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Katt Hernandez: Spiral Passes

By Published: May 19, 2010

AAJ: There's also rhythmic and timbral serialism.

KH: I haven't worked with that, no. I kind of feel that rhythms and timbres need more time to sink in for the people listening. Even serial rows, I don't usually do that when I'm improvising at all, unless the other person is doing it, because that would entail really not listening.

AAJ: Too intellectual?

KH: There's very intellectual ways of playing that are interactive, but unless the other person is also engaging or they're doing something that asks for that, then it's pretty non-interactive.

AAJ: Too clinical?

KH: Non-interactive. Any system of arranging musical parameters can be full of life, or full of clinical deadness—and either thing can be really beautiful.

AAJ: What goes on in your mind when you're doing a performance? Are you thinking of scales? Are you imagining things?

KH: I'm imagining things!

AAJ: So imagination plays a large role in your work?

KH: Absolutely...I suppose a lot of what I imagine happens right before I play.

AAJ: What do you imagine?

KH: It depends entirely on who I'm playing with...I think when I listen to music, when I see people play I often see colors and lines in the air, and things of this nature...They're like phrase lines or vectors.

AAJ: Notes on a staff?

KH: Not even close. It's completely abstract and kinesthetic, in the way that emotion is. Part of the reason I play music is it doesn't work to verbalize these things.

AAJ: How about emotion. Does that play a role in your work?

KH: In some ways I hope not. Emotion...

AAJ: The poet Wallace Stevens said that "Music is feeling, not sound."

KH: I think that's a metaphor. Music is definitely sound! That is what it is. It's sound. I think...

AAJ: What do you expect your music does for your listeners?

KH: I hope it gives them some kind of experience in hearing the same thing that I think is beautiful. When I go and I play for other people it's because I think I've found something really awesome and beautiful and I want to share it with them.

There's a second aspect to it, which is that when people gather together to listen together, this creates—I don't want to say community—when people have a shared experience like that I think that that's a really important thing. And that it can secondarily build community, but to have a space—when I, when anybody, gets up and plays they are creating a certain kind of space, with their sound, or with their presence. And if emotion is a part of that—for some people it is not. For me it entirely depends on who I'm playing for and who I'm playing with and where I'm doing that. What I'm trying to express, or whether I'm trying to express anything at all.

AAJ: Where does the beauty come from?

KH: Things that are beautiful, or things that I think are cool, or things I hope will give me new ways of looking at the world, give me more doorways to walk through in the world. So I hope by creating a space with those things that I am creating that for others.

AAJ: These are traditional romantic notions, emotion an imagination. I'm wondering how they play with...

KH: How they play with modern music. I understand. I guess that that must be in their somewhere, because I took classical music lessons from the time I was twelve. And my father played Chopin in the house all the time, and he was definitely trying to express emotions by doing that. But if it is it's not a conscious thing. It's not a thing where could point and say, "Well at this moment, I am expressing the emotion of sadness."

AAJ: But there is a store of lived experience that you're somehow transmuting into your own work.

KH: Yes. To go back to what you were saying about imagination: I'm really lucky. I know a lot of really good stories that are true. I think that when I'm playing music, I am definitely thinking about those stories. And of course when I'm playing, there's no words, so I'm not telling a story as I might with words, but I think in some respects I am transmuting the act of telling a story.

AAJ: So you're kind of a storyteller?

KH: Yeah. I think that that's if there's a specific way that emotion and imagination play in my "stuff," that's how I experience it...The story of how these strange urban improvised music communities form and all of the iconoclastic amazing people who perform them and all of the different struggles and amazing miraculous things that each of these people lives in their lives and knowing about that—and then maybe having a room full of them to listen to music together is a story. They're all stories, which certainly I have feelings about and imaginations about. And that informs probably everything I do.

AAJ: Apparently there was music in the house when you were growing up.

KH: My grandma and my great-grandma, these old Pennsylvania ladies, went around with their matching wool suits in a big gray Cadillac with an eight-track player. They used to play lots of music. My great-grandma played klezmer music on the accordion, and my grandma would learn stuff off a player-piano that was in our house and on another piano. They kept two pianos so they could do that.

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