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Interviews

Joan Jeanrenaud: The Beat of the Moment

By Published: February 15, 2011
AAJ: Larry Ochs, Fred Frith
Fred Frith
Fred Frith
b.1949
guitar
and John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
b.1953
sax, alto
are other key presences in your post-Kronos career. Describe their importance and influence on you.

JJ: Larry Ochs is guy who's done a lot for me. When I left Kronos, Larry, Hamza El Din and Terry Riley were great at encouraging me to do my thing and improvise and compose. He invited me to do a lot of projects. He was the first guy who said "Why don't you come and perform at our 'New Music on the Mountain' series?" I said "I don't know Larry, what should I play?" He replied "Play anything you want. If you were ever going to try live improvisation in front of an audience, this is the one to do it for. They'll be completely supportive." So I did that. It was the first time I did anything of mine in public and it was great. Larry has taught me so much by allowing me to be part of several improvising groups. Now, I feel so much more comfortable in that environment.

I got to know Fred when I left Kronos, because he started to teach at Mills College, and I did too. I have a long relationship with Mills. I have three students there. So Fred was there and every once in a while he would perform a concert of his music and I would get invited to be the cellist for pieces needing a cello. I really liked what Fred was doing, so I asked him to write a piece for me and Willie Winant, another terrific drummer. Fred did a piece for us called "Save As" which is on his album Back to Life (Tzadik, 2008). You get a deeper experience with a composer when you get to work with them on their music.

I've known John Zorn for a long time because he wrote all of those pieces for Kronos. I even played in Cobra last August at Yoshi's in San Francisco, which was a lot of fun. It was great to be part of the piece I played. When you play a piece, you find out so much more about it than when you're listening. I also realized that I listen way differently now than I used to. I used to listen as a performer and criticize someone's physical playing—their chops. Now, I don't listen to that at all. I listen to the composition and think "Oh, I can rip that off. That's a good idea. How can I use it? [laughs] It's interesting to see how that's changed.

AAJ: You chose to release Pop-Pop on your own label, Deconet Music. Tell me about the rewards and challenges of that decision.

JJ: I was surprised at how easy it was to start a record label. I went down to city hall and registered the business, just like you would any business. You can go online and learn everything you need to know. There's a lot of paperwork which is interesting to a certain extent, but at another point, it's "Oh God, do I really want to be doing this? Don't I just want to be making music?" It's a good thing to learn about. I've learned a lot. Who knows if I'll release another record this way. I probably will because the label is there. It's nice to not have to feel like I have to shop around and get people to take on my record. It's also pretty cost effective. These days, record labels won't give you anything to make a record. By doing it on your own, you take a chance. You probably won't make any money either, but you'll likely break even. So why not? I realized I was never going to recoup my costs by having someone else release it, but I might if I did it myself. There is something to be said for having complete control.

AAJ: How did your Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis affect your creative mindset?

JJ: It took the wind out of my sails and really changed my focus, that's for sure. I asked myself "Okay, what's really important here? It's my life, family and the people around me." I also found myself thinking "What makes you happy? What keeps you interested in life and going forward?" All of that stuff became much more important. My career was never that important to me. I feel very lucky to have been thrown into the situations I've been thrown into. And even MS has changed my focus and direction in ways that are good. I like being home a lot more. I don't miss being on the road. That's a hard life and I probably would have kept doing that without thinking twice about it. I'm happy that I decided "Okay, I'm going to see where my artistic life can lead me." It became a very creative thing for me. I still feel I have a lot to learn. I've played my cello for 44 years and I know how to do that, but I still find the instrument very intriguing.

AAJ: Is there a spiritual component to what you do?

JJ: Certainly, emotions and feelings have always been paramount to music making for me. The whole purpose is to express yourself, and it's an excellent outlet to do that without words. I'm not the greatest technician on earth. I'm going to be working on that until the day I die, but I strive to have the best technique I possibly can. If people hear me play and it makes them feel something, it's because my work comes from a very emotional place. In some way, that's a sort of spirituality. I've never been a deeply religious person by any means. If anything, I tend to gravitate towards the Eastern way of looking at spirituality, more than the Western. I ended up with a Tibetan doctor, because there are a lot of Buddhist principles that make a lot of sense to me. I think I'm much more logical in some ways than I am spiritual. So I think there is definitely spirituality in my life and how I look at things, but it's not in the accepted way some might think of it. For me, it reflects more of an internal perspective on things.


Selected Discography

Joan Jeanrenaud/ PC Muñoz, Pop-Pop (Deconet, 2010)
Joan Jeanrenaud, Strange Toys (Talking House, 2008)
Larry Ochs/Jean Jeanrenaud/Miya Masaoka, Fly Fly Fly (Intakt, 2004)
Joan Jeanrenaud, Metamorphosis (New Albion, 2002)
Kronos Quartet, Kronos Quartet Performs Alfred Schnittke: The Complete String Quartets (Nonesuch, 1999)

Kronos Quartet, Night Prayers (Nonesuch, 1994)

Kronos Quartet, Morton Feldman: Piano and String Quartet (Nonesuch, 1993)

Kronos Quartet, Pieces of Africa (Nonesuch, 1992)

Kronos Quartet, White Man Sleeps (Nonesuch, 1990)

Kronos Quartet, Steve Reich: Electric Counterpoint; Different Trains (Nonesuch, 1989)

Photo Credit
All Photos: Courtesy of {Joan Jeanrenaud}}


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