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Take Five With Billy Fox

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Billy Fox: Originally trained as a drummer and Latin percussionist, my focus today is composing. My music interweaves composition and improvisation, and draws from a variety of styles: modal and free jazz; Western classical; and Japanese tonal systems.

Instrument(s): Composition.

Teachers and/or influences? My primary influence as a composer has been Jane Ira Bloom, but I've also benefited from mentors such as Bobby Sanabria, George Delgado, and Richard Boukas. Colleagues Paul Faatz and Ivan Navas have also profoundly shaped my ideas.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... Sitting behind a desk in an office doing work that meant nothing to me personally, and contributed nothing of artistic or spiritual value to society.

Your sound and approach to music: My strengths as a composer are deep familiarity with a wide variety of idioms, a fondness for unconventional form and structure, and a willingness to break rules. My music is like a conversation with friends, where I speak in my natural voice, letting whatever comes to mind be uttered without inhibition and without trying to impress.

Your teaching approach: I focus more on concepts than on theory and technique. I encourage students to discover their natural voice and to always trust their instincts.

Your dream band: I already have it! It's most important to me to work with friends I respect and love, so I have no aspiration to work with "superstars I don't personally know.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? Whichever comes next. I always look to the future.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? Because I strive to create vital music despite modest technical skills, I hope that I encourage other musical black sheep to express themselves with confidence.

Did you know... I spent a good part of my youth in Appalachia, surrounded by traditional mountain music. I secretly wish I'd learned banjo when I was in that environment.

How do you use the internet to help your career? The internet has been profoundly helpful. I've met numerous fans and friends who found me online, and have been privileged to network with fascinating musicians from all over the world.

CDs you are listening to now: Kelly Rossum, Line (612 Sides); Yayoi Ikawa, Color of Dreams (Yayoi Ikawa Music); Rob Reddy's Gift Horse, A Hundred Jumping Devils (Reddy Music); Jay Vilnai's Vampire Suit, Gaze at Your Omphalos (Vilnai Music).

Desert Island picks: Booker Little, Out Front; Robert Schumann, Symphony #3; Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Raw Power; The Graverobbers, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; Various Artists, Best of Pakistani Ghazals Volume 2.

How would you describe the state of jazz today? Precarious, yet full of potential. Dwindling audiences and less label support forces musicians to discover unique strategies and explore innovative styles. The digital revolution allows more musicians outside the mainstream to be competitive.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Heeding the maxim: The tradition of jazz is innovation.

What is in the near future? I'm exploring opportunities to bring the Kitsune Ensemble to wider audiences, and am laying the foundation for a major collaboration with choreographer/director Ximena Garnica and a team of Japanese Butoh dancers.

By Day: I do freelance writing and editing, including screenplay analysis and doctoring.

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