JazzImprov Magazine Interview
Interview with Don Glasgo for JazzImprov Magazine; Vol. 3, #3, 2001
Able Bodied – An Interview With Hal Galper
JI: How did you develop your approach to teaching? What has been the evolution of that process in your own thoughts about teaching?
HG: A lot of it was intuitive. In the late ’80s, I had been teaching for about seven years – I had really started to get involved with it. I got impatient with the way I was teaching my private students. I was giving them the same “facts and figures” — the left hand voicings, the scales to match them, how to do voicings in thirds, basically the stock and standard stuff that we traditional have done – and there was no improvement, not enough that made me happy. My reward in teaching is to see growth. So I got very dissatisfied with the “growth rate” of my students.
Then I read this book by George Kochevitsky: The Art Of Piano Playing, A Scientific Approach (Summy-Birchard, 1967). Basically, it’s a book about neurology, and how it works in the mind and how it transcends into the science of the way the body works. Anyway, the bottom line of the book – and his scientific research is impeccable – is that “all music is played by ear.” That changed everything for me. It showed me why I wasn’t being effective, because I wasn’t taking into consideration how the body works. Everybody talks about the way the mind works but nobody talks about the way the body is supposed to work.
So that was the beginning of it, and then certain other elements coincided – without going into a lot of detail – that made me realize that perhaps there was a more effective way to approach teaching. Plus, I did a lot of scientific research about the way the mind and the body work, and the result of the research was I changed my way (of teaching) completely, radically.
Also, the psychological part of it developed over the years; that was an intuitive thing as well; my belief that, if you’re teaching someone, you have to involve yourself in their thought processes. The common philosophy is that the teacher is only a “coach’ and should stay out of the way of the student’s development. That’s something that’s always going to be a teacher’s consideration. So, if you’re going to be intrusive, you still have to be objective, you still have to let the person develop his own style. That was the challenge, and I think I accomplished that.
JI: So how did you get from Kochevitsky’s implication that “all music is played by ear” to a different perception of mind and body?
HG: Well, we have to talk about the mind; we have to talk about the body. (Laughter.) The end result of all my research was the realization that what goes on in your head comes out on your instrument (emphasis mine, HG) – in a direct one-to-one relationship: there’s no hiding. Preceding every action is a thought, and your actions bespeak what your thoughts are. You can “read your actions backwards” to see the thoughts that initiated them.
A musical thought or a musical action functions the same way. You can read a student’s internal state of mind by reading his playing “as it is”: accepting it for what it is and not second-guessing it and saying, “Well… What you’re hearing is what it is” — that’s the mental part of it.
HG: The physical part of it is that you are the instrument (emphasis mine, HG), that your mind, your emotions are the instrument. So considering the body as part of the performing process is very important. Minimizing body motion, being quiet – being physically quiet, emotionally quiet – those are all attributes of the great masters. Learning how to control your body is one of the major elements of learning how to play. Learning how to control your mind, your emotions, and your body; all three work together. Most teaching now is mind – just concerned with the intellect – whereas…
JI: Most of your teaching?
HG: No. Most contemporary teaching is “of the mind”: it’s only facts and intellectual. It doesn’t really deal with the emotions and the body and how they are involved.
JI: If you took a comment like “emotionally quiet,” for instance, I’m not sure most people would associate jazz performance with a state of being “emotionally quiet.”
HG: Well, you can’t control yourself if you’re all excited. If I had to define one word to describe my growth as a musician over the last 45 years, the word would be “control.” That’s what we’re all seeking and if you can’t control every element involved in the music-making process, you can’t do what you want to do. Freedom comes from control (emphasis mine, HG).
JI: But you’re also talking at the same time about…
HG: You can’t control yourself if you’re physically and emotionally excited. It has a deleterious effect on your performance.
JI: But you’re still talking about a process to invest emotion into the music.
HG: Yeah. It’s just (that) most invest too much. They waste their energy, they overplay their instruments, they try too hard. Whereas this is supposed to be a very light thing, where you “let it happen,” as opposed to working yourself up into an emotional frenzy to create a groove.
JI: Right. I remember you talking to me about the “Big Beat” concept with “Cannonball.” So that was a concept that was achieved through corresponding feelings of relaxation and intensity at the same time?
HG: Exactly. You hit it right on the head. The challenge with Cannonball” was to be able to put the exact amount of energy… The general rule is you’re only supposed to use the amount of energy necessary to do what you have to do (emphasis mine, HG). Anything in excess lowers your performance level. Well. The energy level in “Cannon’s” quintet was very high. And the challenge was to be able to put out that kind of energy – control it – put it out – and still stay loose. It took fifty weeks of playing six nights a week to achieve it.
JI: So, how do you teach that? Can you teach that? Is it something you can only learn on the bandstand?
HG: No, No. In the past, musicians learned from the great leaders who knew how to manipulate a band’s music; the great fascist bandleaders knew how to control a band as well. They controlled everything with their instrument – that’s how strong they were! That’s what I’m trying to get my students to realize; you have to control your musical environment when it’s time for you to do so (emphasis mine, HG.
JI: So, in a sense, that can only be learned on the bandstand.
HG: Yes, exactly. By someone showing you how to do it. But it shows up in practice, too. It shows up, for instance, when a musician is just jammin’ by himself. They work themselves up into an emotional frenzy. So, you have to practice… It doesn’t just start on the bandstand. It starts with good physical habits: not tapping your feet, staying loose and relaxed, basically lowering your parameters of energy output, strong to weak, the whole scale.
And I did that myself, in my own playing, come to think of it. I went down to hear Barry Harris many years ago at the Village Vanguard. Man, the cat was playin’ – all kinds of vocalizations, making the piano human – glissandos, ghosted notes, variations in tone and timbre and volume. Playin’ the piano incredibly. I had the good fortune, when I was in Boston, of studying with Madam Margaret Chaloff, who’s now long gone. I was sitting and getting depressed, saying “Margaret, where are you when I need you now?” And I’m thinkin,’ I need to go back into the shed get all these chops together and “blah, blah, blah.” Totally depressed.
Next day I’m sitting around my pad, and I’m thinking about what I experienced the night before (listening to Barry Harris). Where am I going to find a teacher? Where can I find a technique teacher that’s going to cool me out and get my chops like that? And I’m really worried, you know. All of a sudden I realized how light Barry was playing – it just flashed on me – how light he was playing! And I said, “Wait a minute,” because, hey, I’m a big guy – I’ve got a lot of energy, and I put out a lot of it when I play. I went to the piano and played it as light as possible, as light as I could and still get a good piano sound. I backed off tremendously on my physical activity and my energy output. All of a sudden I had as much chops, I felt, as Barry did. I was able to control the piano much more than I had ever done before, and it was very interesting revelation – where that cutoff point is – how much energy and physical activity should you use to do what you’ve got to do. And my cutoff point was way too high.
So I went through a long study of how to do this, how to calm myself, including working up my “stage fright” and “half time” articles. So I practiced this myself and ended up cooling myself down. Of course the next step is that you’ve got to be able to do that when you get on the bandstand, where it appears that everybody around you is in a frenzy; you’ve got to remain calm (because) their emotional output will set you off (back into) your old habits and old conditioning. You can’t work on this at home.
JI: So how does volume relate to that concept?
HG: (Sigh). That’s a good question, and I talk about this all the time. Specifically wit the piano, or just with all instruments?
JI: The piano or generally…
HG: I think it applies to all instruments, but I’ll talk about it in terms of the Piano. The piano’s a cold-hearted bitch. (Laughter.)
JI: That’s true of all instruments. (Laughter.)
HG: She gives you nothing! Anything you’re gonna get out of the piano, you gotta get. Controlling the monster is really the challenge here, and what makes any instrument human is how many variables the instrument has, and how many of them you can control. Some instruments have more variable than other- the valve trombone has more variables than the piano, okay?
HG: That being the case, it’s control over the limited number of variables on the piano that allows you to give it a human, vocal quality. The variables on the piano are the swell and decay of the notes, the overtone series of each note, the variations in volume – which are also variations in timbre, because at each volume level the sound of the instrument is different – and variations in durations, using different length notes. I have my students divide duration into five separate durations of notes and have them practice each one separately, five separate levels of volume and practice each one separately, and the timbre of each level and the sound of each level separately. In that sense, the eventually get control of the instrument to make human, using the swell and decay of each note for timing.
JI: How do you use swell and decay at a faster tempo, at a tempo where one note has not gone through the process before you hit the next note?
HG: Well, it depends on what’s going on in your head. (Laughter.)
JI: Do you still think of swell and decay as a parameter at faster tempos, or is it something that is primarily applicable to…
HG: You can’t get a note to sound unless the overtone series is swelling and decaying. You’d have silence. I don’t care what speed it is.
JI: So it’s always happening, it just may be more noticeable under some circumstances…
HG: The word is noticeable. I would use perceivable. These questions you have – all fall under the umbrella of what I would call “awareness problems”: not being fully aware of the potential of the instrument, how you’re not taking advantage of it, and being made aware of what it can do. On any instrument we have variables we can control. Duration is a very important one, because duration has a lot to do with the rhythmic impetus a note has. Not attack, duration. I could go into this and make a whole course out of it but, for the purpose of the interview…
JI: Sure, I want to go back – I’m not sure we’ve mentioned this so far – but you talk a lot about jazz happening to quickly on the bandstand to be an intellectual process. Does that relate to these revelations that you had when you were reading The Art Of Piano Playing, or did that happen at another time?
HG: I never put the two together, That’s an interesting question. I suppose the answer is that we all have, when we were young students – maybe when we’re older students – we all have the curiosity…
I still remember the day when I was walking down Newbury Street in 1958…1957, I believe… On my way to the old Berklee, wondering, having questions about “what’s supposed to be going on in my mind when I play? What’s supposed to be going on in my body when I’m playing and how am I supposed to feel when I’m playing?”
Basically, I think they’re universal questions every young student asks. What I’m talking about is – (given) the kind of research I did over the years from various an different sources, a lot of them unexpected, and a strong intuitive feeling, just an emotional part of it – that the way I was looking at it wasn’t right. It didn’t work, which is the final test. (Laughter.) So I started doing a lot of research. So when that came in, I’m not sure, because it was all scattered.
JI: But you’re definitely at a point in your own teaching, from what I’ve seen you do over the past four or five years, that the realizations you have about the process of playing versus the process of practicing, they’re not realizations that are shared by academia in general. It seems to me that academia in general, jazz studies in general, has a more intellectual approach that they would say is also applicable to the process of performing on the bandstand. The difference between your point of view and the traditional point of view is really striking.
HG: Your going to get me in trouble here…
JI: Let me see if I can rephrase that. How did you make the realization that what you were trying to get at was processes instead of intellect?
HG: Wow, what a question! I don’t know if I codified the journey, per se. I just remember the high points of it. How I got to where I am now?
HG: No, thanks. (Laughter.) In 25 words or less? Wow… Like I said, various elements of my education, research and experience have led me to this conclusion. One of them was the good fortune I had to come in on the tail end of an era where I got a chance to play with a lot of the masters who I heard on record and heard live- to have experienced the apprenticeship System – the profound realization that school is not in the classroom, it’s on the bandstand.
Basically, jazz information falls into two categories: factual and experiential, what I call the “whats” and the “hows.” The factual information is the smallest body of information you have to learn, and the easiest body of information you have to learn. The “hows” — how to use it — is a life-long process and never ends. The musicians who know about the “hows” are the best players. It’s easy to learn about the facts, but how you use them – in a way that the great platers did – you can only get that from hearing them night after night after night. That’s the tragedy of the demise of the apprenticeship system, but that was its beauty. It was really a kind of an extension of the African tradition of the master/student relationship. The last vestiges of that are going down the drain. The oral tradition is such a part of the jazz tradition, and that’s taken a serious blow, and yet that’s where real school is.
JI: If you think about Chet Baker, for instance… Chet, by examples – by hearing him play night after night – was not saying “copy my licks,” he was saying, “copy my process.”
HG: Right. Exactly.
JI: Did he think of it that way?
HG: No. It’s not necessary to.
JI: It was instinctive or intuitive?
HG: It’s always been that. It’s been aural. You just copy. The best steal from the best, like Miles said. You copy and imitate, and try to make it sound “like that” as much as possible. Through the process of doing that, you intuit all the rules and all of the processes that are involved in doing it. When you get to play with the masters you’re copying, including Chet… when he got to play with his idols, he learned by playing with them and hearing them, getting a lot of playing experience under their hands. Playing with people better than you is school!
JI: When did the emphasis shift from “never repeating yourself” to “it’s okay to repeat yourself?”
HG: It’s okay to repeat yourself. (Laughter.)
JI: When did the intent, when did the value…?
HG: Not everybody’s had that intent. That isn’t a universal intent musically. Never has been. There are some people who are absolutely dedicated to never repeating. There are some musicians who had different concepts about how the music should go, and combinations of the two. I made a study of this, because Chick Corea wrote an article many years ago – a two part article called “The Myth of Improvisation” – where he was making a case for presentation of creativity and improvisation, and I reacted very violently to it, and told him so. I thought it was anti-creative and anti-improvisational, etc., etc., it was just about show-biz. But I made a study of that, because I wanted to be sure of the ground I was standing on. Much to my surprise, I found a lot of evidence for predetermined music, highly arranged music, repetitive…
In the early days, when a trumpet player in a big band had an eight-bar solo, they worked those solos out till they got it down, and they took the same solo every time. You hear Count Basie’s band and some of those classic charts, “Sweets’ (Harry “Sweets’ Edison) would play the same solo! John Coltrane would start his solos off – in a live performance – with the opening licks of his recorded solos, just to bring the ear of the listener in.
So, I still don’t agree 100% with Chick’s article but I think balancing the creative act with “presentation concerns” is not necessarily a bad thing. You are trying to communicate with people, it has to be handled in such a way that it doesn’t intrude on the level of the art, just on the music.
JI: The same question in another way: how do you teach your students not to repeat themselves?
HG: Oh, that’s a life-long goal. It’s not as cut-and-dried as you present it, because you don’t have everything available to you every night. McCoy [Tyner} was quoted as saying, “What’s important is that every time you play, you give 100%. Some nights you got 99% available, and some nights you got 65″ available, but what’s important is that you give 100% (of what’s available).” So you’re not always ripping off the greatest stuff, you’re subject to circumstances: playing conditions, the state of the body, all kinds of other stuff.
‘Bird’ repeated himself constantly – but the masters of it were the Lennie Tristano school. I played with a lot of people from that school, who worked with him, and none of them were repeaters. I played duo with Lee Konitz for nine months straight, recorded with him, and he never repeated a lick. Chet never repeated – he wasn’t from that (Tristano’s) school – ‘Cannonball’ never repeated, unless he was playing the blues, and even then he never played the same thing once. (Laughter.) Even if you play something that you’ve played before, you always have the chance to try to interpret it differently, shade it differently, edit it, twist it around. That’s one of the ways you fight repetition: actually play kind of destructive – screw up your “habit” licks and see where it will take you.
JI: I’m thinking about a comment Meyer Shapiro made. He was an art critic. He had in interesting comment: “Style is that which remains constant over time.” So, if you’re talking about a context of developing one’s style. Where you also have the goal of not repeating yourself, then developing one’s style really has more to do with developing things like touch and timbre…
HG: That’s one of the things that goes into making an individual voice, yes, control of the instrument.
JI: What are the other things that go into making and individual voice?
HG: Developing the way you hear individually, and working to insure that all your schooling is geared to that point. It’s developing your own way of hearing music, because no two people hear music the same way.
JI: So those things that you’re expressing individually are things that only you can express?
Exactly. That’s why it’s called in-di-vid-ual. (Laughter.) That should be the focus of all teaching and learning: the maximization of the individual…
JI: It’s hard to talk about it in the abstract. To talk about it without referring to what normally happens…
HG: Talk about what?
JI: Teaching and learning how to improvise without getting back into how jazz studies are normally taught.
HG: Let me say this about the way jazz studies are normally taught. As far as I’m concerned, your best students don’t really need us. They need a couple of tips. They’re ready to hear it, and they’re asking, and they go off and they change their life. I think the best students – the ones who are going to play – learn in spite of their teachers. I wish I could take credit for whatever effect I’ve had on my students, but, really, it’s their own talent, it’s not mine. My job is to kind of get them out of the way of themselves, so they can access the same abilities we all have.
So, I don’t see the schools themselves… They’re teaching it according to what abilities they have. The fact that the apprenticeship system has disappeared has denied a lot of these educators the chance for an experience that might modify their teaching methods. It still can be done by the institution of a strong mentoring program for the students, where the students get to play with the masters – six hours in one week can change a player’s life. But, other than that, they perform a service – there’s no doubt about that – they get musicians interested, and they give them some kind of information, at least it gets them started. Most of the time you spend in learning how to play (is spent) finding out where you don’t want to be: learning stuff and then throwing it out, learning more stuff and then throwing it out. You take out what you can use, you go on and you look at something else. I’ve been critical of the schools in the past, but they still produce the player.
JI: And the reverse of that is what you seem to be getting to: instead of learning stuff and throwing it out, just learn the stuff you like.
HG: Well, you ought to be doing that anyway, ’cause your likes change, tastes change… It’s part of the process.
JI: Sure, but in one scenario, you have to go through a lot of stuff to get to what you like; in the other scenario, you just get to what you like. (Laughter.)
HG: No, you don’t. No matter what scenario you pick, you have to go through all the stuff.
JI: You do, but there’s a difference between saying “transcribe a Coltrane solo” versus “go through that solo and pick out three licks that really resonate with you and work with those three licks.”
JI: What did you mean before when you said “…helping the student get out of the way of themselves”?
HG: Well, I kind of referred to it earlier when I was talking about being physically and emotionally quite. I can’t tell you how many time I get this from my students: “Gee, Hal, I’ve been feeling that for years, but until you put it into words, I wasn’t sure what it was.” The important part of that phrase is “wasn’t sure.” What that means to me is that they have feelings about the music, but, because they put themselves in a secondary role as “a student” — and the put the teacher in an authoritarian role as “The Teacher”– they eventually put themselves into a position where they feel they don’t know? They’re only students, they’re not masters.
Whereas I feel that they do know, and the problem is making them recognize it, and work on what they do know, believe in themselves, trust their feelings and emotions, and let the music take you where it’s going to take you. (Laughter.)
I really think that most students know more than they realize – it’s a problem of self-belief, basically, and trying to give them confidence in their own musical instincts, and let them follow them, wherever they go!
JI: That reminds me, in terms of context, of a comment that Warren Smith made. What he tries to do, as a drummer, is to contribute to the music what it needs at that particular point in time. There’s an element about that is – I don’t know if “ego-less” is the right word…
HG: It’s the right word.
JI: But it’s a kind of willingness to turn yourself over to something greater than yourself.
HG: That’s not exactly what it is. What you’re describing as a classic either/or situation of you’re either an individual or part of a group, but not both at the same time.
JI: I would agree that’s not right.
HG: I don’t agree with that because both are possible, especially in this music, because of the rhythmic nature of this music. The rhythmic nature of his music is rhythmic syncopation: jazz music is about rhythm. First. Primarily. The invention is rhythmic.
HG: It is the nature of African rhythmic syncopation, and syncopation in itself, is one of the most marvelous constructs ever to exist in the Universe, because it breaks down that dichotomy between either being part of a group or being an individual. Syncopation allows everybody to be part of a group experience while maintaining their individuality. I think the experience of playing jazz rhythm has an effect on the philosophies of the musicians who play the music. They tend to look around and say, ‘Why can’t you get it together? Look what we’re doin’.”
HG: “We’re working together as individuals in a group effort to create something beautiful.” And that’s a very strong effect.
JI: It is.
HG: There must exist other situations like this – every group art has to deal with this.
JI: or sports, in certain cases…
HG: Sure, team effort. Where the music is only as good as it’s weakest member, the effort is only as good as its weakest member.
JI: It’s a democratic process.
HG: I don’t know if I’d call it that either. The logistics of performing in an improvised group experience are not democratic. They’re actually fascistic, because, in order to have a group effect, one person has to be leading from time to time. Logically, in terms of the way the system works, one person has to be calling the shots. Basically the soloist at the moment is calling the shots, and everybody’s picking up on how those shots work. So it’s a leader and follower situation, with the followers still being individuals and making their contribution, as opposed to…
JI: But the thing that makes it democratic, to me, is that the leader changes. You’re not always stuck in one particular role – at one point you might be a follower, at another you might be the leader – those roles shift over time
HG: It appears to be democratic. If you want to make the presentation interesting, you have different people playing: it’s he demands of the situation. You’re giving it a name after the fact, but it didn’t necessarily come from that. (Laughter.)
JI: How would you define syncopation?
HG: That’s another lecture. Syncopation has this particular quality. I could take five different musicians, and put them in five different rooms and have a mic in each room all leading to a tape recorder in a sixth room, alright? I could count off a tempo to them and ask hem to do syncopated rhythms and keep to the tempo. If you did that, the result of that tape would be a group effort. It is the nature of syncopation: as long as you’re doing your own syncopated forward rhythm, and everybody else is doing their own syncopated forward rhythm – that’s what’s important, that each one is doing their own individual rhythm; otherwise, it doesn’t work, because you don’t have rhythmic conversations.
If people are duplicating other people’s parts, the ability to converse musically dies, and that’s the nature of group improvisation: musical conversation. You can’t have that if the person’s saying back to you the same thing you said to them.
So, by necessity, the logistics of the process requires these elements to be working this way. It’ really not a democratic process – that’s a political point of view. It’s basically a logistical process worked out to make this process happen. It’s a tactic, it’s strategy. I don’t know if I’d call democracy a strategy. (Laughter.) It’s a technique. I think it’s really important to strip the myths from the music and look at it purely as music and leave it unadorned, as much as possible, from political and philosophical associations. That’s why the word “democracy” throws me off.
JI: I’ve seen some things in ethnomusicology, for instance, that will talk about the West African “hot” drumming style as being not just something in and of itself, but it’s also a characteristic of how the society operates…
HG: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s a product of the society. As a matter of fact, it’s a society so foreign to us, that most of us can’t understand it’s music.
JI: It’s the same thing you were saying a few minutes ago: people who have gone through that process of group improvisation, at least for me, that’s the way I want the world to work.
HG: It’s interesting that there are people going out and doing corporate clinics, teaching group improvisation and the processes on how it works, the logistics and systems that make improvisation work. It’s another way of working together that’s different from all other ways of working together; that’s why I think it’s such a special thing.
JI: It seems to me that syncopation is such and all-embracing type of concept that it allows for an infinite variety of responses.
JI: Which also allows for individual responses.
HG: Exactly. That’s the beauty of it.
JI: I remember Bob Brookmeyer doing a presentation in jazz history class several years ago. He was talking about what he did with Gerry Mulligan – and what Chet did with Gerry Mulligan – and saying that he felt what was happening in the music, at that point in time, was something that was is rare nowadays, and that was counterpoint. There was an emphasis in that music of two melodic lines happening at once in a way which was highly interactive and highly effective, in contrast to much of the jazz that one hears today, which more single line solo and accompaniment in a kind of homophonic musical context. What happened?
HG: I saw you going in this direction. There’s two parts to that. It still is that, or should be, even if there’s one person playing, because the nature of the music is conversational, and is still a fugue. But what Gerry was doing in those days is basically – and this is something that got lost – Dixie. And I marvel. I don’t know any dixieland players. If someone reads this interview, call me please, because I need to talk to someone who knows how they did that. How they had four or five voices playing, each having their own roles, while not getting in the way of each other, because I have not found musicians who could do that.
And yet, it’s the real basis of the music, this conversational aspect: understanding your role and how it fits in with the music, and being clear about it, and controlling your musical environment – all these things we’ve been talking about so far are epitomized in Dixieland polyphonic playing. I don’t know what the logistics of that were. But I know that they’re such an important part of the history of the music, and those logistics are a part of the process of group performance. It reverts back to part one of what I was saying. It’ still going on – it’s not the same as Dixieland – but stressing that aspect, and getting a chance to experience that kind of playing, has got to be a part of the stream of experiential knowledge you have to have in order to be good at group playing.
JI: How does the conversational aspect relate to avant-garde jazz? It was certainly there in the stuff that Don Cherry and Ornette did.
HG: Of course. It’s the nature of the music. Still a call-and-response pattern. The nature of this music is call-and-response.
JI: But you don’t hear a lot of conversation – or at least I don’t – in a lot of contemporary jazz.
HG: What do you mean by “contemporary jazz”? Avant-garde?
JI: No, I don’t mean avant-garde. I mean when I turn on the radio and hear new releases, when I go to concerts and hear jazz artists performing whatever you want to call it – contemporary jazz or jazz in the years 2000 – I don’t hear a lot of that conversation or counterpoint going on, as a rule.
HG: That’s because they refuse to hire us. (Laughter.) Just give us a gig, we’ll show ’em what to do.
JI: That’s true. It seems to be something that Is either no longer as highly valued as it once was, or just something that people no longer know how to do.
HG: Or don’t know it exists, and would like to do it if they did know it existed, if they knew it was possible. You have to understand the major difficulty most people trying to learn this music: 90% of everything that’s going on in a group performance isn’t being played. What you are experiencing is only 10% of what’s really going on. Since this is music that is first learned by listening, then by playing, the only way you can really learn how to lay this music and understand that other 90% is by playing it, and learning that from your masters. Without having experienced that you’re not even going to know it exists.
JI: So, it’s possible to “be out there” without ever making that realization.
HG: Let me give you a case in point. (Laughter.)
JI: I wish you would. (Laughter.)
HG: We were playing with Phil (Woods), and I think it was at the Caravan of Dreams in Austin, Texas, and opposite us was a young guitarist, Clint Strong – he had a quartet. He was 13 years old. He can really play, this kid. So Steve Gilmore and I were sitting there listening to him, and Clint is playing all these quotes from all these standard American songs. This kid is only 13 years old! My generation learned these quotes because the tunes we played, from playing bar mitzvahs and dances, was the materiel we made a living with, you know. This kid hadn’t played a bar mitzvah in his life. Steve and I were trying to figure out how the heck he was doing all these quotes. After the first set, we went up and asked him. He said, “Oh, I was just copying Phil!” (Laughter.)
In other words, he didn’t even know he was playing quotes. It was just good music to him, and it sounded great to play it. That’s the way you learn the tradition, by copying it. You don’t have to know, necessarily, where it came from. You don’t have to necessarily know what’s going on behind it, you just have to copy it as much as possible, and you’ll learn the stuff through imbibing the history of the music, by copying it, that’s the oral tradition. Then you get with somebody who can play it, and you find out how it’s supposed to be done.
JI: It seems very simple.
HG: Well, no, it’s not. It’s a matter of awareness. It’s not that simple, it’s a tragedy. As I said before, that’s the one thing I will not get off my soapbox on…is that the apprenticeship system is going down the drain. And something’s gotta be done to preserve it, another means to preserve it before all this information gets lost.
JI: Or the music will just stop being vital and important, as classical music has by and large , and just fade into the background.
HG: Right. You have to balance that against the fact that jazz has always been a music of the times, a music that really speaks of the culture of the moment. If you look at the state of jazz and you look at the culture, there’s not to much difference, so maybe it’s fulfilling it’s function after all. (Laughter.)
Yes, that’s true. That reminds me of what you were saying before, about how what you play is always a perfect expression of who you are and what you are at that particular point of time, whether you’re flubbing things up or whether you’re playing masterfully, and the music is much the same way: it is an accurate representation of where we are right now.
JI: And a representation of why people don’t pay much attention to it right now.
HG: Well, I don’t know about whether they’re not paying much attention to it. There was a survey done by the National Endowment for the Arts in the late 80’s – a demographic study of the jazz audience in the United States – and, at that time, 20% of the American public liked one form of jazz or another. That’s quite a figure! That’s quite a lot of money. If pushed, I can make a critique about the way that jazz is presented publicly, but there’s a lot of interest in jazz. It’s a multi-million-dollar-a-year business.
JI: It is. But the interest is a financial interest, in a way.
HG: This is America. You could walk into the Ritz Carlton stark naked with a million dollars under your arm, and they’ll say, Yessir, how can I help you?” If anybody’s shocked that the success of an art in America is dependent on the dollar, they’d better wake up. This is the nature of America,
JI: I remember a time – not recently – when musicians would hang on every new release that Miles or Coltrane would do, and it didn’t have anything to do with economics, it had to with wanting to know where the music was at that point, what these innovators were doing, where things were headed, what the masters were doing with the music.
HG: You’re talking about music students.
JI: Well, I’m talking about musicians, yes.
HG: They don’t make up a very big part of the buying public…
JI: True. I remember going to JVC at Saratoga or Newport at Saratoga – they had a weekend as part of the JVC Festival in New York. It’s a huge venue – thousands of people there – and the people there couldn’t have cared less who was performing at any particular time: it was just a big party. But my point is I think a lot of the festivals that produce jazz are producing jazz because they don’t want to produce rock ‘n’ roll. They want to produce a festival that will draw as many people as possible with as much money as possible, so they put on a jazz festival that will attract a certain kind of audience, a kind of well-heeled crowd…
HG: You have to do that. You have to balance presentation with art. You have to achieve that balance of presentation, art and solvency. Whether it’s a festival to the most intimate jazz club in the world, people come there for all kinds of reasons, and we need them all. And, maybe some of them will buy your record, but at least they paid to come in the door. Once they paid your price, they haven’t necessarily paid for the right to listen to us. They just paid for the right to get in the door.
JI: Whether they listen to us up to us.
HG: Exactly. It’s got to be under our control. Admittedly, it’s difficult to establish control over large, open-air audiences. It’s easier with small enclosed audiences. I’ve seen Ray Charles galvanize 10,000 people.
JI: I’ve seen Ahmad Jamal do that and Sonny Rollins do that in New Orleans.
HG: That’s your job. That was the job with ‘Cannonball’ – you didn’t give the audience a choice, ever. You basically attacked them and got their attention, and, in a sense, that’s what they’re paying for when they walk in the door. They’re giving you the right to do that, because that’s what they want too. But they come for all kinds of reasons. We need them all. Get them in there. We might want them all to be purists, but, if we had that, we might not be able to make a living at all. So you have to have a balance…in the United State, we’re sitting on the knife edge between art and commercial success, yet it’s a knife edge we can’t avoid sitting on, because this is America. (Laughter.)
JI: Absolutely true.
HG: I think that’s a good ending.
JI: Thank you very much, Hal!
HG: Thank you.