Gutbucket: Cascades and Collisions
From left: Adam Gold, Eric Rockwin, Ken Thomson, Ty Citerman
I started playing in a band when I was 14. It was two guitars, bass, drums, and later we found a singer. And we kind of did Rolling Stones and Beatless covers. And I started playing jazz, I guess in my middle school and then high school jazz bands. But I didn't really have much context for it. I was a kid who played electric guitar, and I liked playing music, and I had a band, but in school my instrument sort of dictated that I wasn't going to play in the concert band and for whatever reason I decided not to take up another concert band instrument. So I started playing in the jazz band and started learning these Count Basie tunes and Duke Ellington tunes, and Neil Hefti arrangements and Benny Moten swingall these kind of big band songs. And I think I was encouraged to play in a Freddie Green style, without really knowing who Freddie Green was.
And that was my point of entry to jazz. And then I had a jazz band teacher after my junior year in high school, 1990-91. He was a trumpet player and he said, "Ty, the stuff you're playing is cool, but if you really want to learn how to play jazz guitar, this summer get yourself some Wes Montgomery records and learn to do everything he's doing!" And I was still playing in this rock band and that turned into this other band, and I was doing bar gigs when I was 16, or even 15 even, when a lot of my friend couldn't even get into the bar. But I actually did go out and buy some Wes Montgomery records and I listened to them and I was floored, and I had no idea how to play like Wes Montgomery. So I was still at a rudimentary level in the jazz world, but much more experienced playing rock and pop music. Towards the end of high school I also started getting into James Brown's music and really listening to his guitar players, and Parliament and Funkadelic, and really listening to those guys, like Blackbyrd McKnight and Eddie Hazel.
It was actually in college, where I met Ken, when we were both working at WKCR, Columbia's radio station, which has this phenomenal jazz record collection. That's when I started to get a bigger picture of jazz out of the big band era. People introduced me to The Art Ensemble Of Chicago and that blew me away. The free jazz movement, Albert Aylerthe first time I heard Ornette Coleman or Cecil Taylorthese were all musicians who were highly musically educated individuals who also play very freely. This was when my jazz education really started to open up.
I came to love Sonny Sharrock's music and James Blood Ulmer. With jazz I had this big band introduction, and then, rather than tracing my way chronologically through musical history I jumped to the '60s and '70s on the fringe of the avant-garde and then found my way around.
AAJ: There's Bird in your work, too.
TC: I love Charlie Parker. Trying to work through Charlie Parker's music is very hard for a guitarist! I had a guitar teacher who said, when I complained about that, "Yeah, but ask any saxophonist to play Jimi Hendrix and you'll get them shaking their heads, too!"
AAJ: Is that something you strive for in Gutbucketmaybe a contrarian ethic of trying the most difficult thingsjumping across the bridge and trying things that are almost too difficult to try?
TC: I don't think we try things that are difficult for the sake of being difficult, but I think we do, giving our commitment to the group, have a mentality that's understood, which is that each of us as composers can try things that challenge the others and that's welcome and that's interesting. I've played some notes on the saxophone but I'm not a saxophonist, but over the years I've learned what Ken can do, what's challenging for him, what's easier for him, and I'm writing for the saxophone but I'm also writing for him. And he's not a guitarist but he'll bounce ideas off of me, like "Is this possible on the instrument, or could it beor would it require some sort of alternate tuning?" There is that elasticity in our music.
AAJ: Can you tell us about the other band members? Ken seems to be the co- leader, though Eric, the bassist, has been with you for the long haul.