Forbes Graham: Magenta Haze
AAJ: Was he the guy you started the band with?
FG: Well, he had a band and I tried to get into it, but my father wouldn't let me. So we kind of had some music and we had some lyrics but I wasn't really there. He did some of the "Real Book" jams, too.
AAJ: Stepping back a bit, did your teachers encourage you to listen to, say, Miles or Dizzy Gillespie?
FG: No. This is what's weird: I didn't have a bad musical education but I didn't have a good one, either. The guy I took music lessons from, trumpet, was very strict. So they were all very strict. They all had very high standards, but they didn't tell you what to like or anything. My private teacher, Mr. Phillips, he told me to buy a CD of Gerard Schwartz playing Herbert L. Clarke, concert band stuff. Nobody told me to listen to Miles or Dizzy Gillespie or Louis Armstrong, I just kind of did it here and there. There was kind of a weird circle around, though, because when I started doing the "Real Book" stuff, there was this one guy, Sam Hilmer, who I was in jazz band with, and he was the one who hit me with Cecil Taylor and John Zorn and stuff.
AAJ: What age was this?
FG: About 16.
AAJ: That's pretty early for that.
FG: To me, it was just music. It's not that I was hip to every little thing, at that age, but I was checking it out. There were lots of little connections. Back then, everybody knew who John Zorn was, his records were in all the stores.
AAJ: The Naked City (Elektra Records, 1990) period, with the popular songs he was doing.
FG: And I was into Napalm Death, and Zorn was in that band with the drummer from Napalm Death; and I loved Buried Secrets and I loved Justin Broadrick from Godflesh. And Zorn's kind of a funny bridge for a lot of people, and in some ways he was a funny bridge for me.
AAJ: An interesting way of putting it.
FG: I do think of it as sort of a weird funny bridge- -and not in a bad way. But it was a weird process of checking stuff out, and then stepping back a bit, and then saying, "OK," and for me, to a certain extent it's been a very casual thing. And I remember when I got to college, they had a music library. So I listened to some [Karlheinz] Stockhausenand I liked it. But even to this day I've never been a big Stockhausen person. But I listened to it...They had so many Anthony Braxton records there.
AAJ: Julius Vasylenko recently told me about Braxton's influence on him.
FG: He's absolutely been a great inspiration to me. The idea of being a real robust composer with his own ideas, and being like "I'm a black intellectual, and I'm a composer, and I'm a performer." It's just great. You can listen to so much and just barely scratch the surface of his recorded output.
AAJ: Ten CD-sets and such.
FG: Yeah, I've heard bits and pieces of certain stuff and it's just amazing. And I've had a chance to work with him a bit here and there, and he's really nice. He's humble.
AAJ: Have you played with him?
FG: I've never played with him, but I've played one of his compositions. He wrote a piece for seven trumpets back in the '80s, "Composition 103 for Seven Trumpets," and I've performed it twiceone of the three times it has ever been performed. First of all it's a great piece, and secondlywell, the last time we performed it was in Philadelphia. Someone was asking me about it, and I said, "It's complicated and technical and all that stuff, but in the end you just have to feel it." And that's what's great about my perspective on his work. I won't say that's what's great about his work, but that's what's great about my experience of it.
AAJ: When I was 15 or 16 I bought Cecil Taylor's Dark to Themselves (Enja, 1978), at a used record store. When I first heard it, it was all Greek to me. But I listened to it and listened to it, until I practically had it memorized. And that's how I came to appreciate it, not by identifying structures, but by ingraining into my brain.
FG: I'll tell you, Wadada Leo Smith and Bill Dixon are people I really look up to now, but when I first heard them, they were all Greek to me...When I first heard Wadada, I was like, "Wow, what is this? He really sounds bad!" The different kind of palette of the textureI didn't like that! So it took me a while to get hip to that.
AAJ: It makes me think of the first time I saw you perform, solo, lower-case, and I just wondered, "What's this all about?"
FG: Yeah, I remember. That was a bad night anyway. I had an infected tooth, so I was running on half-steam.