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Artist Profiles

Buell Neidlinger: From Taylor to Zappa to the Carpenters

By Published: December 16, 2003
BN: No, it was the worst. I think they matched my salary from the Boston Symphony my first year. I believe it was $18,000 that you made from the Boston Symphony in those days which wasn’t very much money. At that time it was the greatest orchestra in the world, or so they said. When I was in Boston I was teaching from sunup to concert time at the NEC (where, by the way, Gunther Schuller had hired George Russell and myself as jazz faculty) to make ends meet.

AAJ: Did you ever have any interaction with the visual and conceptual artists that were at Cal Arts, like [photographer/conceptual artist John] Baldessari?

BN: Oh, yeah, constantly. That was the great part of the school – a lot of great artists were there. The first year of the school was like being in paradise, there were no requirements. We used to play Bach cantatas at 2 AM with a nice little choir and orchestra, it was just incredible the things that were going on there. Then, accreditation raised its ugly head, and that was the end of that.

AAJ: When was that exactly?

BN: The second year; it was a miracle that it became accredited.

AAJ: Meaning far less freedom as far as what you could do.

BN: That’s right, they constructed a curriculum and the whole business. If it’d kept going the way it was... I mean, people were leaving big colleges all over America to come there to teach or be a student, you know? Because of the freedom, and that didn’t exist anymore and that was the end of that.

AAJ: Did you ever do any inter-media pieces or any actual pieces with the artists (as far as combining music and visuals)?

BN: Oh yeah, I played on a lot of student films and played student dance performances. I also played in some of the theatre performances. Yeah I did quite a bit, it was nice. You know Baldessari?

[this part of the interview was unfortunately garbled due to a kink in the tape. Buell and I discussed his Baldessari drawing, as well as Eleanor Antin and the Art Institute of Chicago, the cello, and the unfortunate difficulty finding K2B2 releases in Chicago and Minneapolis record stores]

AAJ: As far as the studio gig went, there are some preconceptions one would have – ‘incidental’ music as compared to ‘foreground’ music. Would you say that there is a tension between performing studio music and ‘art’ music (I hate to use the word, but I’ll use it anyway)? Have you found a way of rectifying that?

BN: Of course there’s a great difference between the two; as you get into background music or what you want to call it, just as in creative music you meet people of different abilities. So, let’s say when you run up against people like Maurice Jarre – who doesn’t work anymore but was a great movie composer; he had been a friend of Boulez and Stockhausen, went to school with Boulez, and could’ve gone that way but chose otherwise – he’s a master in the studio creatively. You know, he can write a cue from the podium, that’s how great he is. So, there’s a difference, but there’s also a similarity, and that’s why once again they liked my playing, ‘cause even if I didn’t change their notes, I brought a certain attitude toward the ‘forward motion.’ And also I played in tune and in time and so there’s really no difference in that. The big difference is money, my friend.

AAJ: Studio music pays.

BN: Yes, it does. And every now and then you run into something creative. One instance of that is the song “Evergreen” by Barbra Streisand. I made 21 different albums with Streisand; I’ve known her since she was in New York. I was asleep one night and the phone rang and it was the answering service, and they said ‘Streisand wants you to get down to Studio 55 right away.’ Seeing that it was after midnight and I was double-scale to begin with and that was four-scale, boy I got down there right away. I called the cartage company and they brought my bass. She was sitting at the piano and she’d started this tune, “Evergreen.” She couldn’t figure out how to put the bridge to the A section. So, I showed her at the piano; I would call that being creative, and she never gave me any publishing on it (if she had I’d be living in Monaco or something) (laughing), but every now and then you get to put in your two cents’ worth.

AAJ: Yeah, I probably have even heard that, just by virtue of my parents listening to a lot of Streisand when I was a kid.

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