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Interviews

Alan Pasqua: Lifetime's Aglow, A (non) Antisocial Interaction

By Published: February 18, 2008
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Books and Personal Favorites

AAJ: Are these books you've written out of his concept?

AP: Not really. They're just stuff that I've formulated and discovered over years of playing and thinking about music. One of them is called The Diminished Cycle (Charles Collin), which shows how to use different harmonic concepts on chords than what you normally would. It's using a lot of the diminished scale, but then not using it in a linear way, because when you play it in a scalar way you know what it is after three notes. But if you break it up and play it intervallically and jump around, say the way 'Trane did, all of a sudden it doesn't sound diminished—it sounds like, "What the hell is that?" It sounds very elusive. That always piqued my interest. So the book is about finding places where you can plug this concept in and how to alter the chords to fit.



The other book is called The Architecture of Music (Charles Collin). I think it's really fascinating—it's like a philosophy almost and a way of life and how you approach pieces of music that you're writing, learning to play, or playing on. During the time I've spent teaching I've noticed one thing about students, each year that they all have in common. The student coming in is dealing with the minutiae of playing on chords and maybe very well, too, but they're still executing stuff on chords. My book is about kind of taking more of a horizontal approach. Instead of looking at every chord, which is like, the local train, let's look at the express train, which is going to stop, maybe once every eight chords.

AAJ: That's a great analogy

AP: Yeah. Then you can kind of see—if you look at music it's kind of like you can rise above it and look down on a piece of paper and say, "Well, I need the first chord and I need the last chord and I need the first chord of the bridge, and probably the last chord going into the bridge. Now what else do I need? What can I remove?"

Alan Pasqua It's almost like a house. What wall can I knock down and leave the structure still intact? There are weight-bearing walls and if I mess one of them up I'm in deep water. It's the same thing with a song or any piece of music. Some harmonic parts of that song are essential and other parts are not, so I like to find the parts that are not and omit them—remove them. What it does is create space—harmonic space—it buys me time to create and think in a bigger piece of a tonal center and I don't sound like I'm just jumping all over the place. You can do it with anything. We did it on "Giant Steps," which typically is a song that will kick your ass because it moves so quickly in certain ways, in a non-traditional harmonic way.

AAJ: Yeah, that would be an example of a local-train tune.

AP: Yeah, that's how 'Trane wrote it and how he played on it, but if you had Lester Young playing on it it'd be a whole different story.

AAJ: What do you feel are some of your best compositions and solos that have been documented on recordings? What would you point people to?

AP: It's an interesting question. I did two acoustic records in New York in the mid-'90s with a label called Postcards; they were called Milagro and Dedications.



Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland were on Milagro with Michael Brecker, then Dave and Paul Motian were on Dedications with Randy and Michael and Gary Bartz, who I just love.



Milagro got really great reviews in Down Beat and they really loved the compositional work on that record. That was kind of a hybrid for me, of like the Claus Ogerman influence, and more George, and [Herbie Hancock's] Speak Like a Child (Blue Note, 1968) kind of stuff. But now I was playing acoustic piano and the Bill Evans references are pretty apparent.



The next record, Dedications, was more overlooked. I don't think Down Beat even reviewed it, but it got high marks in JazzTimes and Jazziz. I was really happy with that record, with my playing and, in particular, a composition called "Ellingtonia," that's a tip of the hat to Duke. Dave was terrific and so helpful in the studio. He totally mentored me, man. Dave and Jack and Paul all got to me in a different way.



Dave was kind of like the big teddy bear that saw this nervous kid in the studio. He told me this story: "You know, man, when I first joined Miles' band, John McLaughlin came over to me and said, 'Hey man, it's a big stage.' And I said, 'Yeah.' Then he said, 'Carve a piece out for yourself.'" Which was basically saying you're here because you deserve to be here and you belong here.

AAJ: On the other hand, it must have been impossible to keep working with those rhythm sections.

AP: Well, I used them on the record because my label had a nice budget to give me and it also helped me go from, "Who the hell is this guy?" to "Who the hell is this guy and wow—look at the guys he's playing with!" So it gave me some instant credibility.

AAJ: I see. But that's a theme for you. Again, we can make the argument that these guys should be trying to make the hang with you!

AP: Well, years later I would certainly feel more comfortable in that department, but that was my first go around. Paul Motian was amazing, too—just a beautiful spirit and amazing concept-maker. This guy made more music out of cues that he didn't get. On certain tunes we recorded. I'd say, "OK, this is how this tunes going to end." And he'd come to the end and he would just keep playing. I would be like, "Oh, shit," but of course I'd keep playing because the tape's still rolling. Then, by the time it was over and we'd listen back to it, I'd just look at him and go, "I can't believe you did that!" And he'd say, "I know man, I'm sorry." I'd be like, "No, what you caused to happen was unbelievable. I couldn't have thought that up in a million years." Just conceptually he was so great.

AAJ: And he continues, every so often, to work with new players on the scene.

AP: Wonderful, wonderful cat. Y'know, I chose to move to California a long time ago. Had I stayed back east, I would have had a lot more chances to make music with those guys. But I got to do a lot of other things.

AAJ: Yeah five or six pages worth of discography, in small font! You have years here where you're listed on twenty different albums.

AP: I've done a lot of different things—a lot of pop and rock stuff. It's important to me that I did that because I enjoyed it, too.



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