Paul F. Murphy: Playing Universally
AAJ: You apply these concepts directly to the drum set, too?
PFM: Take the sphere first. One pair of wooden drum sticks played on a table top, every note being equal distance in time and space from the other: [played with a sticking of]rightleftrightleftrightleftrightleft to infinity. Throughout this continuum of repeat equal distant notes, you may either accent, not accent or leave space. The accented notes would be called accidentals in comparison to the accidentals of any melodic linear scale pattern; the space would be a rest. If one accents every third note of the continuum, a feel of what is considered 3/4 or a triplet appears. If one accents every fourth note, the pattern of 4/4 or an eighth or sixteenth note feel becomes natural. If the second and the fifth notes are accented, it pushes the pattern to 5/4. And as one accents the third and seventh notes, a 7/4-notated pattern emerges. There are several possibilities, even within these examples, for grouped accents that can create any of the above feels and more. The main point is, a stream of notes can be manipulated and molded very easily to create several different directions. These changes can be slow or they can be very fast. They can flip back and forth with just a single accent at any point. It takes a very high level of control to achieve these effects but by flipping the sounds quickly and loosely you can create a floating sensation.
AAJ: Which places the sounds being produced into a spherical arena and even begins to make it rotate . . .
PFM: Right, the stream of notes bounces loosely back and forth but not in a line. It can't stay in a line. It can't be contained that way because motion does not work in only that way. It does not come from a strictly linear approach like so many people play. You must incorporate the entire drum setor play whatever instrumentknowing that motion is not always forward, which is the way most musicians play and think.
Now, dealing with ring modulation is dealing with the blending of sounds, like I said. That comes from playing a lot and knowing what makes what do what. Just like trying to deal with playing in stereo, which is something I worked on a lot after listening closely to Rashied Ali.
Examples of the understanding as well as the blending of sounds, although subtle, are very evident in the duos that were performed and recorded by Jimmy Lyons and myself during the CBS and RCA sessions I led in 1982 featuring Jimmy, Dewey Johnson (from the John Coltrane album, Ascension (Impluse, 1965)) on trumpet, Karen Borca on bassoon and Mary Anne Driscoll on piano and voice. These concepts are also captured on the current works I am recording with Larry Willis. More often than not, when someone listens to an improvisation by Larry and myself, their first comments are usually something like "this sounds like more than two musicians."
The exploration of sound blends within the concept of free-form improvisation, eliminates the constraint of written composition and allows the interpretation and interpolation of one's mind and thought process to be recorded as a statement instead of a commercial quest.
AAJ: You told me before, when you toured with Jimmy and his band people went the "craziest" while you and Jimmy played as a duo. You have done a lot with duos: Lyons, [Joel] Futterman, Willis. Is there something about duos that you believe helps capture the sphere, ring modulation and other concepts you've talked about?
PFM: Nah, I actually believe it's financial constraints that create the duos.
AAJ: So, there's no particular preference for a duo?
PFM: Well, I mean, as a leader, first of all you have to attempt to put the artists in a setting that is conducive for thought, reflection, playing and documentation. To assemble more than three or four people for several days in one place and then to afford to be able to record them and pay them for their time, travel and lodging are all responsibilities that must be assumed by a leader.
I have had very long and intuitive discussions about the difference between sidemen and leaders and the promotion of art in general. A very dear friend of mine, with whom I've had a relationship with for over 30 years, posed a question to me while we were having dinner after attending the Kabuki Theatre in Manhattan. The question he asked was, "do you want to be my sideman or do you want to be a leader?" My answer was, "I want to be a leader." Cecil Taylor's response to me was, "the road you have chosen is going to be very difficult. However, you will meet many wonderful people and artists and have great interactions along the way."
Which brings us back to the point of why duos and trios are most often found in the realms of the avant-garde jazz world. I believe that the exploration and musical endeavors of Larry Willis and myself would be far more accepted with the addition of a horn player and a bassist with the level of knowledge and experience of Ron Carter. This combination of musicians and sound would be a landmark in a world surrounded by the sound of contrived jazz. There have been landmark recordings as well as milestone producers. I believe we have created a step forward in present day jazz and it would be very helpful if we had a producer, the financial backing and promotion comparable to that which is given to professional athletes. The producer would have to be someone that is willing to step outside the box and create the environment that Creed Taylor provided years ago for the CTI label. I believe there is enough money in the world to allow myself and others to be financially sound enough to devote our time to playing music and developing art without constraints.
I believe that the growth of knowledge and the understanding of music must take place on all levels from 21st Century studies of classical composition through all cultural tradition as well as commercial rock and roll, folk, blues and country. I also believe that within the structure of the world there should be a much larger percent of radio time and stationsor whatever methods of mass dissemination that allow for exposure on a grand scaleavailable to artists that are not playing music for the sake of financial gain.
In the late 1970s and throughout the '80s, an interesting fusion was taking place in the lower east side of Manhattan. Within a thousand feet of each other, some of the most experimental jazz was being played at a club called the Tin Palace. Groups like Cecil Taylor, the Jimmy Lyons Quartet, Rashied Ali and many others often played there. Then, at CBGB's, there were groups like The Dolls, Adam and the Ants, Mink DeVille, The Fleshtones and Patti Smith. At that point in my career, I was managing Ali's Alley, owned by John Coltrane's drummer, Rashied Ali. I was also playing in the Jimmy Lyons Quartet and had my own group with Jimmy, Dewey [Johnson], Karen [Borca], Jay [Oliver], and Mary Anne [Driscoll]. After closing the Alley at night, Rashied and I would usually head over to the Tin Palace and Joe Lee Wilson's club, the Ladies' Fort. From there I would drop by CBGB's and listen to what was happening on the punk rock scene. Two very close locations existing in the same time and space both producing energy that would change both traditional jazz and rock and roll forever. Both of which didn't seem to be commercial pursuits.
Henry Rollins, from the band Black Flag, who has been very successful in rock and roll and Hollywood, hosts a worldwide radio broadcast where he features all forms of music. To his credit, he also continues to keep alive spoken word, where he discusses politics, elitism, social revolution and the existence of love throughout the world without the continued prodding of the warring class that continues to promote chaos and depression.
I have had the opportunity to travel the world and have found that most human beings are content to live in peaceful coexistence. The justification for this statement and the examples are the works of art that have been preserved through the centuries and which continue to be produced, presented and in some cases restricted from popularity because of their promotion of free-thinking and the defining of the human condition.
If 20th Century classical, country, folk, punk, rock, jazz (in whatever form) and the numerous forms of other world music can all coexist, then how hard is it for the people of the world to demand from our leaders that continents should be farmed instead of mined and that the exploration of our world and universe should be a harmonious global effort. The people of the world are able to coexist. It is the elitists who seek total control, power and self-satisfaction at the expense of the masses. And, it is those same elitist people that have produced the living conditions throughout the planet. The existence of technology, intellect and love of the human spirit make for a far better existence than our world leaders have set forth.