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Denys Baptiste: Jazz Missionary, Part 2-2

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AAJ: Again, we know that this music is not merely a setting for solos. That said, to me your tenor solo on part three of the suite, "Let Freedom Ring!, really feels like the emotional centerpiece of the album. It reaches such levels of intensity and seems to have equal parts terror and joy.

DB: To me, that [solo] was exploring a different part of my musical personality that I hadn't really—up to that time, I was enjoying playing bebop and various parts but I'd never actually tried to record something where the structure of the solo was not about notes and not about harmony. It was about trying to think about the subject matter and trying to represent that as a soundscape. And yes, right, trying to put that solo in the very center: that solo's supposed to represent the struggle, the fight and the idea that freedom is not something which is given away. It's something that has to be fought for in one way or another. So that was kind of how I felt about it and at that particular point that's my representation of that—as close as I could get to that emotion, really.

AAJ: Have you had many opportunities to present Let Freedom Ring! live?

DB: Yes. We've been playing it live quite a lot, actually, for the last eighteen months, two years. It's been a while since [the CD]'s been out [in Europe and the U.K.]. We've done a few tours in Europe and a lot of stuff in the U.K.; we just finished a tour earlier this year in Scotland, which was fantastic as well, just sort of a six- or seven-day tour. The great thing about the music: there's lots of structure to it but there's parts of it where all I've written is a couple of bars of chord changes. A phrase just saying, "do this, or whatever part I want them to do. And to each person I've said, "I just want you to do what you do in that part ; somehow, the written parts and the individuals all sort of come into one thing—and becomes an organic piece of music. And it seems in a way to go back to that organic quartet idea of having a band which—even though it's quite an ungainly size at eleven pieces—is something that can still move as one thing and change: every concert has a different feeling, a different meaning. It's not just the same thing every night. So in that respect the performance has been evolving for the last year. Once people got really into understanding the fundamentals of what the music was about; now we're really about trying to expand on it and explore all the different places where there is space for people to express themselves. There's a cello solo in there that isn't on the record. Jenny [Adejeyan] isn't really an improviser, but I've been getting at her for the last year to get involved in actually improvising. Now there's a part where she does this amazing thing between "Let Freedom Ring! and "Free At Last! So it's still evolving now and it's through playing loads and loads of concerts.

AAJ: You're making me very jealous of those who are getting to see you in Europe and the U.K.

DB: Well, hopefully one of these days we'll come and visit you all! I mean, you're like the source really: where the Civil Rights movement really started and that whole idea, my inspiration for the music.

AAJ: I know it's outrageously expensive to bring a big band over here, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. Your energies, then, have been devoted to working with the large ensemble. Is there an official Denys Baptiste small group at present?

DB: Not at this particular point in time. I mean, I can call on my original quartet anytime and they'll come and we'll be able to do stuff. But really, Let Freedom Ring! is taking up most of my energy and until I think I've exorcised that particular idea and really sort of got bored of it, I'm quite happy playing in that ensemble. It would be nice and fresh playing with a quartet; in fact I'm doing a concert with Gary [Crosby], Rod Youngs and Andrew [McCormack], actually. It's a quartet thing just for fun, next week—because we haven't done it for a long time. So I'm really looking forward to that, to just sort of feel the freedom and the space around myself. I don't know whether that's changed my playing very much, but it's certainly going to be exciting for me to be back in that small group setting.

AAJ: Have you written anything? Do you have any plans to record another album?

DB: I'm actually in the process of formulating some ideas; I don't want to give anything away right now, but I'm kind of looking back at my heritage and St. Lucia and the history of the music from St. Lucia. I've discovered some really interesting sounds, so I'm kind of—at this point—just listening to stuff and trying to find a way I can represent that. So it's probably another year, actually—I like to take my time with things, I'm not really somebody who wants to get involved in churning out CDs for the sake of it. When the time is right, I'm going to put another CD out there. I'm in the process of working on some ideas because now I need to know something about where I come from: how that music that I originally started with has affected and inspired me to get to the point where I am. So I'll working on that over the next few months.

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