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Conversation with Scott Colley

By Published: October 5, 2003
AAJ: I was very interested to see that the trio is basically the same for Traveling Mercies and your album The Magic Line , yet two completely different sounds come out of the projects.

SC: With all those players that I mentioned, if someone writes the music the rest of us will dive into that music and not approach it in the same way we would every other project. For us'I should speak for myself'it's really interesting for me to do that, to play with the same individuals but to find new ways of approaching the way we communicate. A lot of that is the types of forms and structures and music that are set up for improvisation. For me'you mentioned the The Magic Line 'that way of playing trio without a chord instrument has always been very interesting to me. It creates a lot of interesting problems for a bassist. [It] creates a lot more responsibility, but a lot more freedom at the same time. I really like playing that way.

AAJ: It's a really interesting album. I wanted to ask about the challenges of composing on bass.

SC: I write in a lot of different ways depending on what I'm hoping to achieve. So I'll write some at the piano, some with the sequences, some just out of my head onto paper. Other times I'll write just playing the bass. The types of melodies and ideas I come up with on the bass are much different than if I'm at the piano. My piano playing skills are pretty limited and I tend to think vertically at the piano, on the bass I come up with I think much more interesting melodic ideas. Sometimes I'll be in my studio kind of running around from the piano to the bass to the table to write, depending on what I'm hearing. In terms of structures of songs, a lot of times I really think of creating environments for specific improvisers. It's always been really difficult for me to write music'to just sit down and write a song. I have to really hear certain individuals playing that song. That makes it much easier for me to write it. I try and create things that utilize changes, changes in time, improvising over a melodic idea or a bass line, or a melody in a bass line, creating different structures so it's not always just improvising over a melody, melody, out. You know, I try to avoid that. A song can have within it several different ways of improvising. To me that's what makes jazz music interesting, creating structures, different ways of communicating, and then of course, having certain ideas what so-and-so is going to improvise over this section. Then, you put it in front of them and they do something different'something better than you could ever have imagined. I don't really say a lot when I put songs in front of people. You imagine what it might be and then you put it in front of someone and see what it actually is.

AAJ: That's almost going back to'I don't know why jazz people always have to think in terms of lineage, but I often do'back to the Duke Ellington method of composing for people instead of a blank slate that anyone can slot into and play.

SC: I think that's probably where I first heard that concept when I was thirteen or fourteen was from reading something that Duke Ellington said on that subject, and I found it to be very interesting. Also, adding to that, I think it's very important in improvisational music not to have preconceptions about what once you've written something with someone in mind then allowing them to do what they do and to me all the greatest improvisers that I've ever played with'that I've been fortunate to play with'understood that and never told me much of anything, just had me discover things and make my own mistakes. I think that is a very important part of the process.

AAJ: I wanted to make sure to talk a minute about Initial Wisdom. That was the first time I saw you perform. I must have gone three or four nights in a row. Those were great shows.

SC: Thank you.

AAJ: How did you get connected with Ravi [Coltrane]?

SC: I'd met Ravi before because he also went to Cal. Arts. I think he came to Cal Arts maybe the second year I was there and we played a little bit then, but not that much. And then I moved to New York, later he moved, so we had a trio with Al Foster and we did some little gigs like that, but I really wanted to play more with Ravi so we set up that group and did some tours.

AAJ: It was a really interesting combination of sounds. Adam Rogers and Ravi's sounds really blend well together.

SC: Yes, I agree.

AAJ: Adam has such clean lines.

SC: He also has such an ability to get great sounds through different instruments.

AAJ: Thinking about Initial Wisdom brings me back to your compositions. To my ear, there seems to be an 'eastern' sound to some of the pieces, especially on Magic Line. Is that just my ear deciding on that interpretation, or do you work with specific scales or culturally specific structures?

SC: What exactly to you mean by Eastern?

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