[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.