Scott Colley: Music Architect
AAJ: What was the experience with Carmen ['86-'90] like?
SC: It was amazing. Especially in terms of ballad playing and her patience with a lyric or melody was really amazing. It opened up a lot of things for me. From her I met Clifford Jordan and started playing with him. Art Farmer. A short tour with Dizzy Gillespie that we did. Some other people. When I moved to New York I had a little bit of work with different people.
AAJ: How was New York when you first got there?
SC: Initially, it was kind of disappointing. [chuckles] In terms of the energy and everything it was incredible. I was running around listening to all the music I could hear. In terms of new music, it was kind of the height of the "young lion phase and what was going on at that time. It had the feeling of being fairly conservative in scope. I think that has changed dramatically. I think the musicians involved in that have changed dramatically for the most part. Now I feel much more encouraged by what's going on in New York. Maybe it's just my perspective, but it seems to me that there are a lot of people writing interesting music from all over the world. To me, that's really exciting. It's the reason why I came to New York.
A lot of the people that I met at that time that I were drawn to were Dave Binney, Adam Rogers, Bill Stewart, Chris Potter and Brian Blade. So many other musicians that I still play with today were people that I was drawn to the first month that I moved to New York. They are still people that I will occasionally do projects with, back and forth.
I think it's a really interesting time to be in New York.
AAJ: It was really getting structured for a while, a matter of, "how much can you play for a while.
SC: There were distinct cliques of musicians. There was the old Knitting Factory and that thing. Then there was the more conservative element that was getting a lot of press at that time. That was my perception at that time. Now there seems to be a lot more interaction between different genres, the way people interact and the way people think about music. I think now perhaps younger listeners, people growing up in the '90s and '80s, have listened to lots of different kinds of music, so when they go to a performance that has a lot of different elements, they're kind of used to it. I'm not sure that was the case then.
From my standpoint, I see a real sense of community among musicians. There's openness for a lot of ideas. I think that's the key to creating interesting music and music that's relative to what's happening in the time you're living; to be open to what's going on and to be open to ideas and search for new possibilities.
AAJ: That's kind of what you express on your record. Different things, not all of it from wood-shedding, but from other things. What was it like being with someone like Herbie Hancock, who is an icon?
SC: He's obviously one of a kind. He embodies a lot of the stuff we're talking about in terms of openness. Working with Herbie, I don't think he ever said anything specifically like how to play a certain thing. A lot of the structures that we would work on were very opened-ended, and we would all contribute to different parts of the material of the music and work on it together. It was very much a collaboration working with him. From the very beginning, I jumped into a trio with a relationship between him and Terri Lynne Carrington that was musically really strong, with an approach to rhythm that was very elastic and breathed. To determine what my place was in the music, you're kind of going, "Should I lay it down, or should I play in an open way?
It ended up being a lot of both. He would not say anything, but "Sound great. Or he'd go, "Did you like it when I did this, or did you like it when I did this. He comes from Miles [Davis] and Wayne [Shorter] and that approach, which is that it's up to you to find yourself in this music. It's up to each individual to determine that. He's very patient that way. He'd rather hear you explore new things and mess up than to try and play the same thing each night really cleanly. That might sound great as a show, but it's not really exploring the music. He was great in that way.
AAJ: What kind of projects are you involved in now, besides just getting this new music out?
SC: I'm getting ready to tour with a new trio, a European tour in March. That's Mark Turner, Antonio Sanchez and I. After that I'm hoping to do some work with this band that recorded [his new CD]. I'm not sure if we'll tour with the whole group. Probably not with two pianos. And starting to think about what the next record is going to be.
AAJ: Probably not something you're rushing into. Something you're ruminating on?
SC: Trying to ruminate, yeah. [laughs]. Attempts to ruminate. We'll see what that's going to be. I'm not really sure yet.
AAJ: Does the state of the business ever bother you?
SC: It's challenging. It's perspective. I'm not really sure if it's better or worse than it used to be. Aside from the music and really expanding on the music, the aspect of business and logistics for me can be very challenging. Especially being a bassist and trying to travel. But I've been very fortunate. I've hooked up with a lot of great musicians who care about ... I'm drawn to people who musically are interesting, but I also travel with people who've become my friends over the years. With that, people want to take care of each other.
When you're in a situation in a band or a collaborative project where everybody cares about everybody elsenot just their own needs but what everybody needsa lot of good things can happen. It's a very difficult thing to try and get this music out there. If you can get in situations where everyone involved is really trying to make it happen, then it helps a great deal. A sense of community.
I have the great fortune to have a wonderful wife who also has a music management company, so I get little bits and pieces of advise. A lot of that is more from a therapeutic standpoint. It's a difficult business to negotiate for sure, because it's not really that clear cut on so many levels.