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Music and the Creative Spirit

Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet: Bridging the Future with the Past

By Published: February 5, 2009
PB: As a kid, I was interested in boxing and I can compare that to going on stage. You have to accept the fight and you have to accept that there is a chance that you can lose, but you have to give all that you can in this special moment to win. You have to concentrate and get whatever you can but on some nights, it may not work and that can be painful but without that actual experience, you don't have a chance to win the next time. And that's the thing.

KV: We recently played in Montreal with Sonore, which has always been a fantastic city to play in. The audience and the people that present the music there are really special. But for whatever reason, that night was a really hard night. There were a lot of things stacked against us and it was pretty rough. However, by the next day, we were already talking about wanting the next gig and what we could do better. And like Peter says, if you are in it 100% all the way, it's part of the thing you take on, that yeah, you are going to fail at times. And it's horrible when it happens (laughs) but it's very important because it illuminates so many things.

So I find those personal struggles within the context of the group fascinating because there are so many different things happening simultaneously from an individual and collective standpoint and how it can impact the success of the group and the music. There are so many variables and it's an amazing process. You can prepare as much as you want as individuals or as a group, but when you go on stage, you throw the dice and don't know what it's going to be. That's riveting and whether the people that come to the performance know the music or not, it doesn't really matter because nothing else is quite the same artistically and it's an intense human experience. It's an unusual and special art form because of that and it can be realized by anybody that is watching and listening.

JM: I don't know how you guys feel about this but no matter how confident I might feel; if I start to analyze things while improvising, I'm in trouble. Because if I think something is not going to work, it will not work no matter what I do. It becomes an up hill struggle all of the time. It's like the centipede that tries to think of which foot comes next and then it cannot move. But if I can just realize that I don't have much control over what is going on even though I'm doing the best I can, then that's it! At the end, somebody else can analyze it.

Paal Nilssen-Love: It's a feeling and should feel as if the music is playing you.

JM: I don't give it that much credit.

(All laugh!)

PNL: You try not to become too mental about the music and give it the distance it needs. It's a very special feeling.

JM: I don't think that we could approach it any other way than like there is no tomorrow. We have to do that at the highest level we can and it's unconceivable to do it any other way.

PB: Yeah, I'm with you.

PNL: You give it 100% and don't want to wake up the next day thinking that you could have done it better.

LP: How important is humility to the creative process?

KV: When you care about the people you work, you are constantly confronted with what you can and cannot do. You become aware of what your limits are and what you need to do to break through those limits and that's a humbling experience and if it's not, then you are not really being true to yourself. It's like confronting yourself in the mirror and you have to try and assess that on some level.

LP: Do you ever get a sense that your music may not be for the people of this time period?

JM: No, I don't even think about such a thing. This is our time period and all the rest of it is a bunch of bullshit. I mean, it's not music for the future or the past. This is the time we have.

LP: But is the music too "now?" Sometimes people can more easily understand something after they have had time to assess it in the same sense that history is more readily understood when it's looked back upon.

KV: Well, it definitely seems that mainstream society eventually catches up with what people are expressing that is happening today in real time. But I also agree with what Joe says 100%. The music is about right now but it usually ends up being a cliche and considered avant-garde because people are so living in the past. They are not thinking and only dealing with those things that they are told about. Thelonious Monk wasn't even accepted until the end of his life.

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