As in our Artist Platform feature, we're posing our four standard questions to interviewees, hoping their responses will foster greater appreciation and understanding of the important role these people serve in the music, often for the artist.
Don Paul is a record producer, performing artist, author, and marathon runner/trainer who lives with three big, and over-friendly dogs in the North Beach district of San Francisco. All About Jazz:
I know you want to talk about the music of Glenn Spearman
and his new Black Saint CD, Free Worlds,
which you produced. But first, can you give us your thoughts about this incredible San Franciso improv music scene, which you've participated and supported over the years? Don Paul:
Why this relative outpouring? To extend a continuum and combat a vacuum, I think. The continuum is the wide, deep, banks-jumping channel of 20th-century self-expressive music that's sometimes called "jazz," a channel that's been especially pushed in our lifetimes by Cecil Taylor. The vacuum is the whole dead-air that surrounds us from the repressive retro-everything of Western culture by Corporate control. This vacuum has grown like crazy during the 1990s, abetted by Cousin Bill in Whites' House and the hurtling juggernaut of commerce through technology.
It's a vacuum full of increasing pressures and aggravations, divisions and injustices, and lots of hype and gloss, but its basically dead-air, cold and deadening air. In the self-expressive music that we're discussing I guess that repressive retrogression is represented by the "neo-conservative" champions of "true jazz."
Back to the artists with whom I was lucky to work. Why did they do it?
they play so hard for such little amounts of money and recognition? (In 1994 20 people made a fair-sized crowd at the improvisational-music nights that Don and Linae put on at Radio Valencia). Why do they still practice till their lips swell and their skin cracks? Why do they try to wrest pieces of their essences out to the public? Well, because they must, of course; What We Live says it.
Now to what I think these artists brought to the continuum. Apart from intensity of interplayapart from fierce honestyapart from joy and competition in one another's chopsapart from dancing and marching rhythmsapart from honoring loveapart from taking risks to achieve surpriseapart from rending down and up to get at their souls (all standards of "true jazz")they expressed the peculiar times we live in.
They brought orchestration into the preliminaries for free expression more than I've heard it before. They wereand arepost-modern in a non-reactionary way. They played awful-fast. Their sounds clashed. They mixed up so much music that it was sometimes beyond the delineation of me, a primitive musician to whom are attributed "good ears." I often remember a student's review of Glenn's Double Trio in the University of British Columbia newspaper; I think he got it right. 'Fucking intense,' he wrote, 'The way that the different sounds and textures within the group blended together to make a completely unique sound was beautiful.' Thinking back through the six albums named above, with their four different leaders, peers in age, if I had to call their prevailing content and spirit anything, it would be: compassionate protest-music. AAJ:
What can you say about Glenn Spearman? DP:
Whew! Right. First, I loved Glenn. We had a strong heart-to-heart.
As an artist there was never bullshit from Glenn. He always came direct. In session, you know, it was: the music 's on the stands, the microphones are onthe tape is rolling?let's go!Ba-da-da-Ba-da-da-Da-da... He was a complete rebel who insisted on his own sound. At the same time he was deeply undervalidated, say, as to his worth. Partly because he was an auto-didactpartly because he was a mixed-race "jazz" musician in the United States; make that the even more uncertain status of "Free Jazz" musician; and partly because he was a son wounded from abandonment by his father. Now there are many wounded sons and daughters among the artists of AmericaHemingway, Faulkner, Billie Holliday and Janis Joplin come to mind. And the wound transfers to the bow of the artist, as Edmund Wilson wrote about Dickens. With musicians, though, at least musicians who play Clubs and Halls, there's the accompanying temptation, the accompanying liability, of narcotics. And that got to Glenn. I think we should admit this, consider it, and let those who come after us judge for themselves. Like a lot else, we'll never to be able to deal with it if we refuse to see that it's there. Glenn was addicted to heroin, off and on, the six years I knew him, and I think the addiction started at least15 years earlier.
He would endure kicking, ordered or aided off of "H" by his wife, Shanteebe quite proud of his healthand a few months later start chipping again. We talked about it some. He knew that he played better when clean. He would say that he was getting as fast on tenor as Marco was on alto. But heroin made him highhigh and happyand it relieved his anxieties. He could forget about how materially poor and unjust his circumstances remained; he had to paint houses at $10 an hour, age 48, in the same year that he was Guest Lecturer at Mills College and featured on Radio Koln. He could perform with bravura when high. But he couldn't play better; in fact, he could reach less of himself when loaded. And he knew that. And that's all I have to say about the addiction; I raise it mostly for the perspective of Glenn's descendants.
He was generous and selfishselfish first to sustain his artand tender and boastful and kind, booming and withdrawn, hard-working and lassitudinous, and above all a deep-feeling artist. I think his music will sound more and more contemporary and that passages of his poetry will last. AAJ:
Let's get to the new Spearman CD, Free Worlds.
You compiled different 'sides' of Glenn on this one CD. Can we peek into your production notes? DP:
You're right, it's from four sessions. Half of the eight tracks are a sextet led by GlennLisle, Donald Robinson, J. R. Routhier on electric guitar, Marco Eneidi and Raphe Malikon compositions of his. Spirited gatherings they are. If the players were animation they would be jets. Two tracks with Paul Plimley nicely joining Glenn and Lisle and Donald. One raga with the very great singer Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and his rising son Shafqat and the guitarist Dhyani Dharma Mas as the principalsI asked Glenn to play free in his part. And one poem of mine with Glenn and Donald and J. R. AAJ:
What's up ahead? DP:
As to what in general is up ahead for creative music, I think the next Beethoven may come out of anywhere, equipped with a computer to cross genres with his or her genius, but I think that she or he will need awareness of the society outside his or her studio, the society that's actually suffering from the computer, to be a really affecting, representative genius. I think there can be a lot more of collective genius ahead. AAJ:
Damn...I forgot to ask what his favorite food was!
Glenn Spearman's Free World
(Black Saint) is a March 2000 U.S. release. Don't miss it!