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Being Here: Conversations On Creating Music

Sammy Stein By

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Being Here: Conversations On Creating Music
Radhika Philip
461 pages
ISBN: 13:978-0-989-488006

Imagine having conversations with a large, diverse group of jazz musicians; old and young, both those who have been around for years and those relatively new to the scene. Radhika Philip has done just that, and documented their reflections in her book. The interviews were carried out in various places, including Philip's home, musicians' homes and various locations around New York. Philip is fully aware of New York's importance as a crucible for creativity and also the importance of allowing musicians their say, in their own words. To that end, she took a list of questions with her and set out to interview as many musicians as she could. The initial questions differ only slightly and are largely based on what directs their music, interaction with other musicians, whether they feel drawn to particular genres and how or why they would classify themselves. Philip also gets them to speak about their bands, their compositions and how they have come to play with significant others during their careers. The length of responses varies—some interviews took several sessions, while some were over in minutes. Some go into such detail and depth it is as if the musician is baring their soul. What all the subjects have in common though is Philip's ability to relax them, get them to speak and allow them to give voice to their thoughts. Sometimes a gentle question or push from Philip moves a musician on, lifts them from their reveries and encourages them to put their thoughts into words. The twenty five musicians interviewed in this first book (another is already on the way) are loosely connected, since many have played together and mention one another quite often. Interviewees include guitarist Bill Frisell,bassist William Parker, saxophonist and flautist Henry Threadgill, saxophonist Greg Osby, drummer Brian Blade, drummer Woody Shaw, Jr., pianist Robert Glasper saxophone players Mark Turner and Steve Coleman, harmonica playerGregoire Maret, pianist Maria Schneider, cornet player and conductor Butch Morris and others.

Throughout the book, Philip offers no opinion. Her only interjections are her questions and these are presented gently, humbly, as a tool to allow the musician to speak. The musicians speak of drive, ambitions, where they see music going, free music in particular and connecting with other musicians and people. Some common themes run through almost every interview. Those are the musicians' desire to connect with others, to provoke consideration, to create a better world. Candid insight into the thought processes of conductors or inspirational musicians, and how they see themselves, is a revelation. Some respond with one-liners while others answer the same question over several pages, giving umpteen interpretations as their thoughts jump from one possible response to another. Some are deeply spiritual whilst others have little regard for the spiritual side of the music, interested more in technicalities and the pushing of boundaries. Occasionally, a passage leaves the reader stunned, shocked at the experiences some musicians have been through; the prejudices or impasses reached and overcome. Every musician interviewed brings their own unique take on the business, performing and connecting (or not in one memorable case). They describe how they overcame obstacles, and compromised or refused to do so in order to play. The accounts clarify, confuse, reflect and contradict each other yet somehow, all make sense put side by side, sequenced because of thematic connections or because the musicians worked together.

For both those who are musicians and those who are not, this book gives remarkable insight into the lives and thoughts of people who inspire and create improvised music.


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