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Kurt Rosenwinkel: New Creative Roads

By Published: December 1, 2003

Preparing for other types of recordings, he says, with more group interplay is a difficult thing, even if it doesn't seem that way. It takes tremendous focus from everyone involved and can be very satisfying. But it's not the be all and end all of processes. "No matter how you do it, what's going to make a good or bad record is really the clarity of visualization in the participants' minds. And how is that connected with everything in a person's life. It's not just playing the drums or playing a swing beat. It's a music that touches to the core of your being. When it's good, that's what will make it good. That makes the difference. That's a deep thing. Or if it's just me in my studio, it's me working for almost two and a half years to really craft every single moment so that it really expresses every nuance and subtlety that I feel to convey. That's the great thing about doing the record the way I did it. You can really be sure that you're really saying what you want to say. Like a novel."

Rosenwinkel knew at the age of 8 that music was going to be his calling and he switched from playing the piano to the guitar at age 12 "when I realized I couldn't really play hard rock on the piano," he chuckles. " I couldn't kick on the distortion pedal." He played in bands throughout high school, often putting on shows in the neighborhood, which included going door-to-door to sell tickets. "We would rehearse every day. We were really serious as kids."

The jazz thing came gradually.

"I wasn't born and bred on jazz music. I grew up in Philly and it's in Philly, so it's in me. I went to jam sessions where I didn't even know how lucky I was to be participating in that kind of phenomenon. It's so rare and almost non-existent these days. Even in the States. On a worldwide scale I realized, after I left Philly, how lucky I was to participate in these kinds of jam sessions. It was a community-type feeling. Blues roots jazz, playing standards but lifting them off the ground. Community spirit like I've never felt before. It was the closest thing that I've experienced to going to church and having that be a really meaningful experience. To have that foundation, a feeling of what jazz means to me, was instilled in those jam sessions.

"This one place, it was an all black neighborhood and mostly black people, but anyone who walked in the door was totally welcome. A lot of different people ended up there and I was one of them and it was real family' This experience gave me a really deep feeling and conviction about what jazz means at its roots. So I am a jazz guy in that sense, but only in that sense and my love for the music. But it's not limited to that at all. Music has so many expressions and jazz is one of them. And it's a big part of where I come from and it's the music that I've had an adventure through and always will. There's a lot of great qualities of other music that I love too."

After gigging around Philly, Rosenwinkel went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, broadening his circle of contacts. " I came to the attention of Gary Burton. That was my first international touring experience. At that time Bill Frisell recommended me to Paul Motian and I joined Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band. Bill had seen me play with this band I was in Boston. I went to Italy the year before and ended up opening for Bill Frisell in 1989."

Rosenwinkel joined Burton's band and Motian's band and moved to New York in 1991. "I started playing at Small's with Ben [Street], Jeff [Ballard] and Mark [Turner]. We played there for years and years. A lot of my friends became successful with record contracts. Brad Mehldau. Josh Redman. A lot of people. Finally, some record people came down and saw our band and I signed to Impulse, got transferred to Verve. I just came out with my third record on Verve and here I am."

That "here I am" is changing soon for Rosenwinkel, who was relocating to Switzerland at the time of this mid-November interview. His wife — expecting a child — is Swiss, but part of the reason is disillusionment with the United States and how society leaves little room these days for artists. The music industry is taking its lumps in recent years, but Rosenwinkel, like many other musicians, see it as a societal problem.

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