AAJ: My partner Jolyon here feels that there's great sensuality in your music and at the same time there is a lot of physical force in your playing, blowing. Are the two things, sensuality and physical force, compatible?
ME: That's really quite funny. I apologize to your audience that I don't speak French. Sensuality? Ok that's there. First, I'm half Italian, I'm a Scorpio and I'm a jazz musician so you have to be sensual. I love the blues, I love the melodies. You know I'm a Scorpio, I'm a nice man, I really like to be sweet. Where power is concerned, you know I'm not that big of a person. I'm small and when I was a kid I was very small. I learned at a very young age, the hard way that I did not know how to fight so I had to learn that if I was going to fight somebody I was going to have to do it in the first one or two seconds, and finish it then, take care of that personotherwise they'd take care of me.
I'm shy, I'm quietalthough now I'm getting older and I talk more. But when you're small and quiet and shy then what do you do? You play as hard as you can play, just blow, the physicality of blowing hard. I play alto and I'll say that most alto saxophone players, I really don't like their sound, they sound to me, except for a fewand we all know who the famous few arethe rest of them sound like they're playing the kazoo. I've listened to tenor saxophone players and I try to get their sound, the tenor sound on the alto, which is completely impossible. But that's what I try to do and also when I was younger even though I was not athletically good although I tried to be a skier and when I got really serious the saxophone I pushed music the same way, I approached it as an athlete. You've got to be strong, you've got to work out.
Then there's meditation, yoga, breathing, Mohammed Ali... you know you attack the horn in a certain way with a certain approach which is subtle but powerful. And one thing I always say to drummers I play with who are younger is to play twice as fast and twice as intense but half as loud so you can play really intense and really hard but be really quiet and soft and have that intensity there. The power is there when you speak up and when you say something to somebodyyou can yell at them or you can say it softly but in way that they know what it is that you're saying to them, so they really hear it.
AAJ: What do you call your music? Is it free jazz, creative music, just music or what?
ME: Well, that's a hard one to answer, you know I always have to go back to what Duke Ellington said when he was asked "what kind of music you play and Duke said, "there's only two kinds of music, good and bad, and hopefully I play the good. For me, all know is what I play, I play what I feel, what I hear. I'm very political and I pay attention to what's going on around the world today and that affects how I feel inside and I don't know if it affects how I play, but when I play I just play. My roots are jazz. I am a jazz player and I came up from the blues to Sidney Bechet and Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and everybody else. So what do you call it? I don't knowthe name, the label, it's the writers and the reviewers that make the names.
But I come out of the avant-garde '60s. I grew up in the late '60s early '70s in California through the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam protest. I was young, but I was there. And we have the same situation now but those were my roots. How you label that, I don't know, but in the America we have a history of murder and violence, massacre of the Indians, and lynching and slavery, and all that's gone down and that's my history and I can express that in music. I don't know If I do or not, but what do you call that? I'm a musician first, I try to be a musician and that's what I want to be as a musician. As Glenn Spearman once said on one of the recordings which you haveLive at Radio Valencia with William Parker and Jackson KrallGlenn said, as he introduced William Parker and Jackson Krall who'd flown in from New York, "these are a couple of," I forget the exact words, "very wonderful, beautiful human beings who just happen to be musicians." And that's all we can be. You tell meyou listen to me more than I listen to myselfTaran, what do you think it is that I'm playing?
AAJ: Well, I call it the music that I like. Do you have an aversion to other people labeling your music?
ME: Well, there are some labels that people have stuck on me, especially in California. I'll tell you one, I won't say who said ita British man, he said "Oh, Marco he's just an angry free jazz player, just an energy player, its really not that musical. He said it to someone who he didn't know was my roommate at the time. Some people say he's just an energy player, just blowing hard and angry, angry white man, angry free jazz player. That kind of a label is kind of stupid I think. A lot of the free jazz, the avant-garde jazz of the late 1960s came out of the Civil Rights movement, there's a lot of power to it. It was in Frank Wright, Albert Ayler; but to dismiss it as being unmusical, well that's a mistake.
All I want to do is play music and by music I mean music in capital letters. Good music and thoughtful, intelligent music. Now I live in Vienna, the home of Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Schoenberg; also Freud and Jung; and you just do what you can do and try to do the best in it and hopefully it's good, you don't hurt anyone in the process. But eventually you do hurt people, so to label it, well, I'm a jazz musician, I'm an American, I come from jazz, I grew up in jazz and I still consider myself to be a jazz player but then as Bill Dixon and many other musicians from the 1960s say, jazz is a racist term, cause jazz in the name itself has different connotations and insinuations. So what do we call it, well hopefully it's good music.
I was first exposed to jazz by my high school girlfriend's father. On the one hand he was the school's Vice Principal, on the other
he was a big Miles Davis fan. He gave me my first jazz record, Miles at the Blackhawk.