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A Fireside Chat with Roswell Rudd

AAJ Staff By

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AAJ: You attended Yale University, is an Ivy League education any different from that of a city college?

RR: Oh, Fred, that would depend. I think really when you go to college, you need to probably take an extra two years, maybe an extra four years and you have to have marketable skills. To go four years and get a liberal arts degree anywhere, what it means is that you have got to go out and create a situation for yourself. I think that is what I learned from the four year degree was just, first of all, figure out what I wanted to do and then try to create a place on the American market for myself. It has taken a long time, but I think like now, there is probably more of a place for me than before.

AAJ: What place did you wish to create for yourself?

RR: Well, I was looking to support myself through my musical activities. I was never able to do it purely from playing, but now, it has built up in all the different experiences of teaching and the ethnomusicological work and compositions and the few recordings that were made a long time ago. All of this has built up into some kind of a legacy now. It seems to have some importance in the year 2000, even though it was forty years ago when a lot of this stuff was done. It doesn't mean I did it forty years ago and it stopped. It means that I had to continue in various ways to get myself out there. But now, the weight of all that seems to be the thing that is responsible for things opening up the way they have in the last year or so.

AAJ: Eric Dolphy, although he was cherished by some while he was living, it was not nearly as much as he is beloved and respected now, years after his untimely death.

RR: That's true, Fred. I think that there are more people aware of him and are more influenced by him now than ever before. I would say the same with Herbie Nichols. It is wonderful.

AAJ: It must be gratifying that it did not take your death for people to appreciate Roswell Rudd.

RR: I'm always humbled when I am in the presence of great personalities and great seekers and so forth. I guess I really lament the premature demise of so many geniuses. I consider myself very fortunate to have lived to see the fruition of so much labor. The frustration of not being able to quite get into the mainstream and whatever it takes to support yourself this way, I think McCoy Tyner called it a privilege and so I kind of think that is humbling to, to have gotten to this point to have the privilege of supporting myself this way. That is something.

AAJ: You won the Guggenheim Fellowship for composition.

RR: Yeah, I finally hit it this last May. I submitted three examples of my work. It was an early piece and then something sort of halfway between then and now and then something that I recently wrote.

AAJ: What is the Guggenheim Fellowship?

RR: The Guggenheim Fellowship is assistance to people in various endeavors, not just in the arts but also in the sciences, and what they do if they can because let's face it, there are many more applicants than there are funds to support them, but based on your work and the promise of it, they will try to give you your living expenses over a period that it would take you to accomplish what it is that you are asking the support for. For me in composition, it is to complete something that I started back in the early Nineties that I have always wanted to see come to fruition and that was something called, it still has a working title called "Mystery of the Life." It is based upon what you might call religion before the coming of Christ. It would be sort of a combination of Greek and Egyptian scripture. This is a work for African percussion and trombone, sort of a salsa band with chorus and dancers.

AAJ: Let's touch on your latest release on Knitting Factory Records, Broad Strokes, a surprise of sorts since you are not known for being a balladeer.

RR: Yeah, I don't think I'm known for that, but I love playing ballads. I do them my own way and it's kind of a way of doing ballads. Of course, you have the way the really great ballad players like Jack Teagarden, I'm talking about trombone players of course, Tommy Dorsey, but since I can't really play like that, I just do it my own way. That, Fred, is maybe the great thing about a ballad is that you can do it your own way, but I don't consider myself a ballad player. I consider myself a Dixieland trombonist, more in the ragtime tradition like Kid Ory, somewhere in that spectrum is where I feel most comfortable and even playing with a Dixieland band, you get to a point in a set where you have to play a ballad or you have to play a slow number. So I get to it that way. You ever heard Bill Watrous play a ballad, Fred?

AAJ: I have had that privilege.

RR: There you go. I can't do that.

AAJ: You hold your own on Broad Strokes.

RR: Oh yeah, Broad Strokes is mostly slow. I was trying to pick a number of melodies and doing my own treatment of them. That is mainly what I was trying to do there. You hang your own embellishments on there. You decorate them. They are so in place that you can't really change them. It is like an old story.

AAJ: Sonic Youth appears on a track.

RR: I was surprised that they are great improvisers. That is the thing that drew me to them. They love to improvise. They're very good. They maybe different from other pop groups in that they improvise so well. They are really artistic that way.

AAJ: And the future?

RR: I just did an album with the Charlie Kolhase Quintet up in Boston. That is an album of my songs and I am on a couple of tracks with them. That was very exciting to have an album of material that I had done over different periods. I'm looking forward now to traveling more, having spent some time in Africa this year and would like to get into the Eastern Mediterranean and Asia.

AAJ: That is the ethnomusicologist in you.

RR: Well, yeah. And I would really like to see the world. I haven't really traveled that much in the States. This has been very helpful as far as the music goes. It has really started to inspire some other stuff.
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