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Interviews

Jerry Granelli: Groovemaster or Destroyer?

By Published: October 22, 2007
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The Value of Hearing More Than One Set—and Not Being Scared

AAJ: The songs on The Sonic Temple are tunes; they're not free improvs. And the band plays the same songs in the same order on the "Monday and "Tuesday discs, or at least that's how they're presented on record. I assume that's how it occurred live.

JG: Yeah, they were played that way.

AAJ: Each set feels to me like two continuous suites of music that are broken up by the James Brown cover in the middle. "Riddim is performed in a rather concise version on the Tuesday set, and a longer one on the Monday one, but the differences between the performances are subtle ones. There aren't glaring differences between each set. So why offer the two sets to the listener?

JG: It's kind of a flashback to how I grew up. People used to come out in the old days [laughing] and they would hear a band for more than one night. I remember going to hear Miles' band for two weeks in San Francisco.

AAJ: Right, a band would do a long residency at a club.

JG: Yeah. And it was amazing, because you'd see a lot of the same people there over the course of that two weeks. And Miles played pretty much the same music every night. But each night was different—subtly different. And sometimes really obviously different, as a piece would grow. I don't think people get enough of a chance now to hear improvised music that way. We blow into town, play one night, and that's the way they think it is. But the next night could be completely different!

So there was some need to share that with people, I believe. And over the last few years, people have said to me, "This band needs to record live. What we do live is different from what we do in a studio. They're two different things. So those were the two driving forces behind the recording.

Jerry

And also, the Sonic Temple—it's a great place to play a live studio concert, because you have the intimacy of an audience, but you can get a really good recording at the same time. So it was a combination of the space and the timing—the band being ready—and just not wanting to play for only one night. We didn't go into it with the idea of playing both nights and choosing the best; we went into it upfront with the idea of releasing both sets: "Here it is. And [laughing] that's pretty confident, when you think about it!

AAJ: Well, if it hadn't worked out well, instead of naming the discs "Monday and "Tuesday, you could have called them "The Good Night and "The Bad Night.

JG: Right. Also, I really do believe in letting people have their experience of the music. Some records you do in that other way—you want it to be like a painting. It's going up on a wall, and that's it. It's always the same, and you find the subtleties in another way, by looking at it constantly. I like to paint and draw, so when I work that way, it's such a relief to not have to do it in the moment—to be able to look at it for a couple of days and then change something, add something. And it's the same when you're writing. You might write a few bars, and six months later, you come back and finish it.

And what we do is spontaneously compose. It has the same work to it, but you do it completely in the present tense. I think it's important to capture that right now in time, because there's not a lot of that being done, in my humble opinion. People are kind of pretending to take those kinds of chances, but if you hear it the next night, it's pretty much the same. And the night after that, it's still pretty much the same. When I see that, I think, "Okay, there's nothing really being risked.

But I like that edge, and this band likes that edge. And one person in the band might be having a hard night, but the music doesn't care about that, and it's the overall that is important. So it was important to let people hear that.

I hear all kinds of things from people. Someone said, "I like Monday night, but Tuesday night has this interesting kind of twist. And I say, "Okay, that's great. It was hard to keep from judging the two separately. We didn't listen to Monday night until we'd finished Tuesday night. Because you do want to do that—that's human nature, to say, "This is good, and "This is bad, but I think it's really important to keep that open and see where the music grows. When you play twenty concerts, you're done, and you realize, "Wow, I've been on this incredible journey.

When the band played in September at the Berklee College of Music, after recording that album, we went in and just tore that music limb-from-limb! And there was no feeling of, "Oh, I wish we had recorded that. It was just, "Oh, this is where we are now! We really worked on crystallizing this music, digesting it, and doing it. And that's going to be different than it is six months later. It's just another capturing of a moment.

AAJ: And it's not a question of what's good and what's bad. Either way, it just was.

JG: Yeah. It was. I did it. Or it did it! It did it, and that's the way it was then. It's interesting—in all the comments I've gotten from people, no one has said, "I like Monday night better than Tuesday night. It's more what you said—"Tuesday has a subtle difference. There are changes. A tune will have a different tempo. "Riddim came out shorter on Tuesday night; on Monday, we were stretching it, finding a different path through it. That tune came directly out of improvising. We'd just played the melodies, and Christian took them off a tape. He said, "Here, remember this? We were like, "Ah, no—but we'll try to remember it now.

AAJ: I think that's a good way to come up with tunes.

JG: Oh, I love to do that. And a lot of this music is a reflection of that—something that was just played earlier on.

JerryAAJ: I didn't know anything about the origins of the compositions, except who was credited with writing them. But I did come to a personal conclusion that these were specific tunes that go a certain way—after hearing the record I could hear them in my head—but that they probably grew out of improvisation. I could hear how a band would start to go into this area, and the song being a crystallization of that.

JG: Yeah. And the song takes advantage of the strong points. Like "Immeasurable —Tronzo said, "Hey! I wrote this tune! Let's try it! I've never made it work! Nobody's ever going to make this tune work! He told me to just play this time thing, so I played it. And if you listen to it, J. and Christian are definitely playing chicken—it's not like we come in after a set four bars. They're overlaying these things, and this playing starts to happen: "Who's going to blink first?

And that's part of the nature of the band—not panicking over situations like that. We may wander, but there's never a lot of panic.

AAJ: No, the band plays like it has a spine.

JG: Yeah. And that's a great way to put it.

AAJ: Well, you don't want to sound scared, and I don't think this group ever does.

JG: If you're scared, they'll eat you. The music will eat you. It just will. That fear just creeps into everything, and everything becomes hesitant, and people start questioning—all this thinking takes place on the bandstand, which is just anti-music.

AAJ: I think people do that a lot in bands where they're scared of the leader.

JG: Yeah. I was teaching this week. I teach in a high school sometimes, and I do this thing where I get these high school kids working with free improvisation. And it's amazing the courage people show. Then we'll work on something like the blues, and that courage disappears, because there is the possibility of being wrong.

AAJ: Right—"You played that wrong.

JG: Yes, and they're used to hearing just that. Or looking at a written piece of music and thinking, "I could make a mistake. That takes away from the music; it takes away from the belief in it. Always going strong and wrong is much better! Make a great mistake and then go from there.

AAJ: And keep making it. If you played it flat, keep playing it flat.

JG: Yeah, do it again. It may open up a whole thing for everybody. So, yeah, I think there has to be a spine to it. There has to be a conviction. You have to give the other people in the band something to deal with. If you're going, "Oh, oh, I don't know, the guys don't have anything to deal with. So it just becomes everyone chasing their tail, or a bunch of free clichés.

AAJ:Everyone but you contributed songs to the record. I'm struck by how compatible the songs are—how much they seem like V16 tunes. Do you think the band has a way of transforming material so it sounds like V16 stuff, or do people write with the band, or certain things about the band, in mind?

JG: I think it's a little bit of both. But I think people did write with certain things in mind—what this band would do with the music. What this band would do to it [laughing]. Whatever we pick up, something strange happens to it, no matter what we try to play. That band does something to the material right away. Or somebody goes, "Let's not play that part. Let's just do this.

Like I said, the band's kind of a chemical reaction. We'll say, "Let's play this, and play it really straight, and it doesn't happen! Never. It's always, "Okay, we're off, and we're out there.

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Download jazz mp3 “Ballad of El Leo Nora (Monday)” by Jerry Granelli V16