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Sunny Murray


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Another example when I was in on a drum clinic in Vienna with Max [Roach], Elvin [Jones] and [Art] Blakey, when we was in Vienna I said to Mr. George Wein, proprietor of the festival, that I would appreciate it if he'd allow me a place to practice before the concert while we were in Vienna. So he said, 'well, okay, we'll see,' So' there was a rehearsal hall (underneath where we were playing, like at the Met or the Opera), and he said 'you can take your axe and go underneath and go down there.' So I had the drum set I was using that night, I had it taken downstairs, and I set it up, and while I was setting it up I realized that 65 instruments was laying around there, hats and shit, they'd all went for a break, so I set the instrument up, and this beautiful lady came up, with beautiful grey hair and a black dress, pearls, and she says 'what are you doing?' I said 'I'm gettin' into practice. Hello, how are you?' And she says, 'what, this?' And I said, 'yes, I'm gonna play this.' And she said, 'what is that?' I said, 'well, it's a trap set.' And she said, 'Well, you can't do that. You can't play that here.' So I said, 'well, lady, dig it. I'm working upstairs, and this is the situation. I'm gonna practice, not too long.' So she got a little drug and went and stood over in the corner, across the room. So I said to myself, start with the brushes, and let her hear the texture and the sensitivity of the instrument. So I began with the brushes, then with the sticks, baccharina, 'cause I'd played before with the classical composers for the orchestra, and I'd always felt the traps were more supporting of music than they were given credit for. This classical orchestra you could use four percussionists, or use one and a trappist. So I play, and you know I got in my little crazy trance, and I play for about a half hour, and I kinda got back to myself, and I saw all these beautiful older musicians with tuxes and shit comin' in and sitting down, putting their cigarettes out, and I played a little more cool and nice, and when I stopped they all clapped. They hit their violins, 'clack, clack, clack, clack' and they played for about three minutes with me [Sunny imitates Penderecki sounds]. [laughing] And it really happened, you know, it was fun.

And I thought the future of the trap set is still open, there are still many directions we can go to, because we are commercially plagued from reggae to rock. And also it's the education that the drummer does not really get to go beyond the stereotypes. When you're studying music, the higher form of music you study, the more positive your technique, so you can play like Cecil. The New England Conservatory showed him a system which he understands, that I also understand, some of it. All of these things enable you to make moves, and I don't think New Music would've been invented past Herbie [Nichols], I would say he was the last creative [jazz] pianist, Cecil also liked him very much, and so Cecil, to me, was the one to unify that next step in jazz. Because we weren't talking about avant- garde, that was a nonexistent word.

AAJ: Of course, it's something that has and can only be applied in hindsight.

SM: Exactly; guys saying to me I play avant-garde, and it kind of depressed me, and I said, well, what's avant-garde? Knowing rightly enough that Cecil knew exactly what he was doing, and today I compliment that because the new generation of avant-garde composers and players, they have to write and reconstruct from where they are now, into the future. And they have to recognize that they can do it, they can move the music, they can keep movin' it. To say, for example, we don't have the influence we should have in new music. A sixteen-year-old musician, nineteen-year-old musician, twenty- year-old musician. Generally when the new musician starts to play, he's at least in his twenties, thirties, forties, etc. So this music has also contributed more than it is given credit for also because I know when Cecil was groundbreaking this music, and we were groundbreaking with him, we had no idea there would be a resilience that would bring about a new generation of avant-garde. It's like 44 years later almost.

AAJ: Well, now you have people coming up and not starting out in rock or bebop or anything else, but starting out in avant-garde.


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