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Bill Anschell: Curiosity and Invention

Paul Rauch By

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AAJ: How do you perceive the relationship between composition and improvisation, how do they impact each other in your writing, and your approach as an improviser?

BA: I have a tendency to write quite a bit, meaning, I don't just write a lead sheet, like a conventional blowing vehicle with a new melody on it. I tend to write a lot of interludes, introductions, endings, various ways of breaking it up. Partly because of that, and partly because when you write an original tune, it's not in everybody's head, it's harder to be the kind of improviser you are in a standards trio where there's a frame of reference. You all know it, you all do things in regard to that frame of reference, you can hint around and explore all these different places. When you write a tune for people and it's not using conventional chord changes, they have to look at the chord changes and it changes things a little when you're reading instead of just playing out of your head. We try to memorize things as much as we can, but I have a tendency to write pretty hard stuff. So I would rather have people judge my improvisations based on what happens in a trio playing standards, than what happens in the context of my own tunes, which are largely about presenting the composition. Even though there are big improvised sections, what makes it unique is usually the composition itself.

A lot of times I simplify the chords for the improv section. If I write a harmonically complicated melody and chord changes, I will do what I can to make them easier to improvise the solo sections because there's nothing good about obstacles to improvisation, and you try to keep them out as much as you can.

AAJ: Jazz is gaining respect within higher institutions of learning, with improvisation being bestowed the same respect as composition. Universities, and schools such as Juilliard, and the New England Conservatory, bastions of classical music education, now offer jazz as an equal partner. Jazz mentorship has largely been relegated to academia, as opposed to the traditional mentoring on the bandstand. How do you see the modern jazz musician's role in mentoring young students outside of academic institutions?

BA: In the old days, again, get off of my lawn, when people didn't look at things while they were on the bandstand, where you had to play by ear, it engendered a little more camaraderie. It made it easier to take someone under your wing, when you're already dealing with the same music in your heads, and playing out of that. Part of the reason there's less mentorship now than in the past is because there are so few touring units that have consistent personnel. A lot of mentoring took place in big time bands, like Art Blakey's band or something. That doesn't exist much anymore.

AAJ: Your most recent release on Origin, Rumbler (Origin, 2017), features trio, quartet and quintet treatment of mostly originals. Guitarist Brian Monroney gives the music a sonic texture, both on the record and in live performances. You have recorded solo, duo, trio and larger ensembles in your prior recordings, demonstrating a wide variance of style and concept. Take us through the process of recording Rumbler from writing, to the studio, how you conceived the unique sound of the album.

BA: I wrote most of the music for it on the road. I like to write on the road, not at a piano, because it makes me generate melodies that I can hear. To me, writing away from the piano makes me create more melodically.

AAJ: So you're writing music directly to paper that you're hearing in your head?

BA: Yes, all the parts. I can do that, that's one good thing I can do. For some reason I can't do it at home very well, because there's all these distractions. If I'm in a hotel room, or an airplane, with nothing else to do, I can concentrate enough to hear all the parts. For whatever reason, it's not hard for me to write music that way. Even complicated music. So most of the music on the record was written that way. A few of them were pieces I tried recording before, but didn't have a version I liked enough.

Probably the most unique thing about how the music sounds is Brian Monroney's contribution to it. As somebody who loves textures, a guitar player like Brian who has nineteen effects pedals, knows how to use them to get whatever sound he wants, that's perfect to me. So it's not just finding someone with a burning lead sound, but someone who can play orchestral kind of textures the rest of the time behind the soloists, or during the head. I actually had a guitarist who is coming from the same ballpark on my second album, A Different Note Altogether (Accurate, 1998). I like the sound of guitar and tenor together a lot.

A lot of the music is rhythmically challenging, that's what I like. Jose Martinez just has no problem with that, and some of his solos are incredible. The personnel had a lot to do with it, it worked both ways. I chose some tunes because of the personnel I was going to have, and I chose some personnel because of the tunes I had written. The personnel shifts around. Hans Teuber plays on three of the tunes, playing alto flute, alto saxophone, and tenor saxophone.

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