An interview with
Roscoe Mitchell (2001)

By Beppe Colli
Jan. 26, 2003

1999 had been an year of shadows and lights for Roscoe Mitchell. Much critical acclaim for the new Nine To Get Ready CD he had recorded using a big Note Factory line-up. Then, the fatal illness that had stricken trumpet player Lester Bowie had forced the Art Ensemble of Chicago to tour with "guest artist" Ari Brown on piano and saxophones. It was during that tour that I had the opportunity to interview Roscoe Mitchell for the first time.

The big Note Factory line-up played two dates in Italy during the summer of 2000. I caught them live at the Roccella Ionica Festival. The concert in Fano, where trumpeter Leo Smith had played, was announced to have a release on CD - soon.

2001: an Italian spring tour for Roscoe Mitchell & group. Here things started to get complicated. First, a sextet was announced (on piano: Craig Taborn), then a quintet (on piano: Matthew Shipp). At last, the concert dates: nine concerts in eight cities.

It was on March 29, six p.m., that I managed to catch the group rehearsing for the concert in Catania. The piano player was Vijay Iyer, who told me he'd never had the chance to rehearse with the group!

It was a good concert anyway, though most of the weight fell on Mitchell's shoulders. The other musicians I'd known since Snurdy McGurdy And Her Dancin' Shoes (Nessa 1981): Spencer Barefield on guitar, Tani Tabbal on drums, Jaribu Shahid on bass.

The following day I went to Messina, where the group was scheduled to play. A nice theater with good acoustics was a nice change from the "jazz club" of the night before. Vijay Iyer already sounded more comfortable with the repertoire. The material the group played was almost totally different from that of the previous concert. Roscoe Mitchell agreed to do an interview, the next morning in the hotel lobby. It was five past eleven when I switched on my tape recorder.

In our previous conversation, two years ago in Catania, you were here with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and you told me, then, that it was almost the only opportunity that was given to you to play here in Italy as the Art Ensemble of Chicago instead of bringing here your other projects. Now, last year you did a few dates with The Note Factory, the nine people line-up, and now this new line-up, so things are changing in this respect?

Well, yes, it seems I've been in a few countries and I'll be back with the Art Ensemble in May, and... yeah, a few countries - that's high... very high... (laughs) Don't know what changed, I don't know what changed.

Well, to put my question in context, when we talked about this you said that European countries had become more conservative...


... with regards to the kind of experimental music that they wanted to show to people. So, have things improved in this respect?

... Well, no... now... now... it's... there's a whole new audience out there that wants to hear this music - that's on stage. There's a need out there. You know, music has never been a, so called, a thing that you take and sit on a shelf, you never do that, music has to be out among the people. But nowadays what is happening I think is that people have reached a saturation, so to speak, of everyone making up this music for them. This happens often in art, you know, and then you get a kind of turning away from the traditional, so to speak, and this is what is happening also in the States, too, I mean they make these pop stars that are around for a few months and then they're gone. I mean, I'm like most people that believe that we need to go back to... just pure art... not... imitative art.

Yeah... because people need to access these things, because in the '70s there was a lot of stuff on radio, like there were very interesting things that were being broadcast by the state-owned radio station, and by some of the private radio stations; but nowadays radio is much more buttoned-down... and so I think concerts are really where people can have access to music and see, besides hearing, see how the music develops during the night. Which I think from my personal experience is very important for people.

I think this, too. It's a whole experience. I mean... that's the way I enjoy music when I go... I mean, you can hear people on the radio but then you can also go out and see them - live.

So, you're gonna come back to Italy in May, with the Art Ensemble of Chicago?

Yeah, for a concert in... Venice.

And, if I'm not mistaken, you told me that there was a new album by the Art Ensemble of Chicago that was to be recorded in February...

... yeah, but they got it back until September, so it won't be recorded until September. It will be our tribute CD to Lester Bowie and we're gonna do that with ECM.

Talking about ECM are there any new projects in the can for ECM?

Well, I've got the Art Ensemble and then there's also one that I'm supposed to do with them of my written compositions.

... because you told me that you had arranged some of your compositions for baroque instrumentation. Two years ago.

That's right.

So this is what is gonna come out in the future.

No, no, what's coming out is... I've got a piece for solo piano - 8/8/88 is called - and then I've got another piece for violin and piano called 9/9/99; there's a piece for piano and baritone voice with a text by Charles Baudelaire - Hymn To Beauty, it's called - and also there's also a piece for baritone voice, violin, piano, alto saxophone and contrabass, titled The Remorse Of The Dead, and that's also with text by Charles Baudelaire.

... because in our last conversation you told me of some texts by e.e. cummings...


... that were gonna be used...

...yeah, that's already been used, I mean, that's out on Tom Buckner's Full Spectrum Voice. The piece that we played the other night, not last night, the night before, was one of 'em, the best piece, that was one of the e.e. cummings poems, the one that was played on recorder, the other night, that was...

In Catania, the second piece you played.

The first piece, I think it was the first piece... I don't remember, I think it was the first piece.

OK, it doesn't matter.


So you're using these texts by Charles Baudelaire.

Uhm, uhm.

I mean, I don't know these texts, I know who he was, but what was... was it the meaning, the phonetics... what was the part that interested you in these texts?

Well, I mean... I like his poetry - is dark, it's a dark poetry, you know. What I do, when I get ready to select a poetrist, I read a lot of poetry, and then whatever settle for me is the direction I'll go. In this case, a friend of mine - we were talking and she suggested that it might be interesting to do something by Baudelaire, so she gave me some of his poetry and so on, so I started reading and I was of the mind to do it for a long time and - well, I finished one of the pieces, The Hymn To Beauty is finished, and I will finishing The Remorse Of The Dead when I return home, in a week. These pieces are gonna premiered in New York in November, on the Merkin Concert Hall Series.

For what instrumentation?

Baudelaire is piano and voice, and the other one is voice, violin, piano, alto saxophone and contrabass. The musicians are: Thomas Buckner, baritone, Joseph Kubera, piano, Vartan Manoogian, violin, and also Leon Dorsey, who is one of the bass player with the Note Factory.

Vartan Manoogian... I remember you put out a CD on the Victo label that featured him...

Yes, Songs In The Wind...

... and he was also involved...

... yes, he was also involved in the Lovely Music CD... Four Compositions... and he's also on the Lovely Music recording...

... Pilgrimage.


Actually, I was listening to these records a couple of days ago.

Actually, this tour was supposed to include them but it didn't work out that way, though.

This tour with, ah...

Yeah, they were to be on this tour, you know... ah... but I had other concerts at that time that never... never materialized, so we didn't use them on this concept 'cause I was gonna do a light drum ensemble that would have given me access to, you know, different type of music, so, ah... you know.

And what about the record with Thomas Buckner? The duo?

The duo... that's gonna come out sometime this year. I have the cover at home but... the record's gonna be out... soon.

On what label?

It's gonna be on Mutable Music.

Were you satisfied with those two concerts that I saw - from the acoustic point of view?

Well, the hall last night had a better sound. I think that the hall last night had a better sound than the first night. I like... I like concert halls.

The piano was also better.

Yeah, that always varies... that always varies from night to night... unless you are rich, someone who carries his own piano along.

If I'm not mistaken, Matthew Shipp was supposed to come - but didn't?

No, Matthew... couldn't come, so I had... Vijay. Vijay Iyer.

I've never heard of him before, but it seems like he's already getting inside the music...

Well, he's studied... he's studied with friends of mine in college... there's a tradition of this music that has got... that has got passed on. Vijay is an exceptional... you know, he was an exceptional student, he's a good musician, so...

How old is he?

I don't know, maybe in his twenties, I don't know. I never asked him (laughs).

So, do you think that things for the avant-garde are seeing better days?

Yeah, definitely - in the States. I mean, in Europe I guess it's trying to come back. I've heard that there's a lots of concerts for the avant-garde in Europe. I've heard that, so...

But how is the situation with radio, for instance, in the States?

Well, in the town where I live it's very good, because we have a community-sponsored radio station, so it's like radio of the old times, you know, there's all kinds of programming on it, they... but in a lot of places that don't have it... they don't have it, you know. So, in Madison, Wisconsin, WARP (?) radio has been active ever since I've been there, I mean, I don't know how long I've been there, twenty-five, thirty years. And it's... it's community-sponsored, you know, so every... a couple of times a year they have a fund-raise and the public supports it.

And it's very important because commercialism gets you...

Nowhere, nowhere.

A few years ago I bought a re-release of the LP Sound, on Delmark, on CD, and just recently a friend of mine told me there were plans for Sackville to re-release your solo saxophone...

... not the solo, not the solo. They said they weren't gonna re-release the solo, I think it's a trio with George Lewis and Muhal Richard Abrams, I think they said they were gonna re-release that, because I own the solo tapes and they sent those back to me. I asked'em to send those back to me. So they did.

So they're not gonna re-release that.

No, I don't think so. I mean, that was the impression that I got from John Norris when I spoke with him, that was... maybe four months ago.

If I'm not mistaken I have a solo saxophone on Sackville, then a green album with Muhal Richard Abrams...

... yeah, that's the one.

... George Lewis and Spencer...

... and Spencer Barefield - I think that's the one they're gonna re-release.

And then, if I'm not mistaken, I have a duo with Anthony...

... Anthony, yeah.

... Braxton - the one with the silver cover.

Yeah, I would like to find that. A friend of mine made me a... a tape of it. I had it, I don't know what happened to it. Where did you find it?

No, I bought it then.

Ah, a long time ago.

Yes, when it was new.

Yes, yes.

Because a lot of young people in Italy, they are discovering for the first time all this music - for instance, Sun Ra: the Evidence label has done a very good job of re-releasing, or in some cases releasing for the first time, things that people had never had access to. The Saturn LPs in Italy were totally impossible to find - what we got were some Impulse! records, and even those were not easy to find then. I think that some Evidence CDs... a lot of young people in their early 20s are discovering these... which compared to a lot of stuff that goes on now is a lot more advanced because - people say "This went on in the 50s, in the 60s?!"

Yes, of course.

Music has progressed, but if one thinks that Free Jazz come out forty years ago, and Sound came out in sixty...

... six.

... but if you listen to them now they sound really fresh compared to what's on the radio or in the magazines...

I know, I know... it's incredible. I mean, I think people have gone backwards. I don't quite understand it. But I... on the other hand, I think too that - yeah, those records were great but I think this is the era of the super-musicians and it takes a long time to become a super-musician, so I think that now is probably maybe gonna be the best time for music, I think so.

Well, I was not saying "those were the peaks"...

... oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I understand it, I know.

... but when people in their late 20s who are not impressed with some of the new jazz things that they listen to, they say that they are not very advanced, but when they hear, for instance, Free Jazz, they understand that something has been suppressed in the media.

Yeah, definitely.

But - when you listen to your LP Sound, now, how do you see it now, with regards to your development?

Well, one thing with regards to the AACM people it seems that the AACM people have been pushed out of the music, in terms of, like, having access to concerts and work and being able to live up to their full expectations and what they produce as musicians. I mean, you've seen I come over here like with this quintet, this or that, and so on and so forth, but we have other kinds of projects that we do that people don't even know about. Well, I mean, you know, I think that's gonna be different about this audience - maybe - that it was with the audience of the past, like for instance when Coltrane started to change his music and some of this audience stayed with him and some did not. But now you've got an audience that is able to understand a wider range of music, I should say, so these people here are the ones that we are to get the music out to them, but I mean in terms of opera, Muhal Richard Abrams, or Anthony Braxton, or Wadada Leo Smith, you know, on and on, these guys are monumental musicians, monumental musicians, they can lead the way in opera, they can lead the way in chamber music, they can lead the way in the presentation of the big band, and so on and so on, but they've never been given these opportunities because people think that they can bring along imitators to walk in these people's shoes and that's not really happened, and that's why the music is sort now in kind of disarray, you know, ah... because what I see from a lot of people that just copy the music they only were able to get a little bit of it and... well, that's what happens with people that don't... they don't really look inside themselves, because if you look inside yourself and find out what's inside yourself you can go on forever with that, but I'm looking inside you and trying to do what you do I'm never gonna be anything, because I'm always waiting to see what you're gonna do. And, you know, that's not the proper way to teach people, you know, the universities have played a large role in destroying a lot of people, in destroying their lives and... they prepared them for... some unrealistic situation that does not exist and... what you're getting now is a lot of rebelling from the students, they feel more-or-less ripped-off, in a way, 'cause they go to these universities and they pay these extraordinary fees to go - I mean, in the States, I don't know over here - they pay these extraordinary fees to go and then they come out feeling "Now, what", you know, "do I do?", when in fact places where musicians were able to get better grips on what they were about I think were places like the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock...

... Karl Berger, yeah...

... I just got some e-mail from this guy who said that's exciting now to preserve the heritages that they had, so - but what I did notice from that school was that... you dig some musicians that came out of that school and went on to establish careers are firmer in their careers, 'cause they had access to the right kind of teaching.

Last year I interviewed a musician, whose name is Nick Didkovsky, he's a guitarist and composer, and he studied computer music, who also writes software, and he told me that he had gone to that school and that there was a book that had been published last year about it. Because most people do not know that these things ever happened, and if I'm not mistaken the Art Ensemble of Chicago once did a one-week residency there...

Yes they did.

... it was in one of the first issues that I got of a magazine called Musician, and there was a very long story about the Art Ensemble of Chicago by a guy called Rafi Zabor - he did a very long feature about this - and you - I mean, the Art Ensemble of Chicago was on the cover...

... yeah, yeah, I remember that.

... together with George Clinton, and I think this is very important for the reader...

... oh yeah, yeah, definitely important for the reader's point of view. Everything's been so messed, now, you have to really search to find it - the funny thing about art is that good art always come back up to the top, so... you know, no matter what people try to do, and that is true throughout the history, you know, people have tried to suppress the art and so on and so forth, and they never win with that situation because good art always comes back up to the top.

Access is very important, because if people have to already know where to look, sometimes they'll never get in contact with...

... that's right.

You know, Albert Ayler is pretty well-known these days, due to the fact that quite a few young, mostly American groups, in the rock vein, say that they have been influenced by his music, though I have to say that to me it sounds like a lot of it it's just name-dropping - I've seen some of these groups and to me the connection is pretty non-existent. But if I'm not mistaken you got to know Albert Ayler, when you were...

... in the Army, in Germany. I was in Heidelberg and he was nearby and then sometimes we would come together and we, you know, put military bands together and then... as a result of that the musicians would get together and play and so on like that. Yeah, Albert Ayler was very... it was a lot of people, you know, that were great then, you know, that never really got an opportunity to really do anything, so hopefully that's... I don't know if that will change, but hopefully will, I mean, it would be a big thing, because I like to go out to concerts and hear people that really stimulate me musically, so it would be a good thing if some of the real creators of this music were given more opportunities. I know that... in the States now there's different clubs and things that popped up where this music is played mostly all the time, I mean, and there's this whole push to... to... people wanting to do improvised music, they call it the "European Improvised Music".


"European Improvised Music". I mean I've heard the name that they call it. So, it's definitely a time in music where a line's gonna be drawn, and some people will be able to came up to that line... and some won't. And that's the... that's the difference, I think.

But in the media - I'm referring to the time of Ornette Coleman - in the late fifties, early sixties, there was much more coverage in the press...

... oh yeah, oh yeah.

... so there was this thing called "avant-garde" and it was covered at lenghth, like it was a very important cultural thing to go and see, then one could make up one's own mind about it, if they liked it or not, but the media, The New York Times, for instance, signalled that there was a topic, and once you see that question - "Is it art or not?" - you are stimulated and then you make up your mind for yourself. But now this kind of relevance is not in the media anymore, unless they are already specialized media, but people they have to already know where to look for to get these informations.

Yeah, what we need in the media is more people that go their own way, it seems like the media itself got bored out or... I don't know what it was, I mean... a long time ago there were more people who had their own idea about... ah... how they presented material in the media. Now it's kind of a clone, everybody saying the same things on all the news stations... I think that the younger people, they're afraid to try anything on their own because if they do then they'll be probably just be kicked out and... So, I mean, it sounds to turn away from all the - this thing where everybody is the same, because we're not all the same, everybody's different, and I think that's what makes us... special is that we are all different, and this... every answer where everybody is the same is... I think it sounds a move away from that, it's all across the border, the medias... the music... you know, the art that you see in galleries... the books... and so on and so on.

James Joyce would definitely not be published nowadays.

No, no, no, no... no, he wouldn't, he probably wouldn't. It's more interesting when you got, you know, something that reaches across the border, to all different kind of people, you know, like you said, expect the people make up their own mind, that's the way it, you go and see somebody, and if you like them you like them, if you didn't like them, you know, so to speak.

Yeah. Where I live, in Catania, there are not that many concerts, and sometimes I go and see people I'm not crazy about. But I have to say that the level of musicianship has gone down - there were some successful rock groups in the sixties, like Cream, for instance, the rhythm section had a high level of technical ability and intelligence in their playing, but today they sound like they're playing a strange and incomprehensible music ... today there are a lot of short, compact and repetitive kind of formats, and so Cream definitely sounds like a jazz group. And I think that video has a lot to do with it.

Yes, and there's another thing, anybody doing video could be saving people, you know, and when you look at some of these videos they start to look kinda stupid, you know. I think we... maybe I won't see it (laughs) but we're probably gonna see things kinda rip apart at the seams, you know, because in some ways I think it's not right for the young people not to challenge them, you know, it's not a good thing to do, because then you're not preparing the people that come after you; so that's why I'm seeing this pulling of the young, now, and they're really in search of something that relates to their own lives, you know, and that's good.

Talking about the media, I've read that recently there was a series on television in the States, called Jazz, that was broadcast in ten parts, I don't remember who directed it...

... Ken Burns.

... on the P... B...

... P.B.S.

Have you seen it?

No, I haven't seen that, some people taped it, maybe I'll watch some of the things. I hear some of it's good, while some of it it's a obvious direction to promote ideas of Lincoln Center, Stanley Crouch and the Marsalises, you know. And they didn't... I heard they really didn't spend that much time, you know, saying anything about the music of the sixties, there was a bit on there, I think, about Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and maybe the Art Ensemble. A lot of people weren't even on it. And, as a result of it, I've got a lot of e-mail, from different people, you know, what they thought about it and so on and so forth. See, I think the only thing it really worked was there was a researching of what records sell of the Old Masters, it was a research of what records sell of the Old Masters. But what's happening in the States now is all the young people are trying to play... avant-garde (laughs), you know, the young people are trying to play avant-garde, and so Lincoln Center... of course it has money by the ton, but it has taken a lot of money by, you know, the great of arts, because people give all their money to Lincoln Center, we got people that make these enormous salaries for being, you know, just re-creative artists. So it's interesting to see what happens now - like I say you got the young people they're trying to do something else and you've got Lincoln Center on the other side, trying to... I don't know what they're trying to do... well, it doesn't relate to the development of jazz in a way - that I recall. Jazz has never been a music that stopped at some point. It will be interesting to see what happens and I'm... waiting to see it. And like, this whole series of new pieces that I'm writing they are a high level technical... technical pieces, so I'm feeling that too, you know, people need to get up and do something to it, you know? We'll all see how that all turns out.

I've read an article on the Internet about this series, by Francis Davis.

Yeah, Francis Davis, yeah.

I think the piece ran maybe a couple of months ago in The Atlantic, and I read on their Website. And I think it was a good piece, he denounced that the series had kind of a political agenda for Lincoln Center...

... yes! he's right.

... and that it didn't represent, from the sixties on...

... no, they didn't. Well, Francis Davis, he's been around for a long time, he's written a lot of articles and that's what I'm saying, see, there's a lot of people around that know what's going on, so... and these people have somehow... been overlooked, in a way, but they're still around. There were people that had a vision and stayed tuned, and Francis Davis was one of them. He did a lot of... he did articles both on myself and on the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, a long time ago.

Yeah, in fact the first article about you that I saw on a big magazine was by him, on Musician magazine, I think in 1984, and then it was reprinted in his first collection, In The Moment. But, to go back to the topic of mastering one's instrument, I think that for a lot of people this means playing faster inside the changes, and a lot of people - especially in the rock field - reject the idea of technical masterings as empty virtuosity... like doing something faster with no real musical purpose. Like, faster for the sake of it, not faster because you need to.

Yeah, that's no good, that's no good. But it's time to challenge the musicians again, too, in a way, I mean, like the better pieces that are definitely technically... demanding. I mean, a lot of people don't play that much (laughs), but they are around, these other pieces that I'm doing now are technically demanding, especially for Joseph Kubera but he's is a great, great pianist, and also the piece for violin and piano is technically demanding and of course Vartaan is a great violinist.

You know, for a long time I was sick of hearing Monk interpretations - see, I like Monk very much, but the interpretations were scholastic, and banal, like, they play the theme and they run off to the solos, but, I mean, where's the composition?

I know, I know, well, see, people get their egos confused, and that's what's this whole generation is, these egos. Unfortunately, it doesn't have anything to do with any real substance, so... it's time for that to go, you know? A lot of serious musicians, they don't really want to come out... anymore. I don't. I wanna stay at home and do my work, you know. I mean, if I'm coming out to do something that's not... making any sense, I'd rather stay home 'cause there's stuff I'm working on right now. And if look at myself it's an important period, time-wise, and I have to be careful on how I use my time because otherwise I won't be able to accomplish the things that I'm trying to do. So, this is the kind of feeling that's going around right now, you know. Lots of musicians don't want to come back to Europe, you know?

To Europe?!

... they don't wanna come back if Europe's gonna be some place where, first of all, they're gonna say that we didn't create the music that we did, and, secondly, if the only thing that people want to hear, like, college bands, then... yes, that's the feeling that's going down now, because that's a very important work period, and... just to be coming out just to be coming out, I mean... that don't make any sense if you do it with your time.

But... do you think that in Europe there is a wrong story about... who invented that stuff?

Yeah, I think it is, I think they don't really want to give credit to the people who really invented it. I mean, do you see Muhal Richard Abrams over here?


This is what's going on, that's unfortunate, too, because the audience has to sit out there, you know, while these people are out there not really knowing doing what they're doing and so on, so... for a lot of people it's become...uninteresting.

I see in Down Beat that quite a few European musicians are playing in Chicago...

... because of John Corbett - they have a club there, I think called The Empty Bottle. And so it's a way for them to go there. I don't think that's a wrong thing to do, but I think that the people who are creative musically ought to be out there too - and they're not. But there's another thing: if, like, musicians all communicated real well... lots of the younger people are out there working for nothing - no money at all. It's just musicians need to get themselves organized, they need to get back to the principals of the AACM, the principals of the Creative Music Studio, the principals of the CAC, the principals of the BAG, and so on and so forth, where musicians had active roles in having some control over their destinies, because if they don't... You know, people see that, people see that musicians are not united and that opens the door for people to come and take advantage of 'em.

I haven't heard of a tour of Muhal Richard Abrams in a long time.

You've heard of a tour of Anthony Braxton?


Heard of any tour with Peter Brötzmann?


John Zorn, heard of his tours?


Tim Berne? Heard of his tours? So you start to get the picture.

But do you see John Zorn as a person who has done anything of value in all his output?

Well, I'm not that familiar with his music, I went to hear him when I was in Madison, once, maybe it was not a good concert, I don't know, people have good and bad concerts, but... it wasn't... see, I mean, the only way I judge people is: these people, what have they done, what did they contribute - of their own? And then, if they haven't contributed anything of their own, then, for me, I have to put them in another... category: there's the person that created it... and the person that came along and... imitated it. So, it's like... it's like that - for me. I mean, that's the way I was brought up. I mean, if somebody came up trying to sing like Nat King Cole, people would say - oh, wait a minute, he's trying to sound like Nat King Cole. He's trying to sound like Charlie Parker. You know, that doesn't change, it's always gotta be like that. We're gonna be measured by, you know, what you do. And if you haven't done anything... you know, people like Muhal, Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, they will never run out of ideas, they will never run out of ideas, but people who are not of that particular persuasion will always run out of ideas, because they never had an idea in the first place. That's I've always encouraged my students: to look to their own selves; it's easy to be your own self, it's easy to be your own self, it's difficult to be someone else, you can't be someone else, it's easy to be yourself, 'cause in a way you train to be yourself, you develop your own ideas, then the same source that gave you those ideas continues to give you more ideas.

But who do you think that John Zorn is inspired by?

Well, he's a student of Julius Hemphill. And so is Tim Berne. And John Zorn is also a student of Anthony Braxton.

Well, now I am in a difficult position, because I don't like John Zorn that much...

... I don't know his music that much.

... but since he's done different things, like "scored improvisations"...

... well, that's my term, "scored improvisations"!

Well, I was just using it just to make myself understood...

... yeah, yeah, go ahead.

... he has covered a lot of fields, and he has acknowledged many influences, like Carl Stalling...

... see, the fact is that all that he's doing, the AACM was doing that already, in the sixties. But... I think there's an effort to suppress real creative artists, and unfortunately... it's led a lot of people down the wrong path, you know, it's led a lot of people down the wrong path. And what is happening to some of my contemporaries is that they teach at schools, they are facing all of these politics, of institutions, they're never really given any credit for the music that they created, and when the students come out they wanna pay the students more than the person who created it. In the case of Jackie McLean, I know the students were making more money that he was making when he was playing. So, this is one of the problems that needs to be sorted out.

So, to get back to that previous topic, your plan was to bring a larger instrumentation than this five-people line-up?

It would have been the New Chamber Ensemble along with a few other musicians, I was gonna have, like Craig Taborn, and Leon Dorsey, and I was gonna have... Gerald Cleaver, doing percussion, like vibes...

So it was like, budgetary constraints?

I don't know what it was, it just that it never turned out to be what people were saying it was gonna be in the first place. That's the best that I can figure out, you know. People saying one thing, and... it didn't happen.

'Cause last year, in Roccella Ionica, the concert by the line-up with two pianos etc. was very stimulating, and the timbral palette was wide...

I was just gonna say, this is one thing that we do, with the presentation we can... blow you away. I've been doin' a series with percussion, lately, and when people will look behind to see what we've done... we've been great performers, multi-instrumentalists, composers, teachers, business people, they've been everything. In fact, when you know it takes all of your time to do your art (laughs).

But, you know, friends of mine, who had never heard you live, saw you in Catania, two nights ago, but for them, unless they try to look for the records - and the Lovely records, for instance, were not that easy to find even when they first came out - they don't have the perspective of the situation presented to them, so for them that concert is all that you do.

Yes, I know. I know. I know. So, people... well, I don't know, maybe there is a difficulty dealing with that, that's why I've decided to give me more than one outlet, more than one venue... the places where people really listen to chamber music, they listen to contemporary chamber music. I have pieces done in those context, you know. But certainly the audience nowadays is ready for pieces of all styles.

Do you teach in Madison?

No, I don't teach. I'm learning (laughs) - in this period, I mean, I've got some work to do. I don't see how anybody can teach. I learn. That's what I have, an individual student here and there.

What's Henry Threadgill doing these days?

I think he's in New York, doing some concerts. I haven't spoken to him for a while. I think I'll talk to him when I get back home.

Because he had three CDs in a row for Columbia that saw the involvement of Bill Laswell...

... I don't think he's with that company anymore.

I saw him in concert a long time ago, with the Sextett, in the '80s, when he was with RCA, I think, and it was a very good concert - though the PA was not very good the people responded. And it's a pity, because I think that people, if presented with things, would go to them.

I think they would do. I sent some of my music to one of the largest record companies and the guy wrote me this long letter saying he really loved the music (laughs) but he didn't feel the other people in the company were gonna do anything like that, he said he could hear, he could hear what was going on, that was different music, high quality, but that the record company was going to bring back the Young Lions or whatever. I liked better when there were more independent labels, maybe some people like Chuck Nessa will do something.

It was exactly at this point that the second side of the C60 cassette tape I was using to tape the interview ended. I asked Roscoe Mitchell whether I should put another one into the tape recorder, but he gently refused ("I don't think I have much more to say"). Then, he talked for about twenty more minutes. He asked me about the instrumental balance during the first of the two concerts I had attended ("Was the guitar too loud?" Yes. "That's what I suspected."), expressed his disappointment about the Note Factory concert in Fano not having been released on CD ("It should have been on sale at the same time of this tour...") - by the way, as of this writing (24 Jan. 2003) it's not out yet - and talked about other things I've since forgotten. No concert that day ("... and it rains!"), the next day they were going to Rome.

Selected Discography

With the Art Ensemble Of Chicago

(5 CD) (Nessa)
People In Sorrow ('69) (re-relased w/ Les stances à Sophie as 1969-1970) (Emi Jazztime)
Bap-Tizum ('72) (Atlantic)
Fanfare For The Warriors ('73) (Atlantic)
Nice Guys ('78) (ECM)
Full Force ('80) (ECM)
Urban Bushmen ('80) (ECM)

Roscoe Mitchell

('66) (Delmark)
Solo Saxophone Concerts ('73/'74) (Sackville) (out-of-print)
Nonaah ('77) (Nessa) (out-of-print)
L-R-G/The Maze/S II Examples ('78) (re-released on Chief)
Snurdy McGurdy And Her Dancing Shoes ('80) (Nessa) (out-of-print)
3X4 Eye ('81) (Black Saint)
New Music For Woodwinds And Voice ('81) (1750 Arch, re-released on Mutable Music)
And The Sound And Space Ensembles ('83) (Black Saint)
An Interesting Breakfast Conversation ('84) (1750 Arch, re-released on Mutable Music)
Four Compositions (87?) (Lovely Music)
Duets And Solos (with Muhal Richard Abrams) ('90) (Black Saint)
This Dance Is For Steve McCall ('92) (Black Saint)
Pilgrimage ('94?) (Lovely Music)
Hey Donald ('94) (Delmark)
Sound Songs ('94) (Delmark)
First Meeting (with Borah Bergman) ('94) (Knitting Factory)
In Walked Buckner ('98) (Delmark)
Nine To Get Ready ('98) (ECM)
8 O'Clock: Two Improvisations (with Thomas Buckner) (2001) (Mutable Music)
Song For My Sister (2002) (PI Recordings)

See also:

Anthony Braxton - Creative Music Orchestra
('76) (RCA Bluebird)
George Lewis - Shadowgraph ('77) (Black Saint)
George Lewis - Voyager ('93) (Avant)
Tom Hamilton - Off-Hour Wait State ('95?) (O O Discs)
Matthew Shipp - Duo ('96?) (2.13.61)

© Beppe Colli 2001 - 2003 | Jan. 26, 2003