Erik Friedlander

You played guitar first. Why did you choose cello and why not violin for example ?

I have no idea why I chose the cello. Perhaps it looked more like a guitar..perhaps the music teacher needed cellists..maybe I was bigger than most and the teacher thought I could handle carrying the cello back and forth.

Harvie Swartz is one of the most important metting in your career. Can you tell us more about him ?

Harvie Swartz was the first composer/band leader I had in depth contact with. I went from playing the cello in a school orchestra and playing bass in a rock band to playing cello in a real NY modern jazz setting with busy, expert players. He wrote for the band--beautiful music! He made careful arrangements of the music he wrote--passing around solos in a modern way, not just the same round-robin every tune. I learned about commitment, intensity and about the skills I was going to need if I wanted to make a career in music. Harvie became a mentor for me, meeting Harvie was a very important event for me.

Is "My Little Cello" the "desert island" choice for a cellist ?

A very important recording. Pettiford created a band around the cello: wrote, arranged and performed a handful of beautiful tunes with the cello at the center and that's a big event in the improv cello timeline.

There is not a lot of cellists, and cellists don't have a great and impressive model that could be Monk for a pianist or Coltrane for a saxophonist. And so, do you think it's easier for you to find a place in improvised scene ?

Easier and harder...there's less expectation but there is also a sense that this isn't a "real" jazz instrument and so it's tough to break into hard-core jazz club scene. Harder too because there isn't a legacy to consider, to learn from. I'm still dealing with figuring out how to make the cello fit into jazz. Recently I created a new group around mostly pizzicato cello that is inspired by Pettiford. I wrote 20 or so tunes and am still writing more that are inspired by the pizzicato playing of Pettiford; some of the tunes look back and others look forward. This is one way I've adapted my vision of how the cello can be a "real" jazz instrument. My other bands, where I play most arco, are more modern in their outlook, less "jazzy" -- but it's all part of what I'm about.

Maldoror : the connection between music & surrealism is not evident...

Certainly the connection between improvisation..the creative mind-set, the desire to respond to emotion, to dreams; these are not territory only for painting or graphic art. it can be the impetus for music..for any art really. Is it that you don't hear the connection in this particular recording? If that is the case I can only say that this was my immediate response to the poetry...for better or worse.

"Zevulun" & "Issachar" : can you tell us more about this recordings and your feeling about John Zorn point of view of radical jewish culture ?

These are the two cd's from the Circle Maker recording. two different bands, the sextet and the masada string trio. I think you need to ask specific questions...

Radical Jewish Culture was for me freedom. Zorn cleared the way for any of us to be completely free to create something new from the traditions of Jewish Music.

There is a strong interest for Eastern Music (Pachora...). And what about music from Azerbaïjan, Iran ?

My only connection to Iran is the music of Googoosh who I like very, very much. I have transcribed some of her pieces for my band Topaz (skin, quake) and have attended her concert here in New York 4-5 years ago. I am always looking for inspiration and happily find it wherever it may lay.

About Vincent Courtois. Did you met him when he came in NY with Louis Sclavis or his trio with Courvoisier & Eskelin ? Do you feel close ?

I did not hear his recent gig here..I think I was in Italy at the time. I respect very much vincent's work, his artistry, his abilities.

Next recordings ? Next projects ?

I have two CD's coming out next year: "Prowl" on Cryptogramophone, the latest from my quartet with Andy Laster, Stomu Takeishi, and Satoshi Takeishi. 9 tracks with 8 original pieces based loosely on African rhythms and a rendition of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" the New Orleans spiritual. And a new solo CD on Brassland Records that is inspired by American folk music (The Anthology of American Folk Music) and an assortment of texts from American writers tentatively entitled "Block Ice & Propane"
My latest project is "the Broken Arm" a trio inspired by the pizzicato work of Oscar Pettiford. It is the most obviously jazz-inspired of my projects:
In 1949 Oscar Pettiford broke his arm playing baseball. He could still move his fingers even though his arm was in a sling, so he began experimenting with a cello a friend had lent to him. He tuned the cello like a bass only an octave higher and later recorded a series of cello-led projects including the great, under-recognized 1964 Fantasy release, "My Little Cello."
Erik Friedlander tosses away his bow for this new band, playing only pizzicato in a world steeped in the influences of Oscar Pettiford and the small group feel of Herbie Nichols. I am still looking for a label for this project.
Additionally I have a duo with Italian composer and electronics maestro Teho Teardo. We have created a CD that honors Pier Paolo Pasolini the great director and poet. I expect this CD will come out sometime next year as well.

Interview by Jean Delestrade