Billy Childs: The Perfect Picture
There is a somewhat-still-virgin musical territory that rests its innocent heart where classical music ends and jazz commences. Many have beautifully tiptoed on its smooth surface before, mixing, experimenting, creating and even challenging its balance with both improvised and organized notes. Music is in constant evolution, and jazz has always, in one way or another, embraced those who take each step a little further ahead every time. Taking risks makes the magic worthwhile, and the experience always promises to be grand. Composer/pianist Billy Childs' creative magnitude seems to be that of a brilliant, powerful star suspended in the night sky of that same territory, illuminating the way.
His Grammy Award-winning Autumn: In Moving Pictures (ArtistShare, 2010) speaks volumes about his stunning attributes as a composer, arranger and musician, while taking us on an unexpected trip around the always- romantic autumn season, with its changing warm colors, quiet, calm landscapes and soft-falling rain. The awarded "The Path Among the Trees" is almost like a prelude to this jazz chamber ensemble experience, perfectly structured around the astonishing idea that music is not about the form, but about the feeling in it. With that in mind, Childs draws a perfect portrait of his very own inner world, where his music is allowed to grow in a controlled environment, provided for this album by the sounds of classically trained dream-makers like the Ying Quartet and harpist Carol Robbins, while reserving a luminous central stage for the jazz elements on it, with drummers Brian Blade and Antonio Sánchez, guitarist Larry Koonse and bassist Scott Colley. The combination is breathtaking.
Childs' piano playing is never exuberant, for that perhaps would destroy the delicate atmosphere of this project. Instead, it is deliciously exquisite and yet filled with a kind of energy only found in musicians whose soul seems to be made out of a certain understanding of this worldwhere they try to create music that moves and enriches the spirit, and where they know that being human is not a handicap but rather a lesson learned. His musicianship at this point is beyond compare.
This is a jazz pianist who can view the world around him with a classical point of view whenever he wants to, and yet keep those improvised notes coming at will. This earth may now continue its routine circling around the sun, while we get a chance to experience what it would feel like to touch the stars.
All About Jazz: What exactly is The Billy Childs Ensemble?
Billy Childs: I also call it The Jazz Chamber Ensemble. The nucleus of it is six pieces: piano, bass, drums, acoustic guitar, harp and sax, and then sometimes I'll add a string quartet, and sometimes I'll even add something else on top of that, like a wind quartet. But the nucleus is all six pieces, and an even smaller nucleus, like piano, harp and guitar, which is kind of the sound that led to the whole thing to begin with.
AAJ: Are there any boundaries for you between jazz and classical music?
BC: I don't think there are, or there are less than one would think. I look at music kinda like I look at religion, where you have great religious leaders for every different religion, and the higher you get, to their level, you discover that a lot of them are talking about similar thingslike treating everybody like you would treat yourself; they talk about love. And the lower down you get, that is where you start getting all these different separations. And I feel the same way about music: the higher up you get in your spiritual awareness of music the less the boundaries are, and the less developed you are, the more you are ruled by those boundaries. If you are in a spaceship and you look at the Earth, if you see America you don't see the actual shape that is supposed to be, as dictated by the boundaries that we have made. You just see land. That is the way I look at it.
AAJ: Do you think the conception of jazz has changed, from the classical point of view?
BC: You mean like a condescending attitude towards jazz, because they don't have the so-called necessary training that classical musicians claim that is necessary? Yes, I think there is a lot of respect. I am in my fifties, so when I was like fourteen and I was impressionable and my conception of things was pretty much being formulated, that was when fusion was happening, in the early '70s. The point is, that that era was kinda like an unprecedented era between genres: respect and tolerance. So for me, that separation between genres was broken down during that era. Nowadays, a lot of classical musicians want to know how to improvise; they can see the importance of jazz. And there is also an attitude in jazz musicians towards classical musicians that thought that the latter were stiff, inflexible and soulless, and that is not true either.
So a lot of jazz music, like mine and other people's, has a lot of classical form in it. I don't even call mine jazz; I call it jazz chamber music. But nevertheless a lot of jazz musicians use a lot of long forms, a lot of heavy composition, and a lot of classical musicians improvise, so there is a desire to connect.