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Marilyn Crispell: Uncompromising Power and Grace

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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MC: I would take it apart phrase by phrase and show the contour of the line and how I've worked within whatever time frame I'm using. About how one line leads to another. I would also talk about sense of form and germs of the ideas and how melodies come to me and how I work them out. Mostly, I'll have people do this on their own and I'll work with them on ideas on how to express themselves, find out what they're about, what they want, what they hear. I also try to work with intention because a lot of times people are nervous and not really into what they are doing. They'll just play something but there is no intention behind it. It's just something they can do like ironing a shirt or taking a bath or whatever. But the intention, the focus, is not there. I've even heard very skilled musicians do that.

LP: What do you see for the future of creative music or for yourself personally?

MC: I tend to be optimistic and feel that people are creative beings. Our souls are creative and there is a hunger for that. I also think the future of jazz will always be affected by that hunger. I think the pendulum is swinging pretty far to the right but things never stay the same—they always change. It's anybody's guess what's going to happen. I mean people are still playing Bach and renaissance music hundreds of years later. Maybe they'll be playing traditional jazz a hundred years later. That's fine. The attitude that exists towards change and progression and what it's called—who cares. I just know that I was very influenced by what I would call jazz. By John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra. People who brought improvisation into contemporary Western classical music, which is an important synthesis.

LP: Do you have a common philosophy that you try to impart on young students ort musicians?

MC: Just to have the courage to be true to your own voice.

LP: What have you learned from the risks that you have had to take?

MC: I have done things because that's where my spirit or inner feelings led me and I have always followed my intuition that way, but I haven't particularly looked at those things as risks. I've pretty much always have done what I have wanted to do and have hoped that people will like it but I haven't done anything based on what anyone might think.

LP: Where do you get your inspiration and who are the people that have influenced you the most?

MC: Everything I hear inspires me but I definitely came into this music through Coltrane. I was inspired by Cecil and Abdullah Ibrahim and, to an extent, Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner and there are also the following European trios: the Bobo Stenson trio with Anders Jormin and Jon Christensen; the Joachim Kuhn Trio with Danile Hunair and J. F. Jenny-Clark; the Barry Guy, Evan Parker, and Paul Lytton Trio and also Anders Jormin as a com-poser. Additionally, African and Indian music along with other world music also are influences along with baroque classical stuff that I'm very, very into. Many con-temporary classical composers. But Coltrane was the first and foremost inspiration for getting into this music, period. Playing in Anthony Braxton's Quartet was a very, very important part of my musical life and just my life actually. Working with someone who had these kind of concepts very much influenced my sense of space in composition. The quartet was like a family and it was good to have the opportunity to work with such incredibly creative people. It was a very profound ten years or so of my musical life.

LP: You sound very appreciative of those around you.

MC: I'm trying to make more of an effort to be aware of things in a different way and to appreciate things today because they may not be here tomorrow. To appreciate the distinctive qualities of each person and each thing. Everybody is so involved with themselves. They go through daily life not noticing a lot of things or don't have the time to notice a lot of things. I think about this because my parents are both in their late 80s and I'm very aware that I won't have them forever. In many ways, they have been a factor in my thoughts and in my awareness. I'm very aware of the impermanence of things and the ephemeral nature of life. (Note: Since the time of the interview, Marilyn's father passed away and she dedicated her recording, "Vignettes" to his memory.)

LP: Do you have a philosophy or some way of looking at life that you would be willing to share?

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