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David Binney: Airplanes, Cities, Moods and Vibes

By Published: September 4, 2006
AAJ: I don't even understand the reasoning. I'm glad to have the material, because you're a prolific composer and the stuff is good. But it's odd for a label to want that—it's not like they're releasing the music on more than one CD, so they get more product to put out.

DB: I know. I don't really understand the logic. You know what it is? I think they want people to feel they got their money's worth. And to their credit, I have seen complaints from people, especially in the jazz world, where a record was short and they felt they didn't get their money's worth. Which is surprising to me; they're not judging the music, they're judging the quantity.

AAJ: Yeah, it's like, "Well, A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1964) is okay, but it's so short—you don't get very much music.

DB: It doesn't make sense to me. But I've seen complaints like that. Even for my record Point Game, there were reviews like that. And it is very short, but it works that way. I think labels are confronted with that more than the artist is.

DB: I can't really ask you about your previous CD, Bastion of Sanity, which is a Criss Cross session that came out in 2005, good though it is. The interview would be 50 pages long. I do want to ask you about two other records—your recent duo CDs, Fiestas de Agosto, the 2005 Red Records album you did with pianist Edward Simon, and A Small Madness, the 2003 Auand set you made with drummer Jeff Hirshfield. I'm curious whether you approach playing in a duo setting differently than you do playing in larger ensembles.

DB: I think I probably approach it slightly differently. At this point in my career, or development, or whatever you want to call it, I sort of play the way I play. Which is, in a way, what an improviser is trying to get to. It wouldn't matter if it were a Wilco record, or a duo with Ed Simon; whatever I was doing, I would just play the way I play. The constraint would be how much time somebody would give me to solo, or whatever. I don't think of it as, say, "I'm going to play this way because it's a duo. But within that, you have to play differently as a saxophonist, because there are instruments that you usually play with that are missing. There are bass lines, let's say—things that I wouldn't be doing with a quartet that I'm doing in a duo situation. So in that sense, I'm playing differently, but as far as the solo and improvisation, it's really the same.

But I love those settings. And I've played for years with these guys. Actually, on both of those records, I manipulated things in my home studio after the fact. Especially the one with Hirshfield, and the funny thing is that I didn't tell Hirshfield I was doing it! I just wanted to surprise him, because I knew he'd be into it. So when I gave him the record, he just couldn't believe it, because we had been playing that material for years, but he'd never heard the material with the other parts added. When I wrote those pieces, I had actually written these other parts in there that we didn't do as a duo, because there were no other instruments. So I added them later in the studio, and he couldn't believe it. I remember him listening to it and laughing uncontrollably. He was stunned.

But that was just a completely live duo record that I added parts to, and I don't know if I think that much differently in that sort of situation. The goal of improvisation for me is to be emotional in some way and to convey something; that's all the same. I guess technically, there are differences.

AAJ: You're a very good composer, one of my favorites—and really a rather prolific one. If you add up all your compositions just from Welcome to Life to Out of Airplanes, that's a lot of songs. Are you always writing?

David BinneyDB: It's funny—I'm not always writing. I've gone through phases where I wrote a lot. I have lots of material. Beyond the material I've released, I have way more sitting at home in my file cabinet or on my computer. I have so much material. I could not write for years and still release records. But it's somewhat of an addiction/outlet for me, because I need to do it sometimes. I just have an urge to do it, and I really have fun doing it. Usually at this point, it happens when I have a project looming and I realize I have to write for it. Then I get into that whole head and spend a certain amount of time writing for the project. I used to do it because I loved doing it and I had nothing else going on and I'd just lock myself in my room and write. Now it's for these projects, and I think about different people for whatever I'm writing for. If I'm writing for Brian Blade on drums, I think that way. Once in a while, I bring in songs that I just wrote for nobody in particular, and know that it'll work for a given group. But a lot of times now, I'm writing for specific people.

Right now I have two more records coming out. After Out of Airplanes, I have this new one on Criss Cross, Cities and Desire, which I'm really, really happy with. It's a blowing record that's really the best one yet. Then I have another one on Criss Cross that's coming out in January that's me and Ed Simon, with Scott Colley and Brian Blade and [vocalist] Luciana Souza. It's much more of a Latin-based record, and much more composed—though there's a lot of soloing on it. It's a lot cleaner than, let's say, the record that's coming out in September, which was really just going into the studio and playing like you'd play live. So I have things still down the pipe. I am coming up with new projects in my head, but I'm not in any sort of phase where I'm working towards anything yet. I'm just sort of trying to come up with the next thing. But once I do, I'll start writing. Right now, I'm not writing.

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