Enrico Rava: To Be Free or Not To Be Free
AAJ: Another great young talent is bassist Gabriele Evangelista. It sounds like you gave him a lot of freedom on this CD. Is that the case?
From left: Gabriele Evangelista, Enrico Rava, Gianluca Petrella
ER: I give a lot of freedom to all the band, within a frame, and this frame is my vision of the music. Within this frame, they can do what they want. I never ask them to do this or that. Very rarely [do] I bring an arrangement or anything like that. I just bring melodic lines and chords and say a few words what I would like to happen; then everybody has to find his own way. That is why they sound so good. I didn't invent that. I learned that from [trumpeter/leader] Miles [Davis]. Miles used to do that. That's why every musician who played with Miles played his best when he played with Miles. [pianist] Red Garland, for example, was a great pianist out of Miles' group, but with Miles his playing is very, very special because he had all the freedom he needed.
With me, the musicians also have a lot of freedom. But when I choose a musician to be in my band, I think about it. I only call musicians that I love and who I can trust musically. I give them a lot of freedom because I trust them. I have to trust them, and they have to trust me-at that point, everything is possible.
AAJ: In the '60s and '70s you played with a host of musicians like Don Cherry, [pianists] Mal Waldron and Cecil Taylor, [saxophonists] Steve Lacy, Marion Brown and Evan Parker, Roswell Rudd, [drummer] Rashied Ali-all the free-jazz people. Is it possible to compare the freedom in your group's playing today, with the freedom that existed in the free-jazz thing of those years of which you were a part?
ER: Yeah, I can. I think there is more freedom now. Of course, we are talking about records, and records are a different thing. You are very cautious if you are recording, and you are conscious about playing too long. But when we play live, the music can go anywhere and can become free in the sense of the free jazz you are talking about. It can go there, or not. I have a very good story about the free- jazz era; in Europe there was a thing called Free Jazz Meeting in Baden-Baden in Germany, and the producer of that was Joachim Berendt, the German journalist. I did many of these Free Jazz Meetings, and at one of these, [bassist] Eberhard Weber was playing-I don't remember with who-and they were playing this free jazz. All of a sudden, he decided to play a couple of chords, and immediately Joachim Berendt stopped the recording. "Stop!" he said. "Remember, this is a free jazz meeting!" [laughs] You could not play chords, you know?
It's true. That was one of the reasons why I switched back to playing with rhythm and chords-because I felt much freer. If I want, if I like, I can go anywhere. Back then it was "Please don't play this, don't play that." I thought, "Why not?" It was very conceptual, and I didn't like that.
Now in my projects the music can go wherever it wants, if the band feels like it. We can switch to a blues, increase the tempo, or take it completely out for half an hour; for me, it's cool. On a record, this doesn't really happen. It's a different rapport. Maybe you are in a booth and you can't really see each other. Sometimes when playing, it's really important to be able to see the smallest sign. For me, they are two separate arts. Live music is music, but it's also a show. I can remember the first time I saw Miles in '56 in Torino, my hometown. He was playing with [tenor saxophonist] Lester Young, then with some French musicians and then with the Modern Jazz Quartet. The music was unbelievable-that's why I bought the trumpet-but also the visual thing was amazing because Miles on stage was like a big actor, like Marlon Brando on On the Waterfront. Then you had Lester Young with the saxophone kept almost horizontal, and with his hat-it was like a show.
A long solo live can be OK, but on the record it just becomes boring. You know, I am a big jazz buff and I have millions of records, and a couple of years ago I bought the box of the The Complete Jazz at the Philharmonic (Verve Music Group, 1998) live recordings. It's amazing, you can have [alto saxophonist] Charlie Parker playing with [tenor saxophonist] Coleman Hawkins and all these things, but after a while you can't stand it anymore. It becomes unlistenable because you can have [saxophonist] Paul Gonsalves playing 24 choruses, and then somebody else plays 24 choruses, and after three soloists you can't listen to it anymore, and besides that, you can't even remember what the fuck they are playing. Most of the tunes have the same chords; then the rhythm changes, but that's all [laughs]. Then, of course, you have Charlie Parker play an amazing short solo, but you have to be very patient. You might have to wait half an hour. I never listened to all the box. If it had been a DVD, it would have been great, but just the music is not enough.