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Brian Carpenter: In Between The Cracks

DanMichael Reyes By

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AAJ: What do you think are the main differences between the chamber jazz that you're doing and third stream jazz?

BC: Those are just terms, chamber jazz and third stream. I don't really know what those mean except to say that they're meant to instruct the listener that the music is somewhere between the jazz and classical domain. All I can say is the Wilder Octets—if you want to take that as an example—Alec Wilder was using compositional techniques like contrapuntal writing and he was putting that into a jazz domain by virtue of the rhythm section. The rhythm section is swinging on a lot of those pieces. The other thing is that there's not a lot of improvisation in the original Alec Wilder Octets. So that differentiates that music with Gil Evans' big band, Carla Bley's big band, or big bands of the '40s. Although of course, Carla Bley is very progressive in terms of her writing. But Gil Evans, in terms of the stuff he did with Miles was of course all centered on Miles' playing. It was basically meant to be a springboard for Miles.

So every arrangement and every orchestra has different purposes and you can't really come up with a term—well maybe you can—but there's no strong term for it. It all depends on what the arranger had in mind. Gil was thinking about Miles when he arranged all those pieces from Porgy and Bess. Alec Wilder was basically—I think based on interviews—taking his love for Bach, harpsichord, and jazz and putting it together for an original music.

Another thing that was interesting about Alec Wilder was that he was basically told that if he wasn't writing well as Raymond Scott, they weren't going to record him. So that was another interesting discovery that no one has talked about. So I think that's where he came up with the weird titles. You can't help but wonder that he knew Raymond Scott's music and he was taking a cue from Raymond Scott in terms of the writing. They're definitely short because of the length of the 78s, but they're very descriptive in terms of the melodies and the worlds they're creating. "Her Old Man Was (At Times) Suspicious" tells a story through music, much like Raymond Scott's music did.

The interesting thing about these discoveries is that it's a community. It's a community of musicians and composers, between 1935 and 1941, who were listening to each other and were influenced by each other. But [they] were writing original music in their own signature way. But you can definitely hear the influences.

In terms of what Gunther was calling third stream, that's all much later. There was a lot of improvisation, whereas these pieces aren't really opened up for improvisation. Even within the Raymond Scott pieces, those improvisations are basically set in stone. If you hear take one and take two, the [solos] are very much the same. So it's a very different time.

But I think when I mention [third stream] in the liner notes, I think what Gunther Schuller was talking about in terms of third stream could be easily applied to Alec Wilder. Like I said, it would be interesting to hear what he says. I didn't talk to him before hand but I think it's interesting that this music is kind of lost.

AAJ: How did you actually stumble upon these composers? Was it a day inside a record store?

BC: It's almost never in a record store. The Alec Wilder was almost stumbling upon a footnote. I was reading a section on something completely different, on John Nesbitt. I was leafing through this book and I saw this huge footnote, it was almost like a David Foster Wallace footnote that took up half a page. So I asked, "What's this all about?" So I ended up reading about Alec Wilder and these strange titles for songs.

That's how I found out about [Wilder]. I think I found a 78 on eBay. I think the first one I bought had "Dance Man Buys A Farm" on side A and side B was "Neurotic Goldfish," which is another crazy piece and I was immediately blown away. We recorded "Neurotic Goldfish" but we didn't [release] it in this particular record.

With this record, I wanted to showcase a community and unity of composers, like I did with the first record. When I found that there was an interview, an audio recording of an interview with Alec Wilder where he talks about this meeting with a Brunswick record producer. The producer mentioned Raymond Scott saying [to] Wilder, "Raymond Scott's really successful. Can you do that?" It was an audio recording and I almost fell out of my chair. I couldn't believe it. It didn't [occur] that the two guys (Scott and Wilder) had any connection whatsoever.

AAJ: How did you make the connection from Wilder and Scott to the John Kirby Sexter?

BC: Well... John Kirby, the first time I heard that was on a CD by Don Byron.

AAJ: Yeah, I noticed that Byron has a rendition of "Charley's Prelude" also.

BC: That record came out in the early '90s also. I don't think anyone really knew who John Kirby really was until Don Byron released that record. So I had known about [Kirby] through that. The Reginald Foresythe... I think that was from listening to Irwin Chusid's radio show on WFMU. [Chusid] had a 78 that "Revolt of the Yes Man" on it. Irwin was the person responsible for the re-discovery of Raymond Scott in the early '90s. In fact, he got to meet [Scott] and so forth. So I listened to his show a lot and he mentioned Reginald Foresythe and he said that it was similar to what Raymond Scott was doing.

So that's how I found out about that; it was all very organic. Those four composers are all very much in line with the same kind of thinking. Similar composition techniques, short pieces, strange instrumentations, a lot of similarities but of course very different also, and not a lot of improvisation. So it's interesting going into these worlds and connecting the dots. And you know, Alec Wilder has mentioned that Reginald Foresythe was a huge influence on him. So that was another connection that I had made from reading [his] biography.

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