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A Fireside Chat With Ken Vandermark

By Published: April 17, 2003

AAJ: Is there anything that is taboo for The V5?

KV: From my standpoint, no. I think if the aesthetics provide something interesting to instigate improvisers to do something challenging, I am more than willing to look at anything. I have been working very, very hard to integrate things that I find interesting musically and I think that that means that this particular band has a real stylistic range that is unusual for most bands working in improvised music at this time. From the beginning of the group, it has really been about investigating all these stylistic interests and hopefully developing that and building further and further along with it. At this point, the band is very capable of making these very abrupt changes and shifts in terms of the character of a piece. Many of the pieces tend to be long, sequential, narrative pieces, as opposed to head, take a solo, and here's the head again. They tend to be more involved than that and the band, at this point, the members of it are very used to working that way and it is a very natural way for us to play, which is not what you usually hear when you hear playing this kind of music now. I would say that I am pretty much open to anything that inspires me and thankfully, the band has been really respective to the things that I have found interesting and I have brought into the group to work on.

AAJ: You are about to embark on the initial East Coast leg of the Airports for Light Tour, there were unconfirmed West Coast dates.

KV: We've been working on setting up a tour on the West Coast that would happen in June. If things go well, it will start up in the Northwest, starting in Vancouver or Seattle and we would work our way south. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to pin that down yet. The biggest problem is the cost of getting out there. There is really not a whole lot between Chicago and the West Coast in terms of places to play, so either you are driving for two or three days with nothing, which is expensive or you are flying, which is expense. I think that is what the problem has been, to make sure we have enough gigs to warrant going out there. If everything goes well, we will do about ten or twelve days, which would allow us to really do a thorough tour of the West Coast. That would happen during the second half of June.

AAJ: With success, however small, misconceptions are abound. The MacArthur grant has been a preface to you since you received it in 1999. As much as it has been beneficial, has it also become a burden?

KV: I would probably say that yeah, there are downsides to it. Feedback has gotten back to me that there were a number of people that were really unhappy that I was chosen for it. From my own standpoint, I never ever assumed, and still don't assume that I deserved it and that I belong in the pantheon of the other musicians that have been awarded the prize. I didn't feel a burden in that way. I find it frustrating that when people who don't know me can make judgments about why I would do things or what I deserve or this or that, but that is true of anybody. That is a human response. I find it indicative of the comments and where they may have been coming from that no one has ever said anything to my face about it. If you have a problem with it, I am more than open to talking about the issue and discussing it and maybe give my own point of view on it, but no one ever does that. I remember getting a phone call from a musician friend in San Francisco and he said that he had heard about the MacArthur and he didn't know whether to say congratulations on send my apologies because everybody out here is really bitching about it. And none of those people even know me. So if there has been a burden or frustration, I find that frustrating, but there is nothing I can do about it. I see in general, it has been a fantastic opportunity. I felt really good about how I have been using the money towards the music. I think it has enabled me to accomplish amazing things so far. That is really what I have been doing. I am hoping that at some point down the line, when people look at my name alongside the list with Ornette, Braxton, Steve Lacy, and Cecil Taylor, they will not look at that and say, 'That was a huge mistake.' By the time I am gone or by the time I am their age when they received the prize, I can warrant my name being included in there and that I have accomplished something. I have a long time to try and work towards that. I definitely don't wake up in the morning and say, 'Oh, I am a genius and let me do more genius work today.' The MacArthur Foundation was very clear when they gave me the prize that generally they award it to people who have accomplished a great amount in their lifetime and have made major contributions to their areas of expertise and in your case, they wanted to see what would happen if someone received the prize towards the beginning of their career and how it may or may not affect their decision making and where it may bring them and enable them to do if they had economic resources that otherwise wouldn't be there. In a way, they made it clear that it was an experiment and hopefully, I will prove that the experiment was worth the effort.

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