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A Conversation Between William Hooker & Ras Moshe

Andrey Henkin By

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...there are people all in one camp, and many of these people get looked over because they're not the hangout type... They're not chasing every day, trying to figure out how to get interviews in magazines, because basically many of them have day jobs. They're just not trying to be on the scene to have arguments with people about aesthetics. —William Hooker
William Hooker is a spirit drummer who has shared his energy with musicians from Billy Bang, David Murray and David S. Ware to DJ Spooky and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. He has been given the opportunity to hone the minds and souls of children by teaching social studies and literacy with components of choral and vocal music at the Walt Whitman Middle School in Brooklyn. A component of his curriculum is inviting speakers to his classes including musicians Richard Keene, Lewis Barnes, Mark Hennen, Tor Snyder, architect Leslie Neblit and reknowned writer Denize Lauture. Downtown saxophonist Ras Moshe was one of the invitees and what follows is an excerpt of a taped discussion the two had.

William Hooker: To the youth, hopefully they'll be able to take it in their own direction, interpret it in their own way in their own mind, and be able to think for themselves about what we've said today, about what we play today, about how we're perceived, and especially myself, and how I'm perceived as a teacher. But I guess every time I sit down at the drums with a special guest, like Ros today, their perception of me changes as well. Here's Ras talking about how he thought today went.

Ras Moshe: It went pretty good, because I asked each class that I worked with with you, what kind of music they liked, and it was predominantly hip-hop. They come from a generation where things are more visual, musically. Regardless of that, the enthusiasm was still there, even though they might not have been exposed to that much creative music, like previous generations of young people. It was there, just somebody has to make it more prominent for them to know about the music. Because it's there, they want to know. Based on what they were saying, they know more than people think they do. They might be put in certain kinds of classifications, 'This kid is this, this kid is that,' but the natural intelligence is there. The playfulness is there, too. They get distracted, but on the whole, they're searching, and it's even more important now, with the way things are going musically.

WH: Bringing things up to today, and to the music, and what it takes to play this music, and generally what it takes to be a creative person and keep going. I mean, myself, I know that I've-me and Ros actually go back quite a ways, when I think about it. I've seen Ros at Columbia, and a lot of times when I got ready to play a lot of times he would be there. I remember that time when I was driving down 7th Avenue, and I say you going down to a gig, and I just pulled over, and I said, "Ros, where you going?" And you were coming to my gig that night.

RM: I met you in Wise's bookstore, too, 'cause I used to work there. And you came in there once, but I think you were in a hurry, because I tried to ask you a musical question, but I think you were with somebody. (Laughs.) I think that was on 27th Street, 28th Street. But I had seen you before that, even back in the 80s.

WH: I was probably with Donna, my wife, and that used to be one of our most frequent haunts. We would go, and, really, it was almost as if you'd go into Wise's you'd get a full meal. Or else you go into Theosophical Bookstore, up on 53rd I think it is, 52nd. Yeah, you get a full meal in all these places. Matter of fact, I remember going in there and getting a lot of books by this guy named Manley Hall. Definitely, there were a couple of books he wrote about tone in music, which I thought were pretty interesting too. Let me ask you a question. How do you feel about playing with some people now that you've seen perform in the past, and some of the newer people? How do you feel, in terms of someone who's bridging the gap between some people you've known for a while and you know have been out there for a while, like your most recent record. You're with Lou Grossi [sp?] And who else is on it? .... As well as the fact that I saw you play with Jackson Crowell [sp?], with Marco Neady [sp?], I saw you play with a lot of different people. Basically we're talking about playing with two different generations. How do you feel about that, and what do you feel is the potential for this kind of thing to happen? Where do you honestly see it at right now?

RM: Things get better. It's like two things happening at once, especially if you're a creator of jazz. There's the certain kinds of issues that get to us I bet you already know about. Combined with that, the exposure increases a little more too, because I've noticed there's a lot more younger people taking an interest in post-Charles Parker music. The ironic thing about that is sometimes they might not always know about Bird. But at least the enthusiasm and the urge to express yourself musically is valid, and hopefully they will learn about the music that came before, as well. I don't believe that you have to play it, because I believe that the so-called avant-garde is a very important form of music. And amongst a lot of the younger people, some know about so-called bebop and some don't. But I believe that you have at least know about it, in order to not play it, to play yourself. That should be the guideline of how you know your instrument, but I don't believe that you have to play what Bird played, because the bebop musicians, I don't believe they were concerned with being mainstream, or they were saying, 'Let's play something inside today.' I think they were playing what was being played in that time. The music changes, just like it changed from King Oliver and Coleman Hawkins and Red Allen. There's a swing versus bebop thing that happened, too. A lot of people talk about bebop versus the avant-garde, but there was a heavy swing versus bop thing, too, even though bop was utilized in swing. So it's getting better, it's good to see a lot of young people take interest in people like Albert Ayler, and Pharaoh and Cecil Taylor, and Jimmy Lyons [sp?] and all these kinds of people. That's good.

WH: The only thing that I can't really rationalize, as a person whose been out here playing for a while, trying to make my own way, in a lot of different situations, is the fact that a lot of people want to play the music, but when I put them in a situation where they come up to the studio and they begin to play, or they come into a gig, and I'll just extend my hand and say, 'Come on up and do whatever you do.' They always seem sort of timid about the fact that the music is not theirs. It's as if I'm giving them a portion of something that is mind, which I disown completely. Because it's not about me, it's not about them. I find this whole personality thing kind of interesting in a sense because a lot of that personality stuff is based on the fact of who can almost make it, and who is going to ultimately have a harder way of making it. And that changes people's attitudes about where they want to be, who they want to hang around with, where they put their energies in a sense. So one of the only things that I can say is, I'm really hoping that a lot of young cats, they start to see that it's about shedding as much as possible. It's definitely about shedding as much as possible. Because myself, when I was doing what I had to do, I was playing a lot. I was really playing a lot, I gotta admit.

And that's one thing I see a lot of people can't do now, in terms of the ability to go on the scene and play, even though I haven't been to some of the places that say they have open sessions and stuff, but that, combined with the fact that in New York City, everybody has to worry about how to survive and make money. So you get this whole thing about people who don't even know how to play, and they'll get up in your face and start talking about how much you're going to pay them. Half of them don't even know how to play. (laughs) It's true! It's true! It's like, here I am at my job, right, Ros, I'm at my job today, so when I go to play, I'll go down to a place and I'll say, alright, tonight I'm going to have a good payday, and tomorrow I'm just going and playing. I'm playing for the music, whatever it is. If you think I'm going to drag a drum set around, you're not going to get a cab with all this nonsense.

But the point is, some of these cats, they just get there, and the next thing you know, you're talking to them like employer to union person or something. I don't know how it works. So in that case, that's the reason why I shy away from a lot of situations that I shy away from, and a lot of people I shy away from. Because I know ultimately, they're going to start asking me these wacky questions that have really nothing to do with how my schedule is, in terms of us being able to go into the studio and play, what kinds of things are out here so that maybe if I got a little bit of a name, I can go out here and get us some gigs or something. Very few people also do that too, because of this whole every man for himself mentality. And a lot of times, we don't even use all the collateral we have given to us, because we're not put in a situation to use it.
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