Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

15

Steve Swell: Appreciating the Avant Garde Today

Victor L. Schermer By

Sign in to view read count
AAJ: But you're just playing whatever comes to your mind, wherever you want to go?

"Spontaneous Compositions"

SS: Exactly. And by listening to each other we string together what many people now call "spontaneous compositions."

AAJ: OK, let's say I'm your average Joe. I'm sitting in the audience, and I'm thinking, "What the hell are these guys playing!!?? I'm open-minded enough to give it a chance. Could you say what you are trying to accomplish when you don't have this familiar structure to work with?

SS: Well, to begin with, we're not thinking of those things. We're just trusting all the experiences musically and in life that we've had up to that point, and we're responding to each other in a sensitive way. Whether that sensitivity is raw or quiet, or whatever volume or emotion it is, we're responding to each other. Maybe one of us starts to play something and then I'll respond to it, and then -the main thing that we were just talking about -is the sound. And we're also taking into consideration the space itself. The sound of the space. The space in Kingston had very live acoustics, so I discovered that the softer I played, I could find some ideas that were more fragile and kind of deep, maybe sad in spots. And then we got pretty raucous at times! But I found with those live acoustics that I didn't have to play very loud to get a lot of emotion across. The space and audience are actually part of the band and the music.

A Comparison with Jackson Pollock's Art

SS: If you're an audience member who is confronted with this sort of playing, and say the music was entirely new to you, I'd suggest doing what I do when I'm exposed to a new kind of music. I close my eyes, and I just listen and let it take me from there. It's a bit like looking at a Jackson Pollock painting for the first time. He's dripped some paint in one part of the canvas, and then does something else in another place. It seems random, but then when you look at it for a while, it becomes meaningful and alive for you, as it has for so many art lovers.



With music, it's not all drips, you can hear some kind of melody, chords. It's very important to hear where it starts. You wait for the moment of the first sounds, and then you're ready to take the train on the journey with the musicians. Maybe stepping back and listening to the whole "picture" you might gravitate towards a specific sound or musicians and focus in on that. Many times listening back to something I did or listening to someone elses music I got turned on by a specific sound and don't recognize it then I go looking for its source. Where is that sound coming from? Who is making it? is the source two or more musicians making it? That's what I love about this music, discovering a unique sound or interplay of sound that is happening spontaneously.

AAJ: So that journey has something to do with the collective experiences of musicians and listeners. It's got some kind of structure underlying it. It's not total chaos. Like with Jackson Pollock, you begin to see how organized it is beneath the apparently random drips of paint.

SS: Of course! As raw as they may be to some, his paintings are beautiful. And the same thing can happen with a group of musicians with sounds. They're listening very hard to what they're contributing at each moment. And what you'll find is that a freely improvised performance will go through many different permutations. The musicians know how to move between the parts or movements to develop their ideas. So if you listen carefully, and with an open mind, you're going to have a very rich and rewarding musical experience. But you do have to overcome any prejudice that you have. You just have to follow along and see what you might be drawn into, just as you would with a new work of art of any kind. And with recordings, you have a chance to go back and listen again to see what else pops up. I discover new things each time I listen to one of them.

AAJ: Jazz is different from paintings, in that jazz takes place in time and can never be repeated, while a painting is "frozen" in time. It takes place in space rather than time.

SS: Yes, but you can think of jazz as a kind of "action painting," where you watch the artist or artists going through his or her process. Its fascinating for me to see, hear, be involved in that as a musician and/or listener. In fact, there's quite a bit of combined music and visual arts being done today. Jeff Schlanger creates paintings in response to the music as it's played. Another artist in New York, Bill Mazza, does computer generated colors and lines while the music is taking place.

AAJ: It seems that jazz has really entered the multi-media age.

SS: Maybe, but that's not my point. I was just making a comparison between visual art and music. For me, it's more than enough to focus on the music and how I'm relating to it. Listening with your eyes closed is sometimes very rewarding: let the music paint the picture for you. That is called "acousmatic" listening, sound one hears without seeing the originating cause, which we all do in some form or another.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Date Detail Price
Apr13Sat
20:30
2000
Plusetage
Baarle-Hertog, Belgium
€15

Related Articles

Read Michael League: Snarky Puppy's Jazz-Schooled, Grassroots Visionary Interviews
Michael League: Snarky Puppy's Jazz-Schooled,...
by Mike Jacobs
Published: December 10, 2018
Read Conor Murray & Micheal Murray: Putting Falcarragh On The Jazz Map Interviews
Conor Murray & Micheal Murray: Putting Falcarragh On...
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 29, 2018
Read Pete McCann: Mild-Mannered Superhero Guitarist Interviews
Pete McCann: Mild-Mannered Superhero Guitarist
by Mark Corroto
Published: November 28, 2018
Read Kris Funn: Bass Player, Story Teller Interviews
Kris Funn: Bass Player, Story Teller
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: November 27, 2018
Read Phillip Johnston: Back From Down Under Interviews
Phillip Johnston: Back From Down Under
by Ken Dryden
Published: November 27, 2018
Read Anwar Robinson: From American Idol To United Palace Interviews
Anwar Robinson: From American Idol To United Palace
by Suzanne Lorge
Published: November 25, 2018
Read "Kris Funn: Bass Player, Story Teller" Interviews Kris Funn: Bass Player, Story Teller
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: November 27, 2018
Read "Bokani Dyer: African Piano" Interviews Bokani Dyer: African Piano
by Seton Hawkins
Published: June 7, 2018
Read "Vuma Levin: Musical Painting" Interviews Vuma Levin: Musical Painting
by Seton Hawkins
Published: May 8, 2018
Read "Jay Thomas: We Always Knew" Interviews Jay Thomas: We Always Knew
by Paul Rauch
Published: November 16, 2018
Read "Linda Sikhakhane: Two Sides, One Mirror" Interviews Linda Sikhakhane: Two Sides, One Mirror
by Seton Hawkins
Published: May 16, 2018
Read "Bob Reynolds: Communication Is Key" Interviews Bob Reynolds: Communication Is Key
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: August 24, 2018