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Scott Colley: Staying In The Moment

Mark Sullivan By

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AAJ: I wanted to ask you about your current ArtistShare project with the Koppel Colley Blade Collective. How's that going?

SC: Great. It's been amazing ride. We did two or three tours in Europe with the trio and some very intimate setting, you know, we generally just set up very close with no amplification or very little. And it's just something that we started with the idea because what Benjamin Koppel has his own part of the Copenhagen Festival that he sets up ten concerts in ten days in a theater, beautiful theater in Copenhagen. And so he invited Brian and I and we just decided from that point that we would try the trio because it just organically works so well. And then we did some tours and finally went into the studio and recorded. So publicly it's just being introduced as a trio but we've been doing it for about three years off and on.

AAJ: So is there going to be an ongoing thing?

SC:Yeah. Actually we're talking about..we recorded in NY where I live. We've talked about maybe doing the second recording down in Shreveport, where Brian is, and then doing another one in Copenhagen, or in Denmark somewhere. So the idea was kind of like...because also when we recorded, our families are hanging out, having a great time together...We did some things that involved some vocals with...my daughter and Benjamin's daughter and just some different experiments with sound and language. On top of just the trio, the acoustic trio, we've also experimented some with different textures. And so that's kind of an ongoing thing, so we're going to continue in 2016.

AAJ: That's good to hear. Are you planning on doing some more things as leader, or is your plate pretty full right now?

SC: It's pretty full, but I'm going to be doing some touring in 2016. However I'm still deciding on exactly what. I'm definitely playing at the Vanguard in March, and we'll be doing some touring later on, but...to the end of the year, I'm just doing some other projects.

Contributing to the group sound

SC: I'm always asking myself the question—I've said this a lot—what's the most powerful thing I can do in this situation? If it's a ballad, I'm speaking of power in terms of delivering the ballad, like we were talking about Carmen McRae and the way she was able to be very soft. Or it could be power in a different way, volume or texture. My influences are super broad in terms of things that I listen to. My influences are everybody from Paul Chambers to James Jamerson to a lot of Hendrix and James Brown or... and classical influences and all kinds of things so you find those things within your history or your background that you can bring out in different ways. Sometimes they're not overt.

You get into a certain groove and then it's like applying these influences to the acoustic bass can be a whole different thing.. It's not to really think in terms of genre when you're playing. It's just thinking of music. When I'm communicating with this large orchestra that Pat's put together, then my whole attention is spread throughout that. And through Pat's vision of what this would be. And if it's a trio setting, it's very different. So the music that we played in the last few nights—the trio stuff with Pat and Antonio—then it's a very different, using different parts of your musical background and things that you can...then when you add Gary Burton to it or Kenny Garrett, it changes everything.

AAJ: Oh yeah, absolutely, it sounded like two different groups.

SC: Yeah, it's very important to have no preconceptions about how that's going to be. It's just looking at the exact moment sitting there and listening and going, well, what's the best thing I can do. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. Sometimes the best thing to do is something very frenetic. Sometimes it's very simple. Pat's world. So it's always looking at that. And that's the way I think of music, that's the way I think of a conversation and relationships of all kinds, musical and personal. It's all one thing. And I think that's what can bring depth to the music. And in terms of my world view it's also a very important part of what I think is really needed in this world is the attempt at that level of communication so that people can begin to really understand other ideas, other cultures, other ways of going about things. And that's something that's a constant lesson for music for me.

But I see levels of that in Herbie Hancock and Jim Hall and Pat, you know, but it's interesting with each individual that I've been lucky to play with over time, you begin to see the connections of a person's spirit personally and how it connects to their musical process. In very weird ways. And it can be...it's not always clear in the beginning, but over time it's been one of the amazing things about having this life in music and following the thread of the opportunities that I've been given to play with these great musicians. And then you learn certain fundamental things that one person holds. It's really crucial. And one person's music is not in another's. And for me to have an identity hopefully through my own playing that I can adapt and move. And that was a great lesson from watching Charlie through all the different things that he was doing when I was at Cal Arts was amazing. Playing his stuff that he was doing at the time with Liberation Music Orchestra with Pat's Song X and Ornette and Hampton Hawes or you hear him in all these different settings, and right away you know that's Charlie Haden.

However, the settings are so different, you list Song X and then Hank Jones duo. I mean, it's Charlie in both settings, from the first note you hear. However he's able to adapt that. And that's really communication that I strive for, that kind of depth.

But to me it's all collaboration...If I write the music or somebody else writes the music, I'm not going to change the way I play. Once I write a bunch of music for a band and then I'm playing it, I am the bassist. I'm one of the individuals of that band. And that's the way I always think about it. So if I have five musicians, I've written all the music, I may have certain ideas about how the structures are going to go and I'll communicate that as best I can, but my function in it is not going to change.

AAJ: Yeah, otherwise you might as well be overdubbing all the parts.

SC: Yeah, right. I'm looking for those surprises to happen, for those things...if I write something for Bill Frisell, for example, or Ralph Alessi, on the last record, like write something and then all of a sudden they play it completely different, but I wrote it for them but all of a sudden what they come up with is really different than what I...I'll sit back and listen to it and for a long time before I say, "Wow, maybe that's much better than I conceived" (laughter)... the surprise is even though I wrote it for a certain individual, it can be very...I mean, you know, if you're open to that. And there's also a lot that happens to a composition in the process of playing and recording it. And it's not just done when it's recorded either. It's still moving and changing. That's the way with all my writing. It's still a living composition that can change depending on different individuals that I might play the music with, or over the course of a tour with the same musicians, how we approach it to see how we can surprise each other and. It is possible, I've played with people who can lock that down and make it so those possibilities don't exist. And to me that's not that interesting. Because those surprises can be the best part of music.
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