Ike Levin: Composing In the Moment
AAJ: Why did you decide to leave Chicago and settle in the San Francisco Bay area?
IL: I left Chicago to settle in the San Francisco area around 1990. Chicago is a great city, but my wife and I wanted to experience living somewhere else. We just fell in love with the San Francisco area. It is one of the most beautiful urban areas in the US and perhaps the world. It is a very Mediterranean type climate and topography. The city of San Francisco is surrounded by water on three sides'"it's just an amazing place. When I have traveled through Europe I am reminded of the Bay Area by parts of southern Spain and France as well as Greece. The San Francisco Bay area also has a thriving arts community comprising all art forms from visual arts, to theater, to dance, to all genres of music. It is also a very multi-cultural area with people living here who come from all over the world so there is a beautiful blending of artistic expressions and energies that emerge from these different cultures. San Francisco is a spiritual city. You know it's compared to Pompeii because it's built on seven hills. Oakland is a real soulful city too. There are a lot of creative musicians living in and around Oakland too.
AAJ: Would you please shed some light on the Bay Area creative music scene?
IL: The creative music scene here has gone through some cycles like other places. That's the way it seems to go. It was pretty strong and thriving when I first arrived here in the early '90s with cats like Glenn Spearman, Sonny Simmons, Eddie Gayle and Oluyemi Thomas and others doing things. Then there was a decline or a quieter period for a while where there was not much happening nor were there many places to perform. It has picked up in recent years.
There are a variety of small venues in San Francisco itself like the Luggage Store Gallery where there is creative and experimental music on Thursday evenings. There are a couple of venues in the Oakland-Berkeley area too like 21 Grand that is also an art gallery and they feature different forms of creative music a few nights a week. There is also the 8th St Performance Space in Oakland and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in SF. Sometimes cats just organize things and use a community center or church as the venue. Mills College does some concerts periodically of improvisational music. Cecil Taylor did a residency program up there a few years back. He did some performances with a big band using a lot of local musicians to perform his compositions.
The Jazz House in Berkeley was a great music listening space that lost its lease after a couple years of operation. It featured both local cats and some international talent. I performed there with Joel Futterman and Alvin Fielder a year or so ago and the next night Sam Rivers performed. Rob Woodworth who is the proprietor of the Jazz House is trying to organize some funding to get it up and operating again. Right now he is doing a monthly music series. I am performing there in early February with Olueymi Thomas and Positive Knowledge. The Jazz House does not have a permanent space yet but have agreements with some local theater spaces and churches. We will be performing at a theater space called the Ashby Stage that holds close to 100 people or so. In the past couple of years some east coast and European cats have come through including Peter Kowald, William Parker, Sonny Simmons and Frank Gratkowski.
There are a few radio stations here that feature more creative type music and freer blowing jazz, but there is also a whole lot of world music of all sorts happening here too. Check out the Bay Area Improvisers Network website. It has listings of performances and information about events and musicians living and working in the area.
Oluyemi Thomas and I are talking with some people about trying to organize an annual creative music festival here in the Bay Area. . Maybe something like the Vision Festival that takes place in New York City.
AAJ: That'll be a great thing to happen. By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed your album with Positive Knowledge. Would you like to say something to the readers as a parting shot?
IL: Well not much more to add. Just that talking about the music is only one representation of it because it describes it at one moment in timesort of a snapshotwhile the music itself is in the midst of a processalways moving, always evolving, and always changing. I think of the art of the improviser as making that connection and commentary on the process in a specific instant. It's all about communicating and interacting with your instrument, with yourself, with the other musicians and with those who are listening and engaging in it with you. When you are playing improvisational music you are immersed in a atmosphere of swirling sounds, vibrations, rhythms that are dancing around you and the other playersI try to find the center of it at a given moment and delve into it and try to make some sense of what it is and at the same time contribute to what it is and could be. It is difficult to use words to describe that experience because it's not happening in the head but in the heart and through the intuition. It's just something that I see being my ongoing work and something I am trying to evolve to higher and higher elements.
I also would like to pray for peace in the lives of all who inhabit our planet and pray that the voices and energies of unity and renewal prevail.
Thanks Taran for the chance to dialogue with you.
Positive Knowledge, First Ones (CLM, 2005)
Joel Futterman/Ike Levin/Alvin Fielder, Resolving Doors (CLM, 2004)
Joel Futterman/Ike Levin Trio, LifeLine (IML, 2004)
Joel Futterman/Ike Levin Duo, The Present Gift (IML, 2003)
Joel Futterman/Ike Levin Trio, Live at the Noe Valley Ministry (IML, 2003)
Ike Levin, Spherical Dance (IML, 2002 )
Joel Futterman/Ike Levin Trio, InterView (IML, 2001)
Courtesy of Ike Levin