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Art Lande: Revealing the Infinite

By Published: September 17, 2012
Writing About Music

AAJ: You've written quite a few liner notes for other musicians. Can you speak about the art of writing about music? For example, when you're asked to write liner notes for someone, what's your process?

AL: Well, my process is to listen, especially in a poetic way. When somebody gives me a CD, then I like to really let that wash over me, just as I would with a poem, and see what images of life come to me. I almost get a story line: Do I feel cold or dark? Am I out in nature? What time of day do I feel? Is it city world? Is it country world? Is it innocence? Is it human? Is it animal? Is it plant-like? So I'm not analytical at first at all.

The people who have asked for me to do liner notes, or even when I've done them for my own bands or for my own projects, they know I'm not going to put my seal of approval on something as worthy. I know that liner notes are done sometimes in a different way, like as a commercial: "Well, write it so that people will think we're great or that the CD's great." I'm not very good at that; if that's what you want, you wouldn't ask me to write liner notes for you. I more go at it as a fellow artist and a poet. So that's the first thing: What does it touch in me as a human being?

The second thing is: What do I notice musically? What do I notice just about different compositional things or orchestrational things: "Oh, that felt really exciting to suddenly hear the bassist state the theme. That was really a nice time for that, because we'd heard all these high notes." Just things that actually turn me on as a fellow musician, things that intrigue me or surprise me: "That surprised me when they did that last theme, and it was so short, and it just ended abruptly. That was kind of unnerving." It's about: How does the music affect me as a kind of innocent listener, not as somebody who knows stuff but as somebody who doesn't know anything. I try to listen like a four-year-old or like a farmer from Oklahoma who never heard this kind of music. Those are the strongest things to me about really sensing the music.

It's the same if I go to hear a band. If you're glib about, "Well, it sounded kind of like that," and you reference all these labels and these styles, and then you say things about, "Oh, are they good?" or "They sound like so-and-so"—these things, to me, are part of commerce world. They're not part of artist or human world. I'm a horrible commerce person. I'm probably America's worst consumer—I spend the least money, I make the least money! So for me it's more about: Does it touch my heart and soul? Does it wake up my imagination? Does it touch a part of me, kind of a simple, innocent part of me that's vulnerable, that can feel, that can hear, "Wow, those high sounds made my ears kind of crinkle"?

So that's what I try to do, to experience the music and share that experience in a way that anybody can understand, rather than writing for hip jazz people or writing for people who are trying to decide whether it's worth the 15 bucks to buy the CD. I'm not so good at that because I don't know whether the music's right—I just know what effect it has on me. And I'm willing to let the music have that effect, to be open and then share what I've experienced. That's the way I've done liner notes. The people who ask me are my friends, and so they like that approach, and they think that it contributes something to their CD or whatever the project might be.

Proud of All of Us

AAJ: Looking back on your life as a musician, what are you most proud of?

AL: [Long pause.] "Pride" is not a word that I use— because I'm more proud of other people. I feel it about some of the bands that I've been in. "Proud" is close to "lucky." I feel privileged to have had the experience of being in really wonderful bands that have sustained over many years, and to have had musical relationships that have sustained over many years. These bands and relationships keep giving; they keep getting better—"better" meaning that I keep getting more and more nourished as the years go on. Rather than the band being kind of hot for a couple years and then ending in dissipation, or even not liking each other or not knowing what to play anymore, these things just keep expanding and keep getting more profound, deeper, funnier, with more life energy and the music more amazing and surprising.

I don't think everybody's even had this experience—of being in a real band that's a beast, that's an animal of its own, that's one mind and one body with all these different aspects, arms and legs, with a kind of unified aesthetic that develops over time and a way of functioning that's completely organic and reliable. And it's always fresh. It's not just a thing, but it's a living organism that keeps expanding. So to me, that's the highlight; I think that's the strongest.

I think the things that make me feel the best in my musical life are these things that sustain. It's just like in life, in my relationships with my kids or my wife or my best friends, they have a similar quality—they're things that stay. It's the same for me as a drummer or as a pianist. I keep getting more out of the instruments, rather than bored, or I don't know what to do, or I've run out of things to say. These instruments just keep expanding and showing me more.

I think it's about staying with the things that are nourishing so that you get the real goodies out of them, until it's endless, until it's infinite. This is what makes me the happiest. And therefore I'm proud of all of us that we've been able to do that—that we don't abandon the band, that we don't abandon the friendships, that we don't abandon our curiosity about, "Oh, this is a new chapter. Now we're into this." People sometimes say, "God, you guys sound so different than you did five years ago!" It's like, "I hope so!" Because we change, and we get interested in different things, and different people develop or change in different ways, and the band's big enough to expand that.

Similarly, I feel this with the audiences, and even the presenters of the music that have sustained over my life: there's places that I've played for 30 years, and audience members who had their first date listening to me and now are in their 60s and are still getting the hit out of the music. Not getting the old hit, but like, "Wow, what you did is really different, but it's still exciting for me." And even the critics! I'm thinking of someone like Phil Elwood from the San Francisco Examiner, who died some years ago, just how loyal he was. He didn't care whether it was this kind of music or that kind of music. I played so many different ways and so many different kinds of things, and he was always ready and open and curious and interested and excited, even if the music was out of his usual comfort zone.

So any of those things make me the happiest, whether it's staying with my instruments for my life, developing my friends, the bands, the audiences, the venues. It's something about loyalty, but loyalty not for the reason of politic. It's loyalty because it keeps giving you the goodies; it keeps giving you what energizes. It's something about hanging in there with the things that actually are worth hanging in for. Not to prove anything, but because it keeps giving you what you love. So I'd say that's what I'm most proud of on a communal level: when we support each other and we can share over time for it to finally reveal, I think, the infinite—reveal it to where, wow, this thing is going forever into realms in which you have no idea. I guess I'm proud of that, that there's people willing to do that.

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