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Interviews

Peter Brotzmann

By Published: May 6, 2003
PB: Yeah, of course, when I was a kid and started to get interested in the music but didn't play an instrument, I thought always that the drums would be a good thing to play. And for some reason, there was this clarinet at school [that] I could try, and I stayed with it. But drums always was - and is - the most important counterpart, in a way. Maybe a bass to be added; in a way, that is the most practical thing. You have to travel, you know, it's an economical thing too. And of course, I like to work, for example, with the Chicago Tentet; I mean, I always had larger ensembles together if the money was there. And in earlier times in Germany that was more often possible because the radio stations often had money, which is gone nowadays'

AAJ: It seemed like the Globe Unity [Orchestra] was able to maintain a high level of activity.

PB: That was really a good time to find out what is possible with a large ensemble. Yeah, we had Globe Unity from twelve to nineteen, twenty people sometimes. That was a great time, but for that, of course you need money, and that is nowadays very hard to find. We were lucky that Ken [Vandermark] was able to put in some of his MacArthur [grant] money for the Tentet tours we did here in this country. Until now, we were lucky to play some bigger festivals over in Europe. We have coming up this year four or five festivals, which is nice, but the near future, for next year and the year after, we will see. I just was sitting yesterday together with Ken and we talked about what we can do. We have to find sponsors, some private money, some foundation or whatever, but that's hard. In Germany, it's hard to get people from the foundations interested in this kind of music. They give a lot of money to the visual arts, they give a lot of money to the symphony orchestras and all that classical business, but our kind of music still moves on the lowest level, in a way. It's difficult, but we work on it and we don't give up'

AAJ: So would you rather work with a regular group, or do you like to vary it as far as personnel? Which is more fruitful for you?

PB: It always depends a little bit on what time we are living in. I think all of us three - [pianist] Fred van Hove, [drummer] Han Bennink, and myself - ten years of playing with the trio was for all of us very important, to develop the music and set up the record label and do all the things around that. And then, there was a time that I was involved in trying this and that, whatever. Now, I'm very glad I've known William Parker for 20 years and I know Hamid [Drake] now for 13 years. Even if all the guys are busy with other groups and other things, but to get together a couple of times a year is what I like. There are not so many people; you have quite a bunch here in Chicago, but in other cities here and in Europe, it doesn't look like that. You always have to look hard, you have to be like "this could be a guy," and there are not so many.

AAJ: How do you view the recorded medium in relation to improvisation? Do you feel that it's important, or would you rather not look back to your previously recorded material?

PB: When we started to set up the record business, that was in the mid '60s, we thought it was good enough to have a kind of information to reach people you usually don't, and to develop things...I think even nowadays I have to look back, because Atavistic is setting up all this old stuff, and to be confronted with what you did 30 years ago, it's good. Because you can look at it with a lot of distance and you can quite clearly see what you did at the time, and what kind of nonsense it is, of course' (laughing) or even how good it was. And so I have nothing against it.

AAJ: Do you think that records go against the nature of the music at all, the spontaneity of it? Some people have completely negative feelings on that.

PB: I don't think it goes against the nature of the music, and especially if you work like most American musicians work; they have certain pieces and compositions or whatever. To have that on a CD or on vinyl, I think that's good. Sometimes with improvised music, of course, it's a kind of contradiction. I know that, but on the other hand, if you follow Misha Mengelberg's explanation for it, he found a perfect word for what we did the last three days. It's a kind of 'instant composition', so why not have it? But sometimes it's nice to have a stage, to have the guys there, to have an audience. You play, and that was it. No recording, no nothing. I mean, we had recently two months ago, a kind of memorial night for Peter Kowald, and we invited a lot of guys, his friends from New York and everywhere, a lot of Europeans, and we played from 8 in the evening until 4 in the morning.

AAJ: Uninterrupted?


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