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An AAJ Interview with Mario Pavone

By Published: January 22, 2007

AAJ: What advantages of improvisation do you feel composers usually don't understand or appreciate? What advantages of composition do you feel improvisers usually don't understand or appreciate?

MP: As to these two questions—my experience has been to work with composers who understand the important link between composing and improvisation. In fact, one goal for many of us is to blur the line between the two. To some extent my composing comes from quirks of fingering, rhythmic slips, whatever—that occurs when I'm improvising—and invariably become seeds for a composition.

AAJ: Do you feel that your education and training as an industrial engineer has had an effect or influence on your methods of composing and /or playing? If 'yes" please elaborate on how you feel this is so.

MP: Well—only in a general way—as to constructing lines—like building blocks and then moving them around—deconstructing—I suppose some of the engineering training comes in—setting up components into grids, etc.—but it's really that final emotional color that's most important.

AAJ: In the liner notes to Song for (Septet) (released in 1994) you mentioned that your approach to the bass at the time was different than previously in your career. Do you feel your approach to the bass is different yet again here in 2002? As follow up, in hindsight, do you perceive your style of playing as consisting of distinct phases throughout your career? Or has it been a series of transitions? Or a combination of both?

MP: I hope my approach to the bass is always evolving. I try to learn from everything I hear—other music, everyday sounds, washing machines—language patterns. It's really a series of transitions.

AAJ: You've mentioned in earlier interviews that you compose on the bass and rarely, if ever, move to the piano (unlike other bassist/composers). Is this still the case? Why or why not?

MP: Yes, I still start the work on the bass—but I will check out one line against another—hear a little harmony and relation between the notes on the piano. But much of what I'm trying to do with these compositions comes from a rhythm section view. Kind of magnifying the myriad of things the bass does in the music.

AAJ: As follow up, what other relevant differences and distinctions do you believe exist between your method and style in comparison to those of other musicians?

MP: What gives each of us our distinctive voices? If one follows this music—they can usually recognize a Marty Ehrlich composition or a Threadgill piece—right away. In my work everything starts with the bass—and from there many things will guide where the music is headed—I'm looking for what pleases me—the combination of notes may not be so intentional—at times its like throwing paint randomly until the emerging pattern seems right.

Mario Pavone AAJ: What defines a successful piece of music for you? (whether in our own work or that of others).

MP: The element of surprise is very important. I want the piece to put me a bit on the edge of my seat. If it sounds too familiar, i.e. too closely references older styles—I will usually lose focus. I like the music to hit a groove—but maybe get there in a round about way.

AAJ: From among the many gifted musicians you've played with, who has provided the most challenging environment and/or satisfying creative relationship? (note: don't feel that you have to limit yourself to one musician. Another way of asking this question may be: Who have you learned the most from working with? What is it you've learned?)

MP: I have already mentioned Paul Bley and Leo Smith but I have been fortunate to have other masters as mentors. In the late 60's (with his Orchestra of the Streets in New York City) and then later touring and recording throughout the 80's—trumpet master Bill Dixon shaped my outlook. The music on the cds "November 81" and "Son of Sisyphus" on the Soul Note label are wonderful documents of this time. Bill's life long commitment to his music—in the face of minimal acknowledgement from the music establishment—has not wavered. One of the common threads among the musicians who have left a lasting mark on me—has been their use of space, sound and silence. Bill is a beautiful trumpet player who can sculpt a vision out of a handful of notes—perfectly placed. There were times when we were touring in Europe in the 80's when Bill would initiate each piece for the whole evening's performances with one or two gestures. With a certain movement of his hand, he would cue the music and we would know just where we were heading. More recently, in the 90's, I have been fortunate to have strong musical bonds with alto saxophonists Anthony Braxton, Marty Ehrlich and Thomas Chapin. And while we will probably speak about them later, their incredible energy and virtuosity has continued to spur me on.

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