Adam Rogers Discusses His Imminent Debut Release and More
“ For me, listening to Miles Davis goes beyond jazz trumpet playing. It sounds like poetry. It transcends the idiom. Certain musicians seem to rise above and beyond their particular styles, or even the medium of music, through emotional intensity, brilliance and talent. ”
(Originally Published: April 2002)
Unlike many musicians who ply their trade in New York, Adam Rogers has been doing it all his life, being, as he is, a lifelong resident of Manhattan. Since 1990, he has appeared a on over fifty recordings so diverse, that many fans know him as an expert player in different genres. For example, his gigging and recordings with Lost Tribe, saxman Bill Evans, and recently, Matt Garrison, have built his renown as a great player in the electric jazz idiom, whereas work with John Zorn, David Binney or Uri Caine make him identifiable as a downtown mainstay. Working with Cassandra Wilson, Regina Carter or either Brecker shows his straight ahead talents, and he has recorded and performed klezmer and middle eastern classical music with Giora Feidman and David Krakauer and Simon Shaheen. He's also an accomplished pop player, as recordings with Elvis Costello, Vitamin C and Alana Davis will confirm, and he brings real classical credentials to table as well, having studied and performed the idiom intensively at Mannes College in the eighties. The above is not intended to indicate that he is a jack-of-all trades, but truly, a modern-day, master multi-stylist.
With this interview, AAJ is privileged to break the news that Adam has just finished the recording session for his first date to be released as a leader, with the Netherlands based Criss-Cross label. Also featuring Clarence Penn on the kit, Scott Colley on bass and Edward Simon on piano, it should hit the shelves later this year. This comes as great news for those who have so enjoyed some Adam's a la carte work, but yearn for the full course treatment. It emphasizes the straight-ahead, small group setting he's pursued with his own units for a few years now, and will surely extend the reach of his deserved reputation as one of the world's top handful of guitarists in the genre. I recently caught up with Adam in between fulfillment of his all-too-justifiably full engagement calendar.
AAJ: What factors most strongly contributed to you finally getting a solo project together?
AR: I've been writing music since I was in my teens so I've always looked to have an outlet for my own compositions. As early as I can remember-certainly, when I got into jazz, I was always enthralled and inspired by amazing playing but as equally enthralled and inspired by composition. When I first started playing, I tried to write my own music as well, which then requires you have some kind of ensemble to play it. I've always had some kind of project or group as an outlet for composition.
AAJ: So this wasn't a standards date. This was your own set of tunes.
AR: We recorded nine tunes one of which is the standard "Long Ago and Far Away". The rest are original compositions.
AAJ: I was actually asking because I think of Criss -Cross as a label that does dates of leaders playing standard tunes.
AR: I'm not sure if that's the concept. They like to record hard swinging music. The records are done quickly so it's a little bit more of a challenge to realize and execute hard compositions. It's certainly easier to go in and play tunes everybody knows and just concentrate on the playing, but if I have a record date I want to write for it. I want to place an emphasis on writing something where I'm challenged to create a medium to improvise.
AAJ: So you had one day?
AR: All their records are done in a day.
AAJ: How was this recording done?
AR: Live to 8 track, so we'll mix and edit it a little later. I also really love doing records live to two track in a short period of time. As long as you can get a really great sound and enough rehearsal.
AAJ: Which for guys in your league is like a cup of coffee, right?
AR: It depends on how hard the tunes are and also, with any music, the more you know it the more you can expound on it. If you do a couple of rehearsals and everyone knows the tunes to the point where you can execute them correctly, it's different than if you were playing them on a tour for a month. The level of interpretation is much higher and people are adding things. If you're glued to the page, you might be playing it correctly, but it's nice when people know the music enough to be really creative with it.
Given all that, I was very happy with the way the record turned out. Everybody did a great job. Three of my favorite musicians in the world-Scott Colley on acoustic bass, Clarence Penn on drums and Edward Simon on piano.
AAJ: Maybe you could expound on your band. Where would people know Ed Simon from?
AR: He played with Paquito D'Rivera, Bobby Watson. The last 5 or 6 years he's been playing with Terence Blanchard. He also plays with John Patitucci. He's made three solo records. The first with Anthony Jackson and Horacio el 'Negro' Hernadez. Then he did a thing on Kokepelli with Mark Turner, Adam Cruz and Larry Grenadier..a beautiful record. Most recently he made a record for one of my best friends and a phenomenal alto saxophonist Dave Binney's label, Mythology records again with Turner and Cruz, called la Bikina. He's from Venezuela and has an incredible understanding of Latin music. A great soloist and accompanist. I played with him in 1989 on Binney's first record with Lonnie Plaxico and Smitty Smith on Owl records. He consistently creates really interesting and exciting musical events when he improvises. He also has an amazing touch.
Scott Colley I've been playing with for going on ten years. He is a real virtuoso, a great soloist and has an incredible feel and sense of time. We did his last solo record which will be coming out on Palmetto records. That's myself, Bill Stewart, Ravi Coltrane and Scott. We've played a lot with Dave Binney and with Mike Brecker, who we recently did a string of dates with in Boston.
AAJ: Does Scott tour with Mike when he brings Larry Goldings out?
AR: No, that was just me, Larry, Michael and Idris, or Clarence.
AAJ: That band is killing! You really get to stretch.
AR: Just such a great situation in so many ways. Michael is, needless to say, one of the great saxophonists in the world.
AAJ: One of greatest improvisers' ever.
AR: Just amazing. It's a very open situation and he's such a great person to play with and work with, on all levels. Something that's challenging, fun and creative. I've worked with Clarence Penn in Michael's band and with a Danish bassist named Chris Minh Doky. I played on Clarence's last record for Japanese Verve which we did last fall which is kind of like a world music/Brazilian record. I don't think he's finished mixing it so it's not out yet. That's with James Genus, Steve Wilson, Ed Simon and Claudia Acuna. From what I've heard of it, it's really beautiful. Clarence is also so great to play with. He swings so hard and plays in a way that really complements what you're doing.
AAJ: You've got a lot of stuff that could all hit simultaneously there.
AR: I guess there'll be a lot of records coming out. I did a lot of recording this past fall.
AAJ: Can you tell us about the compositions on your record?
AR: We did an arrangement of 'Long Ago and Far Away' and eight originals. Two of the songs are from a recording I did a couple of years ago that is not on a label that I hope to have released at some point in some way. The rest are new to acetate, as it were. So that's six 'new' songs.
AAJ: Do these fall clearly on the bop side of things?
AR: It's acoustic, modern jazz. It's swinging, like 4:4, a lot of it. There's one song that's somewhere between a ballad and a medium tempo song, one straight eighths tune. Another has a melody in 5, 4 and then 7 but the solos are in 4:4. There's a swinging medium tempo blues and a fast, minor blues. There's ballad, on acoustic, of one of my originals. One of the songs is almost like through -composed classical music, classical guitar and piano doubling a lengthy eighth note figure.
AAJ: You studied classical formally, right?
AR: I studied classical guitar really seriously, yes. I went to Mannes Conservatory in the early to mid-80s and was a classical guitar major. It's in Manhattan and is now affiliated with the New School but at that point... well, it's one of the three-Manhattan, Mannes and Julliard. Mannes is a little more known for its 'Techniques of Music' department than the performance side. I went there and got a very straight, classical, conservatory music education'probably the same way somebody in the 19th century would have studied music. I really loved it. Before I went to college, when I started out playing, I was a total Hendrixophile. That was my total inspiration for playing guitar and then I got into jazz. When I went to college I decided, because I was interested in it and because I felt I could use a really solid musical education, that I would study classical music. I was always very happy that I did because I got a really solid grounding in music theory'western music theory...everything from species counterpoint to four part harmony, dictation ear training, score reading, musical analysis'a really in depth study of Bach, Beethoven and modern composers. It was invaluable to me. I was considering pursuing a career as a classical guitarist. It was really satisfying to play that music. I did some recitals and was into the repertoire, but I felt like I needed to do one or the other at the time. I love playing with people and improvising so much that I went in that direction.
I would like to make a classical music record, solo classical guitar, at some point. I play it a lot and in the last few years it's become a part of everything that I do. I play electric and acoustic equally, pretty much, on all the records that I do. I play all of them-electric, steel sting acoustic and nylon string acoustic.
AAJ: Now, do you bring the right hand classical technique to the electric?
AR: When I comp I play with my nails and when I play lines, generally, I play with a pick, but I also play with my skin for certain things when I want to coax a certain sound out of the guitar.
AAJ: You're known for the precision, cleanliness and the smooth legato-ness of your picked lines.
AR: People have responded to that, yeah. I mean, my greatest inspirations in the jazz idiom were 'Trane and Bird and pianists like McCoy and Herbie. Wes was a seminal influence. The live record with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, I think it's called 'Full House', was pretty much how I learned how to ply jazz guitar. Pat Martino was also a big influence. I think the first jazz guitar I heard was Benson's 'Breezin'. That record still completely flips me out. John Coltrane's music was a huge inspiration. The focus and emotional intensity of his playing and music was and is probably the greatest inspiration for me. I think I've always aspired in some way to achieve that kind of intensity in my own playing.
AAJ: I'd say you've achieved that. I mean when you're up there with Mike swapping 64 bars'
AR: It's very inspiring to play with him.
AAJ: I've talked to some pretty heavy cats that are inspired by you, like Dave Gilmore and Fiuczynski'pretty high compliments
AR: Well, those guys are really good friends. I keep them on salary to say stuff like that.
AAJ: Tell us about your bop side versus your fusion side. I mean, I'm sure subsets of folks know you from each camp but not necessarily both. Not to mention the other stuff you do, like Klezmer, etc. Maybe you want to touch on what you feel is some of your best work on each side, notwithstanding the whole categorization trip. I first heard you with Lost Tribe. Was that a co- project?
AR: Myself and Ben Perowsky and Fima Ephron started playing trio in 1988. I've known and been playing with Ben since my mid-teens since we both grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I grew up on 90th and Broadway. Ben and I were in Music and Art high school together and we started playing with his dad, who is a saxophonist. We'd play duos too. Frank Perowsky has played with all kinds of people like Liza Minelli, Buddy Rich an countless Broadway shows. He's been a working musician in New York since the 50's..and he's a great saxophonist. So we started with Fima, who's a phenomenal bassist and someone I've been playing with for 15 years. Then Dave Binney, who I knew from gigs, and his first record, joined. Then, Rachel Z played with us for a little while. We also used to do gigs with Joey Calderazzo at Mikell's, and then a woman named Glenna Powrie (keys) played with us and then David Gilmore joined the band. We made two records, the first in 1994 with Dave Gilmore, who is just one of my favorite players in the world- it was so great to play with him for the years we did. Then he left the band and we continued as a quartet and we made a record for the New York based label, Arabesque, 'Many Lifetimes'. So it was always the base of me, Ben, Fima and Dave, and that's how it ended up as well, when we finally stopped, in Spring of '99.
AAJ: I saw you guys open up for MMW in Boston, fall of '94.
AR: Actually that was a co-billed tour. We swapped opening and closing spots. Some of my favorite moments were with those guys. As happens with a group of musicians you play with for over ten years, there were moments of unbelievable music we made together. I mean, I like the records a lot, but gigs that we did'we evolved a kind of a language together that only happens over time.
AAJ: Well, I'm still waitin' on that double live cd (laughs).
AR: Maybe one day. On the electric jazz side if things, I've played with Bill Evans, the saxophonist, on and off, for a few years'we did a week last year at the Blue Note. I did a little work with the Brecker Brothers toward the end of their last incarnation. I've played on Randy's last two cds 'Into the Sun', a Brazilian fusion record, and the last one, 'Hangin' in the City'. I've been mostly playing more straight ahead or acoustic music for the last few years. I also do many record dates in New York, part of which are straight up pop.
AAJ: Maybe you want to hip the readers to those.
AR: There's a really great singer I've worked with over the last few years called Alana Davis. The one that was released last year, I'm on most of the record. I music-directed her showcases in August and September. That's myself and Jack Daley on bass from Lenny Kravitz's band and a great drummer form Israel named Nir Z. Craig Ross, Lenny's guitarist is on part of it as well.
I played on a nice record by a singer songwriter named Paul Ruderman on Atlantic with the same rhythm section. I also played on some tracks by Vitamin C, who's on Elektra. I actually heard one on the radio in a small town in Japan.
AAJ: Don't forget Walter Becker's record (11 Tracks of Whack), nice work there!
AR: Oh, thank you yeah. He produced the first Lost Tribe record. He used Fima, Ben, myself and Dean Parks, who's plays on a lot of the classic Dan stuff and pianist John Beasley.
I've focused more on more the straight ahead music the past few years. There's a new one coming with Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), with Chris Potter and Gene Jackson.
AAJ: Is Chris Potter a working member of your band?
AR: Well, my band changes based on availability. The recording I did prior to the new one has Chris, Ben Perowsky, Scott Colley and Ed Simon. The new one has no sax. This past fall I played at the Monterrey Jazz Festival with myself Ben, Scott and Kevin Hays on piano.
AAJ: Yeah you did Santa Fe, too, which looked like a nice festival with a great lineup.
AR: For that I played duo with Larry Grenadier (bass) which was great Those were fun gigs for me. The Santa Fe one was cool. We played a lot of music I've written for solo or duo situations that I really haven't had the chance to play, like some of the more through-composed stuff I have. One of these days I'll record that stuff too in some fashion.
AAJ: Can we look forward to you getting on the circuit a little more?
AR: That's my plan, I haven't done that much. I had those two great opportunities without even having a record out. I haven't really fully assaulted the idea of touring because I haven't had a record that's out and distributed.
AAJ: It must be tough for you..you have to weigh record dates and New York club dates against road work.
AR: I love touring and I love being home. It's a balance. I love being in different places and playing music. Hopefully I'll be doing more out-of-town dates with my own stuff as this and hopefully more records come out.
AAJ: How about the Uri Caine project you were on?
AR: I did a record Uri produced for a singer for Knitting Factory Works. I've played with Uri a lot, like on Binney's last record. Last May we went to Italy and performed concerts of Schumann music. We did a couple of concerts playing two consecutive opuses, one of which was performed by a string quartet and one of which was a song cycle that we played. Uri's recording of this music, which David Gilmore is on, has his arrangements of the song cycle. Live, we did the string quartet in traditional form and then Uri's take on it. We'd go back and forth onstage and we attempted to do it seamlessly. His versions ranged from straight ahead to bossa to country to gospel.
AAJ: You must be the ideal cat for that considering where your coming from.
AR: I loved doing it. Having a classical background, I feel I have some insight into it. I love playing classical music on its terms, not necessarily a take on it. One of the great challenges of classical is that you have these giants of composition throughout history and the music exists already, you are not creating it, so you, to some extent, have to go to it. Its demands on your technique and musicality are set by the music and you've got a history of guys who have already played it and played it incredibly..so it's such a challenge. You concentrate on sound, phrasing and interpretation. You're not focusing on improvisation so it becomes about a beautiful sound, a consistency of phrasing, a concept of phrasing, what you're going to do with the piece, what voices you're going to bring out and how you choose to phrase certain motifs.
AAJ: Hip me to the Klezmer side.
AR: For classical I studied with a great guy who ended up giving up classical music, Robert Secrist, and then my second teacher was Frederick Hand, who has played Lute and guitar tat the Metropolitan Opera for years. This was around 1990. He was a great teacher because he had done a lot of things classical guitarists don't do...a lot of ensemble music outside of the idiom. He brought a wider perspective to the teaching but he also referred me to numerous people as well because I could read well and had performed all these types of music. He was called by the manager of one of the most extraordinary musicians I've ever heard. His name is Giora Feidman, an Argentinean born clarinetist who was in the Israel Philharmonic for 25 years. He's very well known in Germany and Europe. They called me in '90 and I took the gig, which was a pretty incredible because I had never really toured before, and musically it was a great learning experience for me, although it was really outside of what I was focusing on. I was raised in a Jewish household, but it was a music that I really had not been exposed to that much - and this guy is just a phenomenal musician and clarinetist. He was really versed in classical and his take on Klezmer comes from a classical angle in terms of sound and refinement of approach- then, some of his stuff sounds like a Jewish wedding. We went to Russia, Europe and South America- playing with him taught me a lot about music. I played on about six of his records. Without sounding schmaltzy- he has an element of his playing that sounds like an Imam in a Mosque making the call to prayer. To a secular person it sounds like music, but it's actually prayer, a recitation of the Koran. When I was in Cairo in 1996 and would stand outside these mosques it just sounded like the most amazing music to me. At shows, Giora would do a prayer at some point. At different points in his life he was a devout follower of some aspect of Judaism, whether it was kabalisti with his back to the audience, and it was just incredible. It really reminded me sometimes of Coltrane and I realized that one of the things that always impressed me about Coltrane is that his music is so spiritual and so deeply emotional to me. I remember playing with Giora and being reminded of 'Trane. It wasn't because he was playing like Coltrane but because it had the sound of someone praying.
On a musical level he was demanding of playing things with a real intent.That boom-chink-boom-chink etc. of Klezmer might be something people feel is easy, but if you really get into it, and try to play it with grace and rhythm and a real intent, it can be very challenging, Whatever you're doing, know what you're doing. If you want it to sound kind of rough and folksy then do that, but don't just do it because you're not thinking about it. To have an intent in what you're doing is always in my mind, in a way. To conceptualize, 'What are you doing? What is it you are trying to communicate?', and having some kind of an awareness. Think of conductors. A certain conductor might bring specific feelings in a piece, a sad aspect or a fast tempo, or different concepts here and there in the music. The players that are powerful to me have this quality.
I played a little bit with the Klezmatics and I do some work with Frank London, their trumpet player. Then, I played with David Krakauer for a little more than a year. I played on two of his records. The last one we did, Klezmer in New York, is a very creative record. He was completely different than Giora in that I played electric guitar and I was kind of like the wild card. I would play wah and distortion and crazy stuff, around which was traditional Klezmer music.
AAJ: Are you on any of the new crop if "Radical Jewish Culture" music?
AR: Well, Krakauer's records are in that category. I mostly play sounds, not soloing and stuff. He really had a strong idea of how he wanted to use guitar around it. I felt good about the sounds on it. Through Frank London, I started doing some work with this incredible Arabic oud player names Simon Shaheen. I played on his last record, almost a year ago, called Blue Flame and I've done a lot of concerts with him this past year. He plays middle- eastern classical music with other influences brought into it, and similar to Krakauer, uses guitar to add another flavor. Sometimes I play nylon string and a take on a very traditional role, or with the electric, I play sounds. He is unbelievable. We recorded in Pennsylvania in winter of 2000 and the record is on the Arc 21 label. We played Town Hall a month ago.
AAJ: I remember his name was the lead one on a story about acts that had to cancel American tours in the wake of cultural bias due to the September 11th attacks.
AR: Promoters got freaked. But I think he used the press around that well. He' s been involved in extramusical Arabic culture projects. He did some great things in the last few months. He was even on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect as part of a panel discussing the events of Sept. 11th. He's a very intelligent guy
AAJ: Have you had any previous thoughts of releasing stuff under your own name?
AR: I have had things offered to me over the years, but I've been considering all along what kind of record I wanted to make as a first record. For the last few years I've known it would be the straighter, acoustic jazz idiom.
AAJ: Will you get that last thing out?
AR: I'd like another label to pick it up. If that doesn't happen I've considered releasing it myself, maybe this coming year. It's a little balanced on the side of slow songs, but I think it's a complete record. A lot of tunes that I've worked on are on it and the playing is really great on it, the vibe is great. So as opposed to re-recording those tunes I'd just like to get that one out there.
AAJ: Will you continue to work with Chris Potter?
AR: Well, I'm playing on his next record in a couple of weeks, actually. I'm on it and John Scofield is on it. I'm playing acoustic guitar.
AAJ: Who's this Scofield guy?
AR: John, I think it is, who I studied with in the early eighties, just before he started playing with Miles. He's a great person. I did a record for Chris Minh Doky, the bassist, that Scofield also played on, called 'Listen Up!'.
I also studied with Barry Galbraith, who's a great soloist and an amazing reader. He's on those 'third stream' records in the 50's and 60's with George Russell and others' a really great guitarist and a great man. He's known for working on Billie Holiday sessions. He's on Coleman Hawkins bossa record with another guy I studied with, named Howard Collins.
So I studied with Barry, Howard and Sco while I was in Mannes and before. I studied with a guy before Sco named Tony Baruso at GIT in California. I spent the summers there because my dad was out there. Anyway, Baruso was really into Martino...actually, Pat used to teach in the abutting room during the period he was recovering from his illness. Tony was a really great teacher, who really taught me the theory of jazz. He laid out everything about substitutions, etc. Some guys who are great players are not great teachers, but he was. I was an obsessive listener. I got into Miles and Bird and listened to the Savoy recordings of Charlie Parker all day long, and Milestones, and Steamin' and Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet'.
AAJ: So while you were doing the classical thing you were a jazz nut?
AR: Totally. And I was playing gigs around town all the time.
AAJ: How old are you now?
AR: 36. A friend of mine from high school named Mark Ettinger went to private high school in my area, and the band director in the school was Aaron Bell, who was Duke's bassist and is on that Ellington/Coltrane record. I joined that band as a ringer and used to play with them. It was a small big band and we'd do Duke charts like Mood Indigo, with a real jazz bassist. But the end of my professional studying was the end of college. I've always been an obsessive listener and when I've taught people who are interested in playing jazz music, I tell them the biggest part of it for me was listening to jazz records. But the way I learned was getting a certain amount of information and then listening to classic records, you know?
AAJ: Well, guys like you can hear them!
AR: I think a lot of people can if you train your ears well from listening and transcribing consistently. But the point is that there is nothing for a student of jazz music that is going to substitute for that. After all is said and done, it's an aural tradition and language. The people who are my idols learned how to play the music before there was any such thing as a jazz school. They apprenticed with people that were their elders, and they listened to music all day long and played it and went through all the trials and tribulations of that and figured it out, you know.
AAJ: That's an interesting perspective' it worked just as well if not better.
AR: Well, let me ask you this. Thirty years ago, generally, there were a few more original voices'so? One of the things people have told me over the years is develop your sound, whatever your sound is 'find out what it is that's unique about yourself as a person and a musician and try to bring that out. Who are you are and what do you have to offer as that's special as a person and as a musician? It may be simple. With a saxophonist it might be the difference between a rubber mouthpiece or a metal one'with a guitarist, it may be the use of a particular distortion box'or whatever. Every person has something unique to their experience as a person on the planet'nobody's had the same exact experience.
AAJ: Were you implying that schooling or academics of music has created an homogenization of style?
AR: I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that. An academic program is not necessarily going to change to accommodate each persons special qualities. Guitar is a specific instrument where there are teachers galore and a specific one teaches this and another does that. I've had a lot of people who've come to me to study, and I like to teach. I don't know if its my calling, but the tendency is for people to want to be shown how to do something. There's a certain amount of that necessary to get someone going, but to me, after learning certain techniques and theories, you've got to go figure it out for yourself. Not to be insensitive, but there is this incredible tradition of music that's been recorded. You learn scales and substitutions and every position and key and how to read, but then you've got to go listen to the music. It's like learning how to paint. If you study orchestration, you go and listen to Wagner and Beethoven and Stravinsky, and see how its done. Someone's got to lay on the concepts, but people aren't going to tell you what to do. Or how to do it.
A great example is people will periodically tell me, 'Oh, you use sweep picking.' And I say, 'Oh, ok, I guess!' I don't even know. I was constantly listening to saxophonists playing intervallic passages that don't naturally lay on the guitar, so I think somewhere along the line I learned to translate that to guitar. If you play fourths on a sax you move your lip and an octave key'on guitar you have to move through space and across the fingerboard, and you've got to do down strokes on the way down and up on the way back. Hey that's sweep picking'right? The point is that the inspiration is the music. I just heard some music I wanted to emulate somehow, so I figured out some way to do it. I mean techniques are fantastic, it's a cool thing to do, but it should come out of,and be at the service of, the music. Just to have that obsession and excitement about some music that you just want to figure it out is so important. Of course, some stuff I don't want to analyze and just leave it as incredible music to be influenced by.
AAJ: Who are your influences?
AR:Both of my parents were singer/dancers/musicians. My mom was a serious opera student and my father played drums and piano and I started playing guitar in the school basement, 'Roundabout' and Zeppelin, and when somebody played me Hendrix..I mean just his name sounds electric. I was so moved by his music I just wanted to play like that'but just the overall vibe of his music freaked me out. What I realized is that I get the same thing form him and 'Trane and Stravinsky' that transcendent extramusicality that certain musicians have. For me, Listening to Miles Davis goes beyond jazz trumpet playing. It sounds like poetry. It transcends the idiom. Certain musicians seem to rise above and beyond their particular styles, or even the medium of music, through emotional intensity, brilliance and talent. That energy and emotional intensity is something that Hendrix, Miles, Coltrane, Stravinsky and Beethoven all have, to me. You can point to a great many innovations as they relate to specific aspects of each of their particular genres but there is a similarity between them on a more broad artistic level. There is an energy and spirit that is similar to me in all of their music and I feel is truly transcendental.
In terms of contemporary influences Frisell was a big one' a phenomenal guitarist and musician. As a conceptualist and a composer, just amazing. Sco is one of my all time favorites- an original and a real improviser. Talk about having your own sound. They both really get a sound out of the instrument. There's a lot of stuff I listen to, ranging from pop to jazz to ethnic to classical and Brazilian. I'm always looking for music that gives me the feeling that music gave me when I was a little kid...I want to be moved by it.
AAJ: You seem incredibly busy. So many dates and tours. Can you update us on what this year's looking like?
AR: Well, of course some things I can't really say at the moment.
AAJ: That good huh?
AR: There are a lot of possibilities that I'm deciding about. After Mike's dates in February I'm doing a tour with Scott Colley's band at the end of April and into May in Europe. That's as much as I can report faithfully. I'm working on the record that I did and will hopefully do at least one more of my own this year. Among other goals, I want to keep recording my own music and certainly, if Criss - Cross would like to I would like to, and they do good stuff.
AAJ: Can you tell us about he intensity of the New York scene...so heavy with gigging and recording possibilities?
AR: It depends. If you're an independent contractor in any field, there are times when you're incredibly busy and times where you're not as busy and it can happen all at once. When that goes on you have to use your judgment as to what's the best thing to do based on 25 different parameters, you know. I've been pretty lucky in that what look like scheduling train wrecks have worked out in some way.
There have been times that were tough, schedule-wise. When I first started playing with Michael I did a month long tour with Regina Carter and then came back for a few days, and right before the tour started with Michael I had to go to LA with Regina for five days and come back, rehearse with him for two days and then do a three week tour. I once had a gig in Washington and I was doing a movie soundtrack in New York with the St. Luke's orchestra at 10 the next morning. I opted to drive down to Washington, and when the gig was over drive back to New York, sleep for a couple of hours, and then do the orchestra session, which was a real union recording session. I overslept for the session and, thank god, Jeff Mironov, an incredible studio guitarist, was also on the date and covered the first session. I was so tired after I got there I fell asleep during it and knocked something over. Somehow I managed to get out of that with my career relatively unscathed.
I mean, last year I did a two week tour, came back for four days, went back out for a week, came back for three days to do two records, went out or three days and came back and did a record. Things do happen at the same time and luckily, if people really want you to do stuff they will try to make it possible..
AAJ: Do you memorize all this stuff for all these different projects?
AR: It depends on how important the project is. I don't try and freak myself out with that pressure.
AAJ: Any other famous folks we'd be surprised to know about?
AR: I did a whole bunch of dates with Elvis Costello last fall, with the Mingus Orchestra. We played at the Beacon and then at UCLA for a couple of nights. I also worked with him on a project we did with Roy Nathanson, the saxophonist/ leader for the Jazz Passengers. He had a record called 'Fire at Kenton's Bar and Grill' (www.sixdegreesrecords.com/artists/nathanson), so we did a bunch of dates for that with Elvis and Debbie Harry. Marc Ribot is on the record. I was out of town for that recording. Recently, I've done a bunch of playing with John Zorn-in '92 I was on one of the Cobra releases.
AAJ: The thing with the numbers?
AR: I was in a couple of versions of that. We did a couple of gigs recently in a version of the group Masada'electric Masada. We played on New Year's with Perowsky, Cyro Battista, Greg Cohen, and Jamie Saft, at Tonic. That was really fun. I also played with the Gil Evans Orchestra, the George Russell Orchestra, John Patitucci, Jack McDuff'.
AAJ: You did organ trio gigs with McDuff? I want to hear that.
AR: I did a couple of gigs with him in Charleston, South Carolina. I was there doing a show, when I was 22, and he was playing in the roof restaurant of the hotel that I was staying in. He actually wanted me to go on tour but I was doing a theatre piece.
Mike's thing with Larry and Idris is a pretty cool organ band, by the way.
AAJ: (laughs) Yeah I guess so. Killing.
AR: We actually did some gigs with Larry, Clarence and myself only, when Mike had a back problem, at the Jazz Alley in Seattle. We did two nights. It was really great, with swinging tunes and then, sound stuff, which was really great because Larry is such an amazing musician. The sounds he gets out of the instrument are amazing.
AAJ: Does he play bass lines with the feet?
AR: He seems to do that more on the ballads.
AAJ: Anyone out there you haven't worked with you'd really like to?
AR: Oh yeah. Dave Holland. I played with Dave minimally a couple of times with Cassandra, but I've always wanted to work with him., I've always wanted to play with Elvin. He doesn't use a guitarist currently in his band, but I'd just like to play with him in some capacity. Keith Jarrett, who also never uses guitar players. Charlie Haden in some way. Joe Lovano'
AAJ: How do you approach composing?
AR: How I compose really varies. Sometimes I think, 'I need a fast tune'. Like, with Lost Tribe I've said, Well I really want to write kind of an angular, polytonal, fast tune.
AAJ: Oh, I see. A polymetric, polytonal, slammingly funky masterpiece, which is a lot of what you guys wrote actually (laughs).
AR: But the point is, sometimes I start from an arbitrary idea of writing a certain kind of tune and then write that. And I use certain techniques, like contrapuntal techniques I learned through studying classical composition or from playing a lot of classical music. Other times, I come up with a groove, like a bass line I've had sitting around for a long time that somehow is compelling to me and I've waited for or worked on a melody that is somehow just as compelling. Or sometimes I come up with a melody in need of a continuation or a bass line. Usually, I'll come up with an element that's compelling, which is the easy part. What's more difficult is getting the rest'you have to reach deep to find the other pieces you feel as strongly about. Then there are times I write songs from beginning to end without thinking about it. They write themselves.
AAJ: Any favorites of your tunes you want to point people towards?
AR: On this current record I feel pretty strongly about them all. There's a song called 'Absalom' that I recorded again that I feel good about And then there's a free song called 'The Aleph'. Only a few of the tunes I write have titles reflecting what I feel the tune may reflect. There's a song called 'The Unvanquished', which is a ballad. There's an element of that song that reflects a striving to deal with adversity. 'Esteban' is another song named for a character in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story called 'The Handsomest Drowned Man'. The reason I called it that was that I read this short story, an evocative and beautiful Marquez short story, and I got up and wrote that tune from beginning to end. It sounds like the soundtrack to an Ecuadorian or Colombian short story. On previously recorded things, on the Lost tribe records, there are pieces called 'Concentrics' and 'Manticore' that I really like a lot, kind of chromatic funk things. Then a song called 'The River' which is like a country tune.
AAJ: Tell us about Fima's new record, Soul Machine.
AR: I played on the whole record. David Torn played on it as well, and he mixed a couple of the tracks. That's a cool record with Jim Black and Edward Simon. Fima's grandmother, a Belgian lady, sings on it. It's a beautiful creative record on Zorn's label.
AAJ: Here's your opportunity to weigh in on a year-end thing, or weigh in on say, the Ken Burns controversy.
AR: I actually watched almost all of the Ken Burns thing. As a documentary filmmaker there are lot of things he does that are really cool. A lot of documentary filmmakers don't like him because he gotten really popular and he does this kind of melodramatic thing, but he's got a real style. For me it was really interesting with regard to early jazz history'although I think the people he used as information- givers were limited. I think he could have utilized quite a few other people. I'm not sure if this is the case, but perhaps because of Wynton's renown as an educator and a trumpet player, he used him constantly. That's not to say he doesn't have a tremendous knowledge of jazz history, but there are enough people who were actually alive in the 40's and 50's who I think would have been very interesting to hear from. You can think whatever you want about Wynton's opinions, but apart from that, he was on the show constantly. If you have 15 people on you're going to get a greater variance of opinion. A lot of it is an aural tradition, so' it was too much of too few people commenting on the history of jazz. For me, it was very educational about the 20s and the 30s, and so all the stuff about the swing era bands, and Louis and Bix and Frankie Trumbauer was interesting. Obviously, what happened is from the late 50's,early 60s, to the present day, he didn't deal with really at all. He kind of just glossed over it. From the perspective of a documentary filmmaker, it would be a much harder project to tackle because from 1960 until today, so many different things happened'there's so many different branches. If I were him, and maybe it's the advice he was getting'and I was really determined to paint a picture of jazz music from its formative stages to present day, I would have done two series. One from the beginning to the 60s and one from 1960 to present day. If you're going to do a historical documentary you do the entire history in depth or else it seems irresponsible. I think somehow it inferred that the last 40 years were not as important as the preceding eras. AAJ: That was the inference, I think.
AR: Ok'well...I think that's a drag (laughs) y'know. I think Burns deferred to people who have their own ideas about what was important and what wasn't.
AAJ: That's the way to temper it and probably the more likely scenario.
AR: There's only so much you can do. The branches of influence that jazz music went into from 1960 to today are so multifarious and it's also' from the 60's to today, the music is not as easy to understand as Louis Armstrong or even 1950s Miles Davis. It's much more challenging and not as saleable. What are you going to do? Present late John Coltrane and go in depth? A lot of people might not get that at all. It doesn't have the same melodic and rhythmic structure and it's not as easy to understand as bebop or swing era music. The fact that Louis and Duke were referred to, even through the seventies, and had these long sections of each episode dedicated to what they were doing at a time in their lives when they were certainly not in the avant-garde... Armstrong was an avant-garde founding father in the 20s, and he and Duke both did incredible things until they died, but they weren't the guys creating the new music in the 60s and 70s..What was that? I dunno'
AAJ: I always try to get folks to weigh in on the record industry thing versus the indie thing. First off, what do you think of these newer bands, particularly the jazzier bands in the jamband genre, that take it from the touring aspect on up rather than the record releasing aspect on up. Do you think that's a good strategy?
AR: Yeah I do, if you have the wherewithal and the energy to go out and tour that much. Then you're dealing with playing your music for people who like it or don't. If they do, you're developing a grassroots following of fans without having to go through a record label. It puts you in a better position as a business person because record companies want people who already have a following. They don't have to figure out how to find them one.
AAJ: It would be difficult for someone who has an established sideman career to make that change.
AR: Yeah, it would take a certain amount of dedication to doing that and it's a grueling lifestyle that can be difficult One has to decide that for oneself. But I like to see that because I like to see artists who are making it around the industry, and aren't depending on labels and the machinations of big industry to achieve success.
AAJ: But it seems like when they get big enough they just let the industry suck 'em right back in.
AR: There are people who I know who don't care about a label, because if you know you can sell records at shows on the internet or out of your van, and a label isn't treating you right, you can always go back to doing it the way you were. If there are people out there looking for your records and you can find a way to get 'em to those people directly, then you have much more juice in your corner. I think it's great that stuff is getting out there.
AAJ: What about the big industry aspect?
AR: I think that the record industry now, like other industries, has become so ensconced in the corporate world it has become less encouraging of creative development than it was at one point. To some extent, by virtue of the fact that very small companies are owned by an ever-growing series of larger companies, it has made record companies more concerned with the bottom line than they were 30 years ago. Look at the difference between'and it's a different era completely' but the difference between an Impulse and a Blue Note then and even the 70's with like, a CTI, or even the majors...they were not huge corporations. Any record label you have now is a subsidiary...like Verve is owned by Universal which is owned by Vivendi, a huge French conglomerate. Every parent corporation is involved to some extent with the smaller corporations that it owns and they're not necessarily interested in developing creative music.. they're interested in selling units. That's something that's colored the industry.
AAJ: Well put!
AR: I mean, the record industry was created by record industry people. It wasn't built by musicians to give musicians money and a lot of creative space. There have been people throughout the history of the record industry, like Alfred Lion of Blue Note, or a Bob Thiele of Impulse who, to some extent, were interested in recording really fantastic music'the Orrin Keepnews or Creed Taylor or Dr George Butler...I don't know what it was like to work with these guys.
For example, my dad was television director in Hollywood for 15 years. When he went to Hollywood he directed Mary Tyler Moore, and Rhoda, and Phyllis. And they were all, if you remember, produced by MTM, Mary Tyler Moore Enterprises It was 'what's the word? CBS was not involved with those shows nearly as much as Mary Tyler Moore and Grant Tinker were. They didn't have corporate intervention. My father would tell me about this, you know, and it was fantastic. They would go and they would do the script rewrites and there weren't corporate guys coming to deal with it...it was her and her husband, who were very funny people, so the shows were hysterical. When my dad went to work for NBC, the corporation was more involved. He said it took a lot of the creativity and the fun out of it and the shows weren't necessarily as successful and to me, they weren't as funny. When corporations get involved in the creative aspect, it's certainly not encouraging of creativity and artistic development and it's not as encouraging of record sales either. I think one of the problems in big record labels is that you have a relatively small number of people deciding what music will be promoted and distributed to a great many people. Inevitably, you're dealing with this small group of people's personal taste and projection of what people will be able to tolerate, be enthusiastic about, and at the end of the day, buy. What happens is because of a huge label you have a small group saying this music is OK, and we're going to sell it to these millions of people. Well, maybe these millions of people might like all kinds of music if you fed it to them in a certain way. I'm not saying people are going to run to the stores and buy Schoenberg in the same way they'd buy Britney Spears, but there's a lot of second guessing that goes on and I think it sells people short. I don't think that there is as much of a population of real music enthusiasts who are working in the record industry as there once were.
AAJ: Adam, thank you for your time, and some real thoughtful and thought-provoking opinions on the music and the scene. So leave us with what you want your new record to bring.
AR: I hope that I can convey some of the great joy and enriching experiences that I've had listening to, playing and composing music, to the listener. There are a lot of specific things that I'm trying to get to as a composer and player but basically if I can share that experience and spirit, which has had such a profound effect on me, with someone listening to my music, it will have been successful.