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Marilyn Crispell: Uncompromising Power and Grace

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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LP: Have we become a society more of a visual society and place less emphasis on various aspects of sound?

MC: I would doubt that. David Bowie said that the eyes are hungrier than the ears and that's part of what opera and the theater are all about. I don't think anything has changed or has become more visually oriented. I think we have always been visually oriented. In a certain sense, sound is a more abstract thing. You can collect a painting and look at it for the rest of your life, but with music, the true nature of sound is very ephemeral. It happens, it passes by, and then it goes out into the eaves somewhere and keeps traveling on. When I first started playing music, I never wanted to record. I never wanted to freeze the sound. However, I have been very influenced by recorded music even though my intuitive feeling was, play it and let it go. I think more than saying that we are a visually oriented society; we're a materialistic society. So if there is some-thing that you can have and own and touch, maybe you are more likely to pay attention to that or spend money for that than on something that will be gone. Of course you can own a sound recording, but the music is still not as tangible as a painting. Thus the artists themselves become commodities; they are just used to make money, often in our society.

LP: Is what's happening in creative music too forward-thinking for society today?

MC: Bach said that there would always be a limited number of people who could relate to some of the best stuff ever made, and he was talking about his own music. I kind of believe that people who are meant to be drawn to anyone's music in particular will find you or will hear you through word of mouth or from the radio or by accident. I think that's always the case, all of the time, and I don't think it's too forward-thinking. They say that the reflection of the time starts with visual arts and then it goes down through other arts. And I think what's happening now, and what's been happening since the late '50s, early '60s, is the deconstructed reflection of what's been happening in the modern world. But I also think there is now movement to begin reconstructing and that's just something that I feel. I don't really separate this time from other times as it's all connected. But I do think things are changing faster because of technology, and again, there are a lot of worldviews like that of the Tibetan, the Hindu and Hopi, which talk about the different cycles and ages of man of creation and destruction and supposedly we're in that downward phase of one of those cycles called "Kali Yuga." And when things go faster, and faster and faster, everything is gone and then a new cycle starts. Many people feel there is a big spiritual rebirth happening. I see a lot of that on the Internet and here in Woodstock; there are a lot of people involved in that. A change in the way people are using their minds, not just practical technological but maybe more intuitive. The feminine side is starting to emerge to balance out some of the stuff that's going on in the world, which is pretty macho stuff.

LP: Are traditionalists having a difficult time accepting that a music form considered "American" now has international and diverse aspects within it?

MC: I think people want to hang on to something that has historical significance and validate themselves by doing that. There certainly is a validity to the history of jazz having its roots in blues and Black music and it would not have existed without that. But most of the history of jazz is integrated, and it has always been open to other influences and other ideas. It's about creativity and doing new revolutionary and evolutionary things, and now all of a sudden rather than being a living process of change, it's become a rigidly protected museum piece. Whenever someone has to defend or protect something that way, they are usually concerned about giving up some kind of power, rather than having the security to feel open and let things happen. To my mind, and who am I, nobody can say that jazz is this or jazz is that. But people like Wynton Marsalis and Ken Burns have been very successful in convincing other people of exactly that. As far as I'm concerned, I'm ready to say that I don't play jazz and to hell with it. I just play my music, although I consider jazz to be a primary influence on my playing. Music is one of the most intangible of the arts as opposed to a visual art that you can see, touch, and hold. It's very ephemeral. It's there and then it's gone. It's a universal language that doesn't need words to communicate, so it's a pretty powerful medium. It has given birth to a lot of other forms and possibilities that we now call traditional jazz but were not considered traditional jazz in their own time—by the way.

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