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Bill Anschell: Curiosity and Invention

Paul Rauch By

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AAJ: Being cold, having bad monitors.

There was one time we were playing the Monterey Jazz Festival, and it was all of that. We hadn't played in a few days, the monitors were terrible, but multiply that with the fact that Sony was recording it for possible live album, and we couldn't hear each other. It was just one of those things, the sound check wasn't very good. I looked out and the group Five for Phineas were there. They had just played and they all came over, all these piano players just sitting there checking me out. It was Geoffrey Keezer, Mulgrew Miller, James Williams sitting there, and I thought, "Well, it's never going to get more pressure cooker than this."

AAJ: How different is your approach as a pianist when accompanying a singer, as opposed to playing in an instrumental context?

BA: It's different. I've always considered myself better at accompanying than soloing in a lot of ways, because I can hear and know what notes are being played. I can respond to them right away, and I like that. It's guaranteed spontaneity because you're dealing with what is being presented to you. Playing with a singer, if you play things that clash with what they're singing, it's harder for a singer to sing through weird harmony, notes that don't match their notes, than a horn player to play through those. In that way, you have to be more sensitive working with singers, be aware of the lyrics, and the mood they're trying to convey, and all that. The arrangements I did for Nnenna, and I did quite a few, I arranged the way I wanted. I mean, I could hear her voice, I arranged them around her voice, but I was able to do my thing. So it's not that different than when I'm doing it for my own group, just as far as the writing goes.

AAJ: You have diverse influences as a composer and musician, that you access as a jazz artist. For example, you studied South Indian rhythmic theory with T. Ranganathan. What musical and cultural crosscurrents outside of jazz have impacted you the most inside your approach as a jazz pianist and composer?

BA: Definitely the rhythmic aspect of Indian music. I studied that for two or three years at Wesleyan, it's incredibly complicated. Westerners have no idea how complex that stuff is, the real traditional Indian classical music. Rhythmically, it's insane. Now there are people online who are trying to explain it, more people are getting into it, but I would just take the exercises the teacher gave us. The way I studied it was vocally, not singing, it's called Sollkatu. I would take the exercises he would give us, and turn them into piano pieces, basically. I could practice them, be working on piano, be creating music that didn't sound like anything else I knew, it served several purposes for me at once. I have used that stuff, it's affected my approach a ton, because I love superimposing one meter on top of another. Some would say to a fault, but it's my favorite thing. There are pieces on many of my CD's that either are those exercises that I turned into music, or that use some of the concepts from them. That's always been a big part. It's the tip of the iceberg. That shit is way deeper than what I use is, but even just grabbing stuff from it that interests you is plenty. I think that if I have a unique way to play or write, it's more due more to Indian music than anything else, even though I don't consider myself a scholar of it.

AAJ: There is a part of the Seattle scene that sees itself as playing more on the outer fringes of jazz, and some of those players do not care to be referred to as jazz musicians. Considering the history of change and multiplicity of jazz forms within the genre, it seems a moot point. The music is supported by the community, and engaged by jazz radio, and media. At times I sense something missing from the music, sounds that I hear in the more post bop world, the Latin scene as well as the straight ahead jazz part of our community. Ultimately, it feels like a bit of a disconnect from the blues, and drawing from that well of emotion and commitment.

BA: I think that's fair to say.

AAJ: We had Ray Vega in town last week in a two trumpet band with Thomas Marriott. He's a legendary Latin player, as well as a great player in the bop tradition, but his sound comes from a very deep place that resides in the blues.

BA: I think music tends to lose meaning, if the people that were writing it, weren't hearing what they were writing, but were writing stuff that they know works based on their training. You can use these notes over these chords. Sitting at a piano choosing notes that they aren't necessarily hearing in their head, coming from the instrument. I think when people aren't hearing what they're writing, for the listener, there's nothing to grab onto. If I hear a melody in my head, and I write it, I write a piece around it, then hopefully other people hear that melody too.

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