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I like to play stride, boogie-woogie, be-bop, modal, etc., and I think free jazz should contain all of the above. I am playing free in the sense that I mostly improvise without any predetermined melodic or harmonic material, other than perhaps a pitch class set, or, as Cecil Taylor would call it a "unit structure. I don't think that free jazz is defined by the style and language of its originators, who were simply creative people, each with their own unique set of influences, strengths and weaknesses. The thought of copying the sum of one person's work and then trying to take it further seems like a recipe for failure. What I have tried to do is to expose myself the primary influences of the innovators, and make my own synthesis of that body of knowledge. Otherwise I fear a narrowing of the music will be the result.
I also feel that with the freedom comes responsibility: if I give myself the freedom to play anything I want, it better be more interesting than something that has had limits imposed on it. I believe that music is enhanced silence, so it needs to be an improvement.
Steve Lantner Trio, What You Can Throw (HatOLOGY, 2007) Steve Lantner Quartet, Paradise Road (Skycap, 2006) Steve Lantner Trio, Blue Yonder (Skycap, 2005) Steve Lantner Trio, Saying So (Riti 2002) Lantner/Maneri/Morris, Voices Lowered (Leo, 2001) Steve Lantner/Mat Maneri, Reaching (Leo, 1997)
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.