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Bill Bruford: The Autobiography Excerpt: Chapter 10: Is it different, being in jazz?


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[Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Bill Bruford's The Autobiography, first published in 2009 by Jawbone Press, but receiving the deluxe treatment in two very limited edition hardcovers by England's Foruli Limited Edition Books and Records in the fall of 2011. In his book, the veteran drummer—beginning in art rock bands including Yes and King Crimson but, over the a 40-year career, gradually moved towards where he wanted to be all along: jazz—describes his own experiential differences straddling the two worlds, as he often did until 1999, when he decided to devote his career exclusively to jazz projects including his ongoing duo with Dutch pianist Michiel Borstlap and his flagship group, Earthworks.

The original publication of The Autobiography came hot on the heels of his announcement that he was hanging his sticks up and retiring (see: Veteran Drummer Bill Bruford Retires from Public Performance, AAJ News Center, January 26, 2009). Of course, music remains close at hand; Bruford may not be performing any longer, but he continues to manage his own significant discography via his Winterfold and Summerfold labels, in addition to speaking engagements and other music-related activities that have ramped up significantly (and, perhaps, not surprisingly), in the two years since The Autobiography's initial publication.]

Chapter 10: Is it different, being in jazz?

Everything sooner or later needs a name. Cats, children, this book, my hundreds of individual compositions and recordings, my house, my groups; every name is the wrong name until I find, or the item or creature acquires, the right name, at which point I am unshakeable. Until appropriately named, we only half exist. When correctly named, we begin to acquire personality and a future.

Despite an uneasy feeling that we already have too much music, I have continued to create it, and it all needs naming. I prefer to title the instrumental music I produce in an oblique, rather coded kind of language, as if to say: "This is what it means to me, but it might mean something else to you, and that's fine."

The phrases will have an internal meaning, considerable rhythm, and may only allude in a crossword puzzle kind of way—"Some Shiver, While He Cavorts"; "No Truce With The Furies"; "Sarah's Still Life." Alliteration, double entendre, dusty words—bring 'em on. I over-use images of dance and song, because that's what I think I'm causing my sticks to do up there on the stage. It's those that you should watch, not me. "Making A Song And Dance"; "Every Step A Dance, Every Word A Song"; "The Wooden Man Sings, And The Stone Woman Dances."

In 1986, my first jazz group, The Bill Bruford Quartet, was self-evidently in urgent need of the correct moniker, and not only because Virgin Records was breathing down my neck for it. In a panicky phone call between keyboard and horn player Django Bates from a payphone in Wales and tenor saxophonist Iain Ballamy and me in my kitchen at home, we settled finally on the only one of several names upon which we could all agree.

The word Earthworks has a multi-level meaning. It may refer to a man's work here on Earth, or perhaps the fortifications and ramparts of early bronze and iron-age man, also known here in these ancient British Isles as earthworks. In order to build a building, you have first to excavate, to find solid footings upon which to construct, and maybe to construct a jazz group that will last a couple of decades. There are also implications of musical works from across the globe and styles from across oceans. All of this was to be sewn into the fabric of the band. Musicians entering would hopefully use the band as a vehicle for personal change and growth, and, Crimson-like, be different players with different outlooks when they left.

Part of the reason I was edging rapidly toward jazz was because there had to be better ways of creating music other than by staring at your feet in a room full of expensively unprepared musicians—one of my least favourite pastimes. Jazz players not only don't like to rehearse but also are unable to afford anything more salubrious than an afternoon or two in somebody's front room. If it's Django's front room in a large tumbledown and unheated house in Beckenham, Kent, where we ran through the early Earthworks material, it'll have ice on the inside of the windows as well as the outside.

Generally, the musicians come together to rehearse music already specifically designed for the project in hand. The basic harmony and melodies pre-exist in written form by the time the kettle goes on, so the band is only adding suggestions and making sure fingers go in the right places. With superior musical training, good ears and memories, and the ability to sight-read, it's all over in a few hours. If the collective doesn't like the piece, you bin it and do somebody else's. No tears, no recriminations, no blame.


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