Gregg Simpson: Avant-Garde from Vancouver
AAJ: Who were the other musicians or groups that you were or weren't involved with, that complemented the Vancouver scene?
GS: The Vancouver scene, although seemingly best known for free improvisation has also produced a number of mainstream jazz stars such as [bassist/pianist/vibraphonist] Don Thompson, [drummer] Terry Clarke, [saxophonist] P.J. Perry, [pianist] Renee Rosnes, [trumpeter/keyboardist] Brad Turner and many others. Some of these players have dabbled at the edge of free jazz but remain committed to playing in more traditional genres. I have really played with a select group of musicians over the years in Vancouver sometimes forming three of four bands with each of them from decade to decade.
I have also been lucky to have played gigs or sessions in the last number of years with such players as [pianist] Marilyn Crispell, [saxophonist] John Tchcai, the late [saxophonist] Glenn Spearman, [woodwind multi-instrumentalist] Peter Brötzmann, [trombonist] Günter Christman, [woodwind multi-instrumentalist] Vinny Golia and [pianist/vibraphonist] Karl Berger to name a few. Recently I have been reunited with Paul Plimley and Clyde Reed in a tribute concert to Al Neil and am planning a new collaboration with trombonist Ralph Eppel in whose quintet I played for a number of years, releasing a double CD, Gravity Boots (N.O.W., 2004).
Then there was the Vancouver Art Trio. VAT was committed to total energy playing, and was more outside and energetic than almost any band I have ever been in. Bruce Freedman on tenor and Clyde Reed, bass. That's the group I played with in Victoriaville. It's a group you should have a CD of, but there are only cassettes so far. Wish I had more to say on current activities. Although I helped get the free jazz scene here going from the '60s on, it's amazing how soon the promoters forget you here. For more info on the Vancouver scene, you could check www.vancouverjazz.com
AAJ: Victoriaville was all I knew of the Canadian free jazz scene. Anyway, let's talk about your musical activities in the present. Are you making any new recordings?
GS: As I mentioned, I have been doing some trio work again with Paul Plimley and Clyde Reed. In November, we did a wonderful concert and multimedia show with poetry, an electronic music guy, and computerized visuals to honor the legacy of Al Neil. It was a great event.
Then I am forming another small group with trombonist Ralph Eppel. He helped run the club we had, called the Glass Slipper, which unfortunately burned down in 1997. That left few places to do this music here. I don't play the festival any more as apparently I am no longer part of the inner circle here in Vancouver which is very factional and given to nepotism.
AAJ: You're also a visual artist of certain acclaim. Tell us about that aspect of your art.
GS: The same is true in the visual art field. The cultural commissars in this city only promote sterile, academic photo-conceptualism which people are beginning to tire of everywhere. I am a painter and there is a direct relation with my music there.
The best thing will be for you to see the television documentary made on me, A New Arcadia, The Art of Gregg Simpson. We are currently putting it on my website courtesy of Google Video. It will be up very soon. You must see it as it explains a lot about the evolution of my work and its relation to my music. It has references to Al Neil, Intermedia, my roots in the West Coast scene and also how Europe, particularly France and Italy, have accepted my art. There is a section of the film dealing with the Parisian writers and historians who were in the Surrealist movement who have published me in art history books, etc.
Of course there's very little money available in either free jazz or surrealism, so mainly I make a living renting work to movie and television set decorators. Vancouver is the second largest movie making centre in North America. I hope to record something new in the near future, but in the meantime we are putting out, subject to financing from the Canada Council, a four-CD box set of the New Orchestra Quintet.
Lunar Adventures/ Paul Cram Trio/ Tribal Dynamics, Harmolodic Highlanders, The Celtic Jazz of Gregg Simpson (New Orchestra Records, 2005)
New Orchestra Quintet, Up Til Now (New Orchestra Records, 2005)
Ralph Eppel, Gravity Boots (N.O.W. Records, 2004)
Sunship Jazz Ensemble, Sunship Jazz Ensemble 1974-1975 (Blue Minor Records, 2004)
Al Neil Trio, Retrospective: 1965-68 (Blue Minor Records, 2001)
Gregg Simpson, Drum Fire: Solo & Duets (Condition West, 2001)
NOW Anthology, Now You Hear It (Nine Winds, 1992)
Lunar Adventures, Alive in Seattle (Nine Winds, 1991)
NOW Anthology , The Future Is N.O.W. (Nine Winds, 1989)
Paul Plimley Trio, Swinging Planets (New Orchestra Records, 1989) (Cassette)
Gregg Simpson, Mirage Dance (Condition West, 1988 ) (Cassette)
Paul Cram Ensemble,Jazz in the Zebra Zone (Cargo Culture, 1984) (Cassette)
Paul Cram, Blue Tales in Time (Onari,1982)
Eppel/Simpson/Bell, Music for the Living (ISM Records, 1981)
New Orchestra Quintet, Up Til Now (New Orchestra Records, 1979)
Al Neil Trio, Retrospective: 1965-68 (Lodestone Records, 1976)
Sunship Ensemble & Electric Ninja, Pacific Rim (C.B.C Records, 1975)
Walter Zuber Armstrong, Hitana (World Artists, 1975) (vinyl)
Courtesy of Gregg Simpson
Gregg Simpson hosts a weekly internet radio show, The Gregg Simpson Jazz Hour, on Tuesdays at 10AM and 5PM Pacific Time.