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Craig Taborn: Rooted

By Published: June 15, 2009
AAJ: What about Petit's idea that improvisation and intuition should be taught in schools; would you go along with that?

CT: Oh, absolutely. What you're really talking about in that sense is the integration of whatever knowledge base you have, whatever skills you have—it's how to implement those things into real time, into life. That integrative aspect of any practice isn't taught enough in schools. It's something that you are forced to learn in life. It's what life is. And we all do it, but you learn it on the fly. Another question is how you would teach it? But just to have space where it's even acknowledged, a space where it's allowed to be put into practice—that's essential. What he (Petit) is talking about goes outside of any specific art form or practice; it's allowing your intuition to guide you and you end up using skills and ideas and putting them into play. It should definitely be taught.

AAJ: Returning to the analogy of farming and organic music, most subsistence farmers in the third world have very little option but to farm and any young people migrate in droves to other countries, often illegally, to seek a better life and an alternative to farming. There are very few true improvisers around like yourself, William Parker and Gerald Cleaver; does this suggest that young musicians today maybe don't have the stomach for improvised music, or is because there just isn't a big enough market for it?

CT: It may suggest that, though one thing is there never really was a market for it. I don't think that has changed so much. Getting back to that Man on Wire comment, (it may relate to) the way things are presented or taught, because a lot of that stuff isn't really presented in school. There are a lot of things that are taught in schools that are substitutions for actual improvisation; it's maybe a bit of a distraction or a red herring. They never really pursue any further inquiry into that process. That may affect how many people are actually doing it (improvising music). It's certainly a challenging lifestyle, (laughs) if you really want to go there and try to eke out some sort of living. It's challenging, but I can't think of a time when it wasn't.

AAJ: You seem to have played with a lot of interesting saxophonists; is that a set up you particularly enjoy?

CT: I guess it depends on the player. There are a number of sax players I like to play with, but I wouldn't necessarily chalk it up to the instrument per se. In reality, there's probably a lot I wouldn't enjoy quite so much (laughs) because it can be tricky to find interesting saxophonists. One thing about that instrument is that it invites the voice of the player in a more complete way—someone like Lotte Anker or someone like Roscoe Mitchell. I like saxophonists with a really clear identity on the horn. So much of their identity comes through, and I think that's what I really enjoy about saxophone, more so than trumpet. Although there are really interesting trumpet players, it is a hard instrument to find a really good, specific sound.

Craig Taborn / David TornAAJ: You appear on a recently-released Lotte Anker CD, again with Gerald Cleaver, Live at the Half Light (ILK Music, 2008), and this is another improvised piece— a twenty six minute improvisation. Was that the entire show?

CT: Yes it was; I think that was the whole set.

AAJ: What's it like playing with Lotte Anker?

CT: Lotte is fantastic; coming from a different place. She's another musician like William and Gerald who is very rooted and is always playing from that place. These are musicians where there is no doubt in the music making. There is no doubt about really engaging and improvising. That's rare. There are some people you'll play with and you can feel timidity—they'll fight their way through it, to improvise, and that's a form, but these are people you can sit down with and there's just this well of trust. You know, you're engaged in this process and no matter what happens it's okay and you're all going to go as deep as you can. And you know that.

That's really what one looks for. I know that I can look over at Lotte and she's diving down and you know that nobody's gonna wimp out on this process (laughs). So those are special groups, actually. It's hard to have groups like that which are purely improvised because a lot of people just get scared.

AAJ: That's kind of answered the previous question about there not being too many genuinely improvising groups out there because maybe they don't have the stomach for it. Even for musicians like the ones you've mentioned, there must be times when it would be easy to break down, to hit a wall and not be able to develop an idea.

CT: That can happen in any context. The more someone is willing to face the possibility of failure, the more one is able to learn how to surmount that. One of the problems with people who don't really go for improvising that way is that you get a lot of musicians who maybe resort to a catalogue of techniques or tricks that they always use in order to avoid facing the failure. They'll have licks that they play, or places they can go and they know it'll work on a certain level. That's the ego. That's where that starts to come in. Or they'll start visually trying to cue you to let you know what's happening instead of really trusting. A big part of it isn't so much that you don't have bad days but that you are willing to face that down. Over time, the more you're willing to face that down, the more comfortable and fluid you become, and that's what makes the real improvisers, I think—a fortitude.

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