Andy Milne's Music for the Human Condition - A Little Dapp'll do Y'All
AAJ: You seem quite comfortable with the intricacies of music theory and its application to improvisation and composition. How much of that element do you bring into the compositional process? It probably varies based on the composition and the goals of the composition, right?
AM: Here's where evolution comes into play. There's what I used to do, and there's what I do now. I think I have the ability to compose from a very theoretical, conceptual position and I also have the ability to compose from a more intuitive, let it flow position. Both have strengths and quite honestly, I strive to allow myself the space to find that balance when I'm creating. It varies based on the composition because some songs are born out of a theoretical study so it's only natural that you'd be applying those theories in the composition itself. Other times, it's all about the vibe.
AAJ: Your bio says that after York University you went to Banff, which was fortuitous because Steve Coleman was the head of the faculty at the time. Can you expand on that period?
AM: After York, I went to Banff largely because I knew a lot of musicians in Toronto who raved about their experiences there. Dave Holland was the artistic head before Steve and it seemed like a lot of cats really benefited from the 'Banff Experience.' I went with fairly low expectations. I took my bicycle and said to myself, ''worst case, I'm in the mountains of Alberta in July.' It ended up being one of those intensely influential periods of my life. I think of Banff as a sort of 'jazz finishing school' where you focus on concepts not normally taught in the typical jazz college/university setting.
AAJ: What was the thrust of what Coleman was imparting to the average and not so average jazz student at the time?
AM: To me, nobody at Banff was average. Everyone was at different levels in their development, so it came down to whether you were ready to receive certain information, which is basically always the case in life. If you are ready to take something in, then you stand a chance at being able to process that experience and find ways of enriching your own self and music. Steve's most basic message was about 'practicing creatively'-in other words, the process of looking at creative ways of problem solving. Beyond that, he stressed the importance of doing this at the same time as learning the tradition. All I know is that my Banff experience, with Steve and others, came at the right time for me.
AAJ: So how were you then incorporated into his band?
AM: I met Steve in the summer of 1990 and I moved to New York in the fall of 1991. I did my first gig with 5 Elements in October of 1991 in Brooklyn at a club called Roystin's Rhythms. Steve had been wanting to start what he called a 'B band' where he could sort of groom understudies/subs for 5 Elements. Fortunately for me, everyone in the band more or less wanted to be part of it so the concept never really got off the ground. In the end, my first gigs were subbing for James Wiedman, so I was swimming with the big fishes right off the bat. Gilmore, Reggie, and Smitty all kicked my ass in a big way.
AAJ: Were Steve's records the earliest recording projects you did?
AM: After the Roystin's gig, Steve asked me to participate in the completion of the M-BASE Collective CD where I got to contribute a composition. Soon after, we did Drop Kick which also sort of featured the B Band concept a little. Me' shell (before she was Ndegeocello), Camille Gaynor, David Gilmore and myself made up the rhythm section for a few tracks.
AAJ: Tell us about that time with Steve. Whatever highs and lows of that period you'd want to share, we're ready to hear.
AM: I think I'll skip this question because I want people to know about Dapp Theory and the Coleman trap is a common one that can overshadow interviews if one is not careful. Wait .... Ok, I'll say this about being part of Steve Coleman's matrix from 1991 to 2001. He's an intensely selfish generous guy. Yes, these two words would seem to be at odds with one another but that's who he is. Steve is kind of like New York City. He has a lot to offer, but he can bug the piss out of you while doing it. It's a difficult experience 'cause you know you are part of something special but Steve can be a punk when it comes to having your back except when it suits him. Ok, I've said it, now I don't want to devote any more space to getting into that kind of stuff about Steve because I very much value my time with him, despite the personal challenges.
AAJ: Steve has a rep as a very intense, uncompromising cat, to say the least. Is that a fair assessment?
AM: The rep is true but I don't want to devote any more energy to that here.
AAJ: Which of the M-Base discs would you point the fans toward as your best work?
AM: I guess I would say that from Def Trance Beat onwards, I more or less had a good handle on his concept. The live box set from The Hot Brass was one of my favorite recordings and experiences. Personally, I think some of the more interesting performances from the Montpellier Live CD from 2001 never made the CD, which is a shame. Steve and I don't share the same philosophy on the making of CDs.