Rudresh Mahanthappa: Dancing on the Edges of Time

Victor L. Schermer By

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Saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa is constantly making waves in the music world, expanding the technique of his instrument and integrating jazz and world music, especially that of his parents' native land, India. Brilliantly innovative, he often surprises with his improvisations and the way he transforms the music into something new and stimulating. India's great poet, Rabindranath Tagore wrote, "Let your life lightly dance on the edges of time..." With his rhythmic propulsion and inexhaustible energy, Mahanthappa is always on the cutting edges of the musical traditions which undergird his playing and creative efforts.

In addition to forming his own groups, Mahanthappa enjoys collaborating with other innovative players like Vijay Iyer, Bunky Green, and the Indian Carnatic saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath. In this way, he has not only garnered praise and recognition from critics and fans alike, he is also one of a special class of players who have led jazz into the New Millennium, rooted firmly in tradition, while finding new directions and possibilities in a new era of human history and music making. His latest recording, Bird Calls (ACT Music, 2015) is a tour de force of musical inventiveness, paying homage to Charlie Parker by transforming Bird's songs and improvisations into new forms and structures.

Although he has been interviewed many times, All About Jazz wanted to find out how he would pull together various aspects of his life and career to see how it all came together and led up to, among other things, what he calls his Charlie Parker Project.

AAJ: Let's start with the infamous desert island question. Which CDs would you take to that desert island?

RM: OK. Grover Washington Jr.: Winelight (Elektra, 1980). The Brecker Brothers: Heavy Metal Bebop (Arista, 1985). John Coltrane: Transition (Impulse, 1970). Charlie Parker: Tbe Complete Savoy Recordings (Definitive, 1999). And the group "Yes:" Relayer (Atlantic, 1974).


AAJ: While many listeners know you've been heavily influenced by music from India and the world, the impact upon you of specific American jazz legends is not as well-known. Which of the great American jazz musicians had the biggest influence on you as you were coming up?

RM: Definitely Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. The way I got into music was by way of R&B and soul music in the 19870s-80s, which I often heard on the radio, as well as jazz-rock fusion. The music which early on inspired me to play came from people like David Sanborn, Grover Washington, Jr., and Michael Brecker. I was still a kid when I first heard these guys, maybe as young as 9 or 10 years old. Soon after that, I heard Charlie Parker, and was more or less a "Charlie Parker head" all the way through high school. And then I started getting interested in Coltrane. And then it was Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and anyone else I could get my hands on. I'd go to the library every week and check out albums, including the great singers, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and so on. The Indian music didn't become a life-changing force artistically until I was in college.

AAJ: Did Ornette Coleman have an early influence on you?

RM: In some ways, yes. I felt he sang through the horn in a way that was really unique. There was a very vocal and very friendly quality to the way he played. For me, he was very similar to Charlie Parker. But I didn't start seriously checking out a lot of Ornette until college, when I went through a period of listening to all kinds of Ornette. In fact, when I was at Berklee College of Music, I did a recital of all Ornette tunes. And I tried to dig deep into some of his compositions that weren't performed so often, and some of his least famous albums. And that was really fun and really important.

AAJ: Who was your first saxophone teacher? I assume that would be in Boulder, Colorado, where you grew up?

RM: Yes. His name was Mark Harris, and he's still very active in the Denver area, and he's still one of my very good friends. In fact, he was a groomsman at my wedding. We had an unusual relationship. He was a college sophomore when I began studying with him, and I was one of his very first students. Now he's very active as a teacher and university professor.

Mark had a big impact on me. He never used terms like "straight ahead" or "avant-garde." He brought over albums for me to listen to every week when he gave me lessons. He gave me a real mix. Like it could be on a given occasion, a Charlie Parker, a Louis Armstrong, and a progressive rock album. Or it might be Ornette Coleman, Sonny Stitt, and so on. Then I'd listen to them each week, and I'd never draw lines between their specific styles -it was all jazz to me. It wasn't until I went to college when I heard people use specific terms like "bebop," "hard bop," and "avant garde" and like, this is "outside" or "inside." I never really thought about music in any of those terms, and I still try not to.

AAJ: During what years were you studying with him?

RM: My best guess is that it would have been around 1980 through 1988, when I was in fourth grade until I went to college.

AAJ: You were quite an early starter with the saxophone!

RM: That was perhaps because our school district had a very good music program. The school band started in fourth grade.

AAJ: Was your first instrument the saxophone?

RM: I started with the recorder, and I really liked playing it for two years, and then the transition to saxophone was easy because the fingerings are very similar.

AAJ: So that was the beginning of your formal musical training, and eventually you went to Berklee College of Music.

RM: And after Berklee I went to graduate school at DePaul University in Chicago and got my master's degree in composition.

AAJ: In going through this educational process, what impressed and influenced you the most?

RM: My teachers were all very encouraging. As early as ninth grade, I started a band which tried to play Charlie Parker tunes. All through high school, I had my own bands, and our teachers gave us many opportunities to perform at school concerts.

When I went to Berklee, one of the most important opportunities was being able to study with Joe Viola. Joe, who has since passed away, was one of the legendary saxophone teachers. Not so much jazz as such, but the saxophone as instrument. He himself had studied at the Paris Conservatory, which was considered the foundational school for saxophone playing. Just being around Joe and talking about sound, and vibrato, and the mechanics of playing the horn was truly amazing.

Also, at that time, I was studying with the fabulous tenor saxophonist George Garzone, and his energy was really great. And at same time, I was already investigating various approaches to improvisation on my own, which George encouraged. And then I had a teacher named Ed Tomassi, who taught a very good theory and improvisation class. Between the three of them, as well as being at a place like Berklee, with tons of great musicians around my age, there was a lot of learning that went beyond the coursework. I was playing with other people, writing tunes, working with other like-minded individuals, and those were all very important experiences.

Music of India

AAJ: So, at Berklee and then Chicago, you were picking up on many aspects of the jazz scene. How did Indian music come into play for you?

RM: Well, first of all, it went beyond music as such. I was a child of Indian immigrants. Many children of immigrants put themselves under a microscope and try to sort out to what degree they feel American and to what extent they feel connected with their heritage. I grew up eating Indian food and practicing Hinduism every day, but I didn't really know my parents' language. I didn't grow up with other Indian families, and more importantly, families from my parents' part of India. This is important, because there are many different languages in India, so the ties go deeper into the particular region and language they came from.

AAJ: Which part of India did your parents come from?

RM: My parents are from the Bangalore area in the south of India, and they speak a language called Kannada. Only in the last ten or fifteen years has there been an influx of South Indians in the U.S. Prior to that, mostly North Indians came here. And northern India is different. The family of languages, the food, the way Hinduism is practiced, are all different. India is a very diverse country.

Up through high school, I grew up in a predominantly white community, and it was easier to think of myself as being white. But then I went to college at North Texas State University, where there was a big mixed black and white population, and I suddenly realized that I wasn't either one of those. So that's when I started to look into what it meant to be Indian in America. Fortunately there were a number of Indo-American and Indo-Canadian authors writing fiction and non-fiction about the experience of being a first generation Indian-American. I learned a lot from these books.

Indian music had always intrigued me. Growing up, I had heard mostly religious music, songs called Bhajan, devotional songs sung at a temple, the equivalent of church hymns. And of course, my parents had a couple of Ravi Shankar albums and some Indian classical vocal albums.

Due to my skin color, people often made the unfair assumption that I was an expert on Indian music! Actually, that expectation scared me off from Indian music! I didn't feel I had a safe place as yet to listen to and enjoy Indian music without having the burden of having to be an expert. However, at college I started studying Indian music in depth and detail as a way for me to embrace my ancestry, and I do feel closer to my parents and their culture and language now, because it's become so much a part of my music and what I do. At the time, I was also looking into Coltrane's music. All that helped define how I fit into the multicultural landscape of America.

AAJ: Did your comparing Coltrane and Indian music have a big impact on your playing?

RM: No, not necessarily. Looking back, I can see the connections and the through-lines, but I wasn't really looking for it at the time. The comparison between Indian music and jazz came much later.

AAJ: Coltrane was a good friend of Ravi Shankar.

RM: I would like to know more of the way that Coltrane was influenced by Indian music. We know that he studied it, but how he integrated it is unclear. I'd love to ask Ravi Coltrane if anything in his father's notebooks showed how he dissected it, looked at different ragas, and so on. Of course, at the time, Coltrane was the epitome of the world musician. He was checking out everything he could get his hands on. Whether it was Indian music or Stravinsky or African or Japanese music, he was in it and on it. That's the biggest way that Coltrane was a role model for me.

AAJ: When you were studying Indian music at that time, was it Carnatic music of southern India or more that of the north?

RM: At that time, I recall grabbing everything I could. I think the focus on Carnatic music came later. But, as I've mentioned in other interviews, the big turning point came when I got my hands on the album by Kadri Gopalnath: Saxophone Indian Style (Oriental, 1997). Gopalnath is the one who brought the saxophone into Indian classical music. And, yes, he is a Carnatic musician. So then, having the album available, I could try to learn it by ear just the way I'd try to learn anybody else's playing such as Coltrane, or Bunky Green, or Dave Liebman, or Steve Grossman!

One of the things I found very difficult about Indian music was learning the technique of melodic embellishment and ornamentation, where there is a lot of decoration of notes that involve a way of being able to slide around a note that's more conducive to a string instrument or a vocalist. Indian music is at its source a vocal music. Trying to do that on the saxophone without a role model was very hard. Hearing Gopalnath was eye-opening, because I could not only think about it musically and artistically, I could now dissect it saxophonically. Like I could figure out what fingering Gopalnath might be using to play the music. So that was really important for me artistically as a player.

AAJ: Did Gopalnath have any familiarity with jazz before you met him and worked with him?

RM: That's a good question. The short answer is "yes." Before me, there were a few others who sought him out for projects. John Handy became very interested in Indian music and ended up traveling to India and playing with a few musicians, including the great Akbar Kahn. Then, James Newton, the flute player, made an album with Gopalnath some years ago called Southern Brothers (Water Lily Acoustics, 1999). And then, Evan Parker sought Kadri out and invited him to play a concert at Royal Albert Hall in London. But when I got to work with Kadri, he told me that it was the first time he felt it was a real collaboration and integration of the musical genres and not just a performance with different approaches represented.

AAJ: That the two of you meshed so well was really a breakthrough.

RM: Yes, it manifested on many levels, and was really special.

AAJ: I recently listened to Carnatic music in particular and was impressed by its similarity to jazz. It really "swings!"

RM: Very much so. For me, Carnatic music has that same kind of rhythmic propulsion and elasticity that you can hear in drummers like Max Roach and Jack DeJohnette. For me, these all exist in the same sphere of music. That swing, as you say, is a big component they share in common.

AAJ: The Carnatic singers almost seem to be scatting, and they use similar musical devices to those you find in jazz. It's also very listenable, considering it uses scales that are not familiar to western ears at first.

RM: I'm glad you checked it out. That's cool.

Rhythm: The Edges of Time

AAJ: One of the striking qualities of your own playing is its intense sustained, almost relentless rhythmic pulse. It could be categorized as swing, but it goes beyond that. What's your own take on rhythm?

RM: One of the things that's always been important to me has been to be as complete a musician as I could, and what that meant to me was that if I were to perform solo, I would want to convey the total musicianship of having a whole band with me. I would want to make sure that, even though I'm just playing saxophone, you could "hear" the drums, piano, and bass behind it, as if all this is there. When I was at Berklee, I and another musician, maybe a trumpet player, would work as a duo and play over a standard and really see if we could hold it together -hold the structure, the harmonic progression, the rhythm -without the rhythm section behind us. That's really the core foundation of everything that I've built upon. I felt that there were a lot of horn players who didn't really talk about rhythm, sort as if the drummer took care of all that. To me, we should be worried about all of it, and convey all of it on our instrument. Like, I should know what five over four sounds like as easily as the drummer does. But I do think that over the last ten years, more and more musicians are getting interested in such things, largely on account of the work of people like Steve Coleman.

When I was at Berklee, Dave Holland had just released his Extensions (ECM, 1990) with Kevin Eubanks, Smitty Smith, and Steve Coleman. I never heard anyone playing like they did. Their sense of rhythm was super-strong, none of the tunes were in four-four, everyone was playing these odd rhythms as easily as if they were singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb!"

That level of rhythm and internalization of rhythmic structures was something that I aspired to, and I found ways of working on that, mainly by writing tunes that involved things I previously was unfamiliar with. So in that process, I'm learning about rhythm. And a lot of the rhythmic structures that I do are coming from Indian rhythmic structures such as beat cycles, not necessarily verbatim, but the source material is there and I work from it.

AAJ: What is a beat cycle?

RM: Well, for example, a seven beat cycle is common in Indian music. And it's very important to think of it just as seven beats, without measures like seven-four or seven-eight. It's just seven beats. So we just take those seven beats and group it accordingly and see what we can do on top of that, which is where all the magic happens. Let's write a drum part with seven beats, and then let's write a melody against that. Or a very common South Indian cycle is actually three sevens, a twenty-one beat cycle. So it was very important for me to feel that with the same ease that I feel, say "Sonnymoon for Two" or ":Straight No Chaser." It's a matter of being diligent and surrounding ourselves with what we're trying to learn, as opposed to reading books about it. Buying a lot of albums and listening to them. That's also where my sense of polyrhythm comes from, as well as from Western Music. Dennis Chambers, Vinnie Colaiuta, Smitty Smith. These people are masters of polyrhythm. I wanted it to be informed by the West and the East at the same time and make my own thing out of it.

AAJ: And despite or because of these multiple rhythmic influences, you really do "swing" when you play. The first time I heard you play, I was stunned by the rhythmic propulsion you bring to the music. People think of swing as a single, uniform thing, but if you start to unpack it, it really is quite complex.

RM: Absolutely. And swing really goes beyond music. It's related to regional geography and sociology. Like someone from New England might swing differently from someone from New Orleans or from California! The tale that's told by the way someone plays rhythm is totally amazing!

Collaborations with Vijay Iyer and Bunky Green

AAJ: And if you add the world music influences, swing has many diverse sides to it. To change the subject a bit, I'm especially interested in your collaborations with Vijay Iyer and also with Bunky Green. You've worked with Vijay for many years, and I wonder what you take from him that you utilize when you're not playing with him.

RM: That's interesting. I wouldn't characterize it quite like that. Vijay and I really worked on many things together. We were coming from similar places from the time we met around 1994, and started playing together in 1995, so it's going to be twenty years this summer since we began playing together. We don't play together as much any more, but we still do occasionally. And, of course, our connection was more than just the music. We were both trying to play jazz, both in our early twenties when we met, and Steve Coleman was the one who actually introduced us. Vijay was doing a little bit of work with Steve, and I was studying with Steve in a sort of workshop format, and Steve introduced us and I think Vijay and I were both shocked that we were both Indian guys trying to play jazz! Our connections were so deep. We both have South Indian backgrounds, we both grew up in similar scenarios, eating the same food, our parents mispronouncing words in similar ways. In a way, our music was a byproduct of our other commonalities. But at the time, he as a pianist was thinking more about Indian rhythm than I was. He was looking into a lot of Indian percussion stuff, while I was trying to dissect a lot of vocalists and dealing with raga and melody.

So we just continued to work together. We never co-wrote any music together, but we each wrote a lot of music specifically for each other either for his quartet or mine. The duo setting was the way we started, and we continue to do so, and that's where the connection resonates most strongly. But to get back to your question, playing Vijay's music taught me a lot about rhythm, especially as a horn player. Playing the piano is very tactile rhythmically, it's very percussion-like, and I got pushed to trying to replicate that same feeling on the saxophone.

AAJ: It occurs to me that with both the saxophone and the piano, you have to finesse the half-tones and "in-between" notes that you find so much in Indian music. Did that come up at all in your work?

RM: When I got more involved in the sort of ornamentation that involves, for lack of a better word, "microtonality," then I found myself playing more with guitarists than pianists, which makes it a lot easier to do. But I did have some conversations with Vijay about it. The way the overtone system works, you can actually convey something microtonal. Vijay is very much a scientist of the piano in the same way that perhaps Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington were. He was always looking at ways to expand the sonic and tonal capabilities of the piano. And one of the things we were both very concerned with was trying to create music that was a synthesis and portrayal of what it was to be Indian American. For us, it wasn't just about "cut and paste" Indian and jazz, it was really about breaking things down into their fundamental building blocks and creating something new which pays equal respect to both art forms but at the same time constitutes its own genre.

AAJ: That idea has implications for our society as a whole! Creating something new out of diversity is a great idea!

RM: Yes, that's right!

AAJ: Jazz is a cross-cultural phenomenon. Some critics call it a "hybrid" form of music. Turning to Bunky Green now, and on a related note, it would seem that you and Bunky come from totally different worlds personally and musically, yet the two of you hit it off so well on many levels.

RM: Well, my relationship with Bunky started a very long time ago. When I was at Berklee, Joe Viola heard me warming up for a lesson. I was playing some stuff I'd been working on, and he really liked it. He said, "Man, some of what you're playing reminds me of Bunky Green. I thought, "Who's he?" I'd vaguely heard of him in jazz educational circles, like that he was president of IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators) at one time, but I didn't know anything about him as a player at all. So, Joe lent me an album of Bunky's called Places We've Never Been (Vanguard, 1979). I went back to my apartment and listened to it and was totally blown away by what Bunky was playing! It was everything that I'd been thinking about but couldn't necessarily accomplish yet. I heard the tradition; I heard bebop and Charlie Parker in what he was playing, but I also heard something very advanced that was informed possibly by Eastern music but also by a lot of twentieth century classical music. But it also had an incredible urgency and energy. And he is also technically phenomenal. This is 1991, and I was very precocious, and although there was no internet at the time, I still managed to track Bunky down, and I called him at his office at the University of North Florida. I told him his album blew my mind and offered to send him a tape of my own stuff to get his feedback. He said, "OK" and I sent him a tape the next day. He called back a couple of weeks later and was very encouraging. He said, "Man, you're trying to do your own thing, and you've got to keep doin' it, keep working on it, and don't compromise." I was just thrilled to talk to him for a few minutes.

Then, I was in Chicago, playing at the IAJE conference as a featured soloist with the DePaul University Big Band. I saw Bunky there, and reminded him of our phone call. And I said I'd appreciate it if he'd come to my performance. Sure enough, when I finished the show and came offstage, Bunky was there waiting for me, and gave me this huge hug, and he said, "Man! You know what? There are only four of us! There's you, me, Steve Coleman and Greg Osby, and somehow we have to take the alto saxophone into the future." That was it!

Bunky and I stayed in touch over the years, and always talked about doing something together. Eventually an opportunity came up to do a big concert in Chicago, in Millennium Park. It went really well, and I said "We need to record this." I talked to Jason Moran about it, and he said, "I'd like to play on that." Then I mentioned it to Jack DeJohnette, and he said, "I wanna play on that." So that's how we got to make the recording Apex (PI Recordings, 2010).

As long as Bunky can travel, we'll always work together when we can. It's really important for people to hear Bunky. Making that album was partly to bring attention to one of those really great underground heroes of the alto saxophone. We got to be on the cover of Downbeat together, and to me it was an honor, but it was more important to me that Bunky was on the cover.

AAJ: It sounds like the end of the Bogart film Casablanca where Rick says to Captain Renault, "This could be the start of a beautiful friendship." You really convey the warmth you have with each other. And you both have "big ears," you can hear a lot of new stuff before it happens.

RM: Yes, absolutely. One of the things people don't know about Bunky was that when he was in college, he had a scholarship where he got to live in France for a year, and while there, he travelled in North Africa where he heard some of the local music, which was really impactful on him. He heard some of that North African and Middle Eastern double reed playing, which he integrated into his own sound and is very similar to mine. There's a tune on his Places We've Never Been album called "East Meets West," where he worked with some of those concepts.

Bird Calls

AAJ: Let's focus on your new CD, Bird Calls. It's a unique album in some ways. What was your intent in making the album? What prompted you to do an album about Charlie Parker without any of his originals or iconic tunes?

RM: Charlie Parker has been on the back of my mind for a really long time. I feel that there is a lot of "information" in Bird's work that has yet to be investigated and utilized in a contemporary way. I guess my intent was to show that Bird is not just your grandfather's jazz. He is as relevant and important to any genre of western music right now, today. Of course, everyone recognizes his importance, but I mean in terms of what we've learned from Charlie Parker and how that manifests now. It's easy to say that he was one of the greatest musicians of all time, but let's talk about why and how, let's grow that conversation. I think that was my intent in making this album.

AAJ: That's beautiful. Parker had absorbed many forms of music and developed them in in innovative ways. Your album, Bird Calls, is a robust example of how you are able to utilize his insights and music within your own contemporary context. I think he would have felt truly honored by your recording.

RM: Well, thank you. That's cool.

AAJ: In my review of Bird Calls, I referred to cryptology, in that you encode Parker's tunes and harmonies in disguise. I just found out that you made a previous recording called Codebook (Pi Recordings, 2006).

RM: Which is based on cryptology!

AAJ: And you may have seen the film, The Imitation Game, which is the story of cryptologist Alan Turing's deciphering the German communication codes during WWII. Did you intentionally use cryptology in Bird Calls?

RM: Not necessarily. I was thinking more about taking excerpts from Bird's tunes and taking them out of context. A long time ago, I had been working on Bird's "Donna Lee" with a student, and we broke it up into sections in order to learn the tune. It struck me that if you started playing somewhere in the middle of a phrase, it didn't sound like "Donna Lee" any more. Say we took the "Star Spangled Banner" and just started playing at a random part, it would actually sound like something else. So I found that when you did that with Bird's tunes, they sounded completely different, they sounded like Bartok or Schoenberg to me! They were very sophisticated melodically, and it suggested to me that there's more to investigate.

More recently, I was asked to participate in a New York concert dedicated to Charlie Parker from a modern orientation. And I thought, "Well, okay, this is an opportunity to try writing some music and see how it turns out." I wrote three or four tunes for the concert, and I liked the direction it was taking, so I wrote some more, and they became the basis of the album.

AAJ: It fascinating to think of taking slices of tunes and using them in novel ways.

RM: It totally changes your perspective on how you hear these songs! When we memorize tunes, we always start at the beginning of it. It's just human nature to start at the beginning and go to the end. We are hearing the whole sequence. But if you start at the middle and go to the beginning or the end, it changes your perspective. We as Westerners read from left to right. Similarly, we hear a musical composition from beginning to end. And we might even do the same thing with a painting. I think that if we start at different location in the sequence, it shifts our perspective, and we learn a lot that way.

AAJ: What comes to my mind is Noam Chomsky's work on transformational grammar. For Chomsky, the same sentence can be transformed in various ways according to universal principles. A lot of jazz is expressed in the form of a sentence. It has a sentence structure deriving, for example, from the lyrics. If you change that, as you seem to be saying, you get a different structure, almost a different language.

RM: Leonard Bernstein, in his famous Norton Lectures at Harvard (The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, Harvard University Press, 1981, 1992), mentions Chomsky's work on linguistics.

AAJ: So in a way, you uncovered and dissected Parker's "language." Moreover, above and beyond your utilization of Parker's ideas, your saxophone playing itself sounds like Charlie Parker to me. It has the same energy level.

RM: It's nice to hear you say that! The only other person who ever said that to me was Herb Pomeroy.

AAJ: That's quite flattering to me, since Herb Pomeroy is one of the most influential performers and teachers in jazz. But getting back to what we were just talking about, I would say that your idea of looking more closely at the musical structure of Parker and other jazz legends is very important, maybe portends a breakthrough in the jazz idiom.

Upcoming Projects

AAJ: OK. Now let's look at what's coming up for you, Rudresh. Since you completed Bird Calls, what do you have in mind to do next?

RM: Since I completed the album, I've wanted to get out there and perform live more often. For one thing, I wrote a full-length piece "Song of the Jasmine" for a dance company that involves me and an ensemble performing with the dancers. It's a contemporary Indian dance company called Ragamala. They're based in Minneapolis. We premiered the piece in May, 2014 and performed it at Lincoln Center in August. And we have a number of weekend shows at performing arts centers coming up through June, 2015. It's a completely different world working with dancers and understanding how they translate the music into movement, and how they view improvisation. And our band is really great. It includes Carnatic violin and percussion and flute. Rez Abbasi is playing really great electric guitar. Eventually, I'd like to record the music, which I think stands on its own.

A year ago, I did a week at the Stone in New York. I did three nights with the Charlie Parker project and three nights with my Indo-Pak Coalition Trio. Until then, I'd been planning my next album to be my Indo-Pak Coalition. Then I got absorbed in the "Bird" project. So I think my Indo-Pak trio will be my next project. And I want to get on the road with "Bird Calls" soon.

But you know, everything's different when you have a child. [Rudresh's son Talin is 2, and Rudresh is very devoted to him—Eds.] He's really the biggest and most important project! So sometimes I'd most prefer to spend my time teaching him some new words and some new songs! And, now that I mention that, one of the things in the back of my mind is trying to write some children's songs. There's some good children's music out there, but there's a lot of really awful children's music out there! Maybe there's a new way to think about what it means to be a listener when you're only one and a half years old.

AAJ: Prokifiev's Peter and the Wolf is a good role model for children's music. And Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. They're among the very few great musical works specifically for children.

RM: Absolutely. So I want to try to get my head around children's music. Now you're not going to believe this, but I also want to try to write a piece around a comedian! I think there are similarities between stand-up comedy and jazz. I'm thinking about things like the way in which timing works and the way a joke builds up and the way a jazz solo builds up. And the rhythm of how all that happens is quite interesting.

I've also been thinking about doing some interactive multi-media projects and have been talking to some chamber music groups about writing music for them. I recently wrote a piece for the Prism Saxophone Quartet. I performed it with them. There's some improvisation, but it's mostly a written chamber piece. So I'd like to do more of that kind of thing.



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