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Jason Robinson: The New Western

By Published: October 25, 2010
JR: Certain experimental approaches are very important to me. But they're not—I think in the end, we're all—even Evan—just trying to make beautiful music. And beauty isn't something that always looks good or sounds good. It has to capture the ups and downs of life, the full emotional color spectrum of our lives. And I think it comes out in different ways in each of us, as musicians and as composers.

From leftt: Anthony Davis, Jason Robinson

On these three albums I have released in the last month, on a nuts and bolts level, there are certain kinds of questions I am exploring. And then there are these larger, more philosophical layers. And really, in all those layers, I'm just trying to make good music, music that speaks to me and hopefully to others. I'm not trying to take a confrontational stance like, "Come listen to this great music!" I want to invite people in. I don't change the music for that; there isn't any sense of "watering down," that never enters into the process. I think there are a lot of us who live in the border between extreme experimentalism and, for lack of a better term, the mainstream. It's a challenging place to be, because it seems like the industry (whatever that is, as there's not much of a jazz industry left) prefers that you're [either] very experimental, in a certain sense, or more mainstream. And the in-between is not the normal route, even though most of us live in the in-between. So I'm glad you hear that in the music.

AAJ: Are you seeking a wider audience, maybe a younger one than Evan Parker would seek?

JR: Maybe so. In a perfect world my music would speak across generational lines and gender lines and all the other kinds of fault lines across our society. But I'm not necessarily purposefully seeking out doing things to the music so it might speak to a different generation.

AAJ: Do find your music appeals to women?

JR: That's a tricky question, because most of us do our best not to put up barriers. There's always a lot of debate about jazz culture in general, whether or not it might be masculine to the point where it's exclusionary. I certainly don't want to replicate any of that kind of exclusionary politics that might have been in place in the past, or still to this day. And I think that things hopefully are starting to change. We generally have the conception that there are less female musicians in jazz. And my sense is that, if we look more closely at the history and at contemporary communities, there's actually more women participating than the mainstream narratives might suggest.

And in the past, we can write a history of jazz that looks more closely at women contributors. We might go back to someone like Lil Hardin Armstrong
Lil Hardin Armstrong
Lil Hardin Armstrong
1898 - 1971
, and see that in many ways she was a kind of musical genius. She was in Joseph "King" Oliver
Joseph "King" Oliver
1885 - 1938
's Creole Jazz Band when Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
joined it. In some of Louis' Hot Fives and Sevens, she was like the de facto bandleader, and they played a lot of her tunes. This is a very long way of saying; I just hope my music isn't exclusionary.

AAJ: Off the cuff you make me think of Gato Barbieri
Gato Barbieri
Gato Barbieri
, Arthur Blythe
Arthur Blythe
Arthur Blythe
sax, alto
—and then the John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
of Ballads (Impulse!, 1963), the way you mix the hot and cool; the complex with the mellow polish.

JR: Certainly Coltrane has been a central point of reference for me over the years.

AAJ: I notice that you'll introduce him very discretely. In a solo of yours, for example, I might hear a certain squeak and say, "That's Coltrane."

JR: Coltrane's been an enduring influence on many levels. Sometimes it doesn't come out and sometimes it comes out more. My background is really [as a ] post-bop saxophonist. That was my initial entry into the music, and then it expanded. My interest really broadened at a certain point. So, Arthur Blythe for example has been very important. Gato, a little less so. AAJ: I see facets and sparkles of many artists in your playing, like Toots & Maytals. Did they seek you or did you seek them?

JR: They sought me. A short long story: right before I left the Bay Area some of my college buddies formed what is now a quite well known roots reggae band called Groundation. They invited me to play with them and I've been with them since 1998. In their music, one of the things that kept me playing with them is that they're largely based in the gnarly, Israel Vibration mid-1970s roots reggae language, but they've really done this really interesting job merging with the improvisatory sensibilities of jazz musicians. And because of that they're often marked as different from their Jamaican counterparts. Extended dub sections that are improvised on stage. Parts of songs are completely unscripted improvisation, with groove and everything. We all thrive on that.

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