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Pianist Burton Greene

By Published: June 11, 2004
AAJ: It’s almost something you have to hear in hindsight after it’s done to get where it’s really coming from. I sometimes wonder if I was the age I am now in the ‘60s, whether I would have even been following the channels of free jazz, especially where I’m at geographically, to have even heard that music. Now there’s the computer and you can get exposed to stuff you wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. I have that to thank in part for getting exposed to the music.

BG: It’s the information highway. That’s what I’m saying, how high is up? I think that, like Leon Thomas used to say, “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” I think that there’s a high energy that you can’t even imagine. You can get to higher and higher energy if you’re self-motivated. But the thing that screws up a lot of people is that they’re too much exteriorized. That’s the basic thing I want to say: the discovery I made not just intellectually but soulfully is that whatever comes and goes on the outside – this gig or that gig, this girlfriend or that girlfriend, no girlfriend, money or no money – there’s a tremendous wellspring of resources within your own interior or your own soul. If you come from the wellspring within, or you understand yourself (that’s Satchidananda again: “to understand means to stand under where you’re already standing”), you really get down into the depths of what it’s all about from within yourself and you let go and dive in, through meditation or whatever you have to do. You get such a wellspring that your life is not predicated by the win and loss situation on the outside. Once you get that wellspring, then you can connect with kindred souls to share in that wellspring. How high is up, or how high is down? The magnificent tree, people look up at it reaching for the sky, but they don’t see how it’s reaching through the earth. Without that it would never grow. When I meditate well, I’m rooted and I’m out there.

AAJ: And who says your head can’t be in the ground and feet in the clouds, too?

BG: I slipped when I got that ticket; I was dreaming and forgot how the police were just sitting there trying to make some bread – and that’s nothing new. I was thinking about something Ahmad Jamal once told me, “vigilance is the eternal price of freedom.” That comes back to me a lot when I’m not grounded and I’m floating into a wall because I forgot about vigilance. The kite can go as far and hard and free as possible, but only if someone is standing there holding it on the ground. You’ve got to remember the guy with the string. All this is coming from within, and then you’re motivated – energy creates energy. It’s the law of things in motion to stay in motion and things stopped to stay stopped. If you want to get in that creative flow, no problem – things will happen. Who cares what form they take, as long as they happen. Don’t look the gift horse in the mouth, because we all like surprises. That’s the blueprint for living right there. That’s much more important than how many times your name comes up in Down Beat or how many times your girlfriend tells you how great you are. It’s nice to get accolades from people, but it’s much better to be happy with yourself.

Recommended Listening:

The Free Form Improvisation Ensemble (Cadence, 1964)

Patty Waters Sings (ESP-Disk’, 1966)

Burton Greene Quartet (ESP-Disk’, 1966)

Presenting Burton Greene (Columbia, 1968)

Burton Greene - Aquariana (BYG Actuel, 1969)

Burton Greene & Daoud Amin - Trees (Button Nose, 1974)

Burton Greene - Throptics (CIMP, 1995)

Burton Greene - Live at Grasland (Drimala, 2004)

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