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Bill Carrothers: Content in his Corner of the Jazz World

R.J. DeLuke By

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For me it's not a question of pick and choose. For me, it what makes me feel good and what I was put here to do. I'm convinced of that. I guess it's true what they say about artists, it's ultimately a very selfish thing.
Pianist Bill Carrothers is a realist.

Don't look for him to pine away for the "good old days" in jazz. Those are days he never saw anyway. Only 34, he grew up outside Minneapolis, Minn., with rock music and the period that punished us with Disco. Don't expect him to foretell the next great wave of jazz resurgence because, in fact, Carrothers doesn't believe it's going to happen. Jazz, like everything else, he will tell you, has a beginning, middle and an end.

Agree with him or not, he's comfortable with it. He's content to create art and be happy in his corner of the world and in his time. That neighborhood doesn't include the buzz of the city, the parade of taxicabs, the serenade of traffic or the siren song of fast-paced nightlife. It includes mountains and trees and snow. Lots of snow.

If it's sounding like Carrothers eschews the traditions or sanctity of jazz music, he doesn't. He's just different. He loves America, but finds more work in Europe and feels the attitude there is better about the music. (An opinion shared by many). He's also likes when jazz is passed down aurally, by listening to the music and the people, and not by sitting in a classroom, going through lessons and exercises. (At North Texas State University, renowned for its jazz program, "I got decent grades. I did OK, but I couldn't get out of there fast enough," he said, explaining his departure after just one year).

Carrothers is an artist, to be sure. He has vision and despite his stance that jazz music is never going to get any great popularity, he's committed to it, "because I love it. I can't help it. For me it's not a question of pick and choose. For me, it what makes me feel good and what I was put here to do."

"I guess it's true what they say about artists, it's ultimately a very selfish thing. You do it because it makes you feel good. And it beats heroin," he said, chuckling. "It's easier on your body than heroin and it makes you feel just as good. If I can go through my life and maybe make some other people feel good along the way, and make myself feel good, and maybe I don't change the world. And maybe I'm not instrumental in the renaissance and resurgence of jazz. But maybe I just change a little corner of the world. That's enough for me."

Carrothers has played with the likes of Billy Higgins, Gary Peacock, James Moody, Curtis Fuller, Dewey Redman, Buddy DeFranco and others, but has been doing his own projects in recent years, including music tied to American history, and even electric music. His latest CD Duets with Bill Stewart just came out in the U.S. (It was recorded a while ago and released in Europe last year). As the title suggests, it's just the pianist with the well-regarded drummer. "Bill and I like to converse. The whole record is really just a series of conversations," Carrothers said.

Some tunes, like "Vito's Dream World" are somber and mysterious. "A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square," is slow and reflective. "Taking a Chance On Love" has Bill Evans-like cool and harmonic devices over Stewart's soft, yet thoughtful polyrhythms. "Death of a Cigarette" is a slow blues with a behind-the-beat phrasing that has more mystery in it than BB King. It's not a swing session, but conversations that cover a variety of topics. It was released in France in 1999 on Birdology, It sold well in France and won Diapason d'Orde l'année (2000) award, as well as the Schallplatten Preis award in Germany. Throughout he shows a deft touch and strong sound, and the interplay with Stewart's shifting, subtle and adventurous rhythms is outstanding. They're interesting conversations.

The relationship with Stewart goes back over several years, to a group called A Band in All Hope that produced a CD of the same name. "We did some gigs. And we toured in the Midwest a little bit," he said. "That record's done really well over the years. That's the Bridge Boy release. That's just one of my own we just screwed around with. The other record, Duets, is kind of the next step."

His next project Electric Bill , featuring electric instruments and some different musical approaches, was to be released in February in France, and perhaps in the United States toward the end of the year. Then it's off on another project linked to America's history. So for this Excelsior, Minn., lad, things are going OK.

He tried the New York City scene and it didn't work out for him. So now he's now tucked away in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and that's where life is good, for now. "If it doesn't snow, I don't trust it," he said, at least half jokingly. "Up here in the UP we get 300 inches of it, annually." It's a long way from cities where the action might be, but who cares? Carrothers is going to lead his own life at his own pace and be in control as much as possible.

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