Photo by Anne Fishbein                                 

An interview with
Peggy Lee (2009)

By Beppe Colli
Feb. 16, 2009

As I've already argued at length in my review, the recently released fine album titled New Code was for me the perfect occasion to listen again to Peggy Lee's cello, compositions, and arrangements - Peggy Lee being the Vancouver-based musician that I'd really like to see playing all over the world with her vivacious octet.

And since in a previous occasion I had already asked her about all that was essential about her artistic growth and career, up to four years ago, I decided to get an up-to-date version of the story.

Peggy Lee kindly accepted my request, and our conversation took place - via e-mail - last week.

It's been a while since we last talked... In fact, four years have passed! It goes without saying that I'm quite curious to know about it all, starting with the only thing I know for sure, i.e., your being a part of the Wayne Horvitz-led Gravitas Quartet. Talk about this.

This is a really special group in terms of the instrumentation, the instrumentalists and Wayne's compositions. The combination of  trumpet, bassoon, cello and piano is highly unusual in any music and it might be difficult to blend but Wayne has assembled a beautiful group (featuring Ron Miles on cornet and Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon) and we are almost always able to play completely acoustically which I love. His compositions are always sensitive to the strengths of the musicians without pigeonholing us into one role and I am constantly challenged and inspired by the music and by the players.

Any other projects you were/are a part of that I don't know about?

Well in terms of improvised music, I have done some very nice tours with a trio led by Larry Ochs with Miya Masaoka and a record has just been released on Rogueart called Spiller Alley. Alex Cline also has a record out with a new group that I'm a part of on Cryptogramophone called Continuation. I also released a trio record with Tony Wilson and Jon Bentley on Drip Audio. And then there are the ongoing groups that I work with in Vancouver and the job of raising kids!

Your new CD, New Code, is book-ended by two cover versions of compositions by Bob Dylan and Kurt Weill... quite an unusual pair! Would you mind talking about the way these artists were/are important for you, also about the process that led you to arrange, and perform, those particular pieces?

Well Bob Dylan was a very early influence long before I even considered making music of my own and I've always loved that tune so it felt right to do it. In terms of the arrangement, I wanted to showcase the full and joyous sound of the octet and to see where the soloists would take the tune. We often open with this piece and it feels great.

Kurt Weill has been a more recent influence. I've had the opportunity to work on his music in various projects with a group called Talking Pictures and Lost in the Stars is just such a beautiful tune. At first I didn't really know what to do with it beyond arranging it for the group but then I decided to feature Brad up front while the group cycles on 8 measures from the end of the tune and I just love what he plays. It's a highlight for me.

Your sextet is now an octet. Please, discuss.

Well I'd been working with Tony and Jon in the trio and I decided to do a special concert where I brought the two groups together and once I'd heard that sound, I found I couldn't go back!

I imagine that having a line-up of six, or eight, musicians playing this music is not all fun and games, in Vancouver or anywhere else. What's the current economic reality you have to deal with?

The reality is that we hardly ever play live.

I notice that in your review you say that this is not the album I have in me... well that may be so, but I also feel that this group has only tapped into the very tip of it's potential. I imagine that if we were to play a number of gigs in a row we would find ourselves in a whole new arena.

I think the arrangements on the new album are a bit more complex/involved than those on your previous CDs, also your cello comes out quite strong and clear... Is it all due to a better recorded sound, or are they really richer, this time?

Hmmmm. I don't really know.

I was used to seeing your albums on Spool, I'm afraid I've never heard of Drip Audio...

Drip is run by the multi-talented and extremely sought after violinist, Jesse Zubot. He is a brilliant musician and I don't know how he does it but the label is flourishing.

To me, it sounds like this time you had the improvisations as separate pieces, and the other tracks more in the written mode... Am I right? Provided I am, what's the rationale about this?

Well there is still a lot of improvising within the tunes but I guess less completely open playing within a given composition. No reason really.

Is it the best of times, is it the worst of times, for music that goes beyond the usual?

I suppose it has slowed down for those who are used to being constantly on the road but that's not something I've wanted to do so I'm happy with current projects and I feel that the audience for this music will always be there regardless of the economic or political climate.

Last time we talked, I asked you about the way you saw the Web (in its various guises) when it comes to the evolving patterns of consumption on the part of the audience. I'm curious about your current position on this.

I'm not sure what this question means...

Anything you'd like to add?

Thanks for your interest and support!

I will now attempt to attach a photo...

Beppe Colli 2009 | Feb. 16, 2009