A Fireside Chat With Taylor Ho Bynum
THB: It's a good question. Originally, once I started working with Braxton, I got very interested in multi-instrumentalism and timbre issues and trying to cover as many timbres and use as many mutes as possible. So timbre has always been something that I have been really interested by. For a while, every gig, I would be taking my trumpet and my flugelhorn and my pocket trumpet and three bags of mutes and a trombone that I would play with a trumpet mouthpiece. That was just a drag (laughing). I am supposed to be the trumpet player. I shouldn't have more gear than the drummer. So that just got difficult on a logistic level.
Also, once I started playing the cornet, what I love about the cornet is that it gives me a little bit of all of those. I find it, in some ways, a more malleable instrument than the trumpet. It can really attack like the trumpet. It can have that forceful attack. But then, it can give you a really soft, round flugelhorn tone. I play a 1910 old, vintage Conn and the intonation is weird. It is a strange horn, kind of like a pocket trumpet because you never know what is going to come out. So it gave me a little bit of all the different horns I was trying in one horn. So that ended up being great for me. The other part of it, for the cornet is this cornet in particular, the main group that I have been working with for the last four years is the Fully Celebrated Orchestra and that is the band that I play with most regularly and the leader of that group, Jim Hobbs plays a vintage Conn alto and the first time we pulled out the two horns together, I think they may have come out of the factory at the same time and it was just a totally great blend.
FJ: You've led a charmed life considering your two primary teaching influences were Anthony Braxton and Bill Lowe.
THB: I agree. I was incredibly lucky. I count myself as incredibly fortunate to have two teachers like that. You are right. The thing that is incredible is I came up when I was sixteen and Bill has played with Henry Threadgill and then you hit Braxton and Braxton has done everything from full orchestra pieces to solo saxophone. He is the full spectrum of music. I think coming up in that kind of a context, I think was incredible for me. It just makes me aware of how rich music is and how rich the music we call jazz is. You can't define it. You can't prescribe it. You can't say it is this box. If you look at it in its totality, it becomes such a richer experience. I agree. I dropped out of Wesleyan for a while and I went to the New School for one semester and I couldn't take it there. It was like that. It was this is what jazz is. This is the bebop style. This is the hard bop style. The music ended in 1960 and this is how you are supposed to play it. Not everybody there because there are some really great teachers there, but the overall atmosphere there was one that didn't look at the music in its totality and also look at the culture in its totality. The thing that is really important is to not take the music in a vacuum and look at it in its larger cultural context and talking about dance and literature and film and history and politics and that is something that Anthony always does and Bill always does and I try to do now when I teach.
FJ: Collaborating with Braxton must be akin to being a sponge.
THB: Certainly his dedication and his focus on music and his analytical, the great analytical lengths to which he applies to his music is incredibly inspiring and incredibly devoted. For anyone who takes this music seriously, it becomes a spiritual thing because obviously, you are not doing it for the financial reward or the cultural cache. You have to have that spiritual intent. Music has to be your god. It has to be your focus. At the same time, Anthony is one of the funniest people I know. He has an incredible sense of humor. He is an incredibly grounded person. We have also been talking about the political situation right now and the war that is on the horizon. His devotion to the music is incredible, but he is also a very real human being.
FJ: Why did you return to Wesleyan?