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Interviews

Jack Reilly: Making the Most of the Gift of Life

By Published: January 14, 2008

JR: No. I can teach you how to improvise on a song that's very free. Where you are not as locked to the harmonic structure, but you could also absorb the whole—Lester Young or Coltrane or Stan Getz style, and you [would not] imitate it, but play the spirit of that and it can be different, it can be really satisfying to you. The artist always looks to go further. If you can imitate a certain style yet be free within that and not play the same patterns all the time, it doesn't interest me, but people do it.



If you ask me has improvisation slowed down composition, I would say no. Improvisation is what it is and composition is editing. Improvisation has not slowed down composition, and a lot of big names say they're composing. They are not. They're improvising. That may be a semantic closet. Composing is a slow process. It's an ongoing meditation period as the piece evolves and as your vision comes to light on the paper, then it comes to life when it's played. I believe a composition is stillborn until it's played.

AAJ: If music, at its core, is a means of communicating ideas and feelings, then when you perform are you communicating to both your fellow musicians and to the general listening public?

JR: Yes, if you say they're communicating feelings. They're musical ideas. If you tie it to a spiritual or religious idea, or a political idea, then you lower the whole expression, the expressiveness of music. Yes, if you communicate first with the players than it carries to the audience.

AAJ: What are you trying to communicate and is it intentionally multi-layered to address these two different listener expectations?

JR: For the musicians, I don't think it is. For the listener, it is. It's multi-layered for the listener, because if he goes to hear the artist seven nights a week he'll get another message the second night, then the third night. Recordings for the buyer can be the worst experience because you're hearing the same things over and over.

AAJ: If one album sums up the eclectic nature of your musical interests it's Masks (Unichrom, 1998). In this compilation you combine performances from many different venues, taken over a period of several years, and encompassing a musical variety that includes vignettes of stride, bebop, third stream, avant-garde and even church music into this one recording. Who were you trying to reach with this recording?

JR: An agent! I didn't put it together that way. I want to put out a record and I started with the Requiem back in 1969. I always recorded a lot of my concerts some with professional engineers. So yes, it is a picture of me as to where I still am musically all over.

AAJ: I have noticed in your work a tremendous ability to create unpredictable lines from seemingly predictable melodies, while keeping the listener involved and always somehow tying the variations back to the melody. Is this all the result of some formulaic methodology that you employ or is it a spontaneous creation from your mind's eye?

JR: It's the composer in me. It's like looking over the music from above. It's my sense of balance has a composer and my sense of variety never wanting to repeat thinks twice. I heard "Halloween" from the first album [Blue Sean Green] and, in all humility, I am quite amazed at the improvisation section that I breathe in and out. I heard it recently and I said, "Man that's fresh still!"

AAJ: Some artists believe that jazz music has basically run its course; that there is nothing new or innovative since Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Some say it is filled with a plethora of retro players, playing the hell out of the music, but with no real innovation. Has jazz as a musical form run out of new and innovative ideas?

Jack Reilly JR: If you define jazz as a small group [format] and that's what we were talking about, then I think in that sense yes. The art of jazz in that sense has run its course. If you are talking about the song form, the American a song, yes. To me, I have composed within that framework, of that structure, thinking a melody that is singable and I've come up with [something]; that's pretty standard. If you're jazz player there is always a challenge to make the improvisation "From This Moment On " or on "My Funny Valentine"; I still play that [song]. I have worked on that for years and I try to break away from the form that [Richard] Rodgers had. I don't destroy what he had; I try to enhance it with a certain progression, so it challenges me too.



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