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Bill Bruford: No Random Act

By Published: May 4, 2004
"And it was very fast, Bruford continues. "Like so many things these days there was a three hour rehearsal the day before and that was it. It's a great standard; all I can say is the young guys are getting to be like tennis players—they're getting better and better and quicker and quicker. Like Henry, we only had a short rehearsal with Gwilym, but it's the same thing; it's internalized very quickly. The only questions will be, 'Should we have this section twice as long as that one?' or, 'Should we have this section half as long?'; and one or two kind of logistical map reading kinds of questions. But the music will come together very, very quickly, and it's absolutely astonishing to me; well not exactly astonishing, but I'm thrilled; it says a huge amount about the future of jazz if it's in the hands of these young guys.

Changes in American policy are also making alternate plans a necessity. "It's getting harder by the minute, explains Bruford, " and it's getting more expensive by the minute. It costs $4,000 for me to bring a band into the States, just in visa costs alone. Then there's a certain amount of headache with the paperwork; a European musician has to state every country he's been to over the past ten years. Now, we're in and out of countries every two minutes, so this represents severe academic work. And whereas people used to say, 'Yeah, we're going to the States,' now it's a bit like, 'Oh, bloody hell.' And I'm a British guy who comes and goes all the time, but God knows what it's like if you're some middle eastern nose flautist, it would be very difficult.

"It's causing me to have Americans in the band, continues Bruford. "It is also causing me to spend much of this year out of the States. I live in Europe you know, it's got quite a good scene and it's around the corner. But I've always played in the States, for my whole life, and it seems very strange if I don't come over for a year or more, but I currently have no plans for gigs there. It's rough out there, what can I tell you.

Attracting Long-Time Fans

While Bruford is gaining ground in jazz circles, a significant part of his audience consists of fans that go back to his days in progressive rock. He clearly draws a non-specific jazz crowd. "They just follow me into this thing, Bruford says. "They might have heard some horrible stuff about this so-called jazz, and they go away with a big smile on their face; I don't really know why that is, but it's obvious we enjoy doing it. I also think that the overarching name Earthworks has been helpful in that, generally speaking, it's been around for a while and that name has become associated with me. Hopefully you stick those names outside any club and people will come; not necessarily knowing who's going to be in the band, but that it will be high quality juice.

"But it's not particularly easy, Bruford continues. "Once you've persuaded the greater American public that you are something, to tell them that you are then actually something else is difficult. Also the Japanese mind—once you've established yourself as a progressive rock musician, it's virtually impossible to get them to write about you as a jazz musician; it's an inconceivable leap of the imagination, whereas for me it's very easy. To some extent I don't mind, I'd rather have some kind of identifiable background than nothing at all, but it is past and I think it's fair that the emphasis be on what I'm doing now.

"In England, after about the required fifteen years has passed, concludes Bruford, "most people will accept that I'm fairly genuine about what I do, and I'm now accepted in the jazz community; especially with the Gwilym Simcocks and Tim Garlands and other people around the easier it is for me. So it's great, but it has been a fair amount of work.

Earthworks Underground

Coming up in May, Bruford will be combining Earthworks with Tim Garland's Dean Street Underground Orchestra, to create Earthworks Underground. "It's a nine piece band, explains Bruford. "Tim Garland on saxophones and woodwinds, Iain Ballamy on tenor sax, Andy Panayi on baritone, Gerard Presencer and Nathan Bray on trumpets, Barnaby Dickinson on trombone, Laurence Cottle on acoustic and electric basses—Mark Hodgson can't do it, he's out with Billy Cobham—myself on drums and either Steve Hamilton or Gwilym Simcock on piano and keyboards. Iain and Tim are doing the arrangements. We'll be doing some material from Earthworks Mark I including 'Thud,' 'Pigalle,' and Iain's lovely ballad, 'It Needn't End in Tears'; also 'Up North,' which was kind of our hit; also half a dozen tunes that Tim's doing that he really liked, as well as a couple of tunes of his that are not strictly Earthworks tunes. We might also do 'My Heart Declares a Holiday,' with Iain and Tim doing a two-tenor Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis thing. That'll be fun.

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