Do you remember your first jazz record ?
I think it was Joe Pass’
“Virtuoso”. I remember being able to recognize the
melodies, as I was starting to learn some standards (I was about 15),
but in between the first and last theme I had no idea what was going
on. I had no conception of form and harmony - it all sounded kind of
random to me (and this is a fairly straight ahead record). It occurs to
me that most people probably hear jazz this way, which is a rather
What drew you to play guitar ? How did you become a musician ?
I started out playing violin, as
my father was an amateur violinist. I never really enjoyed it and had
to be forced to practice. Meanwhile, there was a cheap nylon string
guitar lying around the house that I think my mother had bought for
some reason. I started playing around on it and found it much more
agreeable, or at least less uncomfortable than the violin. Plus, the
music I enjoyed was the rock that was on the radio at the time. With
the exception of David LaFlamme, this music was not centered on the
violin. I took a guitar class in 7th grade, and I remember getting
through the entire semester’s workbook in two days and spending
the rest of the year helping other kids tune their guitars.
Which are the musicians and the experiments which influenced you ? Do you have a favorite musician ?
My earliest influences were my
father’s classical record collection, the soundtrack to the movie
2001 (I’m still a Ligeti nut), and most of all my mother’s
Beatles records. After a prolonged rock phase and a transition through
fusion, I fell in love with jazz and tried to absorb as much as much of
it as I could. I don’t have a favorite musician, but I have
favorite music in many genres, primarily jazz, classical, rock, and
What do you think about the state of jazz today ? What direction do you feel it should go in the future ?
The state of jazz today is a sorry
one, although of course there are always brilliant musicians doing
great things. For one thing, there is a malignant edifice of jazz
education that seems to be growing exponentially, and has little
relevance to anything outside itself. It has codified and formulated
the jazz “language” in a more or less generic way, and has
instilled this esthetic in thousands of impressionable students who
come to value a watered down and distant simulacrum of something that
was once vital.
There is also a curious paradox – while there is
relatively little public support for this music there are yearly
thousands of students entering jazz programs, ostensibly under the
impression that they will somehow earn a living from this music. I
think the pattern establishes itself when these same students graduate,
realize how hard and unrewarding it is, and eventually find jobs at
universities, continuing the cycle. There will always be the
“real thing” however, so all is not and will never be lost.
As to the second part of the question, I have absolutely no opinion on
where jazz should go. Who am I to say ? First of all it is far too
vague a term to define. Jazz has splintered off into so many subgenres,
who can say where “it” will go except to say that it will
continue to expand and take on other influences.
What are your current projects ? Who are your musical partners nowadays ?
I have three basic projects that
I’m currently playing with, all somewhat related. I have a
quartet that is represented by my last two records, which has been
dormant now for a year or so. This includes electric bass, drums, and
I also have a duo with the vocalist from the quartet, Theo Bleckmann,
which performs pieces by both of us, covers, and is freer in concept
than the quartet. Finally there is a trio, with which I have been
working the most, which consists of acoustic bass and drums. It would
be nice to work more with all of these groups.
Is there any young (or not!) musician you have recently (or not!) discovered you want to talk about ?
Yes, I’d like to mention a
trio I saw recently, comprised of Jacob Sacks (piano), Dan Weiss
(drums), and Thomas Morgan (bass). They really knocked me out. Their
concept of time was very elastic yet very precise – their control
of this element is amazing. It is a real band that is doing something
original, pushing boundaries, and performing it all in a musical and
Which are the best places to listen to jazz in New York ? Which are your favorites ?
My favorite clubs are the Vanguard
and the 55 Bar, both as a listener and a performer. Especially the
Vanguard – the ghosts in that place, far from being intimidating,
help you to reach your best. And the 55 Bar has gone from something of
a den of iniquity twenty years ago to one of the best listening rooms
in the city.
What kind of music do you listen to nowadays ?
These days I mostly listen to
classical music. I try to digest one piece at a time, and really get to
know it through repeated listenings. At the moment I’m working on
Schoenberg’s fourth string quartet. It’s sometimes hard to
find time for concentrated listening these days. I recently got to know
the Webern Symphony, which was easy because it’s only about nine
Do you have any future projects in mind ? Next concerts ? Next records ? Will you play in Europe soon ?
My future plans are to work more
with the original projects I mentioned earlier. I’m actually in
Europe at the moment with Tim Ries, the saxophonist, but don’t
have imminent plans to return with my band. At this point my next trip
to Europe will be in about two weeks to teach a jazz seminar in
Denmark, then in November with the saxophonist John O’Gallagher,
and December with Maria Schneider.
I plan to do a trio record next,
mixing originals and other tunes. Theo and I have a duo recording (with
Satoshi Takeishi playing percussion on a few tunes) coming out early
next year on Songlines.
Interview by Pierre Villeret