AAJ: So you own all the masters to everything you've done post-ECM.
NPM: I own my own masters, yes. And I'm never going to give one away never!
AAJ: So much of your music has appeared in remix form, from the Khmer material on to the present with the remixes of "Darker and "Kakonita on the new American Compilation. Whole CDs like Recolored and Remakes consist of remixed versions of your songs. It's obvious that you're very interested in the concept of remixing, of creating different pieces from one. This is something that's always been important in the electronica and dance worlds and not at all in jazz or rock. What attracts you to this process?
NPM: Well, I find it fascinating. I must point out that I don't think I ever did a dance remix of anything. The "Darker remix on American Compilation came out as something that's very playful; that's done by the Mungolian Jetset people. For me, it's about curiosity, and it's about taking material, sound files, and giving it to someone elseand then it goes through their aesthetic filter and it comes out as something completely different. I find that really inspiring, because working like I do, at one point you have to make a choice of direction. So you choose a direction, and then you give it to someone else and they choose a completely different direction. It sort of opens up the music for me. Some of the mixes have been really, really different, and they've made me go in a different direction when I play it live.
AAJ: So their work feeds back to you and changes how you interpret your songs.
NPM: Yeah. It's a bit like recycling. Recycling sounds. You know, on Khmer, there's a sample from Bill Laswell. And I met him for the first time at a festival in Frankfurt. I saw him coming and just went over to him and introduced myself and said, "Listen, I've been using one of your samples on a track on a new album which I'm releasing. Do you mind? Something like that. He just started to laugh! He said, "No problem; I probably sampled it myself from a sample of some sample. In those days, the mid-nineties, everyone was really sampling everything and using different things. It was very much a part of the music to create this special sound. Now, there are not so many samples.
AAJ: Well, I think that's a shame. Commercial hip-hop records today don't have any samples. They just play the parts, and something's been lost there.
NPM: Yeah. There is a record coming out now by Mungolian Jetset which is basically samples. Just lots of small, small things put together in such a way that you can't even tell what it is. But that's the recycling of sounds. One of my favorite hip-hop albums is by the Disposable Heroes of HiphoprisyI think it's from '92. [It isHypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury, 4th & B'way Records] They used a lot of samples, and it's so good. They used samples of Miles [Davis], and a lot of other beautiful things, to get out the message, and in that way it was like My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which I think is a very political record. It's also musical, but it's very political as well. Music should reflect the time we're living in, and the way the world is turning these days, it really needs to be political.
AAJ: Well, Bush of Ghosts is very trans-cultural.
NPM: Yeah, and just playing musicthat's communication at a very high level. Working together to make something sound good, working together to make the other people sound better, more honestthis sort of interaction is, to me, a political act, especially in contrast to this chaos we're living in.
AAJ: How is your music written? What's the seed of a composition? Let's take a recent one from your 2005 album ER, "Water, which is a favorite of mine. Did it begin with the trumpet melody? Or in some other way?
NPM: Now, it's very different with each song; it varies. But let's take "Water. "Water started with this keyboard riff [singing it]. That was the first thing. Then I was thinking, "I'd like to have some acoustic bass on it. The strange thing is that many, many years ago, I was doing music for a ballet, a dance performance thing, and for that, I was using an acoustic bassist. And I was trying to show him what I wanted on the acoustic bass, and my sound engineer was recording it. So later I found this recording, and I said, "Oh, this is a really cool hook line. So you can hear this bass part therewhich was just me trying to show this guy, many years ago, how I wanted him to sound. But I found it and thought I could use it here, and I gave it to Strangefruit and his colleague, and they did some stuff on it. Then they gave it back to me and I took it back to the studio and took away some of their things, and I started to play some melodic things on top of it. Then I said to Sidsel, "Just go in and react to what you hear. So she did, and her singing is a first takemost of it, anyway. So the process is interactive. We don't play everything together, but everyone is reacting to what's there.
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith. We hung out at my Aunt Kate's Soul Food restaurant in Harlem after the matinees at the Apollo where I listened to their stories. I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician from then on. My mother wanted me to play piano, but my Aunt bought me a guitar. I've been playing ever since.
At my mother's early prompting, I first sang Blue Velvet at my Catholic elementary school...and all the nuns came running in and asked me to sing again, so I knew I must have sounded pretty good. I've been singing ever since.
I met Tony Bennett in Miami and he inspired me to return to New York. He was a great mentor.
The best show I ever attended is mpossible to say, I've seen so many great shows. From Tony Bennett to Pat Martino, Return to Forever to Weather Report...I've seen some great performances.
My advice to new listeners is don't let jazz intimidate you, the music has something for every listener and it is our American gift to the world.