Top 50 JAzz Blog

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Checkin' in With Mr. Shipp.

Jeff Schlanger. Music Witness.

1. How has the Vision Festival helped over the years to cohere the core community of artists through good times and bad? 

"I don’t know if a group of musicians cohering is the right way to put it-for every artists music must rise or fall on its own merits not on a scene. But the Vision Festival definitely gave a high visibility platform to a scene that had been ignored previously. People are slow to forget but in the 1980s there were two main currents in the media-the marsalis school and the whole bogus back to the tradition psuedo movement of young black boys and a kind of post Zorn school of white boys. 

That is not meant as an affront to Zorn-who is a friend of mine and someone I respect- or to any of those musicians many who I adore- but I am just trying to delineate a certain thing. Just remember William has been on the scene since the 1970s and did not really start recording until the mid 1990s. So William and some of the people around him where basically considered a bunch of fucking insurgent black punks on the lower east side that wanted to play free jazz by the jazz media back then.

Around the late 1980s a Swedish record label Silkheart Records was the first label who really started recording this scene as a scene--- of course Bob Rusch and cadence records had recorded some of us before but that is a different stream within the business his contribution to the whole thing we can deal with later—but Silkheart was one of the first people to even acknowledge that there was a vibrant scene here. 

Then you have people from the punk rock and alternative music world who started to profess their love for jazz-like Thurston and Henry Rollins etc etc and we were the people they gravitated towards which gave us a lot of visibility in different types of media.

Then around that same time the Vision Festival developed –it was a new extension to the Sound Unity Festival and other events that Patricia and William had done in the 1980s. So all this together added up to a specific core group of musicians getting an international profile. But just remember that before all this coalesced every one had been working very hard for years in a sort of void.

The Vision Festival is not 100 percent responsible for this-Charles Gayle and David S. Ware had their own mojo and logic of their career development happening on a separate track-I had thrust myself into the middle of the jazz establishment as a huge antagonistic force and started really getting notice because of the aplomb that I could do that with –plus my distinctive style etc etc-but the Vision Fest was a big part of the mix."

2. What were some memorable moments for you in prior years?

"There are so many great moments over the years in the Vision Festival to pick some above others would not be fair—but one of my favorite things was not at the Vision Festival proper but when Rai Radio in Italy wanted to import the Vision Festival to Rome and they did a three day festival called New York Is Now of Vision Festival artists. That was really magical. All the sets where great from what I remember. I really enjoyed a solo piano set by Dave Burrell. That set elucidated the connection Monk’s style has to the avant garde and thrust Burrell into the position of the one who truly understands that real estate."

3. How did the small ensemble with Marshall Allen come into being?

"There was a festival in San Fran at Yoshis-they wanted me out there with a a trio but not specifically with my working trio –so we brainstormed to come up with an interesting 3rd person and Marshall was on my mind because he had been honored at the Vision Festival that year and when I brought him up they said yea-lets do it."

4. What were some highlights of your work with Mr. Allen?

"Well it's a trio-me-Joe Morris on bass and Marshall of course on reeds-there are only 2 highlights-they are the two projects we have done so far-the cd on Rogue Arts-’’Night Logic’’ and the gig we did in San Fran . We have an upcoming gig this summer at George Weins Newport Jazz Fest. This trio is really magic. For me to play with Marshall is beyond the beyond for I grew up worshiping the whole Sun Ra trip. But Marshall is such a natural player and he has no trip and no ego in his playing—it is actually almost impossible to fathom—he can make anything work.The energy and the taste that he plays with take me out every time I hear him."

5. How have the poets, visual artists and others contributed to the experience?

"Well Patricia’s whole vision with the festival is multi-discipline- and is meant to include dance-for she is a dancer-poetry and visual art. There has obviously been loads of collaborations throughout human history between different art forms and I don’t know what I can add or say that makes it any different here. It does bring the whole community together though. I personally love working with dancers and poets and I love having nice visual art around me when I play. But the community thing is Patricia's thing. I personally don’t give a fuck about community-I  basically care about Matt Shipp."

6. Describe your association and friendship with notable poets in the community such as Mr. Ferris and Mr. Dalachinsky.

"I don’t know where to begin-Ferris and Dalachinsky are two of my closest friends. I have known both since around 1984-have been through a lot with them-people in our world know about Steve but John Ferris might be an unknown to them. He is a lower east side legend—a cantankerous old black poet who is brilliant and a fucking crazy motherfucker-but everyone loves him. I could tell you many many stories of things I have seen with John that would stretch credibility-many around 4 in the morning and after many things where absorbed into our systems. But you get the idea –he has been around and seen everything and is a walking repository of a lot of history. He was a bodyguard for Malcolm X but the thing I like most about John is supposedly he beat the shit out of Stanley Crouch years ago-from what I have heard.Oh I forgot-he is a great writer. He wrote liner notes for my first cd, "Circular Temple"." 

7. How was your two day engagement in Novosibirsk with Mr. Mateen?

"Well those two days were two days out of a two week tour of one nighters-so the whole two weeks where tremendous musically- Sabir and I have really developed into a team and it is so natural to play with him. At this point in my life if a situation is not natural then fuck it. Sabir is playing on a very high level now-it is easy to look at him and just classify him as a certain thing —but if you really check him out he is making a stand to bring this whole thing somewhere different. 

Of course no person is symmetrical and it depends on what situation you hear him in. But he has the inspiration at this point in history and though he cannot be easily pigeon holed he is really coming up with some new lines and things on his instrument. Plus historically how many people can you say played in both Sun Ra’s band and Horace Tapcotts band-sort of an east coast west coast panorama. Anyway, Sabir is a unique and it is great fun to make music with him."

8. How is the year ahead looking in terms of performances, releases, etc?


9. Has it been an improvement over prior years? 

"My situation in the scene has definitely improved over the years. It has been a slow process of having to build our own eco system in which to thrive and we have had to build it brick by brick-of course we still have to deal with vulgar jazz society but that is so dead that it makes us stand out to be positioned against that even at the expense of misunderstandings which  I court. Of course this is all still very hard- even though some of us are doing alright make no mistake, no one is getting rich off this. However it is a great privilege to be able to play and to do alright.

The one thing that has really changed is that at the beginning of the 1990s there really seemed to be a whole culture of Europhile critics that viewed black American creativity in a suspect way when compared to what was coming out of Europe but even though some of that still exists, we have been given a fair shake in the media and a lot of writers have dealt with us on our terms and for that I am thankful. Of course there are still a couple of writers out there who in my opinion are racist and have an agenda-like Downbeat critic John Corbett-in my opinion—but all in all we have been given a fair shake." 

10. Do you have any particular aspirations for the near term that look to be fulfilled?  

"The only thing I want to do is to keep pushing notes down on the piano and when I push enough of them down then one day I want to drop the fuck dead."

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