Matt Wilson: Have Drums, Will Travel
AAJ: Their non-performing selves as well?
MW: Yeah, their non-performing selves as welljust a lot of stature, a lot of poise, a lot of character. I like characters. Gary Versace, Terell Stafford are all characters; they have personalities, you know? Just as Dewey and Andrew Hill were. These guys have a vibe. To me, the group effort is really what makes it the best experience. I feel more rewarded when it is about the group thingthat give and take.
From left: Martin Wind, Matt Wilson
AAJ: You have some ease going between being a leader and a sideman. You know when to let go. You can let go of the responsibilities of being a leader and enjoy being a sideman.
MW: Oh, yeah. Yeah. And then sometimes we'll go out with some younger folks every once in a while, and you might say, "Hey, I mean, I don't like to give too much advice, but you might want to try this." I have learned to do that over the years and not say too much, but say, "Hey, maybe if we tried this."
That leads to something that I find fascinating about recording. I have learned to try to not to think, "OK, this record is going to be this concept and it is going to be this," because when you get there it can really change. These are just versions of the songs. Some of them we have done differently if we have played them before. Some of them we have never done before, so it was kind of fun. I think that letting goI think I have gotten better at that. There was still this point even a few years ago where, live, I felt we had to do the things on the records, and I still try to do that, but I also try to bring in some new things. As a band leader, sometimes you wonder if guys are tired of playing some of the songs, but usually they are not because they get a chance to play the same material for a stretch of time; that is a real gift. So we don't really worry about that so much. I will say to somebody when I am the side-person, "Don't worry about that. I'll play it every night!" I don't give a damn anymore if something is new or whatever. It is the people that are doing it that feel good; that's what is important to me.
AAJ: So having fun, being presentthose are the requirements?
MW: The only requirement is presence; just be there. Be in it for the 60 minutes that we play, and keep the vibe together. As we get older, the talks that we have about these kinds of things are more about that, and not as much [about] abilities, because there are plenty of people with abilities, but it is how willing they are to give up what they think something is supposed to be. I want people to keep their ideals, but at the same time, I like the adaptability or just welcoming it or accepting itaccepting this is what this is and just saying, "OK, this is tonight." I think that this is the greatest joy about improvising: every night, everything is part of itnot just the songs, but the venue, the people in the room, what you find backstage, the joke that somebody says right before, or the things we have going on the road, or the friends that you know that are at the gig that have seen you before. Or there could be negatives: you lost something, or you left the big box of CDs at the hotel in Chicago and never found them, like I did oncethose kinds of things. You are tired or you are whatever, but you are together, so you can get through it. I like that part of it. I think those challenges are really what gives it the lift.
AAJ: You move between communities in a way that we don't see very often. For example, you could be doing something at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which might be seen as more of a mainstream, traditional scene, but at the same time you play with John Zorn or John Medeski, guys known as more avant-garde. There isn't a lot of bridging those worlds the way you do, and that's too bad that there isn't more of that. It is understandablepeople have their scenes, their perspectives, their schoolsbut how much of that is intentional on your part? Are you just following your muse?
MW: That's a great question. I was fortunate to do a lot of interesting things in 2011, too many to list, but I played a trio improvisation with Thurston Moore and Zorn the other night. The energy is as gratifying and the vibes from each of those guys are the same as anything else I do. I always go by the people. I don't look at the labels of anybody.
There have been a lot of people that have been very helpful to me with that. I try to bring different people into projects, that I want to use because I dig their musicianship and their vibe so much. So it is nice to have that community and the gap be bridged. It's the music and the musicians and especially the personalities of the people. That, to me, is what is really intriguing. I love John Zorn, for example. He's this great cat, and I can't believe I am up there sometimes. Buster WilliamsI love playing with Buster. And Cecil McBee. Cecil, I got a phone call one day last fall from two phone calls in a row. I was in Montana. I came back and there were two calls in a row, one from McBee and one from Buster. Cecil and Buster, they were asking me about gigs. I was, like, "Man, this is great." These catsI love these guys, and I love playing with them. They are great orchestrators and, man, I have always felt welcomed around them. Charlie Hadenhe has always made me feel incredibly welcome. Andrew Hill made me feel welcome, and Lee Konitz has made me feel welcome. So I am really reverent to these guys. I have a lot of respect for what they do.
I was talking about this tour we did for five weeks in the fall of 2008Joe Lovano with John Scofield and Matt Penman and myself. Five weeks now that's a long time to be on the road. There was not one second of tension. Everybody took care of business and everybody was part of the community, so we had fun, and then that translates to the music. People knew that it was special beyond just the vibe.