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Interviews

Joe Fonda: Rhythmic Architect

By Published: May 19, 2008
AAJ: Well, when you're solo, there's nothing to listen to but yourself.

JF: That's true. And how much can you get inside where it's just you and that sound?

AAJ: It has to be heart-to-fingers. Not heart-to-head-to-fingers.

JF: No. I would say that "head" has to come out of it.

AAJ: That can take a long time to learn to do.

JF: I think it's an ongoing lesson.

AAJ: You're a great bassist, of course, and can improvise with the best of them. But you're also a composer with a distinctive voice. Is there anything you would say really characterizes your compositions?

JF: My compositions, and my approach, are very architectural. Michael was the one who pointed that out when we were in an interview, and I think it's true. I don't play much classical music, but I've listened to it a lot, and that's in there. A lot of my approach comes from spending time listening to classical composers.

So that's one element. Another is that I think rhythmically first. That's my primary focus. After that, the other elements come. So the architectural approach, and the rhythmic approach, tend to be primary. And I think that gives my compositions something unique.

Joe FondaAAJ: I always think there's something special about a musician who started out playing one kind of music and ended up playing another one. You go back to R&B, for example. I think that sort of experience and contrast is really valuable for musicians.

JF: Well, it doesn't have to be that way. But for me, the fact that I've gone through a lot of different musics makes my musical experience richer and gives me more possibilities. I don't think you have to do that to bring something unique and strong to your music, but it's been enriching for me. I have all this stuff that I can draw from. I'm grateful for that.

So as a general rule, I would tell a student, "Go and learn everything you can learn. Get inside all the musics that are out there that you're interested in and develop a relationship with them. Maybe you'll end up in one place, or another place, depending on what feels best to you. But have all of that knowledge and experience and richness to draw on when you arrive at that place where you think, 'Ah, this is where I want to work.'"

I just think it's great if you have a relationship with bebop, with R&B, with the blues and classical music. Or polkas. Or if you play in a gamelan ensemble for four or five years. That understanding of what something is can only enrich your life.

I feel the same way about my experience with dancers. So expanding into other areas can also open you up and enrich you. Work with dancers—they can teach you something very special. I've learned a lot from the dancers I've worked with, tap dancers in particular. I've spent a lot of time with Brenda Bufalino and Tony Waag, and there are times when the things I've heard them tap find their way into my compositions. I'll think, "I know where that rhythm came from." I think we should expand ourselves into as many areas as we can while we're here.


Selected Discography

Joe Fonda Bottoms Out, Live at the Gulbenkian Jazz Em Agosto Festival August 2007 (self-released, 2007)
Michael Musillami Trio with Mark Feldman, The Treatment (Playscape, 2007)
Fonda/Stevens Group, Trio(Not Two, 2007)
The Nu Band, The Dope and the Ghost: Live in Vienna (Not Two, 2007)
ZMF Trio, Circle the Path (Drip Audio, 2007)
Joe Fonda's Bottoms Out, Loaded Basses (CIMP, 2006)
FAB, Live at Iron Works, Vancouver BC (Konnex, 2005)
Bull Fonda Duo, Cup of Joe, No Bull(Corn Hill Indie, 2005)
Fonda/Stevens Group, Forever Real (482 Music, 2005)
Conference Call, Spirals: the Berlin Concert (482 Music, 2004)
FAB, Transforming the Space (CIMP, 2003)
Conference Call, Final Answer (Soul Note, 2002)
Scott Miller and Joe Fonda, Bottoms Out: Live Recordings (Cadence Jazz, 1999)
Joe Fonda, Xu Fengxia, Distance (Leo, 1999)
Joe Fonda, When It's Time (Jazz'halo, 1999)
Joe Fonda Quintet, Full Circle Suite (CIMP, 1999)
Anthony Braxton, Piano Quartet, Yoshi's 1994 (Music & Arts, 1996)
Anthony Braxton, Tentet (New York) (Braxton House, 1996)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Gerd Loser
Center Group Photo: Hepcat1950
All Other Photos: Juan Carlos Hernandez



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