Ken Vandermark: That Was Now
AAJ: Was there a list of people you considered?
KV: We talked through the possibilities of how we wanted to consider the band. Initially the group played in Chicago all the time and we worked primarily in town, rehearsed every week, performed every week all year long for several years. As people's reputations developed, as the band's reputation developed, we did more and more work outside of town. The question we had was, if Jeb leaves, and we do want to continue, since we're working primarily in town, do we look outside Chicago? Do we look outside the United States? We talked through some different people, but the thing we came back to was, if we keep the group connected with Chicago, even if we're not doing concerts, if everybody's in town we can still work together and rehearse new material together.
Since we decided to do that, the list of people from town that made sense, that dramatically reduced it. Even though there's a lot of great players in town, the idea of having another reed player made no sense whatsoever. Jeb's a monster musician. Technically, he can play his ass off, he can read incredibly well, and he's extremely creative. He doesn't just play the same thing everytime he plays. He's really pushing himself all the time. He's very serious about all that and very individual. He's got his own approach to things. So we needed to find someone with that attitude, the attitude of a real improviser with a real individual personality, and with the skills to do a broad range of things. Put that into it, you cut down the list even more.
We needed someone who could be a bandleader in their own right. The idea of Fred came up and it made more sense than anything else we could come up with. Fred is established, he's worked with a huge range of people, can play tons of different kinds of music, the idea of having two reed players and two strings in the group was very interesting. Since Jeb years ago stopped playing guitar, a couple of things we lost was the possibility of having a larger rhythm section. A lot of the horn writing in later years was an attempt to keep different rhythmic possibilities going underneath soloists, so it wasn't just a string of horn solos. Having Fred in there able to comp and back soloists and create more rhythmic diversity and density is really exciting to me. Also, Fred's interest in using different kinds of effects and electronics will add a whole new set of parameters to the group, too. It's a really exciting choice, and the fact that Fred's interested, everyone in the band is really happy about it.
AAJ: You guys have a lot of history with the Territory Band, the Tentet, and the Flying Luttenbachers.
KV: That's the other thing about working with a player from town, there's a lot of history amongst the players here. Instead of starting at zero, you've got some ground there to work on, some ideas of what might be possible and take it from there.
AAJ: Is the band going to start over with a whole new book, or will you be modifying older compositions for the new lineup?
KV: My idea is to take The Color of Memory and rearrange those pieces for having Fred in the group, just because that's the newest set of compositions, and it'll give us a transition when we're touring with the album, and people will have a sense of what the music sounded like. That makes sense to me. Then I'll begin writing new material with those people in mind. That's actually what I'm most excited about, the practicality of trying to deal with the most recent record makes a lot of sense. It gives us a starting point, gets us off the ground quickly. The main thing is I want to be writing new music for the band, and really take advantage of what the capabilities are for that set of instruments and players.
AAJ: At the time of retirement, how many tunes did that band know?
KV: I think by the time we did the Alchemia box set, that was the working book. I think there was some stuff we didn't do that wasn't in the book at the time, but pretty much we wanted to play everything that we had. It's pretty close to about 40 pieces, I think. The number of tunes since the beginning of the band must be about 150 or more. There working book allowed to play two sets a night for five nights and not duplicate too many pieces, which says a lot about how hard the band worked to learn the material.
AAJ: Are you enjoying playing more baritone?
KV: I don't know why, but I have a certain affinity to the horn. Maybe because as a kid I heard of lot of baritone players on recordings, Gerry Mulligan, Harry Carney. Maybe the sound, something about the tone. There's a lot things I'm attracted to that I'm able to get across with that instrument in ways that I can't with the other horns. It feels really really comfortable to me. It allows me moreso than with the bass clarinet, which has the same range, it's a louder horn so I can lay in on vamps and some rhythmic things in the bass and be heard in a way that isn't quite possible with the bass clarinet.
The group is designed to work as acoustically as possible. It's really good if we're setting up in a theatre or club, playing to 100-200 people, and not using a PA, it's pretty important to take in the technical consideration of what the instruments are able to do. At least for me, the baritone is superior for things of volume over the bass clarinet. Bass clarinet offers a lot of other things, the timbre and other things you can do which are quite different from the baritone. It's a great horn, I really really love it. There's a couple of things on The Color of Memory where I'm doubling the bass with the horn in a way that really pushes the stuff. I love doing that stuff with the Tentet and the Territory Band. There's something fantastic about having the baritone on the bottom, almost driving the group, or helping to drive the group from a rhythmic standpoint.