Tim Berne: The Subliminal Explorations of a Creative Mind

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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I'm not sure about expecting people to understand it because I'm not sure I understand it and I do it.
Fascinated by unconventional and complex ideas, saxophonist and composer Tim Berne has become a creative force, exploring all the possibilities in sound through his fearless and brilliant imagination.

Lloyd Peterson: You didn't start playing the sax until you were about twenty. That would take quite a bit of confidence.

Tim Berne: I didn't really think about it. In some ways, the more I played the more secure I became. But at the beginning, it was almost easier because I was so ignorant.

LP: Was there appoint where you said, "Hey, I'm going to do this seriously?

TB: I was pretty serious very early. I didn't know what was going to happen, but I was definitely determined to show people like my friends and family that I wasn't just fuckin' around. That was probably my motivation at first and then it was just the passion of wanting to play music.

LP: Are critics starting to understand your work?

TB: I really don't concern myself with what the critics might think and I like the fact that there isn't only one way to see what I'm doing. Somebody might think its jazz but someone else might think it's some kind of rock thing, but that's one of the reasons why I don't try to explain it because I don't want to demystify it. However, I also don't want to imply that the way I see it is the only way to see it. Part of what makes improvisation; improvisation is the spontaneous magic of playing music. A lot of it is unexplainable. I have read interesting reviews from critics, but for the most part, they are not very informative whether they are good or bad. If someone says something really negative, I'll go "holy shit" and get totally depressed, but then I'll go out on tour or get together with friends and it will reinforce what I'm doing because these are the people who really matter. At times I'll get pissed at a good review that's totally inaccurate but it doesn't last very long because I can't waste my time with that stuff. No one likes to be criticized or told that they suck in so many words. I know deep down that what I'm doing means something to enough people and that makes it worth doing.

LP: One of the problems with documentation focusing on jazz, whether it's in academics or done commercially (such as the Ken Burn's series), is that it spends most of its time concentrating on what jazz created in the past tense ands little on what the music is creating at the moment. Doesn't this seem like a lost opportunity to educate potential aspiring jazz students and educate them as to what is available to them?

TB: I was discussing the Ken Burn's series the other night and though I didn't see the whole show, I thought some of the older material was pretty interesting but clearly it was very influenced by Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis to give a fairly narrow view of jazz. The stuff they feel is important and wanted to cover was probably done OK. But just like I don't expect to play at Lincoln Center, I also don't expect to be on TV and don't think I'm owed that. I've chosen to do something that for the most part is not popular entertainment and I have a choice. In some ways, I'm glad as I would hate to be in the limelight and have everything I say or do scrutinized because it's pretty hard not to be misunderstood at some point. Obviously, the show didn't cover the last thirty to forty years very well, but by looking at the people whose opinions were sought, I don't think it intended to. I also wonder whether many of the people who were critical would have wanted to be the ones to say, "I think this is important and I think this isn't." I have my own opinions and just as I find certain music that gets a lot of attention not very interesting, I also find people on the other side of the fence that are just as narrow-minded as the so-called traditionalists and that's just as bothersome. If it's good, it's good and I don't really care if it's in the tradition or not. I have my preferences but they are not really stylistic. It's just that some people sound more convincing than others playing certain kinds of music. There's good blues and bad blues and it's totally subjective. It's just like the avant-garde stuff. Just because someone is playing free doesn't necessarily mean it's creative. There are people on both sides of the fence that are defensive about things and I'm not going to rain on anyone else's parade. In the end, my world is pretty different from that world anyway. I go out and tour in obviously different venues than the guys that were covered at the end of the Burns film. And again, I wouldn't expect to be involved in that.

LP: For me, jazz doesn't get many opportunities and the young musicians might not necessarily be able to relate to the earlier periods of jazz as a medium to play but if they knew about the music happening today, perhaps they would want to get involved with a music they have more of a relationship with.

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