The Bridge#2 & Arnold Davidson – Discussion from The Bridge on Vimeo.

ARNOLD DAVIDSON

Welcome to this seminar which, I hope, is the start of a long-term collaboration. As some of you know, I’ve had a both implicit and explicit interest in improvisation for a long time, which came to fruition thanks to the Humanities Institute here, at least certainly in Art, when George Lewis was a visiting professor here, in the Center for Disciplinary Innovation, and we taught a course together called “Improvisation as a Way of Life”. And that course here led to other things: 5 years of collaborations where George and I gave a joint talk – that was the first time I gave a joint talk – and when things were right – that is to say when there was money – then a concert and a discussion following the concert. And we did that here in Chicago, with the AACM and Alexander Von Schlippenbach, at Brown University with Amina Myers, at the University of Michigan with Gerry Allen, at Wellesley College with Vijay Iyer, and most recently in Paris, but we actually didn’t have the concert in Paris. In IRCAM, we had the lecture, and are planning a concert in two years. And most recently in Venice, we had a concert, where Steve Lehman the saxophonist. Concert means, “we don’t play, I just talk”, which is much worse than playing. And my youthful career as a drummer ended very quickly when I stupidly played football and shattered my hand into too many pieces to ever play the drums again. The concert consisted of George, playing the trombone, usually a pianist although sometimes a saxophonist. And George’s – it’s not really fair to call it a computer, because his computer, which is attached to a Yamaha XXXX piano listens and improvises in real time and responds to musicians, does it quite differently than any other computer program that I’ve heard. Indeed, at IRCAM – this was my one, how should I say? Impolite French remark – IRCAM has a computer, OMAX, which is very well-known. And what it does is it takes the sound from the musicians, it transforms what it hears, and plays back. George’s computer program doesn’t wait

3:07

And we had a bit of a discussion about the different ways these things work, and how they encode different aesthetics. And in a particular heated moment, letting my guard down, I said the basic difference between OMAX at IRCAM and George’s computer, is that the computer at IRCAM improvises like a French intellectual, and George’s computer improvised like a musician from the South Side of Chicago. For some reason, in that context, they didn’t take that as a compliment. I just wanted to remind us as well that we have the unique privilege of being here on the South Side of Chicago which, with the AACM, has produced the most vibrant, important, innovative, and continually interesting group of creative musicians and forms of improvisation that we’ve had since, let’s say, the 2nd World War. As detailed in the ethnomusicological study of George’s Lewis himself, A Power Stronger Than Itself, published by the University of Chicago Press, and indeed, we have the great good fortune of having here some people from the Music Department who are interested by lots of aspects of improvisation. And the idea is to start this discussion – which we hope will continue – actually this is already a small continuation, because it started in Paris last month – so this is the first American and Chicago instantiation.

So I’m going to turn the floor to Alexandre Pierrepont who has organized this, and has put enormous amount of energy, of every kind, especially intellectual energy, into making it possible for us, not just to hear the extraordinary music that will be going on while these musicians are playing and are in town, but also to discuss in a serious and intellectual way what we have to learn, both outside the music and inside the music of the practices of improvisation. Alexandre is trained as an anthropologist, and is well known for his articles and his involvement with improvisation, studying, in a broad sense from an anthropological point of view, the processes of interaction and improvisation among musicians, in this case among musicians who come from very different cultures and very different backgrounds, who are playing together – is it the first time (Avreeayl Ra: “As a whole group, yes”). Right. Which also raises interesting issues of the differences when you play for the first time with people as opposed to when you play 200 times with the same group of people – questions I hope will come up. Alexandre, I turn over to you to introduce the musicians and the project The Bridge.

ALEXANDRE PIERREPONT

Thank you for being here, thank you to the Franklin Institute for having us here. Let me just say a very few words because we are going to be here for two weeks in Chicago with those musicians – well of course some of them live in Chicago anyway – The Bridge is not the name of the band but the name of the network that brings American musicians and French musicians together four times a year, twice in France and twice here in Chicago. Maybe I should start with a small story, because anyway they (points at musicians) tell stories when they improvise: as Arnold reminded us, the South Side of Chicago has been very important for the music and, actually, I came to know Chicago first from recordings and then from having done my PhD on the AACM. The South Side of Chicago was first my fieldwork, as we say, and I remember one time I was – and that’s how I would like to welcome you today – I was at the new Apartment lounge, and that day, I was hanging out before the Tuesday Night Jam Sessions. That day, I remember Steve Coleman was in town. And like always when he was in town, he would go se Von Friedman and play at The New Apartment Lounge. I just happened to be there, doing my fieldwork, being a spy – a music spy. There was this huge interview Steve Coleman had with him, that we did for my PhD and was just printed in France, so he had the copy of the magazine, he was on the cover, and the interview lasted for six or seven pages, a very long, extended interview. Von Freidman looked at that and said, “Man, how can you talk so much when you’re supposed to play? You don’t have to tell all our secrets to the people.” Steve Coleman said: “we also need to know when to show to the people that we know what we do. Scholars, journalists or critics are not supposed to always talk in our name”. So, when we had the idea of this Bridge, this collaborative network between French and American musicians, we wanted from the very beginning… The whole idea of The Bridge is not just to help American or French musicians to work together, but to think – with them – of the place and the situation of music in society. That’s why we always manage – we will always manage – to offer musicians different possibilities. First and foremost, of course, to play, but also to interact with all kinds of people, from grassroots activities in the neighborhood – that’s how Aymeric and Benjamin spent the whole weekend, at the Dorchester Projects at Grand Crossings / Rebuild Foundation. Just like Douglas Ewart or Michael Zerang, who were with French musicians in France last October and spent many times in housing projects too and not just in concert halls, they all gave talks and lectures at different French universities. That’s also why we are here and so happy to be here, sharing that with Arnold, knowing the work you’ve done around improvisation and your career as a philosopher.

I’d rather start the conversation right away with the musicians. I can give their names to you in case you don’t know them yet: Aymeric Avice, who plays trumpet and flugelhorn; Benjamin Sanz, drummer and percussionist; Joshua Abrams, who plays the bass, the guimbri, and all kinds of instruments; Jason Adasiewicz, vibes, and drums sometimes; and Avreeayl Ra, drums percussions and flutes. That’s just the instruments they play, but they do much more with them than just that. The idea we had with Arnold, because we want to create living archives of what we do, to always address the same issues to the musicians, and also have variations and deformations and transformations, so we have different answers to the same questions. So we worked together on three questions we always like to start with, and they are exactly the same questions we asked to Joëlle Léandre, Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Bernard Santacruz, Douglas Ewart and Michael Zerang in Paris. Maybe you want to start, Arnold?

ARNOLD DAVIDSON

Well since yours is the first question, why don’t you start with the question?

ALEXANDRE PIERREPONT

My first question to all you: what does “creative” in creative music or creative musicians mean? This question being just as much about creativity in music itself than about the understanding based on your experiences as improvisers and on your work on open or extended compositions as well, that you developed of what creativity means in Art and in Life?

ARNOLD DAVIDSON

We thought we’d ask easy question. (Laughter)

BENJAMIN SANZ

Can you repeat the question?

ALEXANDRE PIERRPONT

What does creative music or creative musicians mean? Knowing that this expression has been used many times, and especially with the Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians, but not only them. I read for instance an interview of Sonny Rollins, back in the 70s, when the expression became famous, where he said: “I’d rather use that expression than Jazz to call my music”. So even musicians from older generations finally took that expression. This question is just as much about creativity in music itself, than about the understanding, based on your experiences as improvisers, that you developed about what creativity means in Art and in Life. We don’t want to come to a definition of what creativity is, of course, but a lot of people talk about creativity – publicists talk about creativity too. So what is it for you, as musicians?

JOSHUA ABRAMS

I think, as you alluded to, and as I’m sure Avreeayl knows, the moment that term became an alternative of describing the music to jazz, free jazz… Historically speaking, that’s my understanding the term creative music: sometimes we describe what we do as creative music, it’s an accurate term but it’s also very open, and it invites the audience to kind of approach it with an openness, not necessarily a preconception that it idiomatically draws from one type of music or another type of music. On a more personal level, I find that music is, let’s say at its richest, when there is some form of discovery, that discovery could be just a subtle thing, just a subtle way a rhythm works within the organism of the band, it could be that the band finds a whole new space where the musicians have the patience to inhabit something we find, but that when you find something – in the moment you find it, it way not be as polished or as refined than if you develop it and worked it out – but when you find it, it has an extra energy, an extra life force to it, that I believe is palpable, definitely as a musician, but also when I hear that happen, when I hear someone find something on the bandstand, and that could also be very specific, it doesn’t matter. One could even be playing a fully notated piece of music, and yet you find a new aspect, or maybe if you find a new way (miming) “Oh if I move over here, the sound reflects this way off the wall, and works better”. So I’m putting all these examples out because these are all aspects of creativity – it’s recognizing possibility and expanding on that. That’s something that interests me in what is possible with creative music.

A. DAVIDSON

So do you think you can never think to yourself “oh we played very well but we weren’t very creative”

J. ABRAMS

Yes. Or I might not put it in that exact term, but there are times when yeah, we did al the arrangements perfectly, or we had a good communication if it’s fully improvised, but maybe it didn’t surprise me. Sometimes I think with this music too, you try to work and improve your worst performances. Because the best will just come. That’s a personal thing when you just feels it comes, whether you have a spiritual outlook or just intellectual one, it just happens, so it’s like “okay. How do you when it’s going wrong, and how do you make that better and try to shuffle the decks so you can get in that place of creativity, let’s say, or finding something. There’s always something.

JASON ADASIEWICZ

Hi, I’m Jason. Oh wait, why am I doing that (laughter)?

Here, we’re all involved in the scene here in Chicago, well Benjamin and Aymeric in Paris, obviously. There is so much of this music that spills over into your social life, it spills over the way you live… For me, it’s the people that my wife hangs out with; it’s the people you want to have pick up your kids from school. I guess that what I find so fascinating. It’s not just about playing on stage, it’s not about spontaneously improvising, it’s about how it carries over into – that’s the life you’ve created. With that, the trust on stage is kind of amazing, we were just talking earlier, because I have two little girls so my daytimes are pretty hard to get to things, I’m kind of at home with them, and not able to make the sound check for the first show we are supposed to play – Josh, Avreeayl, and I have played together many times, but I’ve never played with Benjamin and with Aymeric – we have our first show coming up on Thursday, and I’m not able to make the sound check, and Alexandre is like: “Should we figure out a way to be together, should we come to your house, maybe you can just play with Aymeric, you can just play with Benjamin…” But the more you think about it, the more you realize you don’t need to do that. I mean, I saw them last night at Constellation for a show, we hung out, we talked, we’re doing this, there’s going to be a lot more hanging going on. Getting back to then, when you get on stage, the trust is kind of amazing.

A. DAVIDSON

You both taled about trust, which is interesting, because I understand how the three of you can trust each other, but it’s interesting that with someone you have never played with there can be some form of trust as well. How does that exactly work?

J. ADASIEWICZ.

For me, it strated through Alexandre, he’s someone I met a couple years ago, someone that you realize “oh wow, you’re trying to do the same thing we’re all trying to do”. I don’t know Aymeric yet, I met Benjamin through alexandre becasue he’s his roommate now, so the trust is coming directly through alexandre, this is going to be fantastic, because he’s hearing things similar to how I’m hearing things, so there’s that trust.

A. DAVIDSON

Can I ask one more question and then we’ll go back? About creativity, one of the things that’s… (points to Joshua) You made the point that you can find creativity in a composed piece, not just in a freely improvised piece. I remember one of the great lines I’ll always recall is Duke Ellington’s clarinetist Russell Proco, wo said he’d played “Mood Indigo” 8000 times, and his goal each time he played it is to play one different note. And if he played one different note, he’d done something. and that can be one form of creativity. It seems to me there’s at leat two dimensions: there’s the creativity in playing with the people you play with, but then there’s the problem of the tradition, and what you’re doing when you’re playing an instrument as part of a tradition tha precedes you. I can say this because you might not know, but Jason’s reinventing what can be done on the vibraphone (“Well, thank you man”). You know, the vibraphone has a very short history relatively speaking, and you list the people from Lionel Hmapton to Mel Jackson, so my quesiton is: well, they’re not gonna disappear, that’s part of the tradition, but then what do you in the constraints fo the tradition, you don’t jsut get rid of it. What do you do to create something? That jsut seems to me to happen to be a very important part of the AACM’s well, that the ways in which the generations of the AACM play, there’s always in the backgrounds its founders some way or another. Muhal Richard Abrams is always there, Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, a whole group of people… But then you gotta do something. When you face that kind of creativity you are interacting with, I can imagine it’s incredbly frightening. What do I do? Who do I go from here? What am I going to do that’s really going to create something. I think that’s especially strong in an american context, and especially strong in the Chicago context becasue of the gaps and the power of History, and I’m interested in – not there isn’t a French context for the History as well, but it’s very very different from what you find in Chicago – as you’re thinking of playing with other people, are you also thinking about your relationship with a musical tradition that both puts pressure on you but also allows space for you to play? You can listen in two ways: you listen to the interaction of the people, then you listen and think “Well that duo album with peter Brotwmann doesn’t sound like Mel Jackson and Oscar Peterson, among other things it doesn’t sound like”. When you’re getting up there on the stage, is the weight of the tradition part of what’s necessary for the creativity, or just the moment of the interaction?

J. ADASIEWICZ

There’s also a huge part of me that is fascinated with the tradition of not the instrument but the tradition of harmony – you’re referring to a duet I have with this famous German saxophonist and older guy by the name of Peter Brotzmann, and I’ve just recently been playing with him. Actually the tour that we did together was the first ever tour I did that was completely improvised. To talk about where I’m coming from, there’s a huge part of me that, as I was saying, is hugely fascinated with harmony, with functional harmony, with manipulating harmony, traditional song form writing of really beautiful tunes, really simple tunes. With that said, I think that it’s also the drummer in me asking how to complicate things as much as you can, which I think free improvisation really allows. I don’t think I’m really answering your question. There’s so much to think about the moment, that’s already a powerful thing as it is, what happens before you get out of stage, how do you act with whoever you’re playing, what are the last words that you say, what did you have for dinner before you got to the show… The moment is very powerful.

AYMERIC AVICE

La tradition musicale française s’est dévelopée sur l’harmonie jusqu’à en oublier le rhythme. La creéativité vient dans la réinvention du rythme aussi.

Especially for the new generation, the idea is to reinvent rhythms and the use of rhythms.

Les improvisateurs, je vois ça comme des récepteurs et émetteurs de l’énergie globale d’une pièce. On ne va pas improviser de la même façon si on est tout seul dans la nature avec des animaux, ou si on joue devant des petits enfants, tout change.

A. DAVIDSON

I don’t know if any of you have ever heard David Rothenberg, the clarinetist, go to zoos before the zoos open, or aviaries as well. He’ll actually bring his clarinets and improvise with the animals. It’s extraordinary, because he doesn’t know what they’re going to do, and what comes out of the interaction is something you can’t imagine, because if you put together all the different aviaries he goes to with different kinds of birds, he improvises completely differently depending on what he hears coming rom them. He’s also trying to do it with whales, but they’re harder to control than birds. But it’s quite extraordinary the way the nature can play into that.

B. SANZ

What does creativity, or being a creative musician mean? I think it’s about being myself – I can just speak for myself. It’s also about playing what I don’t know and, in order to do that as a French person, or just as me, I want to give it up for my mentors, because I’ve been fortunate to meet and play with people like Sunny Murray, Archie Shepp, David Murray, or Oliver Lake. As great musicians, they taught that the creativity that I have can be expressed, because I had no idea about it first. When I arrived in Paris, because I’m not from Paris, for my first gig I was like 17 or 18, and Sunny Murray was at the first row, and after the first set, he just kicked my ass – sorry, I don’t know the correct expression for that – and he said: “Benjamin, what are you doing? You have to be creative! This is not creative”. Of course, because I had no other reference, so I was kind of copying somebody I’d heard, some kind of vibe I’d heard. Two weeks later was the second concert, I was playing at the same place, he was there, and he was very happy because I just had to be super super honest. This is my first lesson about creativity. Also, when I’ve been playing with these people, I always record what we do. And later, I’m always: “Oh? is this me? i don’t recognize myself”. So I think creativity has a lot about something we don’t know after we’ve learnt what you were talking about, the Tradition. And (points at Jason) I totally enjoyed your point of view about this and the conditions of the playing, about what happens, and what Aymeric was talking about, all the things that we have to integrate and understand, and if we feel them, the result will be creative. If we don’t pay attention, it’s not going to be creative. So it’s about everyday life, every moment, every thing. To respect myself, why I’m here, the people who taught me, I have no other choice than being creative. Creativity to me is not only the music but is everything. Being creative is not only about knowing things, but what we make out of them

A. DAVIDSON

Maybe I can ask you all: what happens when it looks like there’s a creative possibility and it’s just not working, things are going wrong? What to you do then? That seems to me a situation in which creativity is very important, creativity in the face of something not working. There’s this, I think it’s true, a profound philosophical remark of Thelonious Monk when someone was playing badly: “It’s not that you’re making a mistake, it’s just that you’re making the wrong mistakes”. That idea that some of the mistakes can be right mistakes, because you can actually so something with them, do you… I mean, you’ve certainly all been on stage with some things not working, and what happens to your creativity in that context? What do you? Do you try to get the attention for the person who’s not playing very well and sort of try to think differently about things, do you jsut sort of ignore them, do you try to enter in their mass and make something of it. There are a lot of things something might do.

J. ADASIEWICZ

All of them are things you could do. Do you play? Do you stand away? Do you back off? I think every decision can be right or wrong.

AVREEAYL RA

The realm of creativity, inspiration… thinking kind of blocks that. You have to tune into your intuition. This is not as much playing as it is about intuition, imagination, and the flow of energy. SO things aren’t happening probably because you are thinking. And you’re trying to make something fit over here… “Oh this thing I’ve been working hard, let me try to…” To me, I find that to be truly creative you have to forget all that went before and immerse yourself in the present moment, because this is music of the moment. Right now, the music is in the air, our auras combined – vibrations, thoughts, energies, emotions… There’s a music in the air already, we just have to be sensitive, to just allow it to happen. And we just try to translate the feeling into sound. The greatest music happens in my life when I’m not thinking. In fact, I can remember, early in my career when I would get to magical points in my playing, and as soon as I start to think: “What am I doing?”, it’s gone. It’s gone. So I just had to learn over time just to let go. It’s a releasing of what went before, what you know to be. Because you’re being taught. Your music is teaching you. If you’re truly connecting to your essence – which is my intention, to realize myself in the moment – those things about me that are beyond magic, that are beyond definition… It gives me that opportunity to access that, and to actualize that. So the biggest deterrent to that is thinking. SO you just have to allow your inner wisdom and past work to carry. It’s like meeting people for the first time, as we are meeting for the first, we don’t need a script to have a conversation. What would it be like to wake up in the morning and everything’s planned for you? How you should feel at this moment, how you should feel at twelve o’clock. It’s almost like what we’re trying to do, it kind of works like that. To me it’s letting go of thought. You have an intention that you want to serve outcome, and the intention itself will draw to it everything necessary for its own fulfillment. So if your intention is a certain thing, and you honestly feel that, it’ll come past the way you intend it. If you don’t get in the way with your knowledge, and past knowledge, whatever. It’s funny, because when you ask if something went right or wrong in the music, there were so many times that I’ve been “Wow, things weren’t just going right”. And next morning I listen to the recording: “Wow! That is beautiful”. You’re so caught up in the moment, and you’re so personal, that you have pre-conceived ideas of what you want to be happening, and it’s not happening like that. But something else beautiful might be happening.

J. ADASIEWICZ

Frustration on the bandstand is, I think, kind of depressing. I don’t like getting in that mindset, I can agree with you.

A. PIERREPONT

A lot of when times, when you talk to musicians about improvisation, we try to bring some of the references of people who have been dealing with other issues or other topics. There’s a brand new book in Switzerland from the greatest European specialist of Taoism, François Bilter, and the only example he was able to take at some point in one of his chapters to talk about the “letting go” in Taoism was the example of improvisers, jazz musicians improvising. It was the example taken from the other perspective, trying to explain the logic.

A. RA

And that’s the thing about improvisation, intuitive playing is beyond logic.

B. SANZ

It’s not about wanting or doing…

A. RA

Well, wanting… You want. I want a certain outcome, I want to feel a certain way. There’s a certain way that I know when I’m actualizing myself, and wanting to get beyond myself. That’s the key, to go beyond myself. Like I said, then I don’t stop, I don’t think about it, I follow, I’m learning. I document a lot what I do, and that’s how I learn from myself. I set myself up to perform on a certain level so I just trust. Listening, being sensitive, it’s like us talking. I know when to listen, I know when there’s something important being said. I know when to back up something you’re saying. It’s simple, really, if you don’t let it get to complicated in your head.

A. DAVIDSON

Before we go to the next question, any questions for the musicians about creativity?

AUDIENCE MEMBER 1

I just had a follow-up question. If letting go of yourself and just setting the intention and getting pas logic and rationality is an essential part of creativity, then what role does the instrument play? Because you have to have a certain technique, and a certain history before being on the instrument..

A. RA

Well, first of all, there are so many degrees and levels of creativity; it’s like asking: “How long is a piece of string?” On one level, just being an artist yourself. Period. Or a being musician playing music, it’s creative. You can’t escape being creative if you’re playing music, in some kind of way. On one end of the spectrum, it’s just reading all the time. But still, it’s a lot of very creative people doing that, they haven’t been exposed to all the playing, so they have to find different ways of playing this piece every night. You know, one good thing about Sun Ra is that he had a book… We might be on the road for three months, and play the same song every night, but it was never the same. You never played it the same. You’d always find some kind of way to make it interesting, never get bored. You’re keeping things interesting. It’s a sense.

A. DAVIDSON

But a sense you can train. Or not?

A. RA

By doing it. I don’t think you train it; you become it by doing it. The more you create, the more you become creative-minded.

J. ADASIEWICZ

To answer your question about the instrument, for me, my instrument is something I know I can grab somebody’s attention with, my word’s I can’t grab anybody’s attention with it, my drawing, my painting, whatever, science, I’m not going to grab somebody’s attention with it. The instrument is the voice I know I can… I’m on stage, I’m going to do my thing, I’m going to tell you something And after that, we’re going to hang out, it doesn’t stop at the concert. The instrument is what I feel comfortable with.

A. RA

Would you repeat what you asked about the instrument?

AUDIENCE MEMBER 1

I was wondering if creativity is an indeed an ethic you can apply to any experience in life, then how does that express itself with the particular instrument and the particular technique.

A. RA

I think it’s beyond the instrument. I know it’s beyond the instrument. The instruments were designed a certain way, to produce certain sounds. The instruments have limitations but the creative mind doesn’t. So the instrument can become a reflection of your creative mind, it’s endless the things you can come up with if you think creatively.

J. ABRAMS

And the instrument, as its name says, it’s a tool. So we all have spent a large amount of time dealing with that, and that helps us being comfortable speaking through our instrument. And we all spent so much that it kind of gives you a focal point for your concentration. Maybe creativity is not just limited to… Avreeayl was pointing to it, every day, everyone is creative. But we’re talking maybe about a certain practice of our creativity-

B. SANZ

Yeah, I think there is the technique for the instrument, of the music. So if we master our instrument, then we master the music and then, as Charlie Parker used to say, forget all that stuff and just play. So we are the instruments… When I look at a musician or at somebody who’s going to play, even if I don’t know him, I can guess how well he’s going to play. When I see Joshua play bass, he’s totally loose, he’s got his shoulders down, and we can see that ease. So he can let the creativity flow. Like any musician, when we look at the way they walk, or the way they just stand, or play their instrument, we learn a lot just by observing the people.

A. RA

I heard a beautiful story about Jimi Hendrix. He didn’t know that he wasn’t strumming his guitar the right way. He picked up the guitar, he was left-handed, it was made for a right-handed person, but he becomes an innovator. It’s totally beyond… You know, if he went to school, there wouldn’t be that story to tell. There are certain things that come out of the intuition. When Ellington’s band went to Europe, people thought they had trick horns. People would hear those sounds, and tell them “play it again with this horn… Oh, okay… Something’s happening that I don’t understand”

J. ABRAMS

You were asking before about the weight of the tradition in playing, and maybe that’s also… it’s not a tool, but it’s a huge wealth of knowledge that let you gets to that point. There’s so much preparation to get to the point where you can forget yourself, forget everything, and just play. It helps at least to have put in a bunch of time so you have something to say. That’s what the tradition is. But if in the moment you get to the stage you’re thinking about the tradition, then that might be intimidating.

A. DAVIDSON

It looks that there is a complicated relation between the fact that we’re all called on to improvise in so many different circumstances, and we don’t really have a choice – this is an improvised conversation, and there’s so many levels – but it’s also the case that both in conversation and in music, whether we like it or not, some people are very good at it, and other people are not quite as good. And when that intuition kicks in, it’s kicking in there with an enormous amount of work that’s gone into becoming who you are. And then, as you become who you are, that can get expressed, but it’s not coming from nothing, it’s coming from something that’s taking years. I was remembering this story – maybe then we can talk freedom as well – this story that Steve Lacy used to tell, about the first time he met Don Cherry the trumpet player. It was a very important moment of so-called free jazz, and Don Cherry would come over to his house and he’d say: “Let’s play!” And Lacy said “What do you want to play?” – No, I’m telling you, just play!” Steve Lacy says, “It took me five years to learn to just play”. That can be a very frightening situation, to just play. It doesn’t come as it were easy, it comes on the basis of work, tradition, your familiarity with your instrument, your experiences as a whole… Until you get to the point there’s something to express. And you kind of rely on that to make sure what you’re expressing is what you are. And if it comes out of nowhere, it often doesn’t have the kind of when it comes out… I’ve seen various people try these things with kids, Max Roach had been going to elementary schools, would take his drums, and make kids play. Some of them were better, some of them were worse; none of them were Max roach. Basically, no one is Max Roach. This very complicated relationship between the work and the intuition, the tradition, the where you come from, the what you do to create a self… It seems to me something you don’t think about, you need both, you need this work on yourself, that creates the self that can then be expressed. And if you look at something like the AACM you see what goes into that kind of work, in allowing each person to create themselves, in a context which is both supportive in trust, but that also requires that you do something with yourself. You can’t just copy someone, you can’t just imitate someone. The last anecdote that comes to me is Derek Bailey’s. Someone who was a great fan of Lester Young saved up all his money to go hear Lester Young play, and he could imitate Lester Young on the saxophone, he spent years and years practicing to play like Lester Young, and finally had enough money to go hear Lester Young. And it was a moment in which Lester Young did not play what this guy expected. And he was infuriated, he was completely angry, and he stood up and he screamed: “You’re not you, I’m you”. Because he can play all the solos, but that wasn’t who Lester Young was. It was that moment of creativity, when you invent something you couldn’t foresee.

A. PIERREPONT

There’s a quote from Jayne Cortez, the late Jayne Cortez, in this song when she says: “find your own voice and use, but then, she says, use your own voice and find it”. Meaning it’s a never-ending process. An open-ended modification of the now. If we could complete the quotation of Steve Lacy, “just play” into “just have the freedom of playing whatever is needed for the situation”. That’s where tradition and expression are no more opposites. If it’s needed, then you could use it in a way that is different than yesterday night, because yesterday night it was not needed.

A. DAVIDSON

One of the things I think we wanted to talk about, given that the musicians who are here, and who are part of The Bridge, is what gets called “free improvisation”, what it happens to mean. Improvisation in general is often thought as a space of freedom, and you get those labels, “free jazz”, “free improvisation”, and so on. But we all know that freedom is never absolute, it’s never complete. It’s not just freedom ex nihilo, it doesn’t come from nothing, there are always lines of force and constraints. The question is: “How do you conceive of your practices of freedom in the context of improvisation? Specifically, how do you think about the relationship between individual freedom, which is related to that creativity, and responsibility to the group”? Because when you’re playing in a group context, you want the freedom and a certain kind of creativity, but you’re responsible as well, you have to be responsible. It’s almost a moral obligation in terms of listening and responding to others. How do you balance the desire, the intention for freedom with the necessity to be responsible in that particular context? How do freedom and responsibility interact? How do you think about moments in which freedom is giving up the responsibility, and you shouldn’t be free in those contexts, you should be responsible?

B. SANZ

I can answer. I have a responsibility to, if I play a groove, or I follow a chorus line… I can provide for the soloists freedom. If it’s not set, if the rhythm section is not happening, then what can the soloist do? Or I feel like I’m responsible, and also, the soloist, if he has to play… are you talking about free music, free improvisation, or just playing like you said?

A. DAVIDSON

Well that’s one especially hard example, because then you’re probably not keeping the beat

B. SANZ

I can still play free improvisation and play beats, and keeping the beat. It doesn’t necessarily have to have defined chorus line, or melody, or a different rhythm, but I can play something and change it. It can be surprising; we can allow ourselves to surprise each other. So this is very exciting, and it doesn’t let us put away the responsibility of being able to provide for some interaction between us.

A. DAVIDSON

When you’re playing with different, say people you have played before, or haven’t played before, do you have a different sense of what your responsibility is? If you now someone and are playing with them, there is some kind of history to your interactions that has a real way, a real force. When you play with someone you’ve never played before, it’s not clear to me whether you think about your responsibilities in the same way.

J. ABRAMS

It’s hard to know even how… Even we people you know, we all listen differently, especially when you’re playing with someone you just met, or don’t know much. Sometimes you play something and it’s kind of like an offer. We have nothing, we could perhaps explore this, or how do you respond to this. And then you start to learn how people do. And don’t know if that falls into responsibility or not, bit it is part of how you’re learning, how you’re being understood, and how you then understand yourself. But to be able to that without getting to a place of thinking about it, but just… You know, it’s a place like you’re speaking to someone.

A. DAVISDON

I could see that it could go either way. You either think: “I can take more chances with people I know really well, because we have that built up trust, or I can take more chances with people I don’t know at all, because I don’t know what to expect”. They provide different experiences for how you think about how you’re free to do.

J. ADASIEWICZ

It kind of goes back to what Avreeayl says: we’re thinking too much. I don’t ever think about this stuff until right now, while we’re talking. They send me these questions, and I’m like “Well, okay, right, I guess we’re thinking about this now”. It’s interesting to talk about it, because I’m improvising right now just talking about it, because I don’t vocalize it. Most likely, I’m standing there with the instrument in front of me, and people aren’t asking me questions, and this is what I’m giving you.

A. PIERREPONT

I can give an example of the very first ensemble that toured France. The three first concerts, outside of all their activities – they are all very strong personalities, I guess you’re aware of the work of Douglas Ewart and Michael Zerang here, but Joelle and Jean-Luc Cappozzo are very strong soloists – and during the first three concerts, it was only collective music. When I say collective: n solo at all at any time, never. Maybe one or two would stop, but it was all collective improvisation. Nobody was in no position of taking the solo. Even the kind of collective improvisation they were playing was really soft, which was kind of surprising when you know the people there. Not that they were shy. It’s only with the fourth that all of a sudden – they didn’t talk, they didn’t “okay we know each other now, we can let it go” – it happened on stage, like magic, and it was really wild. No solo again, but it was really wild. And I was thinking, for the people in the audience, not knowing what they have done the first three nights, they will think this band is always like that, which is not the case. That’s the case for all improvised ensemble who are allowed to play quite a lot, the music is in a state of transformation, again and again, and you never know, the possibilities you’re allowed to explore as improvisers. And it’s only by the last concert, maybe because they knew it was the last concert – it was the eighth concert – that they went back to what they played during the first big concerts. I went to see Joëlle Léandre and Douglas, they were talking together after the concert, and asked: was it on purpose that you’ve come full circle, you’re back to some kind of sweetness in the improvised music? They said: “No, but we’re going to leave each other tomorrow. It’s the end. We spent two weeks together, we’re living on the road, we’re all together, we hang together, we eat together, and we do all kinds of things. So we’re sad. This was in the music. We have a responsibility to what we live. We have to be true to the experiences that we live, as a small society”.

A. DAVIDSON

I think you can hear the responsibility in the music. One can theorize and talk about it and that’s what some of us have to do. but you can hear it in the music, and you can hear when it’s being ignored as well, it gets expressed in the way people are playing, and the way they’re interacting, and I don’t think you need to already have a theory of responsibly to actually hear what’s in the music, and you can hear when people are trying to give people a hard time. Famous cases in which… The case I always remember, there was a time where a set of some of the most extraordinary musicians alive was playing for the first time: Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, William Parker, and Tony Oxley. There were moments n this where you could hear a group of them saying: “You’re not leading this. You’re not taking the lead. We’ll maybe let you play a little”. This was the trio of Cecil Parker, William Parker, and Tony Oxley, saying to Anthony Braxton, one of the most creative and interesting musicians alive, “we’re going to be confronting you. We’re going to be telling you what you can and cannot do”. And you hear the tension in the music, you hear Anthony Braxton trying to find a way to enter in, and as soon as he enters in, Cecil Taylor says “uhu, not yet”, and plays something impossible. That’s an extreme case, because it’s a case of violent confrontation, but you can hear responsibility, irresponsibility coming out in the very ways people are allowed to enter in and not allowed to enter him. Have any of you actually recorded – I’m sure you have, but I’m interested to know in what context – with people you’ve never played before. Just get into the studio, play, and that’s that, and maybe you never see them again. What kind of experience is that?

A. RA

Those were some of my best moments, actually. The other night, Benjamin and I were just talking, and he was asking: “Should we rehearse or something like that?” I said “no, it would just destroy the beauty of the moment, the discovery and excitement of a new reality”. If we rehearse, I’ll have some pre-conceived ideas of how to play with you. Now I have to be… My responsibility is to be responsible for making the music as beautiful as possible, for supporting everything that’s going on and at the same actualizing myself. That’s an ongoing responsibility right there. Talking about freedom, to me, and I have to first say that some of these ideas I came into through my association with Sun Ra. Sun Ra would say: “they say I play free, I don’t play free music, that’s against the laws of nature”. In other words, I’ve come to the understanding myself that it’s not free, the music is not free, we as artists are free to make our down decisions how to co-create and how to respond. But the music is not free, we’re very hooked up with our emotions… it’s just like in this room. Everyone is tuned into a certain vibration. We’re all connected, we’re not free, and we’re connected to this certain sense and certain vibration. So the music is not free, actually, it’s just a broader context, and expanded way of engaging, that’s more expanded that traditional ways of music-making. But the music is not free, I’m constantly tuning in to the environment, and the audience is as important as the people I’m on stage with. I get a lot of the energy from the energy in people’s eyes. Somebody will make me play differently just looking at me, make me doing what I’m doing better. They’re directing the music for me. So the music is not free.

A. DAVIDSON

What has been said a couple of different times in different ways is that there’s no barrier between the music and the rest of life. What you’re doing carries over into all kinds of interactions that are not music. I wonder if any you – it’s a tough question – has an example of the ways in which something you’ve learned in the musical context, playing with others, you’ve then used and transferred in social practices outside the music? How the musical experience itself has affected how you live on a day-to-day basis? Is there something you could point to, specific to playing with others, that you then find a way to just amplify in a context in which you don’t have your instrument? A number of you have said it’s all part of it: it’s the hanging out, the talking the persons, it’s all part of it, and then you have the instruments too. I’m just very interested to know if there’s any experience you can isolate in a musical context that you’ve then said: “You know, that’s going to teach me something about how I should live when I’m not playing”?

A. RA

I’m kind of aware, because of my personal intention for playing, that I use the music as a vehicle for maintaining myself, my balance and wholeness. For discovering and then actualizing myself. For example, I’m in a group with myself, Harrison Bankhead – maybe I shouldn’t even say it here, I don’t know maybe I shouldn’t tell the story now. Nut anyway, I can remember that there was some misunderstanding going on – I don’t know if it was misunderstanding – but Harrison didn’t feel right about a certain aspect, we were going to do a recording and we weren’t clear… So the next two times we played, I could see the contention, I could feel – it was obvious he was working this out in the music. He hadn’t stopped the conversation, because playing together … A lot of times, you can see a person’s issues, you can see them being played out in the music. You can see a person if he’s really playing for the music or playing for some self… You can see it, it’s obvious, how a person interacts with the whole band, and you can see him working on his exercises or something, practicing… Everybody else is right in tune and he’s still working on his idea. So yeah, in life, you can see it carrying over from…

A. AVICE

Ca apprend l’humilité, je pense. Savoir écouter les autres, faire ce qu’on pense être juste, toute cette histoire de verre en plastique… Moi, je vois ça comme un balade, tous ensemble. Un petit chemin, à un moment quelqu’un qui dit: “tiens, si on allait dans le champ observer les plantes? – Ouais, OK, on y va, on discute, y en a un qui parle, on se retrouve, on va ailleurs…”

A. PIERREPONT

TRADUCTION

B. SANZ

There is a filter of our consciousness. In some examples, we might get it, or not, or we might get it years later. It’s not like: “Oh, I’m playing music. Here’s something smart. Here’s some humility. Here’s some letting go”. It’s not like then, then you know you’ll apply it, you’re going to do something smart. There is a filter, and the filter is a kind of work on ourselves, otherwise everybody would be playing smart music, or doing some martial art, smart things, you know. It’s more about the behavior of the musicians on stage or after. I’ve been running jam sessions for eight years now, every Sunday. We started these jams with David Murray, and he was coming to support us and show the people that these jams had something happening. We had a bunch of other people coming, Hanah Jon Taylor… These guys are now giving us a lesson. There was this young guy, he was like 15 years, I don’t know if his mother knew he was here, but he was there with his guitar and then he told me: “Hey man, I’ve been learning the blues, you know, I can play the blues on the guitar”. Okay, great. And then he was standing in fro of the stage, and David told him: “OK, come on.” I don’t know if many musicians, in Paris, or in New York, would have done that for him. So here’s something smart. This is a beautiful, but sometimes you can go to the dark side

J. ADASIEWICZ

Yeah, there’s a long history of competition between jazz players, it’s a whole different

B. SANZ

I remember another time, it was the opposite example. There was the jam session, and maybe I was nervous, or something didn’t happen, and after the jam session, there was electricity in the air, but maybe it was just that night, and something violent happened. It was a fight between a girl and a guy, and I was there, and I was organizing the jam session. Some were saying “Oh no, you have to stop, don’t fight, don’t fight!” And David was like: “Oh no man, let them fight, yeah, they have to learn something”. Then, after the jam session, I was saying “Oh David, sorry this happened”. And he said: “Oh no man, that’s the best thing that happened tonight”. Meaning the music was not happening, but this was something that was happening.

A. DAVISDON

Are there questions people want to ask?

AUDIENCE MEMBER 2

I was wondering if any of you could speak to the role of judgment and validation in creativity? The role of the audience, the role of your own ears, the role of people you respect, anything that tells you “hey! That’s creative!” And you feel “No no, I’ve been doing the same thing for a few times”… I guess I’m asking how do you learn, how do you have the creative education when this always gonna be your own understanding of it?

J. ADASIEWICZ

I was talking about that with Josh, I was talking about that with Avreeayl. When you do do something you feel is happening, you’re hoping for a little bit of validation from your peers. I also hear what you’re saying too, there’s obviously a part of you that’s struggling with your own feelings about how you’re feeling. But then, maybe you listen to the recording the next day and, wow, it’s fantastic

AUDIENCE MEMBER 2

Or the opposite…

J. ADASIEWICZ

Exactly! If you’re not feeling that, there’s something really wrong. For me, that what keep’s it going: up, down, up, down… if everything was up, or everything was down, that would be a really weird one for me

AUDIENCE MEMBER 3

I just wanted to thank you all for this conversation. I just wanted to bring up a question about the relationship between freedom, creativity, the limitations… You were talking about how the instruments were designed to make certain sounds; there are limitations in the instruments. You also talked about how you’re not free in some sense, because of the audience, the other players, and so on. The Jimi Hendrix example is really good, because here’s this instrument he’s technically playing wrong, but used it as a point of departure for creativity. So I was wondering if you guys had examples of your own experience of actually coming up against a limitation, whether that’s in the instrument itself, or in the relationship with the other musicians or the audience, that you actually rolled into some kind of creativity?

J. ABRAMS

You’re constantly adjusting, especially the sound. I can think of… This was a band that played specific compositions on a tour, and just the sound of the place – it was a big space, but the sound of the space was terrible – so we were like: “You know what, we are just going to set up on the floor, totally acoustically, for whoever can hear us”. Amplify yourself by being very quiet. It was nice because it was a decision by all of us, so that makes it kind of stick out in the memory. But I think everyone is always making his adjustments: the five of us will play, and if you can imagine the sound, there’s a certain amount of space that’s available, we’re all trying to fit that sound in that space, and make room for everyone else, and welcome everyone else. Your responsibility – we’re talking about responsibility – is to the music. That’s the bottom line.

J. ADASIWIECZ

Because the worst feeling it getting off the stage pissed off. Why do you want to bring yourself to that?

A. RA

I can remember this, it was years ago. I was doing a job in Gary, and a big part of the repertoire was R’nB-ish, and I didn’t have my bass drum pedal. The leader, David Foster, he was very upset. What I did, I took my mallet and I played the bass drums with my right hand and the mallet, and the snare and hi-hat with my left hand. So, about halfway through the set, we were having fun! Man, that’s a new thing! What I’m saying is that he was so upset, but halfway through the set, it was working, so he was happy!

J. ADASIEWICZ

The drums are in your head, it doesn’t matter you have!

A. RA

One time, I was recording with Nicki Mitchell, we had to mix up and they didn’t have drums. They were doing a live recording at her house. But her daughter had her little baby set and I played that bass drum, I played that baby set on the recording and it sounded good!

AUDIENCE MEMBER 4

You said something interesting earlier about a magical moment, talking about how it as heard to not think about it as happening or you would lose the flow. You also mentioned that often you would have a recording and the next day you could listen to it and ressaly think about it. I would love to hear more about how thinking can enhance or interfere with that magical moment, and how much you rely on recording to listen back to those moments later.

A. RA

Thinking. It’s like being analytical, right? It comes from a different part of the brain, so all automatically shuts down

AUDIENCE MEMBER 4

But some of you have said musical thinking and creative thinking too, to I was just…

A. RA

I was just thinking about thinking. Being aware of thought. That automatically shuts down another channel that’s purely intuitional, they can’t exist at the same time. It’s like reading. It automatically shuts down another channel. There’s so much energy extended to the eyes, it’s like your addressing the paper, but you’re not really addressing the music. My concept is that we learn the music before we get to the stage. Now that’s not possible for big bands, they have repertoires. But don’t take it like this, in an absolute way. Learning music before you get on a stage – just watch a band that’s just reading, wherever you’re focusing, that’s where your energy goes, that’s where the manifestation goes – they’re coming up with the sounds, but they’re not into the music. They’re in a different part of the brain, which is analyzing, keeping… It’s hard for me keeping up with the drums with too long rests. It interferes with my playing. For me, to really be creative.

J. ADASIEWICZ

And there’s so much thinking involved in the music as it is that if you can escape it, that’s so special. If you can escape all that thought, even as an audience member – all that thought process, it’s insane. Whether you’re reading a piece of music or you’re just improvising, to get away from that, it’s a really special…

AUDIENCE MEMBER 5

This is for any of you who wants to answer this. If you’re in a project like this, playing with musicians from another place, what would you do? What kind of things would you really try to make happen for yourselves and for the other musicians? What do you want from collaboration n this particular kind of context where there’s some sort of exchange?

J. ADASIEWICZ

I want to present it to as many people as I can, performing in front of the people…

J. ABRAMS

I get more out of the music itself if I want to collaborate with someone from… I had a group with a great trumpet player who lives in Berlin now, his name is Axel Dörner, he’ll be here on Friday. We play in a quartet, we worked out: “OK we’ll play there, record that day, and so on..” And at the time, he had a different perspective and approach than anyone I know here, and somehow his personality fit really well with the three of us that were from here, and it made something special. it comes down to people’s individual personality.

B. SANZ

I think his question relates to us, right? So it could be great for us to answer his question. it would be great for us, as we’re going to play together, to answer this question. What are we expecting from each other? How do we see the music that we’re going to play? I just can speak for myself, but I would like us – one precision I need: when you say put out a band, do you mean just doing concerts or putting out a recording

AUDIENCE MEMBER 5

Whatever you’re set to do

B. SANZ

OK, so just concerts. As Avreeayl said, we’re not going to rehearse. What I would like for us is, as Joshua said, leave some space, because there will be two drums, just one horn, one trumpet, a bass and guimbri, and vibes. So let us have some space, trust… We can exchange ideas, not necessarily bring sheet music, which we probably won’t do, because we want to create our own music corresponding to the situation, but maybe when we get on stage, somebody can have an idea, for example a duo between Josh and Jason – they know each other very well – and then the others can come in. Or, “guys, let’s start with duo drums!”. So we start with Avreeayl and me, whatever. But the most important for me is not necessarily how it’s going to start, but what we decide together

J. ADASIEWICZ

I also feel that you should all feel that you are affecting the way we will be playing too, because Alexandre is putting us in a situation we’ve never been in, we’re talking about this so in-depth, and we’ve never played together. You all are affecting what the outcome is going to be.

B. SANZ

And what is our response to that? Becasue this is an invitation to a situation

A. RA

To me, a surprise is better than a promise. The feeling of discovery… I know it’s going to be good because I intended that. whatever I have to do -, I might not have to play much, especially if I have to play with another drummer, and we don’t have good chemistry, then I won’t play. I’ll just keep trying more, making sure (B. SANZ: “Same for me”). Have you ever heard two drummers struggling together? There’s no music happening. So you do whatever’s necessary to create beauty, but this is the ideal situation for me as a creator, because now we have to really tune in, listen, we have to be really sensitive to each other, and listen. And allowing for beautiful music. that’s beautiful, that’s the perfect thing for me, discovery, excitement, and surprises. That’s what’s going on with the creative music, you become a portal, you tune into other frequencies. You become a portal, not only for yourself, but also for the people in the audience to enter that reality. It’s a reality that’s never been, you create a new reality that’s never existed before, and will never exist again. It’s something really special. It’s everything for me. I love this kind of situation. Let’s go make great music, because you can’t be thinking about what’s happening tomorrow, what happened last week. The most important thing is this piece about self-actualization, this is much more important than creativity.