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Craig Taborn: Rooted

By Published: June 15, 2009
AAJ: About a third of the way in, on the oddly titled "Not unlike Number 10," you are really flying at a certain point, and we get to hear your two-handed playing technique—simultaneous lines at speed—which is quite remarkable. Is that something that was always there when you started to play the piano, or is it something you've worked very hard to develop over time?

CT: You mean two different lines or the same line?

AAJ: Two different lead lines, one with each hand.

CT: I've worked to develop that in a number of ways. It's a way I've always thought, I'd say that. I hear multiple parts going on. I hear a lot of different things. I think one reason I liked the piano and gravitated towards the piano is because it's an instrument where you can play more than one thing. Over time when I improvise, when I'm doing anything, I try to get more than one idea going at once. There are certain things I practice but it's more just getting into the habit of always playing that way, of improvising that way, of hearing multiple ideas and truly trying to render different ideas. There's a limit to it, of course, but I've always heard that way and I've tried to develop my playing around trying to render what I'm hearing.

AAJ: The need to name the music, to break it down and give it names, seems like an odd thing to do with an uninterrupted piece of improvised music. Was that a commercial consideration, and how did you come up with the titles?

CT: Those pieces, the way they exist on the record—they were discrete musical statements in the performance, so they really do represent discrete entities. For the titling, a large part of the credit goes to Gerald. At that level and with this stuff, titling can seem strange, but it definitely wasn't a commercial consideration, more finding a reference that resonated on a certain level. It's just like naming a painting or something. You could be very clerical and have a cataloguing tile, you know, number one, number two, or Roman numerals, but it's more interesting to allow language or naming to enter the process. There is identity to the pieces and we give things names.

AAJ: Returning to performance, what for you is the most important consideration when you play with other musicians?

CT: An open mind as is possible to what's going to occur. That I'm listening—that I'm really truly listening and that my ears and mind are open to trying to encounter the music in real time and that I'm not blocking. Going in with any kind of preconceptions, either about the way I'm going to play—and a lot of people do that, you know: "Oh tonight because it's this place or because I've been doing this kind of music, I'm going to play with some energy"—anything like that I try to get rid of, and any preconceptions you might have about other players. I try to clean the slate and just listen to what is happening now and allow it to be what it's going to be, regardless of the context.

AAJ: You just mentioned "truly listening." Do you find with musicians that the bigger the ego, the less they tend to truly listen?

CT: To a certain extent. There's a corollary there. It's how that ego is projected, because some people with a big ego may listen and then put their big ego in there, and that's part of their contribution and that can be okay. But a big ego—someone who is really narcissistic and who needs to dominate in any way—then that really affects everything that can happen in an adverse way. It becomes really hard to improvise because it makes you not want to open up either.

AAJ: Craig, have you seen a film called "Man on Wire" (2008) about the French high-wire walker Phillipe Petit who walked a wire between the Twin Towers?

CT: Yes, I have.

AAJ: On the DVD I have there's an interview with him, in which he said: "You cannot get ready for a surprise. You have to dive in and see what happens. It is the hardest theatre of course in the world to improvise. I think that improvisation and intuition are things that should be taught in schools, because they are qualities in a human being that yield intense joy and true expression of the self." Could you please tell us your reaction to that?

Craig TabornCT: I think that pretty much sums it up—the idea of improvising, at least my idea of improvisation. I agree wholeheartedly. I have a very specific definition of improvising. There's playing jazz and there's playing all kinds of music, but there are a lot of things you can do in terms of preparing or practicing that can lead you to play solos and engage musically, play things you've been practicing or play things you've worked out, and for me I would say that in a certain sense that's not improvising. Of course, it's tricky and you can get into arguments with people. [laughs] I always tell students that for me, improvising is just that—playing without a net. You clear your palate and not have any preconceptions about what can or should or will happen, and just engage with the moment.

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