Chris Jentsch: Cycles and Reflecting on the Journey
AAJ: Does the lack of African Americans in your large ensembles reflect a dearth of black instrumentalists to choose from?
CJ: No dearth.
AAJ: Is then the lack of African American musicians in your ensembles just circumstantial?
CJ: Yes. Why do you ask?
AAJ: As both an African American listener and a fan of your music, I found it curious that no African Americans were in your various groups. This is not to infer any prejudice on your part at all.
CJ: I appreciate that. Neither all white, all black or mixed groups would be unusual to see in NYC, in my experience. The musicians I hire are drawn from my personal relationships or from specific recommendations from those who are already in the band. There's no formal audition process or anything. Having said that, I think people of all races, including myself, could make more of an effort to expand the circle of those personal relationships to have a more representative pool to draw from. I remember Wynton Marsalis said as much once when an interviewer queried him generally about perceived motivation behind the membership of notable all-white jazz groups. Wynton said (I'm paraphrasing) that someone like Gerry Mulligan didn't hire the guys in his band because they were white but because those were the musicians he knew. I thought Wynton's comment showed a lot of sensitivity and wisdom.
I noticed, Ludwig, that you've done some work for WRTI in Philadelphia. There was a timemust have been in the early or mid-70swhen they were back-announcing a lot of Muslim-named jazz musicians I'd never heard of. I remember how unusual and outside my experience that all seemed as a young teen listening from across the river in Cherry Hill. That is my background, and I'm proud that my music accurately reflects those formative suburban experiences, culturally, at its base, before I later added all the other influences to the mix.
I've been privileged, lastly, to have one particularly remarkable individual in the band since the beginning, certainly not hired due to her gender. It seems lame to me that once in awhile, I have the fleeting thought that her presence is good for the group demographically because that to me is actually an indication of how much further we have to go as a society to overcome sexism and, by analogy, racism. Hope that all makes some kind of sense, and thanks for drawing me out.
Jentsch Group Large, Cycles Suite featuring Mike Kaupa ( Fleur De Son, 2009)
Jentsch Group Large, Brooklyn Suite (Fleur De Son, 2007)
The Christopher Jentsch Trio, Media Event (Blue Schist, 1998)
Christopher Jentsch, Miami Suite (Blue Schist, 1999)