From Oakland CA, pianist/composer/educator Michele Rosewoman began playing piano at age six. Prior to moving to New York and while still in her late teens she began playing percussion and studied Cuban/Haitian folkloric idioms. In New York Rosewoman formed new ensembles, while nurturing associations with notable New York-based artists such as Julius Hemphill, Carlos Ward, Rufus Reid, Reggie Workman, Freddie Waits, James Spaulding and Billy Hart. In the Latin music genre, Rosewoman has performed with Cuban master drummer/vocalist Orlando "Puntilla" Rios, Celia Cruz, Paquito D' Rivera, Nicky Marrero, Daniel Ponce and "Chocolate" Armenteros among others.
In 1983 she received both a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the formation of the pioneering New Yor-Ubaa fourteen-piece ensemble integrating Cuban folkloric music with cutting-edge jazzand the ASCAP/Meet the Composer Commission, resulting in a work performed by the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra plus quintet of improvisers.
Formed in 1986, her Quintessence ensemble debuted at the Cooper Union Great Hall in New York, followed by tours in the US and abroad and four recordings on Enja Records. Rosewoman and Quintessence were the 2002-2003 recipients of the Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Jazz Ensemble Project Grant for the Creation and Presentation of New Works and 2005 recipients of the first Chamber Music America Encore Grant. In addition to five Quintessence recordings and a quartet release on Soul Note Records, Rosewoman has two trio recordingsOccasion To Rise (Evidence, 1993) was voted one of the year's best recordings by six critics' polls, and the critically acclaimed Spirit (Blue Note, 1996) was recorded live at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Rosewoman has presented her various ensembles at major jazz festivals, concert halls and clubs throughout the US, Canada and Europe. She has composed and arranged music for contexts ranging from trio to forty-piece orchestras. As educator, current and former positions include the New School University and New York University. She teaches privately and has conducted workshops and clinics in colleges and universities throughout the US.
AAJ: Congratulations on a fine recording. It's been six years since you released Guardians of the Light (Enja, 2000). What have you been doing since then? .
MR: Evolving! [laughter]. With Guardians of the Light, as much as I like the recording and love the live energy, I reached the point where I felt like I was playing my greatest hits. It was mostly live versions of previously recorded material, with a few new compositions, and I had fallen into a pattern of performing my "easier" music because it was easier to find musicians that could play it.
I was excited by what came out when I started writing again. The music was very challenging, among other things, I was further exploring of the mysteries of the "cracks" of time, the spaces between the spaces between the beats. I held some sessions to check out some new musicians, which led me to a new configuration. We did a European tour which helped the music to formulate and settle, and then we performed at various locations in New York City. Outside of my own ensembles, I did a series of duo concerts with [saxophonist] Greg Osby. and was working with [trombonist] Robin Eubanks and his electric trio EB3, playing both keyboard and keyboard bass; a challenging setting, and I like the challenge. By the way, most people are not aware of the fact that I enjoy being a side person[laughter]. I just learn the material, practice it and perform my best.
AAJ: Minus the headaches?
MR: Exactly. Also, I really do appreciate opportunities to bring my best to other people's music, as so many musicians have done for me.
My activities of the past few years have greatly contributed to my further development as a pianist and composer, and also as an educator. I stay busy in that capacity as well.
AAJ: There seems to be some confusion as to when The In Side Out (Advance Dance Disks, 2006) was recorded.
MR: That's due to an omission in the CD text. It was recorded in late 2004. Which brings me to more of what has been occupying my time over the last few years.
As you know, an independent [self-produced] recording is an expensive venture. My engineer suggested that I purchase the home version of ProTools and learn how to edit on my own recording sessions, which I did. So the year 2005 headed me into many aspects of self-production and 2006 has brought them to fruition. The knowledge and skills gained in this process will prove invaluable. Having always had a record company association in the past, this was not something I had intended to do, but the more we inform ourselves and the more skills we have, the better position we are in.
AAJ: Tell me about your creative process. Is there a modus operandi for composing a tune?
MR: They come to me in different ways. In the case of "With You in Mind" I felt like writing something that acknowledged Duke [Ellington]. I have always been touched and inspired by his music. So I made a conscious effort to keep the feeling of the chromatic, falling melody of Duke's "Prelude to a Kiss" in mind. The reference is extremely indirect, as intended. My choice of chords is in Duke-like tradition, with the raised fourths and flatted ninthswhich could be like Monk, but in this case, is a ballad and more like Duke. In the process, I also fell onto a harmonic idea, a minor 2nd texture. Something that Duke might have done, and it led to the overall composition.
This element all by itself sounds very dissonant [demonstrates on the piano], but in this context [plays] it feels consonant. I like finding other ways to do things because sometimes it seems like everything has been donebut for sure, certain things have been done to death! [laughter].
But there are always new and interesting ways to do things, even from within the tradition. [Cuban percussionist] Pancho Quinto, God bless him, once told me that he had an idea to create a set of music using three okonkolos [the smallest of the bata drums]. He was as rooted in the tradition as anyone could be, but h was open and always jugando [playing around].
AAJ: I read something by scholar, Cornel West, where he said, "To be human at its highest level is to be at play.
MR: That's a beautiful saying. Special things come from this approach. My mentor, pianist/organist Ed Kelly musically expressed a lot of humor.
He loved Monk and Duke and Earl "Fatha" Hines. I think that's the nature of these heavy traditions. They are playful with the use of rhythmic syncopation and harmonic/melodic dissonance, but in a dead serious way. Someone unfamiliar with the approach might think that an element is "off," or arbitrary, but with mastery, where something "lays" is not accidental. It has a precise pocket, effect and a purpose.