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Tim Garland: Beyond the Frontier

By Published: November 30, 2009

Tim Garland by Jose HornaAAJ: As far back as your group Lammas, terms like crossover were used, or jazz-folk fusion; are these terms which have little meaning for you?

TG: Well, they all have their place and we're all in the same situation regarding the need to package, uncomfortable as we maybe are. If you think of jazz maybe as an approach rather than as a genre, then it's possible to live comfortably with that word, to see jazz as an interfacing of a whole multitude of things.

Lammas certainly was a jazz/Celtic fusion, although I think the central issue was the strength of the compositions in the first place. The compositions, from the level of their DNA so to speak, have to accommodate all the good points of the players involved. I have heard other folk music with a jazz approach, but for me at least it rests with the strength of the compositions to really bring out what the guys have to offer. Otherwise either the soloists are shackled by the composition or maybe the soloists are doing their thing but the composition is just playing a minor role underneath and not really offering anything new. Hence my interest in and love of composition, because that's the aim I am always looking to achieve, to illuminate both sides of the equation equally.

AAJ: Was classical music your first love, musically speaking?

TG: I don't think it ever was first love, although I seem to listen to more classical music than jazz but that's because there's still so much that I'm approaching for the first time, even composers who I've been listening to for a few years like Henri Dutilleux, the French guy whose music I'm a total fan of. There are still works of his which I'm just discovering.

Other people like [Pierre] Boulez who I really admire; some works I struggle with and find a bit intellectual but I think "You know what, I'll download that and give it another listen on the flight tomorrow" and it blows my mind and I think "Wow! Why did I think that was bad?" It might be because I'm a bit older now and I've got a bit more patience to listen.

AAJ: That's true of most music; if you listen in a light way then you don't pick up on the depth and nuance, but when you really listen to it then you hear it, right?

TG: Yeah. In the same way I used to not have much time for listening to Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
, but now, and maybe because I've had to teach it and I've had to look into it more, I realize that this guy's a genius [laughs]. What was I thinking?

I think you've got to know what to listen for and the problem that a lot of people have with jazz in its various kinds is that maybe they are still listening out for a predominance of certain things like vocals or whatever and maybe they're not aware that it's really good to know the structure of the music. It's like a theme of variations; they need to be able to hear that the soloist is playing over the same form so they can still hear the same song in the background.

Once people know what to listen for it's a bit demystified and not so inaccessible anymore and the same goes for whether it's Boulez, Markus Stockhausen

[laughs], or Duke Ellington actually. I'm well aware that I've got very broad tastes and I wouldn't expect everybody to dig all of this stuff the same way I do; I'm just a bit of a freak [laughs].

AAJ: Classical music, and recording with various orchestras has occupied more of your time and more of your recorded output in the last few years, and in addition you've been commissioned to compose for various instruments as well; can you see a day, as Günther Schuller did, when you give up performance to dedicate yourself entirely to composition and conducting?

TG: Certainly not yet. It's like my two arms, one arm being performance and the other being writing. I've just come back from a six week tour where I was playing a lot, and I was reminded of just how much I love the spontaneity and the fun and the non cerebral aspects.

Once everything is out of the way, things like talking to the promoter about money, ticket sales and so on, once you're on stage you leave yourself and all of that on the side and it becomes kind of sacred. I don't think it's pretentious to say that, it's merely the truth. A kind of sacredness takes over where nothing matters but the music and the moment and the shared experience. That is our offering to the world.

Tim GarlandAAJ: A lot of musicians talk of the music not coming from them but coming through them, almost as though they were some kind of portal. This sounds quasi-religious, but I wonder what your take on it is. Can you relate to that at all?

TG: Yes, whilst trying to avoid slipping into sounding pretentious—one result of aiming to get a natural flow in your music is of course that, sporadically, one succeeds! Then there is no linguistically structured thought going on, and no sense of self, so therefore I suppose, no feeling that it's you playing anymore.

For many years I've been fascinated by the Buddhist teaching on what the "self" is or is not, and how it seems to love causing trouble for itself! Certainly, I play much better with a lessened sense of self. Again it's that feeling that every stage of the way is a complete end in itself. The two uses of the word "play" are joined: the child who plays in a sandpit with no notion of goal-orientation, and the maestro who "plays" Rachmaninoff. The music I love and aspire to arrests me, it demands all the attention of my head and heart and I'm always grateful to be in its presence. This sounds almost religious and with some music it is like that.

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