Roberta Piket: Making a Difference
AAJ: Let's go over some of your CDs. Pick out a fewI think you have nine as a leader, which is quite an achievement.
RP: I was talking to Richie Beirach a few months ago, and we said how we wished we had time to collect all our old recordsand destroy them. But you know, my first recording, Unbroken Line, actually came out pretty well. I had occasion to listen to it recently, and I thought I would cringe, but I didn't.
From left: Roberta Piket, Marian McPartland
AAJ: Sometimes you go back to the beginning, and see things being born, things that came to fruition later. Also, the earlier work has spontaneity.
RP: I always try to keep it spontaneous. One of the side benefits of not being famous is that you can kind of do what you want to and follow your artistic path. But it should be that your most recent work is your best, because you always want to be growing. My latest CD, Sides, Colors, is coming out in March  and Love and Beauty came out in 2006. Love and Beauty is all trio, and I don't think we did anything really free on there. Sides, Colors is more eclectic, and I wrote several arrangements, using winds and strings. Billy did a beautiful orchestration of one of his ballads as well.
AAJ: Is Sides, Colors on your own independent record label?
RP: I Self Produced it for a couple of reasons. For one thing, few of the record companies do much promotion or advertising these days, so why give a record company control of my music? Secondly, this particular recording was a large undertaking that was almost a year in the making, and the record companies often take a year or two to release, and I didn't want to have any further delays. Also, with the record companies, you frequently have to give up all your rights to the music. I did that in the past and I didn't want to repeat that. That's why I also Self Produced Love and Beauty (Thirteenth Note, 2006). Unless the record company is going to give you a lot of support in terms of publicity and touring, there's really no reason to give away your music.
AAJ: There are many stories from musicians, about recording companies taking control of the creative process and even exploiting the musicians for their own profit. That even happened to top players like Thelonious Monk and J.J. Johnson. I think your spirit of independence is happening more frequently today. Now, you call your company "Thirteenth Note Records." Is that name a good luck charm? [Laughter.]
RP: No, it came more from the fact that we're all looking for that thirteenth note, the one we can't quite find.
AAJ: It's the note beyond the twelve notes in the chromatic scale. I really like that Sides, Colors is organized in two "sides," A & B, suggestive of vinyl LPs. Except that it's on one CD, and you have a lot more time on it than an LP could incorporate. It's just a nice way of giving a nod to those LPs that have meant so much to many of us.
RP: I'm glad you picked that up because a lot of people won't catch it. I should say, first, that Billy Mintz co-produced this record with me. When we were thinking of the order of the tracks, we had difficulty deciding on it. We had so much to get on there, and we were talking about how there was even less room on the old LPs, and you had two sides of about 20 minutes each. So we got the idea to break the large amount we had of about 70 minutes down into two smaller sets, which we called Sides A and B. It's almost like two records in one. Only people familiar with LPs will catch the reference to that.
AAJ: I like the idea of "sets" in a CD. Also, I appreciate your use of a variety of orchestrations with some top musicians coming in at different points. It gives real "punch" to the music beyond the trio format and adds to the variety of ideas and concepts. I know that you had an extended creative process for this album. Could you give us a guided tour of its creation?
RP: It really started a few years ago, after we completed the trio record, Love and Beauty, when I was living in Brooklyn. I've always composed, and I got to a point where I needed to explore some new sounds, so arranging became a form of composing for me. I did some arrangements, and we started workshopping them. Then Billy Mintz got involved, writing an arrangement of "Billy's Ballad." Over a couple of years, we had extended reading sessions at my apartment. Some great musicians came over just to play the music. Then based on what I heard, I would rewrite and fix parts. Meanwhile Billy and I were doing trio gigs, touring every fall, and some trio ideas jelled that way, and there was plenty of time for the music to cook and percolate. So Sides, Colors is not just the result of the year we spent recording it, but before that we were working it over for a couple of years, trying new things.
AAJ: So it wasn't just, "Hey, let's make a recording!" It was really an extended project. The process makes for a very interesting recording, with a great deal of novelty and stimulation. It's unique and exciting enough to perhaps generate interest among the awards committees, jazz journalists, and so on. Hopefully, it will get that kind of attention.
RP: I appreciate your saying that. Another cool thing about the recording is that we did everything live in ensemble in the studiowe didn't overdub the strings and winds (although we did overdub organ and percussion backgrounds behind my piano solo on "Degree Absolute"). But for the strings and winds, we played as a trio while they were playing, so we were reacting to the orchestrations I had written.
AAJ: Did you do several takes of each track?
RP: We did, at most, two or three takes, because after that you start to lose the musicality and flow. I think the music on this CD is so good because we were all there playing together. Johannes, Billy and I were all in the same room. There was no separate bass booth, because Billy refuses to record like that. And it does make a difference, I have to admit.