The Jazz Composers Collective on Creating and Performing



Jazz Composers Collective: Clip #4


FRANK J. OTERI: I’ve often heard it said that jazz is African-American classical music, which gets a lot of people upset on a lot of levels, both non-African Americans who play jazz as well as contemporary African American concert hall composers. I think of jazz more as a force for integration than the music of any one particular people in this land. Jazz was ahead of the curve in bringing the various groups of this society together. And in some ways it’s still ahead of the curve. And I guess I’d like to speak to that in terms of what jazz means for each of you and what you feel the jazz audience is at this point in time, and what you feel your audience is, and should be.

TED NASH: Hmm, people don’t want to jump in there. ‘Cause that’s the hardest question…

BEN ALLISON: You’re asking the all-time dreaded question.

TED NASH: Every jazz musician hates that question.

BEN ALLISON: Sorry! [laughs]

TED NASH: Everyone’s going to have a different answer. And a lot of people aren’t going to have a clear answer. I don’t have a clear answer. I know what jazz is to me, and I know what jazz is historically, and I know what jazz is – it’s something that serves as a vehicle for expression of what I’m feeling and what I’m hearing. And then I could say what the elements of jazz are for me… I mean, I can’t say it’s about ‘swinging’ necessarily, although that’s an historical aspect of what jazz is. I can’t say it’s necessarily about blues; that’s certainly an important part of it. It’s not necessarily about improvisation, although I think that’s a main part of it. But it is all of those things, and it’s many things. It’s harmonic structure, it’s lack of structure, it’s bar lines, it’s no bar lines, I mean, it goes everywhere. So that’s why you’re going to have a hard time getting one definitive answer.

BEN ALLISON: Not only that, but it’s a ‘word’, you know. If we could say it in words, we wouldn’t be musicians, I heard somebody say once. You know, I mean, that’s kind of the point. So you’re asking the people that are on a daily basis putting these sounds together, and, you know, to be quite frank, it’s people like you that call it something later…[everyone laughs] You know what I mean? I don’t know. You know what I’m saying? I mean, we’re dealing with the music on a daily basis and a lot of it is unspoken, a lot of it is stuff you just feel, and the terminology and the theory and figuring out how to teach it, that’s one thing. The jazz education world sprang up in the ’80’s. I’m a product of the jazz education universe, and it’s a very scary, uncertain universe. And a lot of the reason why it is is because academics by its very nature, is about codifying knowledge, breaking it apart into little digestible packets that can be described and then graded. And, that’s impossible to do with jazz…

MICHAEL BLAKE: It kind of defeats the whole purpose of the music. People want to pigeonhole you, and it’s tough, but you just have to ignore it.

FRANK KIMBROUGH: You realize also that most of the great jazz, well, not most, but certainly some of the great jazz musicians that we all admire, didn’t want to be called jazz musicians to start.

MICHAEL BLAKE: Especially the bebop guys.

FRANK KIMBROUGH: Yeah. These terms are not made up by musicians. They’re made up by writers and critics or radio people or what have you, record company people… You have to find a place in the record store to buy someone’s record. It has to be in a place. So there it is.

BEN ALLISON: I think that’s part of our original conversation, hence the Collective. It’s recognizing that people want to pigeonhole you… Categories aren’t superfluous. Humans like to put things into drawers. That’s what a home it, where you organize your stuff. And they like to have it organized. So the beauty of the Collective, I think is recognizing that fact, I don’t mind being pigeonholed as long as I can create my own hole to be ‘pigeoned’ in. It’s a name. We all do things outside of the Collective. It’s not a monopolizing force, but certainly whenever we want that name, we use it, and the Jazz Composers Collective is a thing, and it’s only what we define it to be on a daily basis.

TED NASH: I like the word jazz.

BEN ALLISON: I like it, too.

TED NASH: Just the word itself makes me feel good.

BEN ALLISON: All right.

TED NASH: I don’t mind the fact that it’s a category. I don’t like categories at all, in general, but the word jazz just makes me feel kind of calm …

FRANK KIMBROUGH: It’s really much better than being put in country and western…

BEN ALLISON: [laughs] I don’t know.

MICHAEL BLAKE: We were just saying how great Boots Randolph is.