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Marilyn Crispell: Uncompromising Power and Grace

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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MC: Perhaps different levels of being connected to it. Cecil Taylor gives another great quote when asked about practicing. He said that he practices when he's walking down the street or going shopping. In other words, his whole life is his art. He doesn't separate them. To perceive life as art and everything in life as the teacher. People tend to make a separation between those in the arts and other people, and I feel that's a mistake. In many non-Western cultures, music is very much a part of everyday life and it relates to every aspect of life. There is music for work, healing, celebrations; there is music for everything. I guess what I'm trying to say is that anybody can have an awareness to look at life as art in whatever it is they do, even if it is something that is not traditionally thought of as artistic. Anything that you do can be art if it's done with a particular kind of awareness.

LP: Do women and men create differently or does it have more to do with individuality?

MC: I think it has more to do with individuality. I have said for years that I don't believe in men's music and women's music, but I think if you are a woman, you are obviously playing women's music. If you are a man, you are playing men's music. We all have masculine and feminine elements and people like Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett play some very feminine lyrical stuff and there are woman who play some very hard-ass stuff. Women have babies and that takes incredible strength. There is this tendency to think of women as weak and frail little flowers and men are these big strong I mean you can fill in the words here. I don't know if we create differently but I wouldn't think so but there are people who believe that.

LP: When you compose, are you envisioning what you want the music to do for the listener?

MC: I'm trying to figure out what concept is trying to formulate itself and I try to find a way to express it and this is on an intuitive/intellectual level. I'm thinking in terms of what I hear and what I want to put out and not how it's going to affect somebody or what they are going to think of it. I think you do something that is intrinsically yours and that's your gift that you have to give. If you are trying to modify it in some way to impress or please someone, then it's not going to be a pure expression.

LP: What do you look for from drummers and bass players and how much of it has to do with their rhythmic approach with each other?

MC: I'm looking for people who are very versatile and have a background in traditional jazz but can also cross lots of borders. People who are aware of more contemporary developments in improvised music and can relate to it and not just say, "Oh, I'll play free," but can really relate to it from the heart. People who are sensitive and know how to listen. People who can relate to what I'm doing and respond in a way that makes sense and with respect.

LP: Can you explain your relationship with time in the musical sense?

MC: First of all, time is a very complex thing. Anthony Braxton talks a lot about pulse feels, which is kind of like a heartbeat. You have your own rhythm and if you are playing a phrase that has a pulse feel of its own and if you are playing with "intention" within that pulse feel, for me, that has a sense of time. In fact, one of my favorite things is to play simultaneous but different things, like say the bassist and the drummer are playing the feel of a certain time. 4/4 time. I like to be able to fly on top of that and go in and out of it and come back to it. It's like they are laying down a carpet of time that I can weave complex patterns over. I think African drumming is also a concept that has very complex time. I am not a free jazzer who abhors playing in a time, 4/4 time or whatever (laughs)—contrary to what some people think.

LP: Don't you just hate the term "Free Jazz"?

MC: I really do, and avant-garde, I hate even worse. Because most of the stuff that is happening now is not avant-garde; it's been happening since the '50s. There is very little new stuff that I'm aware of.

LP: I was just having this discussion with a friend who owns a music store and we were talking about how to categorize the section within avant-garde. Where does it start and end? Like he said, "Do I start with Charles Mingus who was avant-garde when he originally hit the scene?

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