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Bennie Maupin: Miles Beyond

By Published: September 12, 2006
AAJ: You moved to LA in the early seventies?

BM: Yeah, Herbie and I, and Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Freddie Hubbard, there was an exodus from New York, we all moved here. Joe Henderson moved up to the Bay Area. And then eventually, the last hold out, Miles, he moved up to Malibu, after saying he would never do so.

AAJ: How did you come to study with Lyle Spud Murphy?

BM: I was introduced by one of my friends, a fellow Buddhist. He was studying composition and orchestration with Murphy, and kept telling me about him. Then I discovered the National Endowment for the Arts, and that they have a program that they will give you a grant to study privately with somebody if it's related to jazz or composition. I decided I wanted to study composition and orchestration with Spud Murphy. He was totally my mentor, giving me great information, showing me his system and how to utilize it. Taking me through, not only his written examples, but examples of his students. That connection with Spud Murphy changed my entire musical thinking forever.

AAJ: What year was that?

BM: 1978, or a little earlier. By then I was doing things I never thought I could do musically as a result of studying with him, and exploring his system. Getting that instant feedback from him was the most valuable thing. That's something that's missing today from a lot of young musicians, they don't get the feedback from guys older than they are, who've already accomplished a certain amount.

Consequently, they don't know what they're doing. They think they can do no wrong, and that they know everything. The longer you study music you find you know very little. Spud opened up the infinite possibilities of sound. His whole theory was based on the overtone series, which is a natural phenomenon occurring in nature, and in the world of physics. He not only guided me musically, he guided me spiritually as well. He didn't deal with style. That's not what he was interested in. His whole thing was showing me how to manipulate sound and how things can work, and what works best in certain situations, and what doesn't. He's a giant and I'm determined his memory will never be lost. That's why I dedicated my CD to him. Wherever I go, he goes.

AAJ: Now you're back with an all acoustic band.

BM: I'm back to square one, back to the acoustic group. People have forgotten what acoustic music sounds like. Everything is so electrified and manipulated electronically, so to hear the natural sound of the bass, or the natural sound of a percussion instrument, or the bass clarinet, or whatever it is, is a thing of great beauty.

AAJ: Penumbra comes off as a chamber music album.

BM: That was very deliberate on my part. In 2001, I received a composition grant from Chamber Music America. They're the largest music service organization in America. Every year they have a composition competition for musicians who do improvised music, and every year, composers who have ensembles receive these grants to produce concerts, to perform their music, and to compose their music and present it in public. In 2004, they called and invited me to bring my ensemble to New York to play at their 26th annual conference. I was able to play two nights at Sweet Basil's. The final concert for CMA was held in a church.

As a result of playing a performance in a church for CMA, I met people who present chamber music concerts. I'm doing what I can to promote myself as a chamber artist. I really feel if there's going to be a future for the music that I'm doing, it's going to be in environments where the emphasis is on the music. Promoters and presenters are very open to what I'm doing. I'm pursuing that, very assertively. Chamber Music America is very supportive of that. They want to have more interesting programming. I'm finding other ways to market myself, because you got to change the way you do things if you want something different to happen.

AAJ: It seems like you've distilled your larger band works, so with no loss of drama or funk, you've learned how translate it to small acoustic ensemble.

BM: That's what I did exactly. Pared it all down. Because of technology, sometimes things have gotten too thick. If you cover up all the space, then you have nothing. So I opened up the space, focused on the rhythm, and made everything very transparent. Took the guitar out of the music, and took the piano out of the music, except the very last piece, of course. I've discovered through experimentation and through experience how to imply the harmony, not necessarily state it. You still get the feeling that everything's complete. The rule applied that less is more. It takes time. I feel like I'm at a point in my life where I've had valuable experiences with incredible musicians, and now things are coming through me in a different way. I really am hopeful that I'll be able to present this music live with my ensemble.

AAJ: You dedicate a song to Walter Bishop, Jr.

BM: He was the first student of Spud Murphy I knew. Walter was always sharing stuff with me, that whole book he wrote on the cycle of fourths. He opened up my ears in a different way. I had to pay tribute to him. He used to live up on Larabee, around the corner from the Whiskey. I used to go up to his apartment; I would be up there for hours. He'd sit down at the piano and he might not get up. Our intention was to go have dinner with our wives, and sometimes they'd come up and say, you have to stop. He was a master teacher.

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