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David Binney: Airplanes, Cities, Moods and Vibes

By Published: September 4, 2006
AAJ: I love that moment on the song where your solo snaps back into the theme. That's really effective, and it's something I hear a lot in your music. I mean, everybody solos and then goes back into the theme, but there is something about the way you construct your solos that makes the moment the theme is restated really thrilling and dramatic. Is this characteristic something you're aware of?

DB: Yeah, I think I'm aware of it—only in the sense that after years of writing and playing, I realize that when it happens, like you, it really affects me. When we play live, I see how it affects audiences. I think it's something that's been done in pop music a lot, probably more than in jazz—and since I listen to everything, I think that's probably where that influence comes from. As you can probably tell from listening to my records, melody is the most important thing to me. And I think it comes, first, from growing up with pop music, and just loving the great songs. And then later in life, getting involved in classical music, and realizing that a lot of that music is also really based on hooks.

AAJ: That's actually very true.

DB: It really is. People don't think of that way sometimes, but it is. Anything that really makes an impact on the world, it seems to me, involves strong melody. It doesn't matter what kind of music. If you listen to free jazz that's important in some way, or really has had an effect—when you think about what the difference is between people who are just there improvising and making noise and something that had some sort of a melodic theme, it always seems that the stuff with the melodic theme stands out. Even with improvising; it makes the improvising greater to me, somehow. This could be a personal taste, but I find that that's a constant in the things that I listen to.

Melody is the supreme thing to me. So I just try to come back to that in some way, even when I improvise; it goes beyond composition. When we're improvising, a lot of times I will get on something very repetitive and keep that going, and then other people will join on. Or maybe somebody else is playing something repetitive—Craig is really great at that—and then I'll join in. And for the listener, it becomes a hook. We might be freaking out for ten minutes, but in the middle of that, you can bring the listener into something they can really grab on to and feel differently about. And maybe it helps explain what we were doing before or after. There's something about that I love. Even within completely free playing, I try to bring that element into my own playing. It's important.

AAJ: Well, in terms of audiences responding to that sort of thing—you're not going to find a more aware, responsive audience than the regulars at 55 Bar. Especially since I see that sort of response not happening at so many other places.

DB: Yeah [laughing], I know. That's a great place to play. We played there the other night, and it was all these young kids. Actually, Monica Frisell, Bill's daughter, was there. She's 21 or so, and she lives in New York now. All of her friends were there. It was just packed with all of these kids who were completely quiet when we were playing really softly. And the minute we got loud, or freaked out somehow, they just got so excited. It was like a rock concert. And I love that; we feed off that. It's a great audience there, and that gig is so important for me for development of all of my music. And a lot of it is because of the audience.

AAJ: You talked about free improvisation, and the title track, "Out of Airplanes, starts with ascending piano before your harmonized altos state the theme. But there's a big free section in this where everyone is just playing what they want. Then that resolves into that anthemic melody that repeats for a long time. It's all pretty wonderful, and I like the combination of freedom and structure. I don't know if you remember doing it...

DB: No, I do. It's true, I was out of it, but when I was there, I was completely focused. I let myself go afterwards—I let myself get completely sick. But I remember. It's the kind of tune, again, that I've written before, maybe starting with a record I did called Free to Dream (Mythology Records, 1998). That's sort of an important record in my catalog, and that's my biggest ensemble—twelve people. There's a song on there that's probably eleven minutes long, and it's the same thing where we play a written thing and then we play completely free, and end up with a sort of repeating, slow melody. I've always liked that, and I've written a lot of things in that vein—a lot of them I haven't recorded. But for this one, I had this idea it would work, and work with Bill. So I decided to do it. It has a completely composed beginning, a completely free middle, and then sort of that anthemic end, which I think of as sort of a pop thing.

AAJ: Yeah, very "na na na na Hey Jude.

David BinneyDB: Exactly! It's really like a Beatles thing in a way. That's exactly what it is. I wasn't thinking about that when I wrote it, but when I listened to that stuff, I realized that that's what it is. That's why I referenced some of the pop music in this interview—because I realize that that has a strong influence in my compositional thing. I grew up listening to that music, and it's in there. It always will be, I think. Yeah, that's what happened on that tune, and the interesting thing that you said is about the doubled altos. I'm trying to remember the doubled altos—that's something I rarely do, and I don't remember doing it on this record.

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