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Greg Osby: A Candid Conversation

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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GO: It sounds cliched, but you cannot please everyone. However, I try not to be self-indulgent or an artist saying, "Yeah, I'm playing for myself, and the hell with the audience." A lot of people do, but they remain poor. I'm not in it for the money, either, but genuinely to produce work and to share it with people who are interested. I'm not interested in appeasing people who turn a blind ear to the music or people who have it in for me and will never like it. I'm not trying to convince them. I'm trying to convince people who are into new ideas, new approaches, and convince them there are other ways that possibly may inspire them to see yet another option or to take another path, whatever that discipline may be, and it may not even be music. There are ways to assume and maintain variables in whatever you do, and hopefully, I'm an example for that, and I may be inspirational to some degree. I'm hyped about these things and really excited about it. I just like to share and hopefully draw in people who are interested.

LP: What is it about jazz and the art form that is important to you?

GO: That you can't hide behind it, and you're either proficient or you're not. It's like these older jazz cats after listening to younger players, "Ah, he ain't playin' nothin.'" They're all gruff and grimy, and all the technique in the world cannot save you if the statements that you make are not reflective of experience or serious aptitude toward that which you are trying to talk about. Perhaps the best analogy would be the guys recently released from prison. When up for parole, they voraciously read a lot of books for three months in the penitentiary library, and then come out on the street trying to talk like they read War and Peace (1869) while using bad syntax. Killing sentences dramatically and functionally, which is like musicians who try to act grandiose in their portrayal of romanticism in the profundity of the jazz life, and they are 18 years old—or they may be 30 years old, but they still don't have a story to tell. They can only tell a tall tale because they hide behind technique and bravado, but you can't hide behind a smokescreen in jazz. Unlike other music where people are swayed or distracted by dancing girls, pyrotechnics and the big stage show—it's more of a spectacle—jazz is stripped bare with four or five guys on stage and it's as honest as you can get. Either you have it, or you don't, and either you're doing it, or you're not.

LP: Do you have a vision for jazz and for yourself personally?

GO: I see a healthy future because players are becoming more proficient at an earlier age. The transition from sad to proficient is a lot shorter because of the abundance of intellectual means that are available. It's a good thing. Now we just need an environment for them to hone those skills, so that they can see what works and what doesn't. People in my peer group need to actively look to the younger players, so that we can nurture and school them and point them in the right direction. I received it from Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, Muhal Richard Abrams, Andrew Hill, Jim Hall, and on and on. I went on the road as an apprentice with these people and saw the life of the road and all the dos and don'ts. That's the only way it's going to survive. Just because they have some talent right out of college doesn't mean you can't expect them to be the golden goose or savior for your label. Invariably, they are still stepping on each others feet because they don't know what to do. And signing too early actually stunts their growth, and the really sad part is that if they don't make good on the investment, the label drops them like a hot potato, and they become damaged goods at 21. Now the only thing they can do is go slumming toward little independent labels in Europe. They are like has-beens before they are 25, and they don't grow, but stay at the same level. But if they get with someone older and experienced, they can grow progressively and become better and better.

LP: Do you have a philosophy or way of looking at life?

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