It's tempting to think of a life in music as a linear story with a beginning, middle and end, because that's the way life is: we are born, we live, and then we die. In this narrative, one could assume there will be highs and lows and masterpieces might emerge out of a misty fog of events. The idea is that some pieces of music must be better than others. This way of thinking naturally poses the question of which albums the artist considers his or her most important efforts, because who would be more qualified to judge the quality of the music than the musician? It was in this spirit I asked Cooper-Moore
, the pianist, composer and instrument builder, about the records he would recommend for the new and experienced listener. The answer was just as short as it was puzzling: "All of them."
This is what Cooper-Moore does; he turns things around when you least expect it. Or perhaps, it would be better to say he exposes the way of thinking that is so common among music writers, including myself, the quest for the greatest records. This way of thinking is the consumer's point of view and belongs in the world of reviews and ratings, but the point is that music is also communication and in terms of records who knows what the individual listener needs and when? There are times when Cooper-Moore's deeply felt lyrical readings of William Parker
's compositions on Stan's Hat Flapping in the Wind
will bring most joy, but his solo piano tour de force of musical styles on Deep in the Neighborhood of History and Influence
will also take the listener on an adventurous journey. Other times his forceful interplay with David S. Ware
might be needed or the trio language of his group Triptych Myth.
Music provides various energies and emotions to different listeners and words are only poor servants to describe what's going on. Describing something as "lyrical" or "forceful" doesn't say much. Perhaps, the listener has to find a starting point free from the hierarchical opinions of others and in that sense any record could be a good beginning.
One of Cooper-Moore's own beginnings came from The Hucklebuck, as he recalls:
"The Hucklebuck was an R&B, Blues recording that came out in 1949. It's the first commercial music that I have memory of. There were children's songs and church hymns that I have a sense of from when I was three years old, but The Hucklebuck was a 78 rpm recording of our parents that was played on an old hand cranked RCA Victrola that was played over and over. And everytime it was played everybody would dance. And hearing it made all of us in the room happy."
"Then there were radio dramas with musical underscores. Those scores carried a lot of the emotion of the story. Our daily lives had no musical accompaniments. But African American speech, as I remember it as a child, was rich and full of tones and inflections that would take words to the place of song. This is also what I heard in church, the preacher would begin speaking and over time the speaking turned into song. I remember my mother saying something that upset me. An older brother later said to me, "Oh no, she didn't mean it that ways." That's when I learned, around 5 or 6, that "how" words were spoken held as much meaning as the words."
To this day, the connection between music and vocal is still crucial to Cooper-Moore. When I asked him whether he heard music primarily as melodies or rhythms, he said: "I don't hear music as one or the other. Music, when I listen to music, usually sounds vocal, conversational. If it doesn't sound that way, I lose interest."
Cooper-Moore's interest in the vocal aspect of music has also come across in the reading of the poem "The Agony of These Feelings Felt" from the concert recording Deep in the Neighborhood of History and Influence
. About the relation between words and music, he says: "Adding words, for me, gives an up front clear idea of what I am saying. When I express words in a performance, they for me are song. I feel the music that most resonates with me, when heard, sounds like some kind of spoken language."
The conversational aspect also underlines music as something you do in a community and a thing that brings joy. This communal experience of music also goes back to Cooper Moore's time in the school bands:
"In grammar school and high school I played in the school bands. Playing in those bands changed me. A band is a community that makes music together. It's a powerful thing. You have to do your job and at the same time pay attention to what the other players are doing. School bands are organized, structured, and disciplined. As a member you learn to be responsible and take care of your part."
Cooper-Moore's way into music came through the experience of listening and playing in a community. When it comes to the romantic concept of the artist singling himself out as something special outside the community, he is skeptical. Reflecting on the word, he says: