Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

1,276

John Tilbury: A Strong Emotional Response To Music

John Eyles By

Sign in to view read count
Pianist John Tilbury is renowned not only for his work in AMM and his other improvising, but also as a peerless interpreter of such contemporary composers as Morton Feldman, John Cage, Christian Wolff and Howard Skempton. He is uniquely well positioned to reflect on the similarities and contrasts between improvising and playing repertoire.



Tilbury's biography of his friend, associate and erstwhile member of AMM, Cornelius Cardew, which took him over two decades to write, has been recognized as the definitive statement on Cardew's life and work. In conversation, Tilbury frequently makes reference to Cardew's views and opinions, and, unsurprisingly, he himself still espouses views and beliefs that flow from the political views that he and Cardew shared.

At the beginning of this interview, Tilbury initially suggested we listen to a recent AMM recording of himself and Prevost in Poland. As we sat listening, Tilbury would comment critically on his own playing. This is where the interview begins.

All About Jazz: It is interesting sitting with you listening to this, because it is as if you hear it as though it is not you. When you've done a piece like this, do you know what you've played? Or is it a surprise to you when you hear the recording back?

John Tilbury: It is always different, playing it back. Of course, they say distance lends enchantment, but sometimes distance lends disenchantment. If you hear it immediately after you perform it, relatively speaking, a day or two after, that is one thing. And then, months later you'd hear it from a completely different perspective, because you can't remember the actuality of the performance with the same detail. In a way, it is better because you can judge it more objectively then. I'm listening to the music now, which is quite recent, and I feel I am still doing it, still performing. I'm kind of still there. It is quite close to me psychologically. I remember making those sounds at that particular point. Like at the beginning where I made that error. I wanted to hit one note—the prepared note—and I got it wrong and had to recoup somehow. There is that famous story of Thelonious Monk, when he came off after a set, very annoyed and frustrated, and said, "I made all the wrong mistakes." [Laughs] I know what he meant.

Sometimes, when I play a larger aggregate of notes, I can anticipate the qualities of sound and the nature of the harmony that I'm playing, but not exactly—I don't exactly hear the actual chord in my head. Maybe a cluster-type chord or a whole-tone type of chord. But once I've played it, then I'm there on top of it, and I'm immediately reacting and adjusting, using various transpositions, for example; I like to do that with chords, playing around in that way. I like the economy of that way of working. But I enjoy that experimental part of it, working on the material. It is like you are dealing with a piece of pottery, clay, kneading with your hands, moving it around, making shapes. It is very physical. I enjoy the physicality of playing the piano. Other times, you are dealing with smaller groups of sounds and you know what is going to come out.

Obviously, when you are dealing with intervals and individual tones you can hear things; there's more control. I'm playing a descending scale, for example, and I omit a few notes because I think at that particular moment I wanted a certain intervallic quality. And I know how to do that. Of late, I have got into playing scales and arpeggios. Listen. [Listens to recording]. I like playing scales. Scales can be very beautiful. Perhaps it's about going back to my childhood. I try to remember exactly what I have played, what intervals. Sometimes I alter the intervals slightly. There they are again—it's very appealing.

I guess I started to discover something that I hadn't really used much before. Then you want to concern yourself with it and develop it in some way. It becomes the area you are interested in, and perhaps, over a few weeks or months, that becomes an important feature of your repertoire.

AAJ: The way you're describing it, every time you are doing that afresh.

JT: Yes, yes.

AAJ: How do you avoid going down pathways you've been down before?

JT: Well, sometimes I'm quite happy to do that. Then it is a question of why am I doing that. Is it because I know I shall have instant success? In Feldman's words, I can knock the audience flat. Or is it for other reasons—because I don't think I've exhausted that particular area. So, there are different reasons for doing something or for avoiding something. But when I play Feldman's Palais de Mari for example, I know there is a certain point in the piece when the opening bars come back again, and the listeners—who are, as it were, professional listeners—will recognize that, and I can intensify that moment of recognition by an extreme pianissimo dynamic. It is a very beautiful moment when that little motif comes back so quietly. And of course, that is kind of contrived. And then after a time, I resist the temptation of providing my audience with cheap thrills. It feels glib, cheap, vulgar. It is the same thing, in a way, with the piano preparations. They make such beautiful sounds; you just play a note in the middle register which has a coin interlaced in between the strings, and it makes this incredibly archaic sound which sounds like an old grandfather clock—there is something redolent of the past. It is very beautiful. You do that and people are amazed that such a sound can come out of the piano. So there are all kinds of tricks you can play like that—when the going gets tough, I suppose.

Tags

Watch

comments powered by Disqus

Album Reviews
Interviews
Album Reviews
Read more articles
Seaside

Seaside

Another Timbre
2017

buy
Variable Formations

Variable Formations

Another Timbre
2014

buy
 

The Just Reproach

Challenge Jazz
2013

buy
Lost Daylight

Lost Daylight

Another Timbre
2010

buy
 

Discrete Moments

Challenge Jazz
2004

buy

Shop

Start your shopping here and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Interviews
Matt Davis: Big Family, Big Picture
By Dan Bilawsky
March 21, 2019
Interviews
Casey Benjamin: EclectRic Expressionism
By Barbara Ina Frenz
March 6, 2019
Interviews
Cooper-Moore: Catharsis and Creation in Community Spirit
By Jakob Baekgaard
February 26, 2019
Interviews
Susanna Risberg: Bold As Love
By Ian Patterson
February 25, 2019
Interviews
David Crosby: A Revitalized Creativity
By Mike Jacobs
January 22, 2019
Interviews
Chuck Deardorf: Hanging On To The Groove
By Paul Rauch
January 19, 2019