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Eddie Gomez: The Call of the Wild

Robin Arends By

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When artists don't know what to do, they try to do more than the others. They make more paintings, use more notes, more words, more dance moves. It becomes busier and denser.
How to survive in jazz music? One of the people who can answer this question is bassist Eddie Gomez. With his 11 year cooperation he was the longest serving sideman of pianist Bill Evans. After interviewing Evans-bassist Chuck Israels in Holland, I called Gomez a few weeks later in his hometown. Twice there was a connection to his voicemail saying: "Here is Eddie. Please leave your message when you hear the call of the wild" (subsequently a cry of a bird). The third time I spoke to Gomez in person. In two phone calls we spoke about jazz in the fifties and sixties, pollution, overcrowding, Eddie's collaboration with Bill Evans and his rich career afterwards.

All About Jazz: Mr. Gomez, you have been a professional active in music for more than five decades. Which differences do you notice in jazz music since you started performing?

Eddie Gomez: The whole performing thing has changed considerably. When I started there used to be a lot more clubs and situations to play and perform. Now there are less. There are concert halls, but the concerts are only afforded to a few. Just the big names.

AAJ: Is it the opportunity that changed or the audience?

EG: It works both ways. The world has changed and the audience has changed as well. I think fewer younger people are active in jazz music. The new laboratory is the schools. When I came up jazz as an academic pursuit was not available. There were few places where you could study jazz. Of course there was the Julliard Classical School, but to me classical music is a different language. I always played jazz and used a different part of my brain, an artificial kind of language of what I was doing.

AAJ: Jazz is more institutionalized now compared to when you started?

EG: The music evolved and developed that way. You can also say that of classical music. In the 14th, 15th century it was very specialized music and it was not available for the average people. For the average person there was folk music. It took a time before it was not only available for the privileged people. You can say the same about jazz, in a shorter timescale. By now there are more people who listen to jazz music like it is classical music, but the experience is so different. The world now is not in for steady bands. It is hard to sell records. There are many good bands, but there is not enough work, there is not enough touring. In my time there were many bands: Art Blakey, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, there were lots of good bands and they stayed together. This is a treasure for the music, for the art form. They recorded three, four albums.

AAJ: And nowadays?

EG: Nowadays the accessibility of jazz music is enormous. There is the Internet, there is YouTube, Spotify. People can access a lot of information, but jazz music is becoming academic music more and more. You can still hear the great jazz performers, but you can't hear them in person. You can compare them with Beethoven, Debussy, Faure or Stravinsky. You can't hear them perform their own music. Jazz has become museum music. I hear a lot of very talented young musicians wherever I go, but the question is: what are they going to do?

AAJ: Are they going to earn their money with it? Are they going to perform on stage?

EG: Many students chose to go into education as well. They do performances and they do education. That is a smart thing. There is lot of opportunity. This happens in all the arts. There are more people and fewer jobs. This is attributable to the fact that the world is becoming more dense, more populated, there are fewer jobs and that makes people more competitive.

AAJ: What does this mean for the music?

EG It is making it more commercial, but it also makes very talented people search in a very creative way. It is a good and a bad thing. We all try to survive, as well as the arts. The art is trying to survive with all this competition, with all this pollution. When artists don't know what to do, they try to do more than the others. They make more paintings, use more notes, more words, more dance moves. It becomes busier and denser.

AAJ: More is less?

EG: And less is more. Survival is what it is all about. I wish I had a crystal ball. But I do not fear jazz is dying, because there are some very talented people around and there will always be someone to hear it.

AAJ: So you don't think jazz is limited to a certain period like classical music, Romantic music or Baroque?

EG: That is a good question. I certainly think we passed Romantic. Nowadays is such a fusion— and I don't use that word lightly—of so many different cultures and styles because everyone is looking for something new. That is the nature of the beast. It is good to search. It is like the modern classical music in the 1930s and 1940s when people were looking for something new and in the 1950s like Stockhousen. Nowadays we have John Adams and people who work with micro tonality and different forms and some people are going back to neoclassical, as has always been the case. It is happening again, there is neo bebop, neo this or neo-that. It is good, because that is how the music survives. The question is how is it going to survive and in which context? Is it going to survive in the schools the way classical music survives or many of the arts survive in museums? Art is created, no matter why. The question is where can you see it? Where are you exposed to it? Where can you hear the performances? Is it healthy or is it on life support?

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