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Interviews

Mark Feldman: His Own Music, His Own Sound, His Own Aesthetic

By Published: January 29, 2007
Mark FeldmanAAJ: Well, sometimes people say that something is a mixture of genres when they're having trouble saying just what genre something is—which is to say it might be its own thing.

MF: Right. This doesn't really fit. I really felt like I was trying to make a jazz record. But that doesn't mean that I was going to break out all my old Blue Notes, or do that old stereotype where you say, "Okay, we're going to do a jazz record, so let's see—we need a blues, we need a rhythm tune, we need a bossa, we need a waltz, we need a flag-waver. You know what I mean? Then you've got a jazz record. And that's the way that people sometimes make their set lists. "Oh, now we should do something in three. We didn't do the three tune yet.



So when I said I was going to do a jazz record, it didn't mean that. There is something that has kind of disappointed me. I'm 51 years old, so you can tell the years when I was quote-unquote coming up. It was right after the death of Coltrane. And I was born at the death of Charlie Parker. So when I was coming up, there was this really big judgmental aesthetic that you had to have your own sound and your own conception. You really had to be as original as possible; that was what made others look at you and say that it was valid. Now I feel like I have made my own music and my own sound and my own aesthetic to a certain extent—maybe that's why I waited so long. But now some people are going, "What is this? Why are you doing that?

AAJ: [laughing] I'm sorry to laugh.

MF: Well, it's kind of funny. But it's what's happened. "What the hell is that? This isn't jazz. And well, yeah—because we didn't put the flag-waver and the rhythm tune in! So maybe what happened is that through the 35 years that I was working, the aesthetic—well, maybe the expectation—kind of changed. I'm not sure. Also, I think that maybe people are uncomfortable with the classical European flavor of my sound. But I feel that this is my sound. This is what I've found. I used to be a fiddle player who played through a guitar amp. I used to try to copy saxophone licks. I used to use no vibrato. I used to do that kind of jazz-violin thing. But you know, I am of European descent. I am a violinist. I think the legacy of the violin is part of my picture. I shouldn't try to push that into a corner, or something.

AAJ: Well, I think the best thing about What Exit is that it's the only record I own that sounds like What Exit. And you've been playing with that European tone for years now, so if you went out and made a boogie-woogie fiddle record, it would be peculiar.

MF: Yes, it would be peculiar. It would be peculiar even if I had done a few jazz standards. I think it would be weird unless I was saying that I was totally changing my thing. I just feel like I've worked a long time to make my own kind of individual approach with all these kinds of critical aesthetic viewpoints that I was brought up with all these years—that you should be able to play and have people be able to tell who you are in four notes, and that your music shouldn't sound like anybody else's. This was what I got fed for thirty years until it grew on me that those were important issues.

AAJ: Let me ask you about some of the pieces on the record. I was initially obsessed with "Arcade, the first song on the record. It's a long one. I wasted a lot of time trying to break it down into sections and I can say that its vast interior is book-ended by what I'll call its "A section, a head of sorts, where Tom's cymbal rhythm is joined by Anders' solo bass statement, John's somber sparse piano chords and your violin sort of cutting across the rhythm. This section feels like a sort of gate that surrounds the mysterious and spacious territory of the song's interior, which seems deeply improvised except for certain linking violin or unison violin/piano phrases. This doesn't do anything to describe this piece, so tell me about it.

MF: Well, I would say that basically, what I was trying to do was have these bookends, like you say, and in the middle I was trying to create an incredible group improvisation. That's what I was trying to achieve. In my fantasy it would be like if a group on a certain night, kind of a one-time event, was so connected, and was playing totally free. This would be the result, or a possible result. So of course, it's really obvious what I did when I used these unison figures. In one section, what I did was that the violin and the drums have one score, or parts, and the piano and the bass have a different part. And all the parts have a certain number of bar segments, and sometimes within those segments, there's a bar with a fermata that says "improvise, and sometimes one of the segments is actually "improvise. And each one of these two duos has a leader and they can call the order of these events, or these eight-bar written sections; they can call it in any order they want, including not doing anything. Total silence.

And this is kind of a technique that people like [composer Pierre] Boulez have used. [composer Witold] Lutoslawski used it to a certain extent. But there are some Boulez works—I have a video where he's rehearsing a piece where basically, the conductor makes all the decisions. Or the conductor makes some of the big decisions and the players make these little micro-decisions. So this is not such a new idea—but maybe to insert it in this piece and to have it done with this instrumentation where people are still somewhat using a jazz vocabulary when they do improvise is kind of new. New-ish.



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