Jane Ira Bloom
“ I ”
Innovative instrumentalist and composer Jane Ira Bloom recently released the album Chasing Paint: Jane Ira Bloom Meets Jackson Pollock. Working with Fred Hersch on piano, Mark Dresser on bass, and Bobby Previte on drums, Bloom composed a nine movement suite inspired by her longtime interest in abstract expressionism and Pollock specifically.
It was my distinct privilege to speak with Jane Ira Bloom about the development of this project, a conversation which led us into fascinating theoretical territory. The conversation took place on July 17, 2003.
All About Jazz: When did you first begin playing the sax?
Jane Ira Bloom: Young. I think I was about nine years old. It was in public school.
AAJ: Were you required to choose an instrument for class?
JB: We weren’t required to per se, but I remember they handed out a list of about six or seven instruments and you could pick one.
AAJ: Do you know why you chose sax?
JB: Shiny! (Laughing)
JB: It looked great in the case.
AAJ: Did you ever play on anything else?
JB: I had studied piano prior to that, and a little later on I studied drums a little bit.
AAJ: That’s really interesting. I’m a particular fan of the drums...I noticed you have a very keen sense of rhythmic development. I’m wondering if that has anything to do with the drumming background?
JB: Yes, I’ve always wondered about that too. In the ensembles I’ve played with—you always have strong connections to the different instruments—but I’ve always had a very unique connection to the drummers I’ve worked with...I think there are drums at the heart of me, someplace.
AAJ: When did you move on to soprano?
JB: Well, I was studying saxophone with a rather well known teacher in Boston by the name of Joe Viola, and like most students I had begun on the alto. But I got exposed to soprano very early on because Joe was playing the soprano a lot. So I got to hear it. We’d play duet, and I just loved the way he sounded. So I really credit hearing that sound with him. And I began studying with him when I was about 12 or 13, so I was exposed to it pretty early on.
AAJ: I love the soprano timber. Is there a specific challenge to playing on the soprano?
JB: As Joe used to say, it’s got a smaller window of accuracy. You know how saxophonists are always talking about intonation on the soprano? It’s not that it’s any harder per se than the other saxophones—they all have their idiosyncrasies—but the soprano is less forgiving, so you have to be a little more subtle with your embouchure. You have to spend a little more time working at getting your sound to come through the instrument, as opposed to the instrument dictating what’s easiest to do on it. And that just takes a little time. The word I always use is—you kind of have to finesse the instrument.
AAJ: It’s probably mostly a myth, but there’s always that image of wrestling with the tenor versus the light touch on the soprano.
JB: Well, I think those are mostly facile metaphors. Basically all saxophones and other instruments are all about getting your sound through the instrument; and that is as unique and as subtle, as varied as all the individuals who play on them... there’s a wonderful book “Free Play” by Stephen Nachmanovitch, have you read it?
AAJ: No, I haven’t.
JB: It’s a great book. He writes about improvisation, and he happens to be a string player. He describes the violin bow and how sensitive it is to pressure. How you move it, which makes great artistry on the violin. Well, he descried the bow as ‘the perfect barometer of the human heart’ You know, because all your expression is in your technique. In a sense, for a saxophone, it would be embouchure, and wind, and the sound that you shape through a reed. That’s our barometer.
AAJ: When did you shift to jazz, or was it jazz from the beginning?
JB: You know, very fortunately I grew up with musical teachers, and a musical environment within which there weren’t clear definitions of what was contemporary, or popular, and what was classical. I was learning about harmony and changes from the very beginning. Learning the classical repertoire and at the same time on the saxophone I was learning classical woodwind technique and reading...and at the same time I was improvising. And nobody told me you couldn’t do that.
AAJ: Right. When you’re a kid, as long as they don’t tell you that you can’t, it doesn’t matter.
JB: It was all music to me. Whether I was improvising it or reading it. It was all just part of my education. It was all going on simultaneously.
JB: Do you continue to perform both classical and jazz now?