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Adam Rogers Discusses His Imminent Debut Release and More

By Published: September 12, 2005
AAJ: How do you approach composing?

AR: How I compose really varies. Sometimes I think, 'I need a fast tune'. Like, with Lost Tribe I've said, Well I really want to write kind of an angular, polytonal, fast tune.

AAJ: Oh, I see. A polymetric, polytonal, slammingly funky masterpiece, which is a lot of what you guys wrote actually (laughs).

AR: But the point is, sometimes I start from an arbitrary idea of writing a certain kind of tune and then write that. And I use certain techniques, like contrapuntal techniques I learned through studying classical composition or from playing a lot of classical music. Other times, I come up with a groove, like a bass line I've had sitting around for a long time that somehow is compelling to me and I've waited for or worked on a melody that is somehow just as compelling. Or sometimes I come up with a melody in need of a continuation or a bass line. Usually, I'll come up with an element that's compelling, which is the easy part. What's more difficult is getting the rest'you have to reach deep to find the other pieces you feel as strongly about. Then there are times I write songs from beginning to end without thinking about it. They write themselves.

AAJ: Any favorites of your tunes you want to point people towards?

AR: On this current record I feel pretty strongly about them all. There's a song called 'Absalom' that I recorded again that I feel good about And then there's a free song called 'The Aleph'. Only a few of the tunes I write have titles reflecting what I feel the tune may reflect. There's a song called 'The Unvanquished', which is a ballad. There's an element of that song that reflects a striving to deal with adversity. 'Esteban' is another song named for a character in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story called 'The Handsomest Drowned Man'. The reason I called it that was that I read this short story, an evocative and beautiful Marquez short story, and I got up and wrote that tune from beginning to end. It sounds like the soundtrack to an Ecuadorian or Colombian short story. On previously recorded things, on the Lost tribe records, there are pieces called 'Concentrics' and 'Manticore' that I really like a lot, kind of chromatic funk things. Then a song called 'The River' which is like a country tune.

AAJ: Tell us about Fima's new record, Soul Machine.

AR: I played on the whole record. David Torn played on it as well, and he mixed a couple of the tracks. That's a cool record with Jim Black and Edward Simon. Fima's grandmother, a Belgian lady, sings on it. It's a beautiful creative record on Zorn's label.

AAJ: Here's your opportunity to weigh in on a year-end thing, or weigh in on say, the Ken Burns controversy.

AR: I actually watched almost all of the Ken Burns thing. As a documentary filmmaker there are lot of things he does that are really cool. A lot of documentary filmmakers don't like him because he gotten really popular and he does this kind of melodramatic thing, but he's got a real style. For me it was really interesting with regard to early jazz history'although I think the people he used as information- givers were limited. I think he could have utilized quite a few other people. I'm not sure if this is the case, but perhaps because of Wynton's renown as an educator and a trumpet player, he used him constantly. That's not to say he doesn't have a tremendous knowledge of jazz history, but there are enough people who were actually alive in the 40's and 50's who I think would have been very interesting to hear from. You can think whatever you want about Wynton's opinions, but apart from that, he was on the show constantly. If you have 15 people on you're going to get a greater variance of opinion. A lot of it is an aural tradition, so' it was too much of too few people commenting on the history of jazz. For me, it was very educational about the 20s and the 30s, and so all the stuff about the swing era bands, and Louis and Bix and Frankie Trumbauer was interesting. Obviously, what happened is from the late 50's,early 60s, to the present day, he didn't deal with really at all. He kind of just glossed over it. From the perspective of a documentary filmmaker, it would be a much harder project to tackle because from 1960 until today, so many different things happened'there's so many different branches. If I were him, and maybe it's the advice he was getting'and I was really determined to paint a picture of jazz music from its formative stages to present day, I would have done two series. One from the beginning to the 60s and one from 1960 to present day. If you're going to do a historical documentary you do the entire history in depth or else it seems irresponsible. I think somehow it inferred that the last 40 years were not as important as the preceding eras. AAJ: That was the inference, I think.

AR: Ok'well...I think that's a drag (laughs) y'know. I think Burns deferred to people who have their own ideas about what was important and what wasn't.

AAJ: That's the way to temper it and probably the more likely scenario.

AR: There's only so much you can do. The branches of influence that jazz music went into from 1960 to today are so multifarious and it's also' from the 60's to today, the music is not as easy to understand as Louis Armstrong or even 1950s Miles Davis. It's much more challenging and not as saleable. What are you going to do? Present late John Coltrane and go in depth? A lot of people might not get that at all. It doesn't have the same melodic and rhythmic structure and it's not as easy to understand as bebop or swing era music. The fact that Louis and Duke were referred to, even through the seventies, and had these long sections of each episode dedicated to what they were doing at a time in their lives when they were certainly not in the avant-garde... Armstrong was an avant-garde founding father in the 20s, and he and Duke both did incredible things until they died, but they weren't the guys creating the new music in the 60s and 70s..What was that? I dunno'

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