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Barre Phillips

By Published: May 12, 2004
BP: Again it was the outside world that pushed me to do that. I was going to stay a few months in London and come back here but sh*t happens. And the stuff that was proposed to me to stay over there and do was music for a French theatre piece and it was a real project, something like six weeks rehearsal time and a tour around France playing solo which had come out of a project where a guy, the theatre director, had heard me playing a quartet with Marion Brown and other musicians and asked me if I would do this thing solo and I said yes and that gave me this long, something like three months of playing solo and his direction for the piece were play as much and whenever you want to. So it was like this door opening - now you've got time to do this solo playing. It's like when we put the solo record out with Max Schubel and I said if you really think this thing should be done artistically and so on then okay. Who's going to decide? Being at the time at the beginning of personal expression in music. I had no way to say this is good this is no good. Started a whole process of how do you deal with what you're doing? So these windows are opening to things. Now I do this theatre piece and that was what it was for me. It was an incredible experience to be able to work three months solo with a guy that the more far out it was the more he liked it so just go every direction, go for it, unamplified, completely acoustic. Towards the end of that run, he said 'I want to produce a tour for you playing solo, would you accept that?' and that was really a number to say yes, I was much too petrified to go out and play solo concerts of my own music so I prepared a two-halves concert, prepared music, written music, I played a Charles Wittenberg piece, a piece by my brother who is a composer...I played that, I played some Bach suites. A couple of modern pieces and one bread and butter piece and the second half I improvised or at the time I was already starting to write tunes on the bass. Now all of this is happening in '68, '69, '70, just boom, rammed into a little more than 18 months from the recording, the theatre piece, the solo tour. Then people started asking me to do a solo performance or 'We'd like to invite you to this festival, what can you propose?' well there's this and this and'I could play a solo. I had never been to the point...where I said now I have a solo show, you know American-style 'show' and I'm going to exploit that in terms of going out and doing tours, consciously doing more recordings. It's been more like an update, it's been every eight or nine years when there has been enough music going under the bridge that it feels right. ...So to start thinking about all this stuff, what does this all mean, why you and who are you and what am I and in the middle of all that what does it actually mean? I knew right away it was not about the product but about process and it got me very much involved in terms of the last 20 years of somehow defending improvised music in terms of a process rather than a product music 'cause I got to a point where I could choose, through the work with ECM for example, I could have chosen to become a product guy, I don't know if I would have made it or not but I could have chosen to be a product guy and trying to get my product go in a certain direction, musical direction that Manfred Eicher and ECM love, produces very well and I bet they can sell it too (laughs).

AAJ: Did it help that solo bass didn't have a history?

BP: Absolutely. The historical part is because it is not an electronic instrument. The double bass instrument was a tradition from all the different ways it's been played up to today and you have to have some sort of respect for that tradition and deal with that kind of history but in terms of its solo-ness, it's a very small tradition and pretty much all borrowed, coming from classical music where you find guys playing cello suites because there aren't any Bach bass suites...and the technology of the instrument being such prior to the late '50s, strings and bows and so on being such to make a very ungracious solo instrument, in terms of it being much too difficult to play'it's got these big old fat gut strings and everything... I see my job today as I saw going back 30, 35 years ago, that's just to be able to read the signs that are there, of what's going on today as well as possible to the best that you can.

AAJ: Do your bass duos function as a meeting of two approaches to the same idea?

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