ME: Free jazz, but I like to get paid. You know, even though we're musicians and we do what we do, we're artists but we still have to pay the rent, gas, at the end of the day we have to have something to eat, and we have to live like human beings not animals sleeping in a park. In America that's the way you get treated, you tell somebody you're an artist, you tell the police you're an artist, they'll arrest you. There's no respect whatsoever and you live like an animal, or they want you to live like an animal. That's the story, and I'm here in Europe where it's a different thing, artists are treated with a lot of respect.
AAJ: I'm curious to know about your relationship, your bonding with your fellow players, especially, Glenn Spearman, Lisle Ellis, Jackson Krall...
ME: Well, I moved to New York in August of 1981 just before I was about to turn 25 and there I met several people like, Jemeel Moondoc, William Parker, Dennis Charles, Roy Campbell and number of other people in the neighborhood. I played with William Parker who brought me to his larger ensembles. There was this trombone player Jeff Hoyer who had a concert coming up and he needed an alto player cause the alto player he wanted couldn't do it and William [Parker] recommended me. The drummer was Jackson Krall, and Jackson and I became good friends, we started practicing together. I'd go to his house for four or five hours every day for several years everyday in the afternoon and play duets, so I considered Jackson to be one of my best friends. My son Nicco is my best friend. And I have many other loyal friendsPeter Valsamis, Donald Robinson. And my relationship with Glenn [Spearman], I set up this recording session in Bennington, Vermont in 1991. I had William Parker and Jackson and Raphé Malik, and Glenn Spearman just happened to be staying in Boston at the time with
After that I started working with Raphé and I became very close friends with Glenn, especially when I moved back to California. Glenn was a beautiful man, we became close friends, and at that time, which was the mid-'90s, Glenn had his couple of different groups, one of them was called G-force, which included JR [James Routhier] Donald Robinson, Lisle Ellis and myself as a guest in the group. And at that time Glenn would go over to play duets with Donald, Lisle was playing duets with Donald, Glenn would work out with James Routhier, I'd go and play with Donald and Glenn and we were all working very hard at the time. Glenn was a prolific composer, he wrote some stuff that, when transposed to the key of the alto saxophone, was really quite difficult but we worked really hard and then we'd go play concerts around the Bay Area.
The thing is when it really comes down to it there's lot of good musicians out there and a lot of assholes, motherfuckers. When it comes down to playing, the people I want to play with are my friends. The saxophone players especially, they're a dime a dozen, too many of us out there. And so I don't need to play with everybody, I just play with my good friends. Sometimes I meet people, like last year I played at the Nickelsdorf Jazz Festival and I did a duo with Han Bennink, the great Dutch drummer. There was no need to rehearse beforehandwe talked, we ate, we smoked and that was all that was needed. Sometimes, you know when you meet somebody they're your friend from the very first moment and when you play you already know that there's no reason to rehearseyou just hang out, talk, drink and eat and it's just natural to play the music.
So I want to play with my friends, that's most important, I don't want to play with someone I don't have a personal friendship with. With Peter Valsamiswho I know is listening to the radio and recording thisand Lisle Ellis who moved to New York last summer, they're really good friends and very easy to hang out and play music with. It just comes naturally when you play with those kinds of close friends and you make something together 'cause playing music is like going to the sandbox as a child, and you have your friends and you play and if you're not friends you can't play together. Glenn was a very beautiful man, a very good friend. When we did these things'"me, him and Raphé Malikthat was the horn section, there's some stuff that we put out together that was unbelievable, because we were close friends.
AAJ: You must miss playing with Glenn Spearman?
ME: Do I miss playing with Glenn Spearman? I miss Glenn as a friend, as a brother. I miss Glenn. Sometimes I think about him a lot. I have a lot of friends that I've lost in recent years for various reasons, I miss the friendship, the humanity; the playing, that comes next. When you love somebody that's your friend, that's more important.
AAJ: I came to know about most of your fellow players only when I started listening to your music. I was so surprised I didn't know of all those musicians before.
ME: Yeah, in America the artists, we're beneath the underdog, we're below the ground you know there's no support for us. And the jazz world is like a low thing and the avant-garde, the new music, is below that. Then for us who're not famous we're even beneath that so we're underground, but we're still here, we're still doing it. And by God we still are there in people's faces and when we go out to play we play and we're there, we play.
Jazz is for me the most important cultural revolution of the 20th century and I'm proud to
play this kind of music. For me, jazz is more than a kind of music, it's the best way of playing
any musical material.