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A Fireside Chat With Taylor Ho Bynum

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I think it is not a music that is there to be consumed, to be an easy product to sell. That has always been one of the joys of the music. As our society has become more and more consumerist, I think that becomes a more difficult thing for jazz to come to grips with.
I first took notice of Taylor Ho Bynum's playing on a Trio Ex Nihilo album from a little known European label (he had done good work before, but I live in LA and we are the twelfth man on the deal team, last to know). Bynum's trumpet playing was on par with the forward thinking of European improvisers, but still versed in the melody of jazz tradition. His latest, Duets [Wesleyan] 2002, with Anthony Braxton is something else. And between Braxton collaborations and teaching at Wesleyan, Bynum manages to find time to play in The Fully Celebrated Orchestra. Twenty-four hours certainly must not be enough for Bynum, who reminds me of why I listen to improvised music in the first place. To get the shit surprised out of my daily and that is Bynum, full of surprises. Listen to what he does to "My Romance" on his And Only Life My Lush Lament CD. This ain't no Ralph Lauren commercial. I am pleased to have Bynum as a guest on the Roadshow and the conversation is just about as interesting as his music. Folks, Taylor Ho Bynum, unedited and in his own words.

All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.

Taylor Ho Bynum: Both of parents were music lovers and so I was exposed to music from an early age. After my parents got divorced, my mother ended up housing a lot of people and ended up housing a lot of opera singers. So I grew up in this household full of musicians and opera singers, some of whom have gone onto be international level artists. Music was always around. I started out playing piano and then I was playing trumpet, just because that was the instrument that appealed to me.

As for getting into improvised music, I was very lucky to hook up with a great trombonist and composer named Bill Lowe when I was in high school. He was teaching at Northeastern University and my high school had cut its music program and I had a friend who was going to Northeastern who told me that they needed another trumpet player for the big band and so I went in there. Bill took me under his wing and found out that I was eager to learn and I really consider him my musical father. We stayed close throughout my life up to now. That was really through Bill's guidance that I got into jazz and improvised music. We still work together. He is family. We talk together regularly and work together as often as we can. It is always a really special thing to be working with him because we both sort of get a kick out of it. He has played with my band and I have played with his band and at this point, we both seem to get hired on the same projects so it is always fun when we are sidemen together. So that relationship has been incredibly special to me and it is something that I am very lucky and honored to have.

FJ: Do some name dropping of opera singers who stayed with your family.

THB: Well, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson stayed with us for about seven years and she is singing Les Troyens at the Met this season. She is incredible. She has done everything from early music to new music. I think she is one of the best mezzo-sopranos out there. Right now, Lisa Saffer has been living with my mother. She is a dear friend of mine, who just did Berg's Lulu with the English National Opera. She is an incredible soprano. It is actually great because luckily my mother had really good taste so the opera singers that she did have ended up being ones who were not the type to sort of be the diva complex, but real great musicians. People that were interested in improvisation, who were interested in the way Handel used improvisation in early music, were interested in new music. Lorraine is actually married to Peter Lieberson, who is a modern composer. So it wasn't just people hanging around the house singing Puccini, but people who were really musical and really great musicians in the house and that made a big difference for me.

FJ: Having checked the "Asian" box on my college applications, I know as a standard music education is a priority amongst "Asian" families.

THB: Yeah, playing music wasn't a choice (laughing). You are going to take an instrument. When I got to the point when I was twelve or thirteen years old and I could make the choice, that is when I went to the trumpet. No, actually, I started playing piano when I was eight and started playing trumpet when I was ten or eleven. But that was the choice and that is the one that stuck with me until I switched to the cornet.

FJ: What are the subtle and obvious nuances between the trumpet and cornet?


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