The concept was 'Okay, you're not working much in New York, people think you've moved to Europe or you don't exist or you're not alive, let's come out and be visible.
Bassist Reggie Workman has spent almost 50 years participating in the shaping of modern jazz, playing with groups led by Art Blakey, Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, Archie Shepp and John Coltrane, using those experiences to form his own unique brand of improvising and composing. Just a few months short of 70, Workman continues to record and tour, as well as teach at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Lately he has focused his considerable energy towards organizing the Sculptured Sounds Music Festival, a series of shows taking place on Sundays this month at Saint Peter's Church.
All About Jazz: What was the driving force behind Sculptured Sounds?
Reggie Workman: The idea for the festival grew out of an ongoing conversation with my co-founder Francina Connors about the music scene becoming more barren and fewer and fewer venues in which to perform. The reason we wanted to do this festival is because, as a musician myself... We looked around and realized that a lot of us musicians who would like to [perform] in New York end up having to go to Europe and the people here never hear what's on our minds... You have a certain number of people who are always in vogue, always up front, always before your ears and eyes. And there's a whole cadre of people who are doing creative things who never get to be heard.
AAJ: Back in the day [jazz musicians] went to Europe because European club owners and audiences were more receptive.
RW: They still are, even though the ratio is a little different. Entrepreneurs in Europe are more nationalistic now; they are hiring more of the local performers than before. With this Homeland Security Act it's more difficult to travel with your instruments. But still, even with all of those problems, it's better to have your boundaries not set at the Atlantic and the Pacific. But we don't want to come back home to ignorance, you know, where people somewhere else know more about the music and your creativity than the people right here. The concept was "Okay, you're not working much in New York, people think you've moved to Europe or you don't exist or you're not alive, let's come out and be visible and while [we're] doing it let's bring the other people who are your compadres along with you.
AAJ: How was the [December 10th] Preview Concert received?
RW: First let me step back a bit and say we chose Saint Peter's for the festival because of its history as a jazz ministry started by the late Rev. John Gensel. It's affectionately known as the "jazz church and Francina has performed at Saint Peter's and has been involved with various projects at the church. Coming forward, we wanted to do a preview concert for two reasons. One is because of the calendars and schedules of the people and the venue. Another, because we need to do something [like] sticking [a] toe in the water, a feeler, to see what we had to do to make it better, to make it run smoothly. Notice [that] we put it just after Thanksgiving and just before Christmas, right in the middle so [that] it could be not [subject to] the same excuse[s] that people usually have.
You can't imagine what has to be done... In New York people have so much to choose from. It's such a big smorgasbord of art that we can't expect that we are gonna be strong enough to get everybody or the majority into that church. Therefore we want to work hard enough to let the people know that the quality is high enough that this is a place to be in February.
AAJ: What did you learn?
RW: Well first of all, we learned that we have to condense the performance a bit. Secondly, we learned that we have to reach out to people who ordinarily don't pick up the [Village] Voice, don't pick up the trades. We realized that things are not the same as they used to be, so our technique for reaching all those people must be a little bit different. We realize that we have to have a smooth team and plan to run it if you're expecting to bring people in. We learned that we have to get an earlier start with everything because before you know it the event is on you and you're not completely prepared. So we have to figure out how to balance our energies.
AAJ: It should be pointed out that Sculptured Sounds Music Festival isn't just about music...there's also spoken word and an art exhibit.
RW: The word is "art. The musicians are artists, the spoken word people are artists, the people who paint, whatever. The word is "art and we know that a lot of our art comes from different directions in different formats. So we don't want to exclude anybody who is dealing with that.
AAJ: What's the format of the show?
RW: Pre-concert activities begin the space that you enter coming down the stairs, the "Living Room, not the sanctuary. The living room will be set up with the vending tables of artists performing that night as well as other artists in the festival who have elected to vend that night. At the same time, in another section of the living room space a pre-concert lecture/ demonstration will be going on. [The Preview Concert featured an art exhibit and discussion by musician/artists Oliver Lake and Dick Griffin.] That kicks off at seven o'clock. So the people can come in, they can mill around, they can feel the atmosphere, buy some CDs if they want to, whatever the case may be. At 7:15, we open the doors to the Sanctuary and hope to start promptly at 7:30.
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.