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Tomas Fujiwara: The More the Better

Troy Dostert By

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AAJ: Do you find that when you sit down to write that you're already thinking of who's going to be playing which part?

TF: I always write for specific musicians with specific ensembles. Usually I pretty much know who will be doing what—certainly the people that I'm writing for, I have that in my head because their sound on their instruments is a big guide. Sometimes once you hear it played by everyone, you'll make some changes: let's double this part, or move this part from this sonic personality to someone else. That comes into the arranging process, which is half done before we play it and half done once we play through it.

AAJ: Along with Mary Halvorson, Taylor Ho Bynum, Jonathan Finlayson and other people you've worked with most heavily, you represent a lot of the current generation of top-tier improvisers—musicians in their thirties and forties. Do you feel that as the audience for this music is aging, that it's getting harder to connect younger fans to the music, or do you not see that as a challenge?

TF: It depends on a lot of factors. I think a lot of it has to with where we're at culturally—in terms of engaging with live performance, in terms of how we access and relate to recorded music. And I think that improvised creative music is certainly affected, but I think that everything is affected, musically and otherwise. It's important to find a way to engage listeners, both seasoned veterans and those who are new to it. I think everyone has a different approach. For me, I've never tried to figure out what a given person or audience is going to like. Because that's not my ultimate goal. My ultimate goal isn't to make music that is as liked as possible. It's to make music that is as personal to me as possible, and then to try to get that out there as much as I can. I just want ears to hear it and to experience it, and react however they want to react. And that's the challenge—it's in finding those outlets in a changing landscape to get that music heard, both the recorded music and live performance. And I go through phases with that. Sometimes I feel very hopeful and positive, especially at a festival like this, with a lot of die-hard fans who've been a part of it for all 21 years, or yesterday engaging University of Michigan students who are interested in this music and some of whom performed at the festival.

But then sometimes you get an overall feeling that maybe the younger generation isn't interested at all. But I feel like I have enough moments of hope and encouragement that I keep trying, and if I ever get a chance to play the music for a younger audience, or talk to them about it, if it's right in front of them they understand how it can be related to their current experience—that it's not dated music, and it's not museum music, and that it's a reflection of people now and how they are experiencing life and the world around them.

But it's a challenge for everyone, and not just niche art and music. It's definitely important to me, and I try to engage as wide a range of audiences as possible. I mean, how did I end up here? I didn't grow up around this music, I didn't grow up with this music in the house, and I didn't grow up around musicians. And I still fell in love. So you have to believe there are people out there who are waiting to fall in love with it as well. That's how I was with the music: there was something about the music that felt very genuine and very personal and very expressive and very current and very energetic, and that kept my interest, both as a musician but also as a listener. I still consider myself a listener. Last night I didn't play, but I was here all night checking out all these people, and I was really inspired and moved. It made me think, it made me feel, it made me question...

AAJ: Are there any upcoming projects you're particularly excited about?

TF: Well, Thumbscrew [with Halvorson and Michael Formanek] has two albums coming out in the spring. Halvorson has a new project called Code Girl, and that will be coming out in the spring. I recorded a new album with the Tomeka Reid Quartet, so that will be out at some point...Illegal Crowns, which is a collective with Benoit Delbecq, Taylor Ho Bynum and Mary Halvorson, will be recording our second album in a few weeks in Paris, so that should be out at some point next year. Taylor is recording another album next year...we have a quartet of Mary's that was put together to play John Zorn's compositions for his Bagatelles marathon, and we just recorded the last Book of Angels CD, so that came out also this month. We'll be doing some stuff both with the Bagatelles and playing [Zorn's] Masada music next year and into 2019. I love that band and love playing that music. So I am extremely lucky that all the music I'm involved with I really care about: whether I'm leading it, whether it's a collective, whether I'm a sideman—I feel very invested in the music, and I'm given space to do my thing. I'm given input, both musically and otherwise—not only with artists I respect, but human beings that I really respect and have a lot of love for.

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