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Music and the Creative Spirit

Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet: Bridging the Future with the Past

By Published: February 5, 2009
MG: For me, it's so upsetting to hear contemporary jazz on recordings and hear the musicians play with only half a commitment. It doesn't even seem as if they are trying to do music.

LP: For some, the commitment seems to be towards the entertainment aspect of the music rather than a commitment towards the music as an art form.

MG: Yes, there is a huge difference.

KV: I think the connection that we all have in the Peter Brotzmann Tentet and with other people that we choose to work with in different forms of expression, is in the curiosity that we all have with this process. It's a search to find things with sound, and you cannot work with someone that is going to do that half way. And it's not as if we talk about it or that it's similar to walking onto a football field and saying, let's get out there and play! It's just an understood thing. It's understood that we respect each other and part of the reason is because everyone is about the music, working together, and finding out where it's going to take us. And even with the performance last night, "Be Music, Night," it was there from the first rehearsal all the way to the concert. It was always evolving. And I have to say that I was quite impressed with Mike Pearson because he improvised his approach to the text while interacting with the group. Every time he read the poems, it was different. I was quite surprised by that because I thought he would have a set way of reading the material and we would work around that. I think that the project was exceptional, but I don't think that the approach to the project was exceptional because that is the way we always work, all of the time.

We are talking about doing this performance again because there are so many ways that we can approach the same piece. And that flexibility and interest is the commonality between all of the different things that we do both individually and in different kinds of groups. There are just so many different possibilities to utilize the different tools that we have to constantly reinvent the thing and that commitment is just understood. It is not talked about, it is shown. It's the physical expression of being there on stage and knowing that the person next to you is with you 100%.

Joe McPhee: For me, I feel very limited in what I can do because contrary to what people think, I'm not a saxophonist. I mean, I play the saxophone and there are saxophonists who I highly respect who have studied the instrument and know it inside and out but I have never had a saxophone lesson in my life. I play it because I really don't have a choice about things. I don't know what my limits are and I don't know what I cannot do. It's a possibility that leads to other things like playing with these three great saxophone players.

PB: Joe, perhaps you need more coffee.

(All laugh!)

JM: I had a chance to be in an environment, which makes all of these things just outside of my reach more possible. And this whole thing about free jazz, I don't know what that means. Freedom is a work in progress and what we are doing is a work in progress. It's constantly evolving and I don't know what the next thing is going to be. I just know that I have been looking forward to the next note we are going to play since the last note we played last night.

LP: What is the most critical aspect of improvisation? Is it the statement itself or is it how you arrived at the statement to begin with?

KV: I did a tour in October of 2004 with Paul Lytton and Phil Wachsmann, and Lytton talked very specifically about his frustration with results. He felt that some of the musicians he has worked with have become more concerned with the end result as opposed to the process. He seems very much concerned with the performance and how it is connected to really looking for what might happen, and perhaps not caring quite as much as other musicians about having something musically successful.

PB: I think that after all of these years, I try to avoid the term free jazz, which I have hated from the very beginning. But I also have nothing against the result after a period of work, but that was not the process early on. I learned that it's good to have something in mind, and if you get there, it can be quite a nice feeling and then you can think about the next night or the next note. For Lytton, it might be one way of looking at it but even if it gets you the freedom you want, you need to see what is happening and look at the process because the process is the thing. But I think it also limits your way of working, thinking and feeling. I'm sure I would have talked about it differently twenty years ago but my feeling after all of these years of playing is that the result is not such a bad thing.

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