Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet: Bridging the Future with the Past

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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MG: That applies to all art but perhaps music is more obvious. But of course, it's all about what we have been talking about. It's about sharing and searching and about all the active processes.

KV: I think that one of the problems with the kind of music we play is that it's very hard to commodify. We now live in a capitalist society which is almost everywhere on the planet today. There is an obsession with ownership of material things, but music is ephemeral. Even a recording is just an example of one thing and is not the ultimate expression; it's not the original. And with the kind of music we play, I think it's true that part of the struggle that we have in gaining more acceptance for the work we are doing is that it cannot be defined.

And from what I understand, Ornette Coleman is frustrated over the fact that he has been called a genius, yet he is not paid the commissions of someone like Elliott Carter and that's a valid complaint. If you are going to talk about financial compensation, the kind of work that we do isn't truly defined. So it's kind of a catch 22. How do we explain what we do? In new music circles, they say we just improvise; we just make it up.

JM: It's like throw away music; it's not important. But they should be paying us by the note.

KV: (laughs) That's the thing because many will write off what we do even though they use the developments of people that are making this music. A couple of days ago, I was talking about Paul Rutherford with Peter and Peter wastalking about how Vinko Globokar took many of the techniques that Rutherford developed in improvised music and Globokar is now this well known composer. Some of his work is even fantastic but Rutherford isn't getting a check for the royalties from that work.

So many of the people that are responsible for new innovations are not given the credit deserved. I'm mean yeah, you can credit us but it's this thing that's ephemeral in a world where that's not valued. Not to sound pretentious, but we are artists on stage making a statement that won't be that way ever again and how are you going to commodify that?

We are in a world where so much importance is placed on instant gratification. It's the realization that I have the best car, the best television set or I have the most famous painting or blah, blah, blah. And as improvising musicians, we are doing something that is completely counter to that because it won't be the same ever again if we are doing it right. And the closest thing anyone could have is a recording. But if you talk to any of the musicians working on this music, they'll tell you that they don't even remember some of the recordings that they have made because they are already onto the next thing.

So we are in an unusual place in the world because we are doing something that ideally is a life long pursuit that goes on and on and on; it's always changing so we are always bucking against these people who want to commodify us and categorize us. People decided ten years ago even what kind of music I play and they don't know anything about what I do because I don't. And I have also seen it in the short amount of time I have worked with Peter. Almost after every concert someone comes up to him and talks about Machine Gun but how long ago wasthat and what is he doing now?

For all of us, it's about what's right now. And it's difficult because any artist is really doing the same type of thing. A painting isn't the result, it's a step in the process and that's why there isn't only one painting. So I think what Mats is saying is completely true. We are artists like any artists in trying to do the work. It's just that the work that we do doesn't have a specific place in our society because it's about live music which is already an endangered species. The general population isn't interested in the idea of live music. They are more than happy to go to a concert and have people lip sync. They just don't give a shit. So we are really strange. We play acoustic instruments, the old fashioned way and get up and play something different every night. Where is our place?

So we have to find it. Because after that is said, I think there is a place for us in society just by the nature of what we are doing. People are starving to have that experience and they don't even know it, so part of the problem is for us in finding those people. All societies hear music of some kind and that's a part of our tradition too. It's not just the jazz tradition or the improvised music tradition; I see myself as part of the tradition; the idea of journeyman musicians playing music in society in bringing ideas through music to different places. I see a large connection to that. It's not just Coleman Hawkins, it's from all different kinds of societies.

MG: It's way, way more important now than ever because of that media cake that Peter was talking about. It's really more important than ever to have live music the way we do it.

JM: I don't know if you noticed but at the end of last night's performance, people could not move from their seats; they were stuck. They didn't know what to do and they couldn't get out of the theater and that was amazing. That's what happens and why we are very dangerous. We are dangerous politically because we are the first people that Karl Rove is going to go after and try and shut down because ideas are terribly dangerous and threaten these conservative assholes. Max Roach once said, "It doesn't matter what people feel, they can love the music or hate it but they cannot be indifferent to it." You have to feel something and that's what we need to do, we have to have that kind of platform; have more opportunities to play. I mean, recording really doesn't interest me much. Once it's done, I have a hard time listening to anything I have done in the past.

PB: I hear you. Once it's done, I'm ready to move on.

LP: This reminds of a conversation I had with Wadada Leo Smith, which had to do with the civil rights movement of the 60s.' It was believed that the political powers that be feared free improvisational music because it elevated the consciousness of the individual.

JM: Well, I'm labeled as a 60s free jazz musician and get stuck being placed into that period. But my music was very political and it was intended to scare the shit out of people and to get people energized and to do things to whatever extent that it could be done. And though I probably don't package it in the same way, it's still the same thing. I need to do that and that's my intention.

KV: It's like what Max Roach said, if we are doing it right, you cannot be indifferent to it because we are projecting our commitment and it becomes a confrontation of what the music means right now. And this process that the audience and band face from different sides is an incredible experience. We are in a catastrophic time in the United States, if not globally, and just to have music and the poetry in the air can be overwhelming for people and it can be beautiful in the truest sense. And people never get that. It's a rare thing and I think that the fact that we even can get to those things in the work that we do from time to time, it's crucial that it's there.

MG: The scary thing is that people are not even aware that they need it. They don't know how to get it and they don't know that they need to get it.

KV: You cannot even begin to describe the level of idiocy connected to this festival. That's a book in itself. Somehow some people made it to the concert, despite every effort to keep them from getting there. And I know that some of those people have heard the Tentet before and they were excited that ok, they are going to hear the band but I don't think any of those people were prepared for what they were going to be faced with and how it was going to happen; on all of those different kinds of levels. It's like they were overwhelmed. Oh my God...It wakes them up out of their stupor that they may be in whether they know it or not. There were people who thought they knew the band but didn't know, and that's the way it should be.

PNL: People come wanting to hear what they heard the band play last time and not caring about what the band is doing today.

LP: Paal, you said earlier that people in all of the arts are doing forward thinking work but sometimes you are out there all alone? How do you validate what you are doing?

PNL: When one is always true to oneself, then it's ok. You have your own understanding in the way you want things to go and as long as you carry it 100%, then it should be ok.

MG: Yeah, you cannot do much more.

KV: If I meet someone at a concert and they are happy about being there and about the music, I can recognize myself in them. You know what I mean?

I also value what my peers think. It means a lot to me. If I didn't feel as if I had a feeling of respect coming from those people that I respect, then I would know that I am doing something wrong or that I'm lying to myself about what it is that I am working on. And I think that fundamentally, you have to have that sense and if you abandon that even for a minute, then you are really going down to something that is going to lead to a dark place. There are people who have done amazing and incredible work and then for whatever reasons, they make choices to leave their work and then they don't seem to ever find it again. It's a delicate thing; the respect for the music and the people that you work with and once you let go of that for the sake of making more money or for the sake of being more famous, it slips away from you. Unfortunately, there are a lot of examples of that happening.

LP: I recently had a conversation with one person who was from Germany and the other person from Switzerland. The discussion centered around tolerance and the differences between various cultures and all of you come from different cultures. Do you find that tolerance differs amongst various cultures and does it affect how people view the events happening in the world today?
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