Joan Jeanrenaud: The Beat of the Moment
AAJ: You remained on Kronos' Board of Directors for 10 years after leaving the group. What role did that play in your transition to a solo career?
JJ: I did sit on the board and finally, after 10 years I thought "You know, I don't need to be on the board anymore." I didn't feel like I was contributing as a real board member should. So that was one of the reasons I thought it was best to step off. But it was important for me to be there for those 10 years. It helped me transition from being in the group and seeing it every day. Essentially, it was my life. Being on the board was a whole other way of interacting with them. They handled my departure very well, and a lot of that had to do with Janet Cowperthwaite, their manager. Originally, I was just taking a sabbatical the first year, and then it was clear that permanently departing is what I should definitely do. The whole thing was a very gradual process and handled in a nice way that let me always keep my connection to the group. There was definite detachment, but it was good to see what they were up to. I'm very good friends with Hank. We went to Indiana University together and he's how I got into the group. He joined Kronos a year before me. And when they needed a cellist, he called me.
It's interesting. I never feel like I wish I was up onstage with Kronos right now. That surprised me, because you would think I would have those pangs. Obviously, I did the right thing for me and they did the right thing, because they've been able to continue doing exactly what they want to do on their schedule. They don't have to make any modifications and they're on their path. They're doing great stuff, but I wouldn't fit into that anymore. I don't have any regrets.
AAJ: Henryk Górecki recently passed away. What did he mean to you?
JJ: Oh, wow. He was a big deal for Kronos. David Harrington wrote a really nice tribute to him. David mentioned the first time we recorded with Górecki, we were in Germany and there was a piano in the room. He didn't speak English that well, so when he demonstrated something he would do it on the piano, because it was a clear way of communicating. From that first rehearsal, he became very significant to Kronos. I didn't get to play his "String Quartet No. 3," which I feel sorry about. He was going to write it while I was in the group, but he would take forever to complete pieces. You could never tell when he would finish something. It wasn't until seven years after I left that he finished it. He was definitely central to Kronos. There have been a lot of other important composers like Terry Riley and Witold Lutoslawsky involved with Kronos too. David asked Lutoslawsky to write us something, but he said "Oh no, I've already written my quartet." [laughs] It's a superb quartet though.
AAJ: Tell me about your affinity for jazz.
JJ: I was always interested in jazz since I was at Indiana University because a lot of people I hung out with there were in the jazz department. There were a lot of excellent players, including trumpeters and saxophonists, but there really weren't any string players, even though Dave Baker played the cello. There were more string players in the classical part of the school. The jazz side was an important thing to be around for me. I took advantage of it and took courses from Dave. Prior to Indiana University, I hadn't really listened to jazz. It was only during college that I became familiar with people like John Coltrane and Miles Davis.
AAJ: You worked with [bassist] Ron Carter on Kronos' 1985 album, Monk Suite (Savoy, 1994). What was that experience like?
JJ: He was great to work with, even though I felt like I had to be careful because I was stepping on Ron's toes. I was in his territory. [laughs] I learned a lot from the guy. He's an incredible bassist and I love the instrument. Of course, the cello is as close as you're going to get to the bass without playing it. I've tried playing electric bass somewhat, and it's very fun. When I was in Kronos, I was always trying to do pizzicato things. I was very inspired by bass players and how they did stuff.
AAJ: I've seen you mention Jaco Pastorius several times over the years. What do you find compelling about his work?
I just love the guy. He had the best sound. I thought he was truly imaginative with the choices he made on the instrument. I never heard him live, which is too bad. I did see Mingus play when I was at Indiana University, which was fantastic. I sat close by him in this little club. That was back in 1974. I also got to see Miles Davis too.
AAJ: How did Kronos hook up with Tony Williams?
JJ: I got to know Tony through Michele Clement, a photographer who took a lot of pictures of Kronos. We're really good friends. Her son Joseph Maslov did the cartoon record cover for Pop-Pop. He's my godson. Michele also did the CD photos. Michele used to date Tony. When Kronos was playing Tony's music, we would hang out together and I got to know him well. I'd go and see him play and he was an amazing, incredible drummer. He was also a really sweet guy.