Charles Gayle: Always Reaching
AAJ: Did you find many people to play with at that time?
CG: No, but I was branching out. I played two musics. I would play straight, you know, piano bars, playing on gigs. I would play piano, sometimes bass. If I had a gig or situation to play free, I'd play free. It was basically me and two other people playing free where I came from. We were a trio, and then eventually we got this trumpet player and he played free. It became a quartet. I came to New York in the mid-'60s, got some gigs, got to know people. I worked with Eddie Gale, Ronnie Boykins. I found Rashied Ali. We hooked up a few times. We were running together.
AAJ: When you were living outside, did you get access to a piano at all?
AAJ: When did you get back on the piano?
CG: When I'd go to gigs I'd play a little piano, but I didn't have any chops at all. I just sat down and played, probably shouldn't have. I'm the first to say it. I started to get a little more into it about the time that first solo record came out, five or six years ago. I started to look at piano a little more. I still don't have a piano. I have a keyboard. When I finally got inside out of that lifestyle and finally found an apartment, then the Knitting Factory asked to make a record, and I actually I wanted to get the record out, which was maybe a little premature, but I wanted to push myself to play piano. I said, well maybe if I get something pretty good, it'll give me the thing to go on and then I'll keep on pushing for it. I can't just keep waiting around.
I don't know, in a way that might be short changing people when you do things like that, but I just had to do it. I apologize to anyone who doesn't like it. I didn't mean to do it like that, but I had to do something. I was also thinking about when I get older what I'm going to do and I've reached it. So whether I was going to be playing saxophone and if not, I would have the piano ready. That motivates me to do it.
AAJ: Given the performances on Time Zones, you must have played a lot since then.
CG: I have a chance to practice, I have to say. I have a nice keyboard. It's a little weighted. It feels close to how a piano feels. I practice the best I could, considering I practice two instruments. It's coming. I don't know where it's coming or if it's good or bad, but I'm trying to work at it. To get back in it, I listened to players from the '40s and the '30s, and some in the '50s. Just to get the homework done, just to play catch up. I don't even know if people consider me a pianist, so I don't know what to say.
AAJ: Do you play piano with groups anymore, or do you mostly play solo?
CG: All the gigs I've had since the first record have been solo. I wanted to be a solo pianist initially. When I started playing it was my goal to do that, only because "Fatha" Hines and Tatum and James P. Johnson could play like that, and I said, well, I'll do it. That was my goal four, five, six years ago to be a solo pianist. I also know that would limit me playing clubs, but I don't even know how practical it is to think like that now, or even if I'm good enough to be a soloist. But it's going to go where it's going to go. I'm not holding on to that so tight. We'll see what happens.
AAJ: On each of the tracks on Time Zones you embody the whole history of jazz from James P. Johnson, to the blues. You take it out, you bring it back.
CG: I don't want to sound like I'm copying everybody. Maybe I need a little more time to make it totally personal. I like that. There's a way of playing. I know I could use a style that wouldn't relate to any of that and it would sound so completely personal and hopefully original, but that doesn't mean it's going to be good.
AAJ: Yours is a very original sound.
CG: I love that kind of music, and that's what I want to do. It's blended, but I love the blues, stride, speed, no speed, dissonances, all of that. I'm trying to churn it around, make a music out of it myself. I'm going to continue to do it the best I can because I love that kind of music. I really do. It just swings for a second, then it walks. I can't get away from it, and I'm not going to try. So that's it.
AAJ: You've played recently with Henry Grimes and Sirone. Any thoughts on those two giants?
CG: Great, great, great, great players. They're completely different. Sirone is living in the wrong country. He needs to be in America. Sirone muscles the bass. He's probably the strongest bassist, besides William Parker, in the world. I don't mean he's trying to just exhibit strength, but he has that and plays it like it's a toy. But he stays in physical shape to do that. He really attacks the bass. He's not about just hanging. Grimes plays it more than attacks it. And they both can go anywhere, anytime.
AAJ: And William Parker?
CG: He's different than both of them. He's busy. He's great. He's strong. His mind is working completely all the time. Grimes can be a little more laid back, even Sirone, but William is absolute forward motion. He can wear you out, too. If you play with William and just go for it, you have to be very strong to play with him. I mean that. If he's going to push you and you're going to push him, you've got to be physically strong to do that. It's a good thing to have fun and challenge each other too. Like a jam session, to go at each other while you're playing and then that brings out some other music. Sometimes people do it and sometimes they don't. That's their prerogative.
I like to do that sometimes, but that's from the old school, to just take a person on and say let's go for it then. I was playing one time with Sironewe were playing over in Europe. It was just a duo. People were making noise. He started playing something and it was forceful, and everybody shut up. He was so strong with what he was doing, he made everyone be quiet. A lot of times you do that when you're playing soft, but he just went through the crowd because he wanted them to be quiet. He didn't say anything. He just played them quiet. And I said, whoa, that's all right. I'll always remember that.