Ken Vandermark : Raw and Refined


Personnel Changes

AAJ: Why wasn’t another horn man chosen to replace Jeb Bishop?

KV: There’s a few reasons for that. One was when we decided to continue the group [Vandermark 5] after Jeb left, we considered the idea of whether the band should only be comprised of Chicago musicians or make it international potentially, you know, and work with people from outside of Chicago or even the United States. We decided it would be better to keep the group tied to Chicago just in terms of the potential to rehearse and work on material even if there weren’t concerts scheduled or tours scheduled. Because even thought the group isn’t playing in Chicago nearly as nearly much as it did when it first started, we’ve been able to get together and rehearse because the musicians are here, when they’re not on tour. It just gives a lot more flexibility to organizing the music and learning it and, and checking things out.

So when we decided to keep the group centered on Chicago, that led us to the idea of not having another horn player replace Jeb. It didn’t make any sense to me to have another reed player join the group and there are some strong reed players in Chicago and to have a trombone player, there really wasn’t somebody that came to mind that had the diverse possibilities that Jeb has in his playing. Jeb’s a very, very strong player you know, he can read basically anything that I would write for him. He has a huge range of technical and melodic kinds of conceptions that he can apply, and the only other musicians in Chicago that play the brass instruments…at this point that would maybe be appropriate for a group like the Vandermark 5, are quite a bit younger and less experienced than Jeb was. Basically everybody in the band is almost a leader in their own right so we really felt the need to put somebody in the band that would not replace Jeb, but replace his abilities as an individual, you know. And that meant, that was part of the reason to move away from a horn player.

Considering keeping it to Chicago and considering who we’re going to put in there, very quickly the idea of asking Fred Lonberg-Holm to join came up because he’s really one of the strongest players on the scene in general, not just in Chicago but internationally. He lives here, he would add a real change to the band which has proven true since we’ve been working with him. Losing Jeb was very difficult but the changes have been extremely positive. I think I can speak for the whole band in saying that we miss having his involvement with the group. But if we’re going to have to make a change like that, having Fred join has been quite successful and very exciting.

AAJ: And if another horn man was chosen instead, he’d likely have to manage insufferable comparisons to Jeb. Going with Fred was pretty shrewd.

KV: Thanks.

AAJ: I’m looking forward to hearing what Fred does with the band and I just know you’ve something up your sleeve that will surprise anybody who has certain expectations.

KV: Yeah well, that’s the idea [laughs].

AAJ: Axel Doerner marked a return to the Territory Band with Company Switch. Did he relocate to Chicago?

KV: Well, I would say about half the band isn’t based in Chicago, you know? There’s a lot of players from Europe, Axel being one of them, but of course Paul Lytton, Paal Nilssen-Love, Lasse Marhaug and Fredrik Ljungkvist. There is a good percentage of the group that’s comprised of Europeans, Per-Ake Holmlander for example, also from Stockholm like Fredrik. The idea with the Territory Band was to put a group together of players that were maybe the most interesting to me to work with in a large ensemble format no matter where they were from. Whether they were from Chicago or, obviously, Europe or any of the musicians that I knew, and not try and be restricted by any kind of limitations in terms of expense of putting the group together or distance—because initially the group was organized around the availability of the MacArthur prize money.

That was definitely one of the things that the money was put to use for was developing the Territory Band project. Now that the money’s gone, one of the creative challenges I have is trying to figure out how to continue working with the group on an on-going basis. Thankfully there have been ways to do that. The ensemble got invited to play the Dionysian festival in Germany in October and that led to a European tour and recording schedule which worked out quite well, with Johannes Bauer playing trombone with the group, and that worked great. And then in the summer of this year, August 2006, the band is planning on doing a project, with Fred Anderson as a guest artist with a group which would be the first time the group’s ever done something like that. So I’ve been able to find ways to keep the thing moving forward, and that’ll be an on-going challenge for me because I’ve got a lot of interest in continuing to explore a large format-type of organization and orchestration for the music.

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