A few years ago, a musician friend suggested I go hear a band that was playing at a place in Bella Vista, Philadelphia, a neighborhood with a significant jazz history (violinist Joe Venuti
and guitarist Eddie Lang
lived there and are honored with several plaques and a mural) -but not much current music to speak of. The venue turned out to be a bar-restaurant with a recently remodeled music room on the second floor with surprisingly good acoustics and sound system.
The band was called The Eleventet, which is, as the name suggests, an ensemble consisting of eleven musicians, approaching a big band but with fewer horns in each section. As the guys gathered on the improvised stage, it became clear that they were among the best and most sought after musicians in the Philadelphia area musicians who can adapt to any situation and sometimes turn it into a breakthrough event. That evening, the outstanding line-up was: Mike Cemprola
, alto saxophone; Carl Schultz
, tenor saxophone; Mark Allen
, baritone saxophone; Jon Barnes
, trumpet; Dennis Wasko
, trumpet; Randy Kapralick
, trombone; Jarred Antonacci
, trombone; Tom Lawton
, piano; Sandy Eldred
; Dan Monaghan
These men and others who sometimes alternate in the contingent can variously be heard in the Philly Pops
, Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia
, Broadway musicals that come to town, Chris' Jazz Café, The South Kitchen, and virtually any place or situation which requires great sound, ability to roll through charts, and at the nightclubs, creative improvising in ways that match any group that hires them for the gig. The Eleventet's personnel has had some changes over the years, but a majority of the players have remained the same over the past 15 years. Any subs who come in on a gig are highly accomplished like the regular band members. They all meet these very high performance standards.
When they start playing, the music swings and sounds like a big band, except it's more coherent and advanced in concept than most of them. The solos, given the musical giants who are playing them, are expectably spot on, brilliant, and yet coolly attuned to the contexts of the arrangements. The leader turns out to be a guy seated near the piano playing soprano saxophone. Very unassumingly, he expresses his leadership by nodding to the beat, signaling solos, and otherwise letting the music go forward on its own, as would the leader of a smaller group. When the first piece is over, I find that I've been snapping my fingers to the jazz rhythm, but it was also like listening to classical music insofar as I was listening intently to every nuance of the playing and making mental connections from one part of the composition to another.
At the time, the musician I knew least about in this band was the leader. His name is Norman David
. He teaches in the Jazz Studies department at Temple University Boyer College of Music and Dance and is its Coordinator of Jazz Composition & Arranging. And for over forty years, he has been the founding director and chief composer/arranger of the Eleventet. Forty years is a significant chunk of jazz's history. Clearly, there is an important story to be told. So, Norman David, who has made the cause of The Eleventet his own and has no apparent agendas other than to advance its cause and write arrangements for these magnificent players, shared his story, the story of The Eleventet, with All About Jazz.
In an expansive interview, David talks about his own route into music and his early steps as a professional. He revisits the birth and development of the Eleventet, sheds light on the phenomenal talent on the Philadelphia jazz scene and speaks candidly about what it takes to succeed in the business. "Are you good enough to do this?" David asks. After forty years leading one of America's most adventurous jazz ensembles, he should know. All About Jazz:
We'll start with the infamous desert island question. What recordings would you take to the desert island with you? Just say whatever comes to your mind. Norman David:
I didn't expect that! OK, I'll say whatever comes to mind but with the understanding that in another ten minutes, it might be different. AAJ:
It wouldn't just be jazz. But in jazz, I would take the complete works of Eddie Harris
, the complete discography of Steve Lacy
Complete works won't fit on the boat (LOL!). You have to choose specific albums! ND:
Oww!!! This is tough! OK, So I'd take Eddie Harris' album called Come on Down!
(Atlantic, 1970). I'd take Steve Lacy's album called Itinerary
(hat ART, 1991). I'd take a recording of Shostakovich's Fifteenth Symphony. And I would also take Arnold Shoenberg's Variations for Orchestra
. Joe Henderson
's Inner Urge
(Blue Note: 1966). Miles Davis
' Miles Smiles
(Columbia, 1967). There's a lot more going through my head... AAJ:
It's fascinating what people come up with. They rarely include Shostakovich. Gustav Mahler, however, is fairly popular with jazz musicians. ND:
Aw, I'll take Shostakovich over Mahler! [Laughter!!!] AAJ:
Almost always Miles Davis appears, but it's interesting what the "off the top of the head" choices are, because they are spontaneous and uncensored. It often expresses something deep inside the musician. So [smirking] your choice of Schoenberg says you're big on 12 tone rows. ND:
That's one of the things; it's not the only thing. I love all the great classical composers. I get inspiration from them. AAJ:
And ultimately the distinction between classical and jazz fades. So by now, I've listened to your Eleventet many times, all with your compositions and arrangements, both live and on recording, and I love it. But then I realize I know almost nothing about you. So let's go back to the beginning. Where did you grow up, what was your childhood like, and most importantly, what were your earliest exposures to music? ND:
I've thought about this before, and I can probably give you a pretty organized answer. I was born and raised in Montreal, Canada, the home of Oscar Peterson
, Maynard Ferguson
, and a few other people of high jazz stature. I was a young, precocious kid. I loved sports. I was a pretty good baseball player. When I was around nine years old, there was a cousin of mine who was already in high school, and she played violin. So I would go to hear her in the school orchestra, and I found myself surprisingly interested in hearing this live music. I always listened to music on the radio, mostly to pop stuff, but I was really into this live music and people performing. And then when I was around 9 or 10, we were given a musical aptitude test to see if we were qualified to play in the high school music programs. In Canada at the time you went straight from grade seven into high school. I found the test very easy, and then a few days later they told me, yes, you've been accepted.
They asked me, what instrument do you want to play? So I went home, and I talked to my mom, who grew up in Michigan during the big band period. She said a couple of things to me, like "Don't play the trumpet because you'll get a deformed lip like Louis Armstrong. But I used to love Benny Goodman
. Why don't you try the clarinet?" I said, "All right," and I went to the school, and they gave me a little old beat up clarinet. I blew a couple of notes on it, and it just became my thing: I haven't stopped since! There was no questioning it, I just became obsessed with it and knew I'd be playing it forever. I got to high school the next year, and I wanted to be the first chair clarinetist, so I just practiced hard. I got very few lessons, just the teacher showing me a few fingerings.
And here's the second thing my mother told me, that changed my life. We went on a family vacation in Maine. A lot of people in Canada would go on vacation to the Maine coast at that time. We were in Portland, Maine, it was raining, and we went shopping. There was a place that sold records, and I said, "Mom, I want a record. Can you get me a record player too? She said yes, and she picked out an album, and said, "Why don't you try this?" It was a Benny Goodman album that included some of his great hits. I took it home, and I was mesmerized.
That was it! All through high school, I just practiced constantly. My life at that time was baseball and practicing clarinet as hard as I could. They didn't have a jazz program at that point, so I played in the concert band and was quickly introduced to more completely notated classical music. I then heard the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, and that blew my mind. Whenever I could get my parents to give me some money, I started buying the entire classical clarinet repertoire. So from a very early age, I was woodshedding all the concertos: Mozart, Copland, Nielsen, the heavy repertoire, on my own, no lessons.
In the meantime, I was listening to Benny Goodman, Buddy DeFranco
, Pete Fountain
, and all these excellent clarinet players, so I had both jazz and classical clarinet playing in my ears. In high school, I was a baseball playing clarinet nerd. No girlfriends, always frustrated, never had a date, but just loving playing music. AAJ:
Didn't they have a dance band in your high school? ND:
The dance band started literally the year after I left. In any event, around the time I graduated, I started dabbling on saxophone. When I started at McGill University, I bought a saxophone. But I was already very knowledgeable about jazz. AAJ:
Did your mother have a special interest in music that helped get you going? ND:
I always thought she could be a good singer. But here's the story: we're Middle Eastern. My father was from Lebanon, He was the old fashioned guy. My mother was Lebanese, too, but she was born in the States. She grew up going to all these big band concerts. And at McGill, I joined the radio station and got up on all the music. All through high school and college, I was completely absorbed in listening to everything I could possibly listen to. And I was practicing all the time, and started getting pretty good on saxophone too. And I would book all the jazz concerts on campus, and I'd always have a group to play in. And after undergrad I worked for two or three years at an audio-visual center making really good moneythe Canadian dollar was worth more than the American dollar at that time.
Berklee and Beyond ND:
But in the back of my mind, I was always thinkin' man, I really wanna go to Berklee College of Music. AAJ:
You found you really had something on the ball. I was wondering, since you soaked up so much music, whether you had either perfect pitch or great musical memory or both. ND:
I don't have perfect pitch. I'd say I have pretty good musical memory. The year before I went to McGill, I had clarinet lessons from a classical teacher. And that one year consolidated a lot of things. Even as a kid I had a strong grasp of music, I was even composing things, I had a fine grasp of melody, and we had a piano, and I always liked unorthodox progressions, but I didn't know why! I wouldn't play I-IV-V-I blues, I'd be playing triads that were a tritone apart. I liked things that were different. Every time I tried to compose something, I was always stuck on: how do you voice these things?
So I got accepted to Berklee, and when I got there, I started the first class I ever took in arranging. In class 1 of day 1, the teacher said something about "voicing" -I forgot what it was -and it clicked! I soon began composing a lot. I dove in, and it's been a passion ever since. Before Berklee, I'd try to compose something, and I'd get stuck, because even though I knew a lot, I would always be asking myself, how do you voice that or how do you develop it? That class at Berklee got me started on it. The arranging teacher was Ken Pullig who was not much older than me. We became friends and supported each other. AAJ:
One thing is missing from your resume so far. You haven't mentioned any gigs or musicians you performed with. ND:
Oh, I'd already been gigging in Montreal. At McGill, I started listening to modern jazz, and I fell in love with Eddie Harris
, who was one of my heroes. I put a quartet together -sax, piano, bass, and drums -and we would do Eddie Harris tunes and some other things. I was a good player, but very traditional. I didn't really have the idea of bebop chord changes and so on at the time. But we gigged a lot, and I also played in a couple of rock bands that needed a saxophonist. And I'd go to a club that had New Orleans jazz. They had a hot clarinetist of Indian descent named Ravi Kumar who led a band called Ravi Kumar and His Dixie Cats. I was up on Benny Goodman and Pete Fountain, so he let me sit in whenever I went in there. Also, at McGill, the manager of the Student Union building was a well known jazz saxophonist, Frank Costa, who was still playing around town, although less so due to an ear injury. We talked a lot about jazz, and he heard me play at the club, and he'd say, "Yeah, but that's not the standard key." So I started learning about standards. And I started realizing how little I knew about bebop and modern jazz.
I knew about the bebop players and others who were legends in the jazz scene, but hadn't played much of it. I was also a jazz DJ at my college radio station. I knew Miles, Trane, Bird, I knew 'em all. Anything I did, I devoured it. I eventually began teaching jazz history after I started my college teaching career. By the way, many of the younger players today don't have a thorough grasp of jazz history at all.
And by the time I got to Berklee and the U.S. I had already gigged a lot and I knew the history, but my head was completely turned around from week one when I got to Boston. In Boston, they had lots of record stores, and you could get a lot of them cheap, so you'd have breakfast and spend the rest of your money on albums. AAJ:
Which of the saxophone players at that time did you like the best? ND:
I loved John Coltrane
. And Joe Henderson
. And Sonny Rollins
. And I loved Eddie Harris, who I think is in the same category. It took me longer to get into Stan Getz
, Paul Desmond
, and a few others, who I now think are amazing. And I was really hooked on Steve Lacy
, one of my great heroes and biggest influences. I listened to just about everybody. But the thing is, I never did a lot of analysis, and I did only a little bit of transcribing, so I'm not going to get called up for a bebop gig, although I know most of the music. But in another way, it's good, because I don't compose like everybody else. I'm not going to write bebop licks. I just write what I hear, and my music is going to be appreciated by some folks and not others, but I can say with complete confidence that it's unique and it doesn't sound like anybody else. But I listened to everybody, and I was inspired organically rather than by imitation. I was obsessed with the music. AAJ:
So there you are at Berklee, and you're being exposed to some of the greats in person, even as teachers and mentors... ND:
Yeah, and I became friends with some of them. AAJ:
[Spoken slightly tongue in cheek, because some Berklee students have been known to drop out early to go to New York.] Did you graduate from Berklee? ND:
No. I already had an undergraduate degree from McGill, though not in music. It was in General Studies, with a minor in Sociology. But once I got to Berklee and realized I wanted to compose and arrange extensively, there was a teacher there named Herb Pomeroy
, a trumpet player, and his course was "the Holy Grail." If you were serious about writing music, you had to get into his course called "Line Writing." To get into it, you had to write a big band chart, have it played in his ensemble, and then you'd go to his office three days later, and there was a handwritten list on the door that told you if you got into the class. So I wrote my first big band chart without any previous experience. But they played through it, Pomeroy listened to it, and I got into the class. And that changed my life. That course blew my mind, and after that semester, I dropped out. AAJ:
I didn't want to go to school any more, and I had a chance to do a little traveling and touring with some show bands. But five semesters at Berklee and an undergraduate degree from McGill were enough to get me into a graduate program if I wanted to. I eventually completed a Masters of Music in Composition at the New England Conservatory (1988) and after I moved to Philly I earned my Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition from Temple University (1996). AAJ:
A lot of our most gifted young musicians go to Berklee, and as soon as they "get it," they go to New York where it's all happening. ND:
Yeah, I've played with some really good players in New York over the years, and still do, but I've always wanted my writing to be performed wherever I happened to be. I thought about going to New York a few times, but I love it in Philly and I sincerely think that the caliber of musician and creativity in Philly is as good as anywhere. AAJ:
When you were writing music then, after Berklee, did your writing have the same character as it does now for The Eleventet?
Origins of the Eleventet ND:
Actually, The Eleventet started at Berklee in 1980. At the time, I was teaching composing and arranging there, theory, analysis, conducting ensembles, and we had concerts. I got the best musicians I could get for The Eleventet. On March 24, 1980, we had our first concert in Boston. Last year, we were planning our 40th anniversary concert at Plays and Players [a century old legitimate theater in Philadelphia], but the pandemic came right then. In 1980, like today, I had the best players around and we'd do concerts at Berklee, but they weren't student concerts. AAJ:
When the Eleventet started, did it consist of eleven musicians? ND:
Yes. By then I already had gotten together two full big bands. I started thinking, if I had to recruit only ten or eleven players, it might be easier to put together gigs and keep it going. I always tell people not to call The Eleventet a big band. I call it a large jazz ensemble. We have a documentary now on line. [See YouTube: The 10th Annual Eleventet Intergalactic Holiday Special -Ed]. In the documentary, I show the cover of the very first program we did. At the last concert we played live before the pandemic, we played five of the seven charts from the very first program. AAJ:
There's a very special and wonderful feeling you get from The Eleventet, partly from your arrangements and partly from the musicians. The sound quality, the sonority of the group and each and every player is very coherent and beautiful. ND:
Thank you. AAJ:
Was that special quality there from the beginning? ND:
I was generally viewed a tenor saxophonist for many years when hired for gigs, but I also constantly played soprano sax. So even though I had played tenor sax for many years, I always loved the small horns. And Steve Lacy was a massive influence on me. So when I put The Eleventet together, instead of the standard sax section, I did the saxophone choir of soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone, which is what gives it a distinctive sound for a large ensemble. I said, let's just keep that sax choir in there, have two trumpets and two trombones, and let's go for it! AAJ:
Do you ever miss the chordal possibilities of the three trumpets and/or three trombones? ND:
No, because I still write a ton for big bands -I get commissions all the time. I've had charts played by the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia, several universities, and various other organizations. I just wrote an arrangement for Terell Stafford
's Temple University Jazz Ensemble that features Joey DeFrancesco on organ. I also love composing modern classical works, and I get commissions for those as well. AAJ:
I interviewed the noted composer and arranger Vince Mendoza
about a year and a half ago, in fact just when the pandemic had started. He's written great music for the European-based WDR Big Band and the Metropole Orchestra, a large band and an orchestra respectively. ND:
I love those ensembles. And of course the Monday Night band at the Village Vanguard. But I'm not into traveling a lot, and I'm staying local these days. That scene involves a totally different career path than the one I've taken. I didn't do the New York scene. I like staying in Philly, working with the musicians here, nurturing the younger ones. Of course, I will and have travelled abroad several times for especially enticing projects. AAJ:
Are any of the Eleventet musicians writing for large ensemble? ND:
Mark Allen and Randy Kapralick do it. Most of the other cats in the band are writing small group stuff. I've nurtured some of the younger guys in town who are making names for themselves as serious writers. Among others, Nick Lombardelli
, Jamal Jones
, Peter Frank
, Jake Kaplan
, The Skyler Hagner Ensemble
have their own large ensembles or big bands, and I've mentored them all along the way. Of course, they have done a ton of work and studying on their own, but we have had very fruitful associations, and they are my good friends. AAJ:
Looking at the big picture of arrangers/composers in the whole history of jazz, which have most inspired you? ND:
I'm not sure I can tell you who influenced me, but I can tell you that I love Fletcher Henderson
, Billy May
, Benny Carter
from the earlier big bands. As we start getting more modern, I love Bill Holman
Do you like Bob Brookmeyer
's arrangements? ND:
Yes, I do like Brookmeyer very much. And Jim McNeely
, Thad Jones
. And I like some of what you might call avant gardists. I love some of Anthony Braxton
's writing. And Steve Lacy blows my mind. But it's not that I consciously analyze or borrow from them, although it might show up organically. These guys are great. But there is a lot of big band and ensemble work out there that is renowned and technically good, but really corny, not very imaginative, and I won't say who they are but you know what I mean. AAJ:
Your arrangements for The Eleventet are really swinging, coherent and yet full of interesting twists and turns, full of emotions and ideas. And you've got musicians in that band who can play anything, so you don't have to limit your writing to what is familiar. How do these musiciansmaybe give us a couple of examples -give you what you need to write what you want to write on such a high plane? ND:
There is a real benefit for a composer/arranger if you can keep the same core players around for a long time. That was one of my goals in putting this band together, whether in Boston or Central Maine, where I taught, or Philadelphia. Wherever I was, I wanted to pick musicians I could get along with and who would stay with me. That's obvious. But, more importantly, I wanted them to be able to play anything and to solo their asses off. In Philadelphia for the last twenty years, I've always had cats who are among the best players in the city, maybe anywhere. And when you have that luxury, and they've been working together for a while, I write to where their strengths are. If one of them is into heavy bebop, I'll write for them. If one of them is into free jazz, I'll write for them. But what's interesting about this particular group of musicians, is that they'll all go in whatever direction I want them to go.
The Eleventet and Norman David's Arrangements Today ND:
For instance, the great trumpeter Tony DeSantis
is with us, and he followed a long line of great trumpeters in the band: Tim Hagans
, John Swana
, Jon Barnes
, Greg Hopkins
, and others. So when Tony came in, I had some charts that have no chord changes, basically free, and at first he wasn't keen on doing it because he had never done it. But he picked up on it, and now he tears it apart! So I can write to everyone's perceived preferences, but I don't have to stick with that. I've got my own vision. I write something to play, and they let their own creativity take them through the chart. It's fun!
For example, Mark Allen can play anything! And a lot of the cats we've had in the band over the years have been able to do that. Mike Cemprola, Chris Farr, Carl Schultz, Chris Lewis
, Dylan Band
, George Garzone
, Dick Oatts
, Tim Hagans, Randy Kapralick, Tom Lawton
, all players I've had in the Eleventet, have been unbelievable. And I won't settle for less. AAJ:
I concur that you have among the very best players in your band. To be sure, there are a lot of amazing players in Philadelphia, but I think the Eleventet personnel are among the cream of the crop. And George Garzone, from Boston and Berklee, is adulated time after time by other musicians. ND:
I mean, George is something else. We're still very close and talk often. In fact, we're discussing a possible album at this time. We'll see once we figure out the logistics. AAJ:
Now you have all these many arrangements written down or printed out, and are they all in one place or scattered about? Ryan Truesdell
found Gil Evans
' arrangements in several different homes and campus music libraries. So, what happens if another band wants to use a couple of your charts, are they in a form and location they can access? Do you want bands other than your own to use your charts? ND:
I wouldn't mind if someone else wanted to use them. Let them play it at their own peril! (LOL!!!) But there'll be some groups that can play the Eleventet charts really well. And it's the age of digitalization. I can send anything to anybody in pdf form. Plus I have them all printed out. Also, several of the charts are already catalogued for libraries and I plan on getting most or all of the charts cataloged in the near future.
I went to Ukraine three years ago, and they brought together the best players in Kiev, I emailed them the charts, and they crushed them! They were great!
So I don't mind others using the charts. But I have fourteen new charts for recordings that we're going to cut in January, and I won't give those out yet. All the others would be available. AAJ:
So it's not exclusively for this band, although it's inspired by this band. ND:
Well, it's exclusively for my Eleventet. But other bands can use the charts. But it won't sound the same as this band. For example, I have my own unique sound on soprano sax. Each band will have its own sound and interpretation on the same arrangement. I'd love to hear what they do with it.
Not everybody is going to want to play our music, which I would call "adventurous," cutting edge. Not every band that plays at Chris' Jazz Café is going to want to do our music. I'm just going to write what I write and play what I play, and it may or may not coincide with what other people are doing.
Personal Life AAJ:
Our readers like to know what their favorite musicians do on their down time. How do you spend your time when you're not doing music? ND:
My life is sometimes lonely. I'm single, but by no means a monk. I've had some very good relationships. The last few years I've been dabbling in doing voice-overs. I like to do corporate and public service announcements. I like to go out and have a few drinks. I'll go out to watch other bands. I enjoy going up to the mountains.
But I spend most of my time on music, and often alone by myself. Some people think I'm weird. But when the pandemic came, even a loner like me thought, "This is ridiculous. I need to get out." AAJ:
Creative people are often non-conformists. They have to be themselves. Nietzsche became like a hermit, deliberately so. I just finished a very good biography of Beethoven. He spent huge amounts of time by himself. He never married, although he did fall in love a few times, at least once with a married woman. Creative people have all different kinds of life styles, and it just matters if it works for them. But I don't hear you saying anything about activities, like athletics, where you can release your emotions. ND:
Well, it's frustrating at times. But I love hockey. The Montreal Canadiens are in the Stanley Cup finals now, and I was jumping up and down, and screaming at the top of my lungs while I was watching them score the winning goal in one of the games. But I'm alone a lot, even though I have many friends. Most of my really close friends are way younger than me. But I do have some regrets or remorse that I didn't get married and have kids, you know, a family. Or do more travelling. AAJ:
Do you have any family members still around that you can relate to? ND:
My parents have passed. My brother lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We're in frequent contact. I have close cousins and other family in Cleveland and Montreal. But they're not musicians. So, due to the pandemic, I've been missing my friends who are musicians. I'm looking forward to getting out and seeing them now that the pandemic restrictions are being lifted. AAJ:
Being a composer/ arranger is a career where you have to spend a lot of time alone. ND:
The work is massive. I wrote some charts for our next recording sessions, and I actually got them done by June. Right now I'm practicing saxophone hard and taking a temporary break from composing (which is really rare for me). I finished most of the charts by working intensively at my office. I'm glad the pandemic restrictions are lifted and I got my vaccinations, so I'm just looking forward to getting out and carousing again. AAJ:
I've really missed getting together with friends and attending live music events. I hope to be catching up on both soon. ND:
I'm about to get together with one of my close friends for the first time in sixteen months!
Philosophy of Life and Guidance for Younger Musicians AAJ:
OK, here's a question I always ask, and it derives from John Coltrane who said that music is his spirit. Trane never adopted a particular religion but was always seeking answers, and that quest influenced his music more and more. So do you have a spiritual orientation or religious or other practice or beliefs that guide you in your life and work? ND:
Interesting question! There are certain things I do. Like I've had friends call me and ask me what I'm doing now, and I say, "I'm sitting." And they think I'm joking. But I really like just sitting and thinking. A lot of times on a gig before it starts, I'll go outside and just hang out there quietly. So I do meditate in that way. I like to just sit and think. I love the feeling of the whole thing just before a performance. By the way, I cry almost every day. Nobody will ever see it. Sometimes they're tears of joy, sometimes it's just a release. So I have ways of release that are not dramatic or life threatening, they just feel good.
We all have "little white lies," and I guess I do have some of that, but in the grand scheme of things, I'm totally honest. I can't stand people who sugarcoat things and won't say what's on their mind. Over the years, when teaching, I'll just say directly what's on my mind, not insulting anybody, but honest. That's why if I have a friend, I'm the most loyal friend you could have, but I only have a few close friends. I just want friends who are completely honest and are going to state what's on their mind. I have a few close friends, and I respect everybody. And I will never ever consciously insult or denigrate anybody. So I like sincerity, honesty, and that's really what drives me. But you have to be careful because honesty can get you in trouble sometimes. AAJ:
Yes, there's something in our social relations that includes joining in collective falsehood, a lie, a lot of which is mutual flattery. If you're completely honest, people don't want you around. ND:
Certain things can't be said in certain contexts and situations. AAJ:
It's interesting that you've naturally come upon a philosophy that overlaps a lot with spiritual beliefs and practices, particularly ethics, but it emerges spontaneously for you. ND:
That's probably correct. AAJ:
When I come and hear The Eleventet live, I really feel that you're totally for the group and the music. You don't make any remarks to the audience, you're listening intently, there's not a moment wasted. ND:
I'll do anything for these musicians.
Thoughts for Younger Musicians AAJ:
Yes. I can feel it. So, to wrap it up for now, I often ask as my closing question: What guidance would you give to an up and coming younger musician trying to develop his or her career? Let's say someone is in their late teens or early twenties, just graduated from a jazz department like Temple, everybody loves the way they play, they really dig composing and arranging, and they also like playing in bands. They want to pursue a career as a serious jazz musician. Most of the young graduates from music schools are extremely knowledgeable about music from the internet and all the resources available to them now, they play like monsters, but they haven't mingled with one another and done a lot of gigs like those in say the 1940s to 80s whose careers developed spontaneously from hanging out in the right places with the right people. They don't even know what to do when they get up on the stage to play a gig. So the question is, what do you think these young men and women need to develop as a person and a musician and have a career that sustains them and they can feel good about? ND:
Yes, I've run into this. I got into trouble lecturing in a class where there was a supervisor in there watching me, and I lost the class because I told everybody, "You're not guaranteed to end up working in music on a regular basis." But here's the real thing I always tell musicians: "If you can back it up, you can be successful." But even that is debatable because some people think some stuff is heavy that I think is useless. But if you find someone who has something really interesting and they've already got it developed to a really strong level, then to be successful they have to learn to trust their own instincts and opinions the most. And even this is questionable. I always say to my students, "Look, just follow along with me, I'll play act. 'Did you go to that concert last night?' And they'll say, 'Yeah, it was really enjoyable.' And I'll say, 'I think it was one of the worst things I ever heard. And I am completely right.' And if this is real life, you would have to decide whether to agree with me or not. That's the key. You have decide for yourself whether I'm right. You have to have your own frame of reference, to know when you yourself are doing the right thing."
So, again, I could get into a lot of trouble for this, but there's just a lot of stuff out there that's being highly praised, that is really mediocre. And some that should be highly praised. But I have my own well-developed convictions about it. You need to have that. I have these students, and they're great players, and then they often want to go to New York -there's the lure of it -they want to play in some of the clubs. If you do that, you've really got to have something of your own to offer, and you have to know what it is. And even then, you need something else to back it up. Very few jazz musicians are able to support themselves on playing or writing only what they love. A lot of them teach, some write jingles, whatever.
You have to ask yourself, "Am I good enough to do this?" I had a student who now lives in another state, and he called me up. He's really good, really talented. So he sends me a recording of his, and he says, "Whaddyou think man?" And I have two choices. I can say, "Yeah, I really go for it." But if I'm honest, I don't think it's that good." So he calls me, and he says, "Whaddyou think?" And I say, "If I'm honest, I wouldn't release it." And this is a guy who is really smart and talented, and he says, "Wow, let me think about that."