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Producer Don Paul

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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?

Why do 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 interplay—apart from fierce honesty—apart from joy and competition in one another's chops—apart from dancing and marching rhythms—apart from honoring love—apart from taking risks to achieve surprise—apart 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 were—and are—post-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 on—the 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-didact—partly 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 America—Hemingway, 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.

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