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Tim Garland: Beyond the Frontier

By Published: November 30, 2009

Tim GarlandAAJ: Do you feel like a kindred spirit to Bach, because he was quite an eclectic musician and composer himself?

TG: Well, I wouldn't like to put myself on the same level. He had an extraordinary mathematical mind and I don't feel I can put myself in that category at all. That sense of having lots of deadlines—there's an album by John Scofield

John Scofield
John Scofield
, a beautiful title, Grace Under Pressure (Blue Note Records, 1992), because when someone is aspiring to create something of real worth and real honesty to a deadline then that is grace under pressure, and you think, man, that is how Bach lived, week by week by week.

I do understand that. It's not only the writing but also the rigors of being on stage and knowing that every moment on stage counts and you have to somehow reach inside and find something. There might be ten people in the room or there might be ten thousand but at that moment your only function is to pull out something worthwhile. I know that's the world Bach inhabited and I've got an amazing amount of respect for him.

AAJ: It has been said that Bach was the very first jazz man; would you agree with that?

TG: You'd have to define jazz to answer that one. I think there were probably others prior to him who loved to be spontaneous with their music, but of course it wouldn't have been recorded, so we'll never know! Certainly around the time of madrigals there was a lot of improvisation. Bach certainly loved chromaticism and jazz embraces that big time —I think that's one of the reasons why jazz musicians appreciate and take their hats off to him.

In some of those later etudes and fugues he's on the verge of atonality practically. You can't go further in the same vein, in the same idiom as Bach because he was his own summit. If you want to do something then you have to find another summit to climb because you can't go higher than the summit itself [laughs]. I think people from all traditions recognize that in him.

AAJ: Coming back down to base camp, I wanted to ask you about your experience touring in China; what was that like?

TG: Well, they're very different people. We felt that the Chinese were a bit more like the Spanish or Italians whereas the Japanese were a bit more like the Germans [laughs]. Our audiences were lively, sometimes a little noisy but incredibly appreciative and hungry for more. They wouldn't let us go.

I think they appreciated all of the things which we would have wanted them to appreciate—the liveliness, the fun. It's true that there's a spirituality in the way that I approach music but I'd hate to think that was somehow taking yourself too seriously and I think the Chinese audience really got the fun and the light heartedness of the whole thing.

They really wanted us back and in fact we're planning a release which will all be written and manufactured in Chinese, maybe sometime next year. Our promoter said that there were a lot of other cities that would like to have us play.

Certainly I was struck by the difference in culture; you really do feel you've travelled. There are cities there which accommodate huge numbers of people and they are bigger than London. You get a sense of "Wow! I don't know I've lived" when you go to China [laughs].This is a big place.

I would hope that their aspirations towards westernization are tempered by the sense of their own worth and the amazing contribution of Chinese culture. We are thinking of maybe using some Chinese themes to base some of material on for our Chinese release.

AAJ: Will this be newly written and performed music then?

TG: Yeah, it'll be the new project with the line-up which is just being sorted. I would like to get the opportunity to hear more contemporary Chinese music as well.

AAJ: Did you come across any Chinese musicians playing jazz or bringing jazz into Chinese music?

Tim GarlandTG: Among the musicians we hung out with while we were there we met a guy from the border area with Kurdistan and he was using traditional stringed instruments with bass and drums in a jazz way. A lot depends on the availability of what they can hear. For example, there's quite a healthy fusion aspect going on because that music has been around. In certain ways in the west that has almost been and gone but there is a lot of interest in that and kind of jazz/rock elements in the music, because a lot of these recordings are only widely available or accepted now.

I have no doubt given the ingenuity and creativity of young people that it'll be a matter of another decade or so before they're totally up with everybody else. They have amazing classical pianists. Asia was seen as producing musicians with a flawless technical ability but who weren't necessarily adding anything new, but I don't think we can say that anymore [laughs]. I think it's a pretty level playing field and we can all learn from each other.

I was struck by the warmth of the people, their keenness and their fascination with us. We were on the bill sometimes with local, traditional Chinese singers who opened up for us and they were singing ancient Chinese folk songs. I thought "Wow! I'm just scratching the very tip of this cultural iceberg here." I loved it.

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