[This interview was originally conducted in October 2001.]
On Saturday October 27th, 2001, Seattle radio station KEXP's "Sonarchy Radio" featured a live performance of improvisational music by alto saxophonist Daniel Carter, contrabassist Reuben Radding, and drummer Gregg Keplinger. Carter had just flown in to Seattle from New York to perform at the Earshot Jazz Festival with Radding the following day and at about 12:30 AM Sunday morning immediately following their set of music that was broadcast on KEXP, I had the pleasure of interviewing these three musicians at Jack Straw Productions.
All About Jazz: Reuben, have you and Daniel been playing together long?
Reuben Radding: Well, I think the first time was in '93 or so. Was it that early? '93 or '94 at the latest.
Daniel Carter: '93 or '94. There was that thing we did before....
RR: Yeah, it was me and Daniel and a saxophonist who lives here in Seattle named Paul Hoskin.
Gregg Keplinger: I know him.
DC: Had we played before that night?
RR: No - and there was a drummer named David Gould. Daniel and I had never met but I had been hearing about him. We met and played together for the first time that night and steadily after that until I left New York in 1996. This is the first time we have played together since then.
DC: It's been way longer than the period that we played.
RR: Yeah. Wow, that's hard to believe.
AAJ: So Gregg, you had never met Daniel before.
DC: It seems as though we might have.... (Laughter)
GK: I lived in New York in the 1970s but who knows who I met. I looked for all of those way out places. You know, once in a while I'd find one....
AAJ: Was there any point during the session tonight when you guys actually felt it happening? I take it you didn't plan for that to happen.
(The room erupts with laughter.)
RR: For what to happen?
AAJ: You guys don't plan anything like that when you come in....
RR: Like what? Like....
AAJ: When you came into the studio you didn't have any specific tunes...
GK: I had never talked to Daniel before. I thought it was kind of working, the first part.
DC: Gregg came highly recommended. (Laughter)
GK: I don't know but it got a little ragged for me towards the end, I mean what I felt like I was doing.
DC: Yeah, I felt like you could feel the temperature going up. I think we did accomplish some of that but then something about the consequences of that was extremely challenging right on up to the very last stuff.
GK: Yeah, exactly. Which might be good, I mean I didn't have a clear view of where I was headed. I thought it was for the most part pretty exciting.
RR: There was no pre-planning at all. I knew both of these guys and couldn't imagine that they wouldn't instantly have a rapport.
DC: You tried to figure how we could possibly be incompatible, right?
RR: Yeah and I couldn't think of any way that could be.
GK: It was exciting to me, I thought. I've never played like that in my life.
RR: But to play without that kind of preconception about what the content is going to be, that's something that I think all three of us have done quite a lot.
DC: It continues to be sometimes difficult but yet what else would you do?
RR: The difficulty is part of what's enticing about doing this. Every time I know I'm going to be challenged, hopefully, by other good musicians. I don't have that much to fall back on in terms of content and I don't want anything to fall back on. I want to just listen and respond and pick it up in the moment. I don't really know where it all comes from.
AAJ: It's a good thing to have happen for jazz in this town I would say.
GK: Well, that's pretty extreme. I think a lot of people can't quite deal with it but when it works it's intense. And when it doesn't work some people might think it works. It's a 50/50 chance that you're in or out.
DC: With way we were playing I got the feeling that maybe a lot of people you wouldn't think would really go for quote-unquote "this kind of music" might because of the degree of focus.
GK: We covered a lot of stuff too. It was pretty melodic.
RR: There was a lyricism that was going on at times that you might not associate with the extreme avant-garde.
RR: But we went to some serious extremes, you know. But it's different temperaments based on experience because there are people for whom even the lyrical stuff we did would have been noise. And then there are people for whom that is great beauty. The problem that you run into when you start associating this music with jazz is that when people hear that word they've got a sound in their head and that limits their comprehension sometimes.
DC: There are a lot of people that dig jazz that maybe are not into, like I say, "this kind of music." But they might dig this kind of music because a lot of what really works best seems to be a way in which the tradition, the jazz tradition, evolves itself. That is what I feel most connected with, stuff that sounds just like jazz. It's like Ornette Coleman, you know. People are talking about, "Well he was the father of the avant-garde," but how much more traditional could you get? (Laughter)
RR: That's right! All of the instruments are still playing their traditional functions. The saxophone and trumpet are playing lines together then they play solos and then they trade. The drums play basically a time-keeping role and the bass plays jazz styles.
DC: Coltrane too. So much of what Coltrane did seemed like if you listened to what McCoy, Jimmy and Elvin were doing, that stuff sounds like jazz, man.
GK: Totally inside.
RR: And yet people are still trying to catch up with it.
GK: Well, harmonically it was out. Elvin really extended the jazz concept of drums.
DC: And he was coming from so deep! It's the same deep stuff that all the other jazz dudes are coming from. But remember he felt it.
GK: Well I think too, at the time I mean, Louie Armstrong, if you look back you think it's just party music or whatever but think of listening to that stuff for the first time back in the '20s, man. You would have fried your brain cells.
DC: I wonder, have you heard anything about or read anything about what the response in New Orleans was to what they were doing down there, I mean on the part of the public? It seemed like it was well received wasn't it?
GK: As far as I could tell and from what I have read it was pretty well received.
AAJ: That's as I recall, yeah.
GK: But I think Chicago was the bigger market. It was a little more risque for the audience and it had a draw that way too.
RR: Well, and then they recorded there. What started to happen was they started to get the draw of exoticism, that "exotic black music."
GK: Think of it, hearing that the first time. That stuff is some deep stuff.
DC: They had the whole country jumping with big band music, music coming out of ragtime stuff. It's like all of that music was more popular than anything else, than if someone came up with some artistic challenge. It was very much integrated with what people wanted to go and hear.
GK: Well it was dance, too.
RR: Yeah, as soon as jazz stopped being a dance music and became a concert music that's when its decline in popularity began.
GK: That and the advent of the jukebox and the radio and all that crap, you know.
RR: The two and a half minute format.
GK: And then not to mention television.
AAJ: And rock and roll.
GK: Rock is a good extension of it but it sure got stupid over the last few years.
RR: Yeah, I mean rock and roll has also given a lot back to jazz and creative music. I know it has actually hugely influenced myself, and lots of people who are coming to this music now came out of rock rather than coming from jazz. That's real exciting to me because it further widens what this music draws on for its sounds and material. It's no longer the property of one kind of thing. It used to be with improvisational music you either came from the jazz side of things or from the classical side of things and found your way into the out music. Now I see it blending from so many things.
DC: There was probably a lot of rhythm and blues stuff that people were doing coming into jazz. From the beginning of rock, I mean it sort of depends on what you mean by rock, but as rock became - I don't know if it was marketing - but became like more white guys playing rock, it seemed like a lot of those guys were really carrying the ball on a lot of blues elements and evolving something that a lot of people obviously were checking out. And that meant that a lot of people were checking out some kind of evolution of the blues in that sphere while a lot of the stuff that became soul music, disco, and funk was developing blues the way it developed it. I think now, I'm talking about in New York, a lot of the young people develop through the rock thing I mean as rock moved into punk, different kinds of noise. I don't even know what you call all of these different musics.
GK: Well, I think that created a wide interest of a younger age group in this kind of music, in hip hop and bass and drums.
RR: It's because they're open to the sound of this not being like show tunes.
DC: I would really like to know because I haven't really gotten into hip hop and stuff, I often wonder how much those guys are really into jazz. I know to a significant degree they are but there seem to be some hindrances when you go from one market category to another.
RR: All of these terms were invented just to market records you know.
DC: I remember when I was in a recording space and it was real late, around one or two in the morning, and these hip hop dudes came in. This was probably in the early '90s and what I felt when I saw these guys was, "Man, you all brought some stuff!" I felt that they did their part by bringing in some rejuvenation, even of jazz too, even though a lot of jazz dudes didn't want to hear these guys.
GK: They're pushing the envelope. That's what is so cool about the younger players. They're going for different sounds.
DC: The DJs and the turntables.
GK: Yeah. I mean a DJ would be nutty in this thing.
RR: I have played with DJs in improvised jazz. When they're really good it's like any musician. They're using their ears.
DC: One thing about DJs is that they are tremendous teachers just by doing what they do because they collect so many records, man. They might listen to Kate Smith or somebody or like some country music, classical, or different kinds of sound effects. There's all kinds of stuff! And when you play with that stuff in addition to doing something that's happening, to be presented, you're like, "Wow, man. I've never heard this before!" (Laughter) It's like a lesson in music history or something.
AAJ: So do you guys think that this stuff draws on any influences that you can think of?
DC: I'll just get the simple part out of the way. In terms of what I was inspired by in high school it was like Mingus, Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Sonny Rollins. My mother brought one Charlie Parker record into the house so I played that one over and over. There was Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly, Ornette Coleman, Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor. I probably left people out but those influences are to me like a foundation, especially in the jazz area. But then in the pop field in the '50s you had rockabilly playing on the radio, you had sha-boom sha-boom, you had Pat Boone.
GK: Tommy Dorsey. Remember "So Rare?" Isn't that a pretty song? That's alto sax, man.
DC: And of course you had all of the so-called doo wop groups. I don't remember anybody calling them doo wop groups then.
GK: No way. (Laughter)
DC: The Beatles. Bob Dylan. The Temptations. James Brown. The Kinks. Louie Louie, man.
RR: Did we leave anything out?
DC: You know, there is just so much stuff man. And then when you would turn on the TV when TV first came out there was some guys with some cowboy hats and some fiddles and some steel guitars.
GK: Strictly from squaresville.
(The room erupts with laughter.)
RR: As listeners you absorb all of these things and then you play this stuff and it's not like, "Well, now we're choosing to boil it down to this thing." It's like this stuff is just coming through and regarding some of the things we just talked about, we may not be conscious of when it is coming through and when it's not.
DC: And not to mention on influences - this guy (gestures to Keplinger), he's an influence now! I'm saying, "Wow, man. Check this stuff out."
GK: Thank you.
DC: This cat's an influence man (gestures to Radding), and there are waves of dudes and a few chicks you know. When hardcore punk hit New York that stuff was massive. These cats were like rhythmic modulation, like Elliott Carter. These guys were bad! I just mentioned that because of our kind of system, certain people get the chance to be "the people." But right now I have started a motto. I know I didn't start it but every once in a while it comes around. It's like six billion people, what a heck of an influence they all are!
(The room erupts with laughter.)
GK: That's awesome!
DC: The good, the bad and the ugly - what an influence!
B&W by Jack Gold