Julian Priester: Reflections in Positivity

Paul Rauch By

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AAJ: I just feel when I listen to your playing, that it's coming from a very deep place, a very personal place, it's notably different from other trombonists. That's why I'm drawn to your music.

Capitalism has not been kind to artists in this day and age. Streaming services are paying musicians what amounts to a joke, while substantially reducing CD and download sales. Even before rock and roll began dominating record sales, it seems musicians were paid just enough to come back for more, in essence, volunteer slavery. In your career, how do you see commercialization as having altered the creative process, and the music itself?

JP: Oh boy. It turned art into product, commercial product. The impact that it has on the art clouds its identity. Commercialism turns art into product, which is put on the shelf with like products. Jazz is in the same category as peanut butter, and I resent that. I really, really resent that because here you have something that is really precious, that really mirrors the human experience, it speaks to the human experience, the emotional experience. It should be revered, but it's not. Once jazz moved from dance music to creative music, emphasis on creating, it lost its place, jazz lost its stature, its identity. There's a certain portion of citizens who are informed. Soon as capitalism enters the equation, there's no caring about the aesthetic properties that jazz as a music makes available.

AAJ: Essentially, it's making the music a commodity.

JP: Yes, and as a commodity, it loses its identity.

AAJ: And society suffers. You see this take form in things aside from music, where you can see people behave in a certain way. You often wonder how their behavior and their outlook on life, and their relationships with other people would be different if they were more engaged with art as part of their life and their outlook on life in general. I know personally, it has impacted me so deeply in every aspect of my humanity. When you come upon people integrated in the art community here in Seattle, you can plainly see the impact it has on the heart, on the level of compassion and love that is revealed and shared with the rest of the world. Capitalism just has not served this aspect of the human experience well.

JP: Yes, capitalism tends to bring out the negative side of the human psyche. I've been listening to NPR, and from listening I've discovered that I'm not the only one that has noticed this about capitalism. People are speaking out.

AAJ: I think the extreme views of the current administration is inspiring the possibility of people rising up against the ultimate byproducts of capitalism, namely greed, oppression and class warfare. We tend to be lazy here in America until our backs are firmly against the wall. Then uprising occurs.

JP: Yes, I've got my fingers crossed!

AAJ: Your friend and colleague, pianist Dawn Clement has recorded a duos project on Origin Records of which you are a part.

JP: Yes, and we have a live performance coming up on December 13th at the Royal Room, so that's another thing I'm really looking forward to. I just wish I could stir things up, just get more activities going as far as music is concerned in this town. I know there's a lot going on that I'm not really privy to, because I just don't go out.

AAJ: What is our responsibility in terms of social change as a musical form?

JP: I'm a firm advocate for keeping the tradition alive, because that connects the music to this country's history. Each period that this country has gone through, the music is right there, building a soundtrack for society.

AAJ: Classical music and jazz share almost an identical market share in terms of record sales and press identity, yet symphonies live in lavish buildings financed by both private and public funds, while we as a community are swinging away in clubs, non-profits, all of which are in a constant state of financial struggle. Jazz is America's only original art form, whereas modern symphonies tend to eschew modern American composers in favor of European classical and romantic composers. When these institutions were originally formed and financed, clearly European music was prioritized as opposed to our own cultural heritage, which is firmly rooted in the experience of African Americans. Clearly we struggle with our own cultural identity here, as opposed to many other cultures that maintain and embellish their identifiable cultural traditions. How do you see this?

JP: I blame capitalism for that too. It's bent on turning it over, it has to have a new product. When sales start to drop off, forget that, let's go over here now. Consequently, everything is lost with that revolving psyche. What's value, who is valuable? It's here today, gone tomorrow, no matter what it is. That's not right. I'm concerned, I'm really concerned because we're on the precipice, if something doesn't happen to save us, it's going to get lost. How many people actually sit down and listen to music these days?

AAJ: Throughout your entire career, regardless of who you are playing with, or what style, or form your are engaging, in terms of your playing, you have remained true to yourself. Many musicians have told me that at the end of the day, it's about expressing yourself truthfully on the bandstand in the moment, having your peers accept what you are playing. To me, and many others, you exemplify this. Truth?

JP: That's the truth, yes. When I was working with Duke, I had to adapt, and that was one of the things that bothered me, because I wasn't really speaking from my own voice, I was speaking from Duke Ellington's voice. It was touch and go. All these great stylists in the band, each and every one of them as individuals had their own voice.

AAJ: And you certainly have yours my friend. Thank you so much Julian.

JP: My pleasure Paul.

Photo Credit: Daniel Sheehan / Earshot Jazz
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