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Interviews

John Geggie: Unexpected Conversations

By Published: January 26, 2010

Music as Conversation



Geggie is loathe to pigeonhole any artist into a narrow stylistic confine, a refusal that permeates his own work. Across the Sky may be more centrist, and pianist Nancy Walker may more comfortably occupy that space, but equally, she's capable of being completely in and of the moment, creating improvisations with Geggie, Fraser and McCaslin, that are directly linked to the more expected empathic free play of Geggie Project. "Take Keith Jarrett," Geggie suggests, "he's extremely well-documented. But if someone was simply to judge him by The Melody At Night, With You (ECM, 1999), recorded when he was just recovering from CFS [Chronic Fatigue Syndrome], if they were to decide that it was all he does, they' d really be missing the point.



John Geggie / Brad Turner / Ian Forman From left: Brad Turner, John Geggie, Ian Froman



"A recording is simply a document," continues Geggie, "and unless you have people who record every concert they do—Ken Vandermark

Ken Vandermark
Ken Vandermark
b.1964
saxophone
is constantly recording everything he does, for example. Whether all of it should be released is another question. But he's simply documenting every day of what he does, and that's an interesting approach to take. You take the best—or what you think is the most valuable—and you put it out. But I think that recording in a studio with a particular project shouldn't be viewed as a person's entire aesthetic. Being on the road with people, you learn things about them in a work environment, and you may find they play very differently form night to night; or maybe they're having a good day or a bad day."



Most importantly, Geggie views playing with a group of people as social interaction, impacted by variables beyond the act of music-making. "There's a social element, and interaction involved here that should be recognized or acknowledged," Geggie says. "If you talk about just the element of travel, there are people who've played festivals, where they arrive, at three in the morning, after they've just been to Europe, they have a sound check at eleven in the morning for a concert they're doing at three in the afternoon, and then they'll be taking the five o'clock flight, the same afternoon, to get out of there and go somewhere else. One should not be putting too much on that person's plate in terms of how they might sound or what's going on ; just accept what they have to give at that time in the afternoon, when they play the concert.



"It has something to do with the idea that playing this kind of music is, indeed, a social activity; it's not just me sitting in a room practicing my licks," Geggie continues. "It's a group of people getting together to play music at a particular point in time, and next time it may well be different, depending upon what goes on. There are business concerns; in any record label situation, the period of time between a recording and its release can be quite significant. I was talking about this to Larry Grenadier the other day, and he was saying that what they are playing in Brad Mehldau

Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau
b.1970
piano
's trio now is a bunch of stuff that they may not have recorded yet, and they're playing it because that's where they are now; but when they go out to do a concert in support of a certain CD, the record company might like them to be playing some of the songs off that album. Musicians' tastes change and evolve, and I think the fact that Marilyn can still play the other stuff [more aggressively, like her earlier recordings prior to the late 1990s] is a reflection on where she is in her life at a particular time. Are we still reading the same books we read ten years ago? Are we still eating the exact same food? Are our tastes in anything we do in life—clothes, music, anything—the same?"

The impact of so many different variables can be tremendous, ranging from what might be considered relatively minute, others of far greater significance and impact. "I remember Gary Peacock telling me he was doing some solo bass thing, and I asked what he did in certain circumstances," Geggie says. "He described one situation, where he was playing in a really dry room somewhere in Europe, and his bass was also very dry from the travel. He said 'The way I played my bass in that concert, I had to play to the room, and I had to play to what the instrument could give me at that particular time.' Far from diminishing his creativity, he was doing the wise thing of knowing his instrument well and being aware of what, in that particular moment, his instrument could give him in that acoustic environment.



"When we [Geggie, Crispell, Fraser] played in Guelph last fall," continues Geggie, "we were on a very big stage, spread out, with a much bigger piano, and it felt different from playing at The Fourth Stage where the piano isn't as good, but we're really close together, with little in the way of sound reinforcement. The whole idea of The Fourth Stage is: no monitors, and playing together. The acoustic environment plays such an important role in how you play and how you express yourself. I remember reading an interview with Gary, where he talked about how, before the Jarrett Standards Trio went on the road for the first time, they actually did a few tests gigs, because they wanted to test out the whole idea of playing this kind of music—being from a tradition of playing in small, intimate clubs—in big theatres. Those Standards Trio concerts are in big halls, and they present certain challenges in terms of sound, amplification and intimacy—things that aren't as much of an issue if you're playing in a small club.



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