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Bunky Green: Urgency and Continuity

By Published: October 3, 2011
AAJ: How do you feel about the other albums you released on Vanguard?

From left: Matt Mitchell, Carlos De Rosa, Bunky Green, Damion Reid, Rudresh Mahanthappa

BG: A lot of them are commercial, and they were designed to be that way. But I did get to make another album with Ed later called Healing the Pain that came out in 1989 on the Delos label. I was able to go where I wanted to go on that one. I was recording for my parents, because they died pretty close together and I was in one of those moods, musically speaking, in which I reached a high point of transcendence beyond the regular way of doing things. On "Seashells," I play a melody that's very different and difficult. It involves playing octaves very close together, so it sounds like I'm playing two notes at once. That was a challenge, and it came off successfully.

AAJ: Was Another Place, your 2006 album produced by Steve Coleman, conceptually related to Places We've Never Been?

BG: You hit it. It's another place we hadn't been to. [Laughs.] They are related, title-wise. I really enjoyed that album because so many interesting things come up on it. It had Jason Moran on piano, who makes me think differently. I really start concentrating and listening to how he puts things together, and my mind would go along with that. It helped encourage me to do the things I do naturally, but in other contexts. No matter how great a pianist is, if you're not together with him conceptually, things can come out rather stiff, sound forced, or not come out at all. But with Jason and Nasheet Waits
Nasheet Waits
Nasheet Waits
on drums, everything just came together. I played with Nasheet's father Freddie Waits
Freddie Waits
Freddie Waits
on Places We've Never Been. Freddie was a hell of a drummer too, who unfortunately died very early, very young.

AAJ: How did Coleman influence the album as its producer?

BG: Steve is a wonderful player and never got in the way. He said, "Just do what you want to do." Steve damn near forced me to make the album. He and I are very close. He said, "You've got to do this album."

I said, "I don't want to record at this particular time because I'm disgusted with the scene and how record companies aren't fair to artists, financially speaking." I was so disgusted with some of my previous experiences that I said, "I'm not going to record again." I really didn't care if I ever did at that point. It just wasn't important to me under the conditions the record companies impose.

Steve kept pressing and said, "These people at Label Bleu want to do it. It's a cool label in France."

I finally said, "All right, Steve, I'll do it. I'm only doing this because I trust you." That was it. I did it, and Steve was right. I think it's a great album and a historic one. It was very well put together from a production standpoint, and playing-wise, it was fresh.

AAJ: Reflect on your time working with Elvin Jones.

BG: It was great working with Elvin. We were pretty much on the same track musically at that time. He happened to become very famous very fast. I chose a different route. I was on the track to fame, but I decided to go into education. I could have stepped into that particular world of traveling and fame. I would have been pretty much made. When I worked with Elvin, it wasn't that I learned anything from him. Rather, I had the opportunity to play with a drummer I admire and get my message across with him. He was such a fine drummer.

AAJ: You received some attention for appearing on Travis Shook
Travis Shook
Travis Shook
's 1993 self-titled album with Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
(Columbia). What are your thoughts about that album now?

BG: Travis is a wonderful pianist. It was his album, and he made a really fine one. I played only on a couple of tunes. I wasn't really able to get into what I'm capable of doing with my style on it. You would have to look to my other albums for that. My stylistic approach is very personal, and that album isn't indicative of what I do. I did play with Tony on that album, and he was a wonderful player, but it was a pretty straight-ahead album—a good one though. I'm not trying to be critical. I thought I played okay, but it wasn't the sound I wanted, to be honest.

AAJ: What are some of the key perspectives you consider and impress upon your students, as a jazz educator?

BG: The funny thing about jazz education is there are a lot of people who put it down. They see it as a conflicting element in producing the highest level of jazz musicians. I don't see it like that. I believe jazz education has done great things for young players, provided they've had teachers that are knowledgeable. There are a lot of teachers out there that know how to play and communicate important knowledge that can be beneficial to young potential players. If there is a problem with jazz education, it's maybe that people have to be careful not to institutionalize things, whereby musicians come out sounding like carbon copies of one another. Some students might hear the beat of a different drummer, and as a teacher, you have to say to yourself, "Just because they don't play the way Parker or 'Trane did doesn't mean they can't become wonderful players. I might even have a genius here." I'm sure Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
sax, alto
didn't think that way. I can't see him within any kind of regimented environment.

From the very first day, I have my students understand that the real school is the street—it's as simple as that. You can get an instrument and become an advanced player, but you have to get into the nightclubs or other environments where you're playing the music. You have to venture into an environment where things aren't all planned and you're living very much in the moment. You have to think and be creative on the spot. You have to marinate in an environment where things change around you. You can't just practice with a CD, because then you're just working and designing what you do to fit what's on the CD. You can't play as freely as you would as an improviser in an environment where the drummer, bassist or pianist changes night to night. You need to hear other people, how they think and respond to the immediacy of everything going on.

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