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Interviews

Steve Kuhn: Shimmering Beauty

By Published: July 7, 2009

I was told a long time ago by somebody whose opinion I really respected that if you listen to all the great classical composers, they all were great melody writers.

This interview, originally published on March 2, 2009, is being reprinted to coincide with the release of Steve Kuhn's Mostly Coltrane (ECM, 2009).



Whether it is in his trio, collaborating with vocalists or accompanying an orchestra, pianist Steve Kuhn has always managed to effortlessly defy and combine genres. Whether it is an older recording or one of his newer albums, an inherent ability to create melodic-based beauty makes his playing and compositions instantly identifiable.

Chapter Index

  1. Studies
  2. Post Graduate
  3. Standards and Beyond
  4. Writing
  5. Songs Revisited
  6. Lyrics
  7. Technology
  8. October Suite
  9. Promises Kept
  10. Classical Inflections
  11. ECM and Dream Projects



Studies

Steve Kuhn All About Jazz: In your early years you studied under Madame Magaret Chaloff. Was your instruction geared towards playing and composition?

Steve Kuhn: No just piano technique; classical repertoire. I started when I was five years old but I met her when I was twelve; so I had studied [piano] for seven years. When I met her I had to unlearn things that I had learned the first seven years because she taught me the Russian school of technique. Basically enabled me to do pretty much whatever I wanted to do dynamically, or in terms of speed and getting a sound out of the instrument.

I really had to rethink everything and start almost from scratch when I started studying with her. She was really the seminal force in my life in terms of teachers and also she was a surrogate mother; very important in my life.

AAJ: Were you her only famous student?

SK: I don't know. I think there were a number of pianists who studied, not as long as I did but studied with her. I think Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
had some interaction with her at some point; as did Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
, because they were up in Boston.



What would happen is when different groups would be appearing in Boston for a week. Usually the pianists in the group, who knew of her and because her son was Serge Charloff the well-known baritone saxophonist, would come and visit with her. She would just listen to them play and give them some suggestions; but they didn't study with her formally. I know George Shearing

George Shearing
George Shearing
1919 - 2011
piano
, Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
1925 - 2007
piano
...a bunch of people and she always had some suggestions to make.



The only pianist who ever came to her just for a visit and played for her and she said "Get out of here. I have nothing I can show you," was Red Garland

Red Garland
Red Garland
1923 - 1984
piano
. That's because Red, not exactly the most creative pianist in the history of the music, but he had a touch. His touch was like, as she described it, a ball bouncing over the keys. It was absolutely perfect. For what he did it was exceptional. And she said "I really can show you anything or tell you anything."

AAJ: You received a music degree from Harvard was their an immediacy to the effect these studies had on your art or professional ambitions?

SK: I received a BA. It was just in liberal arts. I majored in music which didn't amount to much over the four years. I didn't go there for the music. I went there, was fortunate enough to get in and I got a liberal arts degree. I studied a lot of different kinds of things. Music was really not the reason I went. But every undergraduate had to major in something so I chose music theory which was four theory courses and two music history courses. So it was six courses in all over the four year period. That's really all it amounted to.

Steve KuhnPlus the fact that the music department at that time with the exception of Walter Piston with whom I enjoyed studying for one year; everybody else in the department, really for them music stopped after Stravinsky. They didn't really recognize any of the more contemporary stuff. Jazz, they thought, was the absolute worst thing you could possibly do. So I was the black sheep in the department for those four years; with the exception of Walter Piston, who was very relaxed.



I studied techniques of twentieth century composition with him for a year. Which was very informative and he was very easy to deal with. No bias on his part. Of course his compositions, he was certainly influenced by jazz. So we had a nice time.

AAJ: Initially, did either gigging or your studies play a more important part in your creative process or artistic identity at this time?

SK: I would say both. I was working through Harvard and I was working practically working, almost ever night. I had a trio and we opened at a coffee shop in Harvard Square. We were the house trio. We played as a trio for the most part. And then we would be hired occasionally by different people who were coming through single, like Coleman Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
1904 - 1969
sax, tenor
or Chet Baker
Chet Baker
Chet Baker
1929 - 1988
trumpet
and they would need a rhythm section. So they would hire us as a trio. It was quite an education for us. So I was working a lot and doing as much studying as I possibly could, considering that I needed to sleep as well. It was always a conflict.

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Post Graduate

AAJ: Post graduate, you were able to continue your studies when you won a Schaefer Beer scholarship to study at the Lennox School of Jazz. How did this differ from your previous academics?

SK: Yeah that was a three week thing in the summer of '59. It was a wonderful three weeks, the faculty and the students. It was like a big three week hang, if you will. Just hanging out with Gunther Schuller

Gunther Schuller
Gunther Schuller
b.1925
composer/conductor
, George Russell
George Russell
George Russell
1923 - 2009
piano
, The Modern Jazz Quartet...these were on the faculty now. Herb Pomeroy was a faculty member, Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
, Kenny Dorham
Kenny Dorham
Kenny Dorham
1924 - 1972
trumpet
. And then the students: Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
, Don Cherry
Don Cherry
Don Cherry
1936 - 1995
trumpet
, Gary McFarland
Gary McFarland
Gary McFarland
1933 - 1971
vibraphone
were all students; so I had a chance to meet all these people and it was really very, very helpful in many ways.

Steve Kuhn Plus I came to New York right after that in September of that year and called all these people I had met; I said "I am here now, and if you hear of anybody who needs a pianist, I'm around, I'm available." So Kenny Dorham was one I called and he just happened to need somebody at that particular time and so he hired me. That was quite a good stroke of luck, fortuitous.

AAJ: Aside from the obvious excitement of your instructors and your classmates, were there any artistic cross-pollination of ideas occurring, with like Ornette Coleman or any one while you were there?

SK: Each student was put in a group and the leaders of the group...my particular group was led by Max Roach

Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
drums
and John Lewis
John Lewis
John Lewis
b.1920
piano
, they were our leaders. I was in a group with Ornette and Don Cherry.



For me this was somewhat of a dilemma because I had never experienced anything like that before, in terms of playing with musicians who improvise like that. I really didn't know quite what to do, the piano being more vertical in a sense (if you're going to be chording behind people.) So I just decided to lay out when they soloed. That seemed to me the best idea and I still say that to this day. It's really the best accompaniment for Ornette is piano-less groups. I know Paul Bley

Paul Bley
Paul Bley
b.1932
piano
had played with him. There are ways to do it.



I was more interested in hearing what he was doing and just trying to figure out if there was something I could do, what it would be. But for the most part I just laid out when he played. It was really nice to just be part of that group, and his compositions were quite special.



It was a great environment. The whole three week experience, nobody got much sleep and it was really quite special. It was really just day and night; everybody is playing all the time and talking about music, it was really nice. Dizzy Gillespie came to visit and Milt Jackson

Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
1923 - 1999
vibraphone
was there. I will never forget it.

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Standards and Beyond

AAJ: To the more casual jazz fan you are better known for your trio/standards format. Was there ever expectation or pressure from any label not to stray too far from that formula?

SK: There was no pressure, but when I would record for ECM all he [producer/label head Manfred Eicher] wanted was originals. I started recording for ECM in 1974. It has just been in the last 20-25 years that I have probably recorded more standards, if you will.



Part of it is because I grew up listening to a lot of these standards. They were part of my fiber, as you say. It was challenging for me to play them in the trio context and play them in a way that they were personalized as much as possible; even though they had been recorded by other people (and a lot of them had been recorded a lot of times). It was always challenging to make it as interesting as possible for me, as well as the people in the trio. So that was a challenge in and of itself.

Steve Kuhn

Plus writing, for me, has always been very difficult. When I have an assignment I can sit at the piano and grind it out but it doesn't come easy. Some people have a discipline where they can sit maybe two or three hours every day and compose; and however much they use eventually remains to be seen. But just to have that discipline every day to sit down and try to compose, I have never been able to do that. I work best when I have a deadline and a project to do.



In recent times I have recorded a lot for the Japanese label Venus and they want standards for the most part. I have done some originals for them but it is mostly standards. I have done maybe a dozen CDs for them; usually it's about one a year. But I enjoy doing both.



When we tour and when we are playing out, it is probably about 70% other peoples' music and 30% originals that make up the repertoire that I do now.



AAJ: With your own songs, do you find yourself taking a different approach in regards to where you want the emotion of your solo to take the listener perhaps having it be in the service of the song to a greater extant as opposed to the framework in which to build off of. What is this difference if any in where and how you solo in a standard versus original piece?



SK: These things change over the years. They just reissued these CDs and I listened to them once just because I have not listened to them in many years. I realized that some of the songs that I play now in the trio context I play differently. It has just evolved it was not a conscious thing. Just over the years, things change. So wherever they evolve, to which point; that's just the way it works out. It is just an organic process, as I feel with the standards as well. They change over time as well.

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Writing

AAJ: When you write a song do you always know beforehand what size ensemble you are going to play it with at least initially?

SK: No, not really. There are certain instances when I decided I was going to write a song that I would put lyrics to, which for the most part I did, that the melodies would be singable.

Steve Kuhn I was told a long time ago by somebody whose opinion I really respected that if you listen to all the great classical composers, they all were great melody writers. And I always kept that in mind no matter what it is I am writing, whether I am writing for an instrumental situation or with a singer in mind. Just to have a melody that is a valid melody and I always try to go along with that as much as possible.

AAJ: Do you prefer to break in a new song live before recording it or do you look at live versus recorded as two completely separate animals?



SK: If I have the opportunity I would prefer to do it live first before recording it because it is invariably going to change from what I am proposing it as by myself to the trio context.



It changes from when I was by myself, alone with it to the trio and then it changes in the trio. So if I have the time to do that, I would prefer to play it live with the trio before recording it. It doesn't always work out that way.



Sometimes I will just have to say well we will do this or that. But even in the recording studio things will change, but I would prefer to have as much time with the song before I record it.

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Songs Revisited

AAJ: Certain of your pieces such as "Life's Backward Glance" you have revisited in various forms over the course of your career. Does one version ever become the sole representation of the song or it an ongoing evolution?

SK: It depends on where I am at that particular time, in terms of where my head is at musically. It can change. And it should change. Nothing is written in stone really; the melody, you sort of allude to that and sometimes it is more literal than others. The skeletal thing is there generally but around the skeletal parts things can change quite dramatically.



I just did a recording for ECM this past December, the trio with a special guest Joe Lovano

Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
. We are doing the music of John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, not all are his compositions but most are. Some of them are songs that I played when I worked with him but they weren't his originals. Then I did a solo piece, which I improvised spontaneously on the date. And then I did a solo version of "Trance," which I have previously recorded in trio context and with string orchestra. It has also been arranged for big band which I participated in.

Steve Kuhn The solo version I did in December was quite different than what I would have done previous to that. It really just depends.

AAJ: "Life's Backwards Glance," as done on Trance (ECM, 1974), features a spoken word performance by you. There are pieces scattered throughout your oeuvre in which you perform vocals. Is there anything which dictates the where and when of you adding vocals?

SK: No, it depends on if I think the melody is singable. It just so happens that back in the '70s when I had the band with Sheila Jordan

Sheila Jordan
Sheila Jordan
b.1928
vocalist
, and she really liked some of these songs. I had written lyrics for some of them and she looked forward to singing them, I was really flattered. So it just worked out that way.



A number of other singers over the years have recorded some of the songs that I have done, so it is always nice to have that. It is very flattering and I am glad that some of these songs resonate with these different people.



It's possible that songs I have written as an instrumental to this day if somebody said "I would like to sing that could you write a lyric to that" or "could somebody write it?" I would say "sure," and that is probably what would happen, whether I would do it or someone else, or collaboration with someone.

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Lyrics

AAJ: Lyrically, the elliptical sentence of the sea captain's tale there is an almost Samuel Beckett flavor to the song. Does literature or any other artistic mediums ever fuel what you do?

SK: Well to tell you the truth, that was ["the captain called his men on deck"] something I had heard years and years ago, when I was in my twenties or something. It was a joke. It was an open ended joke that just kept repeating and repeating and repeating. So I did it more with the tongue and cheek, that particular lyric.



I never thought of it as being like Beckett. It's probably Beckett like but I never consciously did it. I just did it as a tongue and cheek. Some of the other lyrics I have written have been stream of consciousness and others have been written with more of a specific theme in mind or a strong emotion; where ever I am at that particular time.

AAJ: How important is any kind of self reassessment to one of your pieces when creating a different version of it?

SK: I would rather keep my mind as open as possible and let it go where it may. I mean if there has to be specific things that are written out, if it's a larger ensemble then so be it. But I really like to leave the possibilities as open as possible, so a song can go anywhere.



I think that's part of the beauty of the music, creative and improvised music. You can go where ever you want. Sometimes it works better than others, true, but you always have to take these risks and take these chances because that's the essence of what the music is about.

AAJ: When you write a song with lyrics is there any preconceived idea beforehand of who may be the singer or how you want the singer's emotions to come through in the piece?

SK: No. For me, I am flattered when anybody wants to sing it. Some of the songs are harder to sing than others., I wrote a lyric to this song "Adagio" which is quite difficult to sing but three singers have recorded that song: Luciana Souza

Luciana Souza
Luciana Souza

vocalist
, a woman named Laura Taylor and a Norwegian singer Karin Krog
Karin Krog
Karin Krog
b.1937
vocalist
; all very different but all valid in their own way.



I really don't have anybody in mind. I don't necessarily think that's what I do; for the most part it's the instrumental stuff that I focus on. Whenever it's possible that somebody wants to sing something, if there's a lyric there or if a lyric has to be written that's fine. But I don't really compose with anyone in mind, particular, as far as a singers concerned; at least consciously I haven't done that.

AAJ: Some of the songs appearing on the Playground album had previously been known under different titles ["Thoughts of a Gentleman" is "Gentle Thoughts," "The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers" is "Poem for No.15," "The Zoo is "Pearlie's Swine"]. Did changing the title further facilitate a stylistic change in any of the songs' executions?

SK: That was just publishing. I had given fifty percent of the publishing to a company when I recorded them initially and there was some confusion. The publishing company went out of business and they gave me back all the rights as publisher but it wasn't being recognized in all parts of the world so I decided to change some of the titles to be sure it was clear. So no, I literally changed the titles. That's all. Just for publishing purposes.

AAJ: Your lyrics often have a playful Oulipo/Dadist feel to them. Are the lyrics created at the same time as the music which accompanies it?

SK: Usually the music comes first and then the lyrics. I can't recall if it has ever been the other way around. Then depending upon what I am feeling at the time the lyric will be either obtuse or more straightforward. It just depends.

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Technology

AAJ: Trance (ECM, 1974) features you, in part, on electric piano. You called your association with the instrument "a dalliance." In performance or writing have you tried other new technology?

Steve KuhnSK: No. Well, I did play synthesizers a little bit, although I don't think I ever recorded on one.



To me they are like toys. It is very hard to get an individual approach on an electric piano because you can't really mess with the sound. There is no identifiable sound, it is electronically produced; and the same with the synthesizers, from my experience anyway.



I was curious about it and the time that I recorded Trance, the first recording I did for ECM; I was playing electric piano at the time. I asked Manfred Eicher if I could do a couple of tracks on the electric piano and he was very much against it. He acquiesced eventually, if we could have the keyboards split so that it could be recorded in stereo. So I went to a technician who did that for me. And that's the reason I did a couple of those songs on that particular recording, with the electric piano.



But the acoustic piano is still my main instrument and continuously challenging to me. Every time I sit down, to this day; it never gets tired for me. It is always a challenge and over the years I think I have developed a personal voice and a personal sound that I get from it.



Somebody emailed me just the other day and said "You can play one note and I know it's you;" and that is really a very big compliment for me. That's nice.

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October Suite

AAJ: Does your method of composition vary depending upon the type of piece you are writing?

SK: Basically I compose at the piano. I sit there and I stare at a blank piece of manuscript paper and go from there. It really is perspiration more than inspiration, frankly. It is not easy for me to compose, but once I get into it, [it's] trial and error and a lot of rejections, but I come up with something I think is reasonable. But it is a perspiration type project for me to compose, unfortunately.



I know about people getting up in the middle of night with something buzzing in there head. If that happens to me, and it does, I am usually too tired to write it down. So it's either with me when I get up in the morning or it's gone.



AAJ: October Suite (Impulse!, 1966) was your piano trio playing alongside a chamber ensemble. The score was by Gary McFarland. Was this the first time you had done something which so jumped musical genres?

SK: I believe it was, yes.

Steve KuhnAAJ: What dictates how long you will stay with a project's performance/promotion before moving onto the next thing? Is a complex piece of work such as October Suite harder to get across to the public?

SK: That's up to the economics. I never performed the music on the October Suite until about five years ago. Somebody called me from California and they wanted to do this music, which had never been performed in public before; which was kind of strange—it was forty years later! So I am out in Claremont, California at this college, playing with the trio and a woodwind ensemble and a string quartet; playing this music. It was really very special to be able to do that.



But its economics; I have never had a name big enough where promoters will think they can sell out a hall or something like that. So it has been a question of economics and what different promoters think the traffic will bear.

AAJ: The chamber sections, having been written by someone else, does it make you approach your solos or even how the trio interact differently or is it similar to doing a standard?

SK: It is similar only because when I work with these different writers, especially with Gary I say "Just give me some room;" and he did. What he wrote was gorgeous and then he left space for me. Whatever was going on in the background to me was minimal, the same as it was on this string project I did Promises Kept (ECM, 2004). Carlos Franzetti did the same thing. We collaborated on the arrangements but the stuff that he wrote and the way he orchestrated it enabled me to just really respond to stuff that he did, in terms of background stuff, but also just left a lot of open space where I can play. That's important for me.

AAJ: With a project like October Suite or the follow-up eponymously titled album you did with Gary McFarland (on Buddha, 1971) how much does critical or public reception of the work effect what you will next attempt?

SK: It has never really impacted me particularly. The only time I did consciously try to reach out to a larger audience, I had been living overseas in Scandinavia for four years and I came back to the States in the early '70s. The first recording I did was for a label called Buddah Records in New York. It was sort of a bubble gum type label, but they had this guy Joe Fields; he was the jazz guy.



I made a record with a string quartet and Gary McFarland; it was the last he recording he did, as a matter of fact, before he passed. It was all my music. It was string quartet and it had percussion, Airto Moreira

Airto Moreira
Airto Moreira
b.1941
percussion
was the percussionist. Billy Cobham
Billy Cobham
Billy Cobham
b.1944
drums
was the drummer and Ron Carter, bassist, and myself. I sang on a few of them, some of the lyrics that I had written to these songs.



That was really a conscious effort to maybe try to break out into a wider market and it didn't work. That was the only conscious attempt that I made to be more "commercial." Since then I really have just sort of got along and try to do what I wanted to do. In terms of career it hasn't helped me necessarily but that was really all I knew how to do.



I admire people like Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
or Chick Corea, who did, and I respect what they did. They are great musicians and they did go into the synthesizers/electronic stuff and did it quite well but it also brought them a larger audience so now these days they can do whatever the hell they want. I admire them for that. I was never able to do that.

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Promises Kept

AAJ: Promise Kept is simply billed on the album cover as "w/Strings," which is deceptively humble for the sweep of the work. It is not you merely soloing over strings nor is it third stream, fitting far more comfortably into modern classical. Do you give any thought ever to genre labels in regards to your works?

SK: How could I have described that differently?



For me it's about the music. People are gonna put labels on it anyway. I can't get involved in all of that. For me the bottom line really is the emotion. I try, especially in these later years, to reach the audience on an emotional level. If I can do that then I have succeeded.



A lot of times I hear people saying "This music made me happy" or "This made me cry." That's what I want to hear. If they're indifferent or if they say that was "interesting," that's a word that's used. It means nothing really. It's like looking at a painting in a museum and saying "that's very interesting." Well, what does that mean?



I want to try to move people. They may be moved to the point where they don't like it. That's fine. I prefer it the other way but as long as I can reach them emotionally on some level, then I have succeeded. That's really what I try to do.

Steve KuhnAAJ: The orchestration and conducting was by Carlos Franzetti. Was there any temptation to do it yourself?

SK: No. Only because I know what it takes. The technique and the craft of writing for other instruments, that's something that requires a fair amount of study. I could probably do it but I don't have the energy, at this stage.



I just recently received a recording of Claus Ogerman; I had forgotten what a great writer he is. I may try to, if it's possible, to hook up with him and get some interest in the company to do some other stuff, but with him doing the arrangements and orchestrations. He is an incredible writer.



But I leave that up to them. There are people out there who can do this a hell of a lot better than I would ever be able to do. So I just focus on the piano and original music, what ever it is I am doing.

AAJ: Did the project change at all from its conception to its execution?

SK: Not really no. I had wanted to do a recording with a large string orchestra because I had done a couple with string quartets. It always had been a dream of mine and I had asked around, Claus Ogermann

's name was in the front of my mind at the time. But I didn't know, I figured that economically it might not work out, I didn't know where he was.



People had kept telling me that in New York, Carlos Franzetti is the one you should really meet and talk to about it, because he writes incredibly well for strings. So as it turns out, I did contact him and it turned out that he had been a fan of mine, which didn't hurt.



We got together and we really hit it off quite well. I was able to just talk with him about what I wanted and we exchanged a lot of ideas. I think it worked out quite well.

AAJ: You have had a chance to perform it live. Does the live version differ much from its recorded sibling? Does the venue you are performing in effect its characteristic at all?

SK: Minimally. We have only actually done it twice; once right around the time when the CD came out and the other time at a summer festival here in upstate New York. Unfortunately again it is economics. I had hoped to do some stuff in Europe with it and have been told by different promoters that it could work out. Because actually the string writing, the music is not that difficult; so you could get local musicians to do it. The only common thing would be me and bringing Carlos along. But so far it hasn't really materialized. Hopefully it will one of these days.

AAJ: There are several of your older pieces re-imagined on the album ("Lullaby," "Life's Backward Glance," "Trance" and "Oceans in the Sky"), yet the over all album has an almost programmatic feel to it. Is this something you intentionally strove for?

SK: No. It just came out the way it was. A dear friend of mine when he first heard it, and he meant this as a compliment; he said it really sounds as if my playing on it, aside from the stating of the melody, that my improvisation was written out. I know he meant that as a compliment but the fact of it was, of course, that it wasn't. I just played fairly sparsely and on purpose, because the emotion for me with the strings was very strong and I wanted all that to come out.



I think as I get older too I tend to play less. I realized that leaving the space and letting the music breathe is really quite important. When you are younger, of course, you tend to want to cram in everything, in every chorus and tell your whole life story. Then you find as you get older that it is not necessary. Just, you play less and things work out, I think, better. It's much more emotional.

Steve KuhnAAJ: The piece was written for your grandparents who emigrated from Budapest and dedicated to family, including your parents. At times there is an almost hand dulcimer effect to your playing, was there any ethnic music influence occurring?

SK: I'm sure there was. When I was very young there was some Hungarian music going 0n the house, not much but I did hear it. When I was quite young there were several Hungarian women that babysat me over the period of a couple of years. So that was in my fiber.



Two years ago I did a concert at the Hungarian consulate here in New York and it was quite unexpected; I walked in and I really got extremely emotional just hearing the people speaking Hungarian, just the whole feeling in the room. I was completely blindsided by that. I really didn't expect it but there are a lot of deep rooted associations that I have with Hungary, I'm sure.



Ironically I have not been there. I've gotten, while touring, as far as Vienna and never had the time to go; because that's about as close to Budapest as you can get. But I am hoping, I am going to Italy next month and I have an eight day period where I have nothing (at the moment) that's booked in between two teaching situations. So I may, unless something comes up at the last minute, take a side trip and go to Budapest for a couple of days. Just to do it. It is something I should do.

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Classical Inflections

AAJ: Your playing always beautiful sometimes seems to encompass aspects of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and Leos Janacek (1854-1928). Do you listen to specific style of music before or during a project? How important are your listening habits to your art?

SK: No. But Ravel is my favorite composer, so it doesn't surprise me that you would hear that. The French Impressionists I love but especially Ravel; he is my all time favorite. But no, whatever comes out is based on years of listening to music when I was growing up and through my formative years. In recent years I don't listen very much at all to anything. I was super saturated with it all. I find, especially if I am composing, that I really like to keep my head as clear as possible.

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ECM and Dream Projects

AAJ: In 1974 Manfred Eicher signed you to his ECM label already knowing and being a fan of your work, and with Promises Kept, Carlos Franzetti too had already been a fan well-versed in your work. How important is this deep level of sympathy for an artistic collaboration?

Steve KuhnSK: It probably helps but it is not a necessity. It's nice, in terms of a collaborator, that they have some idea of where I am coming from and if there is going to be any kind of empathy or simpatico between us; otherwise there is no point in collaborating. If they were not familiar with my stuff then they will be because I, or the record company, will send them some examples of stuff that I have done, so they'll have an idea. Then they may say "No this is something I am not interested in doing," or they'll say "Yeah, let's do it."

AAJ: This is my only stock question: Do you have any dream project that you have yet to do?

SK: Since I did the strings, not really; though I would like to do something with Claus Ogerman. I don't know if that is ever going to happen or not. I don't know how old he is or what kind of shape he is in these days. But I heard recently, he did a recording—I think it is on Verve—with Danilo Perez

Danilo Perez
Danilo Perez
b.1966
piano
and Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson
b.1955
vocalist
. It was Danilo's recording but Claus' writing is exquisite. It just reminded me of how great he is. I found out that he lives in Munich but I don't know if economically it makes sense. But I am going to look into it.



In terms of a dream project then, no. Other than that, and that is a semi-dream because I did do the strings with Carlos; there really isn't anything. Just to be able to work a little more than I do, although it comes sporadically. So it is hard to say at this stage. I am not a fan of traveling, I hate traveling. But in order to do the music you have to travel and put up with the nonsense with the airports and everything these days.



But I still love to play, and love to play in front of people. That is my raison d'etre. If I can't do that then I might as well forget about it all together.


Selected Discography



Steve Kuhn, Mostly Coltrane (ECM, 2009)

Steve Kuhn, Life's Backwards Glances: Solo and Quartet (ECM, 2009)
Steve Kuhn, Live At Birdland (Blue Note, 2007)
Steve Kuhn, Promises Kept (ECM, 2004)
Steve Kuhn, Waltz - Blue Side (Venus, 2002)
Steve Kuhn, Waltz - Red Side (Venus, 2002)
Steve Kuhn, Temptation (Venus, 2001)
Steve Kuhn, The Best Things (Reservoir, 2000)
Steve Kuhn, Countdown (Reservoir, 1999)
Steve Kuhn, Love Walked In (Venus, 1998)
Steve Kuhn, Dedication (Reservoir, 1998)
Steve Kuhn, Jazz'n (E)Motion (BMG, 1998)
Steve Kuhn, Two By 2 (Owl, 1997)
Steve Kuhn, Everything I Need (Brownstone, 1995)
Steve Kuhn, Seasons of Romance (Postcards, 1995)
Steve Kuhn, Remembering Tomorrow (ECM, 1995)
Steve Kuhn, Years Later (Concord, 1993)
Steve Kuhn, Live At Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 13 (Concord, 1991)
Steve Kuhn, Looking Back (Concord, 1991)
Steve Kuhn, Oceans In The Sky (Owl, 1990)
Steve Kuhn, Mostly Ballads (New World, 1984)
Steve Kuhn, Playground (ECM, 1980)
Steve Kuhn, Motility (ECM, 1977)
Steve Kuhn, Trance (ECM, 1975)
Steve Kuhn, Ecstasy (ECM, 1974)
Steve Kuhn, Childhood Is Forever (BYG, 1969)
Steve Kuhn, October Suite (Impulse!, 1966)



Photo Credits

Performance Photos: Volume 12
Portraits: Robert Lewis

Featured Story: Guy Van de Poel



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