A Fireside Chat With Taylor Ho Bynum
THB: I am trying to focus, especially while I am here, back at school, is to use the resources I have here to do projects I can't do in the "real world." So I am doing an orchestra project and I am doing a lot of work. My partner is a dancer. To add to my wildly artistic family. So I have been working with her. I have always been fascinated on working with dance and so that is the thing I really want to dig more into. So we have been working on duo stuff to create a compositional, choreographic language and then I want to be able to expand that. Ultimately, for me, the SpiderMonkey ensemble is one that should involve musicians and dancers and visual arts. I am taking a chance to really develop that work. And then keep playing with Fully Celebrated every time I can. Keep playing with the many musicians that I am very lucky to be playing with. There is a couple of things that I did with Braxton four years ago that is supposed to come out on Delmark soon, which I am very excited by and very frightened by because I was twenty-one, twenty-two at the time. I am worried to look back on my youthful follies. Hopefully, those will be good. Right now, I feel as though I have glutted the totally minuscule market that might be interested in my work (laughing). I think I should give it a rest for a little bit.
FJ: Where is the music going? Better yet, where should it be going?
THB: I don't know. That's a great question and it is an incredibly difficult one. Right now, the relationship between jazz and the institution is such a tortured one. It is one of those things where it deserves every once of institutional respect that it gets, but that is also something that strangles it at the same time. You want it to be taught in conservatories, but how can you teach creative, counter-cultural improvisational music in a conservatory? How do you grade that? Part of me wants to support something like the Ken Burns' Jazz documentary. It is great to get this music out in front of people, but then to do it in that way and to limit the definition of it and to exclude so many people is so problematic. They have a new club called the Dizzy Gillespie Coca-Cola Lincoln Center Jazz Club. That is horrifying to me. How can you find financial support for it in this consumerist, capitalist culture without selling out? That involves how do you get it into an institution? How do you teach it in a college setting without making it button down and without killing its spirit? That is something that I am always struggling with.
FJ: A damned if you do, damned if you don't dilemma.
THB: Part of the way is to expand the fact. That is what we talked about before. You can't teach it as a set of harmonic tricks over a 2, 5, 1 pattern. You have to teach it in its cultural context and teach it in its historical context. Then I think it is more a matter of enlightenment. I don't want to teach people how to play music like Charlie Parker or to play music like Anthony Braxton. I want to teach people how to live their lives with a kind of creative energy that Bird lived his life and Braxton lives his life. I think you have to teach it in a mentor way rather than an institutional way. If you have to do that through the institution, that's fine. But you can't teach it focused on grades and focused on exams.
FJ: My attitude toward mainstream jazz is equivalent to my distain for summer blockbusters. They are a necessary pariah.
THB: Exactly, yeah.
FJ: Improvised music should be in the context of its current culture, e.g. free jazz and the civil rights unrest, swing and big band music with the roaring Twenties. What soundtrack will accompany our current state of media hype and consumerism?
THB: Yeah, I think it is not a music that is there to be consumed, to be an easy product to sell. That has always been one of the joys of the music. As our society has become more and more consumerist, I think that becomes a more difficult thing for jazz to come to grips with. As you said, the other thing that people have to realize is that they are so busy fetishizing the jazz of the past and the historical periods of the past to realize that we are at an incredibly, radical, transitional period in our country's history and the world's history right now. I think it is imperative that the artists deal with that and try to cope with that and translate that and figure out what is going on. We are in totally uncharted waters right now. Our country's foreign policy has changed to a really frightening degree. Our standing in the world has changed. Our relationship with different countries of the world has changed.