Michael Musillami: Playscape Recordings Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Franz A. Matzner By

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I don't know where the future of jazz music is, all I know is this: guys are gonna continue to play, and that is all you can ask. —Michael Musillami
Guitarist Michael Musillami has been part of the jazz world for over forty years. Composer, player, and most recently label founder, Musillami has explored the full range of the jazz spectrum.

Five years ago this month, Musillami took a leap of faith and put together a remarkable new label that has since proven itself a powerful creative force. Comprised of a core group of composers, Playscape is artist driven and dedicated to pushing the music forward. Each of the core members have led multiple groupings, put out various albums ranging from trio's to octets, and all are dedicated players who put their own voices to work as both leaders and sidemen.

From Ted Rosenthal's poised trio album Threeplay , to Mario Pavone's progressive trios and quartets, to Musillami's experiments with instrumentation on current release Spirits , Playscape continues to put out work that captures the individuality of its members and strives to establish new musical voices.

It was my distinct pleasure to speak with Mr. Musillami last week about the founding of Playscape, his new release, and his vision for Playscape's future.

All About Jazz: We owe you double congratulations this month because it is the fifth anniversary of Playscape Recordings and you have a new album out, Spirits. We'll talk about both a little later, but for those who may not be as familiar with your earlier work, I'd like to back up to the proverbial beginning.

How old were you when you first felt yourself strongly attracted to music?

Michael Musillami: I made that decision probably in my early twenties. In your early twenties everything is in the open. You've got the world ahead of you. You only think of the positives, and you don't really think about how difficult things are really going to be. You think that if you work hard that it will come to you, and that you will be able to make a living. And you know what? Now that I'm saying these words, it actually happened.

AAJ: Maybe not as smoothly as you first imagined.

MM: You just let it all go and it becomes you. You live the music life and it has its high points and its low points. Someone told me long, long ago that half the battle is just keeping it going. Getting from A to B and [from] B to C. That's what a lot of guys do. You have your bright moments, and then you have those stagnant moments. Without those stagnant moments, you wouldn't go forward, really.

AAJ: When did you start playing?

MM: I was nine years old. I've been playing the guitar for over 40 years.

AAJ: So it was always the guitar?

MM: Yes.

AAJ: How did you choose the guitar?

MM: It was the trendy thing. I was a kid. Let's go back. I was born in '53. In '62 you have the beginning of Pop music. Mass media. T.V. Screaming fans. And the Beatles. All that stuff. That's appealing when you are a little kid. I just started right there at the beginning.

AAJ: How did jazz become the focus? Why did that happen?

MM: Wow, why did that happen? A couple things come together. Some people play—people usually start out with some folk songs, getting your chords together, and you learn you can make music with this thing. Then that's not a challenge anymore, so you move to the next place. For me, it was trying to put the simpler song forms together, trying to understand what elements you need to get the blues form together. Blues music, Rock bands. I did all those things. Performed at high school bands .

AAJ: Is it the challenge of jazz that drew you to it?

MM: Yea, it's the challenge, but that's the whole part of jazz. It's the whole uncertainty of it. If you've already done it, there's no excitement to it. So let's go to the next place. Let's change it. That's the whole essence of jazz music, is the need, the necessity to change. Just like as a person. That's what most jazz musicians are, they are always moving from point A to point B. And that's how the music is supposed to be as well.

And to be honest, I was always obsessed with the guitar. I think to be really successful at something you have to be obsessed with it'so it wasn't really a choice. It's just the way it was meant to be.

AAJ: Have you always been able to survive on your music, or have there been lean years?

MM: I think all years are lean years. (Laughing).

You always end up augmenting your situation by teaching. But yes, there were some tough, tough times to be honest. When I wasn't teaching and only working one, two, three gigs a month. In the early '80s and the gigs were paying fifty bucks a hit. But you just make do. Somehow you just get through it.

AAJ: Did you ever have any really horrible side jobs?


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