On Composing And Allan Holdsworth
AAJ: Listening to the two piano albums, as well as Diary of a Plastic Box, your first solo album, it strikes me that there are a lot of, let's say miniaturescompositions that last just a minute or maybe just a couple of minutes. And there's that lovely contribution you made to [drummer] Asaf Sirkis' album, The Monk, (SAM, 2008) the song "The Bridge." You seem to be very comfortable with miniature compositions, sketches, whatever you want to call them.
GH: I like what a very short piece can give you; I like what it leaves you with. Most of all, this is about the effect to me. When I write like that, it's almost as if I form a little movie or little scene in my head to stimulate my imagination first. If it's a good day, I usually begin to come up with something, and really, the smaller statements have a very particular charm. I like the short form very much.
AAJ: What is the hardest part of composing for you?
GH: More often than not it's actually to sit down and start. Once that's started and from that point, there's a lot of help aroundsomehow in the air. Immediately I feel I am in the realm of the mystical a bit there, as so often it doesn't seem to be even coming from me.
AAJ: I hear this from a lot of musicians, that they feel that the music comes through them, as though they are some kind of portal. Let's talk about Allan Holdsworth. He's undoubtedly one of the most influential guitarists everI mean everyone talks about I.O.U. In what way has he inspired your music-making?
GH: He's been such a predominant figure in my own development for sure, as he actually was the first one to hire me and let me really play and not try and change it all. Back in the old days, I was a little bit on the intense side for most people's tastes as a drummer. I was always into something with a lot of reach and fire, and he was the first one who said, "Bring it on, go for it." And he really loves that from a drummera very improvisational input and participation.
He doesn't like rigidity, and in that respect I felt I'd found a place where I could reach a lot with someone. I wonder sometimes if it isn't very close to what Elvin felt like with John Coltrane, or Tony Williams with Miles.
At that time it was perfect for mea very big stepping stone insofar as how my development was about to take shape. And there is no question that a lot of significant movement was arising as a direct result of the musical relationship with Allan. I also always felt very naturally his (quite uncommon) way and just understood it immediately. That's another thing. Very much as if we were brothers or something. Peculiar.
AAJ: Holdsworth has for years made his guitar sound like anything but a guitar. It seems almost fitting to tackle his music on piano.
GH: Yeah, but in order to do it the way I wanted to do it, I had to abandon it. I abandoned much in the music only to rediscover it in a way I thought was ideal for the project in hand and for what I wanted to say through it. I know it sounds strange but I had to let him go to really discover himmaybe because I'm so close to him, and this was the only way I could instinctively do it.
AAJ: It succeeds in capturing the essence of Allan Holdsworth, and at the same time, it captures the essence of who you are as a musician. But still I think it was a very brave thing to do. Did you think at any point along the way that you were sticking your neck on the chopping block?
GH: Yeah, but that's where I like my neck. I like to walk to the edge, and I don't really operate in any kind of comfort zone. I mean, well a lot of things I've tried to do haven't seen the light of day, but of the ones that have, I am really happy about how they've turned out and what they say. They were done very fast, my projects, usually just for reasons of money constraints. But maybe because of that, I enjoy them more now. They weren't "built," they were very much performances and usually first takes.
AAJ: You played the solo Allan Holdsworth music at the London Jazz Festival, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. That must have been a very special occasion. What are your memories of that night?
GH: It was a little exposing. That is a different kind of challenge, being on stage alone. You'll hear musicians the world over say that the greatest enjoyment is one of participation, and it's what makes you feel strong, in spite of the fact you are improvising.
Solo is a completely different deal completely though, but one I do actually enjoy in spite of the fact it's very challenging and you feel just naked up there. I'd love to do a lot more of it. I have a feeling that if I did a lot more of it, the music would start evolving from where it is, which would be my highest ideal.
AAJ: Have you presented either the Holdsworth or McLaughlin interpretations in a solo context often?
GH: I've done it about three times now. I have a little format for it, mixing up a program from both the albums, using prerecorded extra piano because there are two and sometimes three pianos in those scores and because they are very much of the score, written very much in a classical way. It might surprise you how much of it is actually written. I wanted it that way though; I didn't necessarily want it to be an improvisational thing. There was a lot of writing there.
For these concerts, I have tabla sounds and things on a few tracks where there's rhythm and a few different things like that. It makes for a very nice audio spread and augments the arrangements nicely.
To be clear, I have a recording of a lot of the second piano parts on a little multi-track sequencer which I put through the P.A. And in certain segments of the music, I'll have a little click track that I can monitor through headphones so I can line up timing things.
It's not easya lot of rubato and pulls and pushes in the music. It's incredibly complex in fact, but it does work very well. It's not the ideal maybe, and probably the ideal would be another pianist, I think.
AAJ: That layering of sounds reminds me, conceptually at least, of Bill Evans' Conversations with Myself, (Verve, 1963) only I find your work much more listenable than that particular Evans album.
GH: It's very kind of you; it is Conversations with Myself truly. I loved that record, another seminal influence right there. Big Bill Evansso beautiful.
AAJ: I was going to ask you about this because one thing I like a lot about your piano playing is that I don't detect obvious jazz piano influences in your playing. I can hear that there has been classical training, but you don't carry the baggage of the usual heavyweight jazz pianistsat least not overtly. Who were your models?
GH: I don't know really. All of them in some way, and none of them in another way. Hmm, well, the first admission I have to make is that I get very tired very quickly, sonically, of the sound of piano and always kind of did. I don't know why. I've got other associations too, coming through this whole classical training as a youngster, and I felt myself having to shun the classical world rather quickly because I did not feel at all comfortable with the competitive aspects, and that was really enforced from day one.
I did, in fact, rebel against it massively. I think because I then became a professional drummer, a "drummer for hire," so to speak, playing a lot of different types of music. And making a living as a drummer, the piano was starting to take shape again, behind the scenes so to speak, but this in my very own terms.
In the realm of harmony and my somewhat obsessive pursuance of it, or in a lot of the improvising way, I wasn't really coming out of any of the piano players. I've been just following my own aspirations and impulses, and exploring things on my own.
AAJ: That's what I feel.
GH: The other thing is that I never transcribed anything, never adhering to any particular methodology, or tried to follow in the footsteps of any pianist or any other instrumentalist really, no matter how huge or groundbreaking or affecting what they have done is. Because with the strongest people, you know, it's about themthat's their story. Their lines tell their story; their harmony does, their way of moving, etc. I don't really want to know Allan's lines or [saxophonist] Michael Brecker's lines, or Bill Evans' or Herbie Hancock's lines.
I really wanted to try to discover a way of aspiring toward the essence of everything fantastic I heard in those and all the others, but without necessarily knowing what it was, and then sort of having that kind of movement instilled in my own playing or something. I wanted to find another, more personally affiliated way of moving and articulating, and I'm kind of forever searching along those lines all the time.
And it is a search, but I mean, imagination is the key, isn't it?that and chasing the right kind of timing in things. We're improvisers, not emulating machines. I honestly consider it our responsibility. I mean, I love hearing great players, but then I'll hear a snapshot of Herbie or Coltrane, and I just go, why? I don't really get it. For me, this whole thing is fundamentally personal, and the goal I have for coherency and consistency in improvisational terms corresponds directly with that conviction.
AAJ: That would explain why the two piano albums, in spite of addressing the music of Holdsworth and McLaughlin, sound so personal.
GH: Well, those projects were, from the beginning, about saying a thank you to two perennial influences and inspirational artists. And in that, the projects warranted an approach based in creativity, whereby I'd be literally building that music again from scratch.
I just don't think it's enough anymore to do identical cover versions of thingsexactly the same versions. I've done it to death with people I've worked with, and I've heard numerous other people doing it to death and I'm so sick of it. It's old!
Unless you can bring some imagination to the presentation of something, or bring about a kind of freshness that certain material had when it was first brought about or something, it seems kind of fruitlessexcept, of course, when you have commercial pressures on you or something. When I read that passage from [bassist] Charles Mingus where he defines jazz as the sound of surprise though, that really had a joyous resonance in me. No one put it better than that. Brilliant.
Other Projects And Collaborations
AAJ: This year has seen the release of your debut album, Complete Diary Of A Plastic Box. Why did it disappear and how did it come back again?
GH: Like all of my albums up until this point, and as with a lot of musicians, I've had a really tough time with companies, finding the suitable people to get my material out via, and all this stuff. With Plastic Box, the label in question actually told me they had put it out because they felt sorry for me, which was not the greatest basis for a relationship.
I knew very quickly the writing was on the wall, and I took it out of their hands as fast as I could. Actually I had to fight legally for longer than two years to get it back in my hands, tediously. From that point, however, I sort of put it on the back burner, considering that somewhere down the line maybe there would be another time to look at a possible rerelease for it.
It is a very kooky album, I know, and in spite of the fact that it's a very idiosyncratic offering, I really am particularly fond of it. There's a lot about my own personal forming and expression as a musician documented there, and I'm really very happy to have it out again now, this time through a very good label in the UK named Angel Air.
AAJ: Are there any plans for Force Majeure to record or to tour again? That was such an exciting lineup, but you didn't play too many gigs, did you?
GH: Other than two tours only in the UK, no, we didn't. It was actually a project that I kind of dreamed up with the encouragement of my loving partner who had the idea to make a presentation to the Contemporary Music Network in England. And to my surprise, I got a commission from them and we worked very hard to make it all happen, using the very people I specifically chose to feature.
It was a lineup that I thought would be very appealing to write for with the violin, trumpet and trombone. It was really like a mini big band, or even a small orchestra.
AAJ: It must have been a real thrill to play with [violinist] Jerry Goodman.
GH: Oh, absolutely. He was the real soul of that project. I think I could probably have replaced anybody in that lineup, but if he hadn't been there, it would have been an entirely different band. Every time I hear him, it's such a stirring, haunting thinghe's so powerful. Also, I was delighted to be inviting him because he hadn't played in England since the Mahavishnu Orchestra more than thirty years before.
I must say, I tried really hard to drum up the interest in somebody to make an album, because I would have liked to record that music and produce it all nicely. But the times as they are, and trying to get the kind of budget together to do something like that, has been, and is particularly now, damn near impossible unless you have the kind of necessary resources on hand yourself.
AAJ: It's such a pity. It just seems crazy that with a lineup with [trumpeter] Randy Brecker Jerry Goodman, and [percussionist] Arto Tumboyaciyan, that somebody wouldn't be chomping at the bit to get you in a studio and get a quality recording out.
GH: Well, we see a lot of all-star lineups, particularly on festivals, but ones, in terms of conception, are really not necessarily bound to work in any way that might prove memorable. It's too often a commercial trick, with not a lot else thought through. I wanted to present a meeting of great individuals thathad been thought through, and one that didn't revolve around inevitably jamming in E and then switching to A on a funky riff or something.
This is another thing altogether, and it was probably a little far-reaching for a lot of promoters. I mean, the names looked good, but the music was probably regarded as being a little, shall we say, on the dangerous side, so I didn't unfortunately achieve a lot of call backs. It could always still happen though, and I'd like to think it couldespecially since, as it would appear, the live DVD now seems to be deleted, which is all another big shame.
AAJ: You've been commissioned as well to write music for [percussionist/composer] Evelyn Glennie, [drummer] Terry Bozzio as well as for [composer/multi-instrumentalist] Django Bates and I imagine these kinds of projects must be as challenging as they are maybe rewarding to see realized.
GH: Yeah, I love that fact that someone can approach you with a specific request, and there's a real strong side of me that loves rising to that kind of challenge. Whether I feel qualified for it is another thing, but I will certainly give it everything I've got. And if I don't feel that inside of myself, then I won't take it on.
I love that it happens from time to time, and I guess it's come about through being around for a while and people seeing you as someone able to perhaps bring something different to the table. I'm always very up for that.
AAJ: After you left Level 42 in the early '90s, you started working with Billy Cobham which must have been a huge thrill. But he talks about wishing to sound like you. That's a big compliment, no?
GH: He has said a few very nice things about me over the years. I always feel very flattered. That's very nice.
AAJ: When you toured with the two drum kits on stage, was that totally improvised or did you work around themes?
GH: Billy had an idea to feature it inside an ostinato-type thing where somebody would play and then I would play off that, and then I'd present one for him and he'd play off thata little bit like an Indian way, a little rhythmic composition to end it. But night after night, that got immediately thrown by the wayside and transpired into something completely improvisational, which I was very happy about. And so he seemed to be. It was incredible to be up there with one of my perennial drum heroes. Great experience.
AAJ: I was surprised to read somewhere that Billy Cobham said he has no problem playing slow or fast tempos, but he finds it difficult in the middle ground. What aspect of drumming do you find most challenging?
GH: Ah, that's interesting. Actually I don't really feel any certain or particular difficulty with any particular region of tempo, which is certainly not to imply I don't face challenges, because I certainly, certainly do! One problem I really do wrestle with is when those drums feel estranged from me, and all this is that very mystical realm.
The drums have to feel like an extension of my body, and a lot of the time they do and then sometimes they don't! It's like one night I can have a beer before playingjust to take the edge off and shrug a bit of that tension or nervousness away. And that one night it'll work fantastically, and really aid my flow. I'll try it the next time and I feel that beer all night, and feel it hindering everything.
It's stuff like this that makes you realize there's another set of elements and powers and balances in play, and we are not able to be in control of anything to the extent we wish. It's all very humbling! Then again, I'm happy we can't be. It kind of reminds me of how small we all are in the great scheme of things or something, but at the same time how divinely blessed we are to be able to channel energies creatively in music like this. And actually I find it a really beautiful thing to fail, to fuck up and be human!
I love mistakes. In fact, I don't, if I've made stupid ones, but I love listening back to something where a mistake has turned into something very special, unique and interesting in the music. You can discover some interesting effects that way.
All you can do really is throw yourself out there, and I think from that point, you trust. If I hear a musician really battling up there onstagewith himself, with his stupid habits, or trying to get out of the way of all his "formed" and learned stuffI am really inspired by that. I was always very inspired by performances like thatsome guy wrestling so hard to break free.
AAJ: Upcoming projects?
GH: Diversification seems to be the way of my working life, moving from one project to another, but it's also continually refreshing and keeps me alive. Maybe it's the Gemini in me. I've got some shows coming up with Robin Trower and Jack Bruce, and more big band things with Colin Towns, playing interpretations of Mahavishnu music with the NDR big band from Frankfurt.
Further down the line, there's a high probability that I'll be doing more stuff with John McLaughlin, which I'm very excited and remain hugely hopeful about. I'll also be doing some shows in 2009 in Europe with Allan Holdsworth and [bassist] Jimmy Johnsonwe haven't really played too much since around 2000.
I've had a little interest to do a little more with [guitarist] Mike Stern as well. What else? I've made contact with a performance and tutorial DVD company called Altitude Digital, who I feel are really setting the standard, and I plan to be doing at least one DVD product for them. There's also the fact two of my older trio records became recently deleted too, so as a part of a sort of Gary Husband Archives set, I will be putting out again the best of that older stuff, maybe via CD Baby.
As far as a next record is concerned, it'll be a drums-led, electric, fusion, maybe electronics kind of affair of some kind or another. I'm also talking with Mark King about some ideas to do a little recording together. So, lots of things on the horizon.
I would really like to start doing more in 2009 and 2010 with my current band though. In contrast to my earlier projects, which have come and gone rather quickly, I'd like to have this band stay around and really develop, really grow as a band.
I hope so much that people will enjoy this group. And providing I can get it together for us to get out in the world and do some great concerts, I really feel they will. I've had such a great reaction to the recording and the concerts so far, so I'm thrilled to say it all really looks good for this new band.
Gary Husband's Drive, Hotwired (Abstract Logix, 2009)
Asaf Sirkis Trio, The Monk (SAM, 2008)
Gary Husband, Complete Diary of a Plastic Box (Angel Air Records, 2008)
Jack Bruce & Robin Trower, Seven Moons (V-12 Records, 2008)
Gary Husband's Force Majeure, Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (DVD) (RSJ Grove Productions, 2005)
John McLaughlin, Industrial Zen (Verve Fontana, 2006)
Gary Husband, A Meeting of Spirits: Interpretations of the Music of John McLaughlin (Alternity, 2006)
Gary Husband & Friends, Aspire (Jazzizit, 2004)
Gary Husband, The Things I See: Interpretations of the Music of Allan Holdsworth (Angel Air, 2004)
Gary Husband, From the Heart (Jazzizit, 1999)
Billy Cobham, Focused (Eagle Records, 1998)
Jack Bruce, Cities of the Heart (CMP Records, 1994)
Allan Holdsworth, Hard Hat Area (Restless Records, 1994)
Allan Holdsworth, Wardenclyffe Tower (Restless Records, 1992)
Level 42, Guaranteed (RCA, 1991)
Level 42, Staring at the Sun (Polydor, 1988)
Allan Holdsworth, Atavachron (Enigma Records, 1986)
Allan Holdsworth, I.O.U. (Enigma Records, 1985)
Allan Holdsworth, Metal Fatigue (Enigma Records, 1985)
Top Photo, Group Photo of Gary Husband's Drive: Courtesy of Gary Husband
Husband on Jungle Kit/John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension: John Kelman
Husband Playing Yellow Kit: Dick Morrell
Husband Playing Keys Standing: Courtesy of Sobie151
Husband Playing Red Kit: Courtesy of Point and Shoot