Interview with Ken Vandermark, Andrew Morgan and David Ryan

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DR: Yes, interesting. I mentioned earlier today when we were talking about this issue, that for British improvisation there has been such a strong sense of trying to determine something other than jazz; maybe in the late 60s, for that whole generation developing free improvisation. They saw, perhaps, the notion of jazz as a bundle of clichés that had to be escaped from; do you see that as a very European thing? Is it not so prominent in free music in the States?

KV: This question might be better served by other people in the room [points to Evan Parker…(laughter)] But, as an American from a different generation, born in the mid 60s, historically and geographically I’m coming to it as an outsider. But from that perspective, the developments of improvised music in Europe breaking away from an American sensibility, or let’s call it a jazz sensibility to make it easier, is a consistent challenge being thrown down; which for me is very fascinating. It’s an artistic perspective, which is recurrent in all the arts: to push against the past, and break away. Talking to musicians in Europe who were there, there was a combination of the feeling that hard bop had devolved into a series of patterns and clichés. And there are interviews with Steve Lacy, an American, who describes that problem similarly. So I don’t think it I just a European thing. Also, I have a great love for the music; I know Paul Lytton better than most other English musicians, and play with him quite a bit. And he talks quite sincerely about his immense love for the John Coltrane Quartet with Elvin Jones and the impact it had on the ideas about time and rhythm, ideas that were further developed by Paul and his music in England. Part of the drive to break away from that American history, was the realisation that to do what they did, what the Coltrane quartet did, would be not to imitate that music, but to try and be as creative as they were. That issue, for me, is the key to the artistic pursuit. And so the developments that happened in England, in Holland, in Germany, in particular, and also in other countries as well, have great significance for the music I have been involved with. And I think that those concerns which so radicalised what was possible, speaking in a great generalisation, maybe were less significant for American musicians as a whole. They were going in different directions; but that said you can find really interesting parallels and comparisons and interest in texture, quieter sonic investigations or timbre over melody or rhythm here as well. In the work of the AACM of Chicago, for example, concurrent to what was happening in Europe – there are great differences in the end result – but there was a move at that time to take lots of different influences into the music, if we can still use that term jazz; and to me that is part of the aesthetic of the music, that it can always appropriate ideas from other kinds of music. A clear example being Miles Davis or Duke Ellington’s work, they were omnivorous and they could appropriate what they needed whenever they needed it. This is part of the history; it’s not about trying to define an all-encompassing style of jazz, like a definition of what swing is, for example, but more connected with this dialectic between composition and improvisation. Somebody like Anthony Braxton can talk a lot about John Cage for example. And so as an outsider to Europe and England a lot of the most significant things in terms of a radical new perspective on what’s possible with improvisation I find coming from here…and that’s exciting. To go forward these are things we need to know about them, as Americans or otherwise.

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