Trinity recording there was no bassist; there's a pianist and drummer, but no bassist, because the two bass players I had decided that we weren't playing real music, and he couldn't be bothered with that because it was threatening his ability to work in other contexts, so he didn't want to do it"okay, fine, go away; we don't need you". When I played with Raymond Boni, there was no need for a drummer because Raymond is so rhythmic, and there was no need for a bassist too, because he carried all of that; he was an orchestra in itself. And then I found that drummers just got in the way; there are some wonderful drummers, and I've played with some really great onesHamid Drake is one, and I've got recordings with him, and so on like that, and that's another thing, but I don't see the need to keep stating the beat and all like thatit just gets in my way; it's for somebody else. And I played withfor example, on this Topology [points to the Topology CD on Hat ART], there's a drummer, but he never plays drums; Pierre Favre is an incredible percussionist and he had a whole stage full of stuff, but he never played drums, you know, he didn't have to state the beat and all that stuff; he just played percussive things and created environments for the music to happen. Music for dancing people can dance anytime they want to anything I do; you know, if the spirit moves your groove, you get up and dance, but it won't be something that you can forgetyou know, like, forget about what's going on because the beat will always be there and locked in no, the beat's in your heart, so find it. That's what it's all about.