Cooper-Moore talks about Vision Festival 22 and his music, NYC

Cooper-Moore at Vision 21, 2016 ©Clara Pereira 

Cooper-Moore at Vision 21, 2016 ©Clara Pereira 

 

Name: Cooper-Moore
Instrument: piano, harp, hand-crafted instruments
Style: avant-garde jazz, contemporary jazz
Projects: Digital Primitives, Black Host, William Parker's In Order to Survive. 

 

 

 

 

 

American pianist Cooper-Moore will be at the Arts For Art's Vision Festival 22 on May 29th with three different projects. This year the Festival is honoring him with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

You've been a constant presence in the Vision Festival, which by itself is an achievement. 
What does this Festival, and especially this Lifetime Achievement Award, represent to you?

It’s a high honor. It is recognition by some, that during my life I’ve in some way been a contributor to and instrumental in the creation and growth of the communities where I have been a part. Being selected for a lifetime achievement award for this year’s Vision 22 Festival is especially rewarding in that I have always believed in the goals of Arts for Art and the Festival from their beginnings.

Besides Digital Primitives and Gerald Cleaver's Black Host, which are relatively recent projects, you'll be playing with William Parker's In Order to Survive, just like it happened almost 20 years ago in Vision 1. 
What do you think are the main changes both in the festival and in the way you make music? 

Digital Primitives goes back 15 or 16 years, not recent. It happens to be the ensemble with which I have most recorded, toured and performed, of the three that I’ll be performing in on May 29th at Judson Church.
Producing the Festival cost a lot more money. 
It is shorter by half or more. 
The Festival pays better than it did 20 years ago and has, by its pay policy example, been instrumental in increasing the fees that musicians are awarded in some of the newer created festivals in New York City. 
The audiences are older.
I perform with fewer and fewer people. 
I am more efficient in my playing. I know where I want to go when I begin to play. There are people who say, “Come, and let’s take a trip, a musical journey.” They say that they don’t know where the journey will take them or us. That might be how I was in the distant past. But as an elder of the music, that is not how I feel anymore. 

What made you choose avant-garde/free jazz in detriment of bop variations and mainstream?
Avant-garde/free jazz are not terms which I have ever labeled myself. When I was twelve years old and started listening to the music it was labeled progressive. What I do is for me a next step. The music has never stayed the same. It has always moved on, standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before. Labels are often a problem in that they infer judgment, hierarchy, and status.
The music that I play is nearly all blues based. Blues is music that I grew up listening to. In my mid-teens, I heard Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. They were all playing music that was obviously blues based. It was new blues. Teens are always looking for something new. So I started playing from those roots.
  
How tough can be the life of an alternative jazz musician in NY? Any advice for the younger musicians who are giving their first steps? 
I do not consider myself an alternative anything. I am a musician. But your question might suggest that those who follow a more traditional, conservative path, to how the music has grown and progressed, are practicing that which is alternative. What most people listen to is what they are in the habit of listening to. This habit of listening, just like the diet of most folks, is formed early in life and is not easily changed.
But to your questions: Life for any artist in America can be tough. The creative life makes us vulnerable to many of the difficulties of life. The best way to do what you want to do is to hang out with the folks who do what you want to do. Learning from a mentor or in an apprenticeship is the best way to move ahead as a young creative artist. Work on doing what you want to do as much as you can. Be obsessed. 

You not only play a bunch of different instruments but you also design and build them. Where did this passion come from?
Building instruments is not a passion. I build an instrument if an idea for one comes to me that I believe I can make manifest in a short length of time, a day or two. Or I build because I have to replace one that is broken or no longer playable.  

What other styles do you listen to? Tells us your favorite musician for each style.
First, I am my favorite musician.    
I don’t listen to music other than the music that I am creating unless it’s music that I have to learn. Then I drown my ears and my brain in it.

Tell me 2 persons who marked you the most as a musician.
Both were born and raised in Washington DC, where I spent a lot of time: Duke Ellington and Lawrence “Fox” Wheatley 

Tell me 2 musicians whom you've never worked with, but you'd like to.
None


Nick Finzer Interview, NYC

Nick Finzer at Smalls, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

Nick Finzer at Smalls, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

 

Name: Nick Finzer
Instrument: trombone
Style: postbop, contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: The Chase (Origin Records, 2015); Hear & Now (Outside in Music, 2017).

 

 

 

 

Three years separate The Chase from Hear & Now, which feature exactly the same sextet. How often do you guys play together?
We play together a lot, and not just in my group. Most of these guys are part of the tenor player nonet and we play at Smalls once a month. It’s been a crazy couple of years and I think now, more than before, we appreciate the opportunity we have to play together.

What has changed in the process of making those two records?
Recording The Chase was kind of a last minute throwing together. Like, here are the tunes, even if we haven’t played in a while. 
This record was further better planned and I had a better concept about the music. I think it was a little bit more relaxed and I had more time to mature it. Everyone is pretty young and we’re still figuring out how to live (laughs). 

There are some words in the CD booklet that in a certain way try to describe your motivations for this record. I see words like passion, inspiration, and vision, but I also see evolution, action, and change. What do you really mean with these last three?
To me, it’s just about people trying to grow within themselves and kind of being open, having discussions, and allowing for an evolution of thought. It’s also about me trying to allow myself to keep developing and try to actually express opinions rather than just talk around. Voice our opinions and share what we think when people are doing something that’s not beneficial. The record kind of documents the emotional turbulences of 2016, which was when our music was written and recorded. It has to do with the rise and fall of the whole year; all the political, social and environmental stuff is all over in there.

I personally feel some sort of spiritual side on “We, The People”. Are you a spiritual man? 
I don’t know if I’m that spiritual of a person… I’m certainly not religious in any particular way. But for me that composition was trying to embody the energy of people coming together, talking and fighting for what they believe in. It's that power, when people come together, more than any particular spiritual thing. I definitely was going for that high energy.

Your music blends tradition and contemporary jazz. How is this done within your compositional process?
I’m a product of my generation, I think. I came up through jazz education, and the way we learn is through tradition. The first jazz music I heard was Duke Ellington’s music and that always stuck with me. Some of my favorite trombone players come from the 50s and 60s, but we live now, and I love so many composers that wrote stuff between 1970 and now. I think it becomes a natural outcome of having all those influences.
For my compositional process, I always wanted to have those elements of jazz I feel are important: some kind of swing and blues elements thrown in there, but not all the time, and then combine them with the harmonies that are maybe a bit more contemporary, less traditionally bebop. When I write, I try to think about the relationship between the highest pitch and the lowest, the counterpoint between those. To me, the stuff in the middle is more flexible. If it’s strong on the outside you can kind of take some chances and create some interesting inner lines.

What comes first when you compose a tune, the melody or the harmony?
When I first started writing, the chord progression usually came first because I felt once I write the melody I couldn’t come up with “cool” chord changes. But as time went on, after two records and trying to write for a third one, I realize that the tunes that stuck the best were the ones that the melody drove the composition. So, I try to do that first.

Dance of Persistence” is about not giving up. Do you ever thought or think of giving up?
Sure! I try not to, but sometimes it’s rough. Sometimes it feels like people don’t really care about what we’re doing. But then, there are people out there that do care; you just have to find them. The longer you stick with this crazy life in the jazz industry, the more you see its value, and the more you see how to make it work and stick it out.

What was the hardest time of your career?
I have to say I’ve been fairly fortunate that things have gone relatively smoothly for me, but the hardest times have been mostly when things are so crazily busy that I have no time to create anything. It basically happened from the summer of 2014 until the summer of 2016, when I was almost constantly on the road, which is a blessing, but just being super crazy and my personal life being kind of difficult because of being away. But, you know, I just take one day at the time, looking forward and persisting on, as we just talked about.

What do you have to say about that generalized idea that the trombone is neglected in comparison with saxophone or trumpet, for instance?
I think it’s true that we’re not as often used, but trombone players have always been so important. Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, right in the beginning, were driving things forward; also great composers in Ellington’s bands; and we always have had strong presences within the musician community. Sometimes in terms of taking a leadership role, people think the instrument is circus-like or abrasive. But there’s a lot of guys right now who are trying to put the trombone back out there, and in front of a band. People put us to the side sometimes, but it’s our job to kind of show people we can do the same things as any other instrument. It’s just a different voice.

Steve Turre and Wycliffe Gordon were your mentors. Did they bring any influence into your music?
Yeah, I think they both live on my shoulder all the time. I get along very well with both of them and they were super supportive so far, coming to gigs, listening to the stuff, and letting me know when things are not ok.
I would say that Wycliffe has been essential in the way he’s the kind of guy who shows you something and then says: now it’s your turn to figure it out. It’s like a very different learning experience. 
Steve Turre was very hands-on with us. He would say “this is how Dizzy Gillespie showed me how to play this” or “this is how McCoy Tyner showed me how to play this”, trying to connect us with the tradition through himself, who played with these people.

If not a musician, what would you have been?
I wanted to be a baseball player. When I was in the middle school playing for the baseball team, I had a long discussion with my dad, who told me: “you really aren’t very good at that”. Then, I wanted to be a chef for a while, but then I got bit by the music bug and went that way.

What do you picture in your mind when improvising?
I’m not really picturing something but rather listening and trying to contribute by being in the moment and in the music. Sometimes I can try to picture the musical notation when someone is playing.

Which color would you pick to associate with your music?
Maybe purple. With the band and the music, I always try to have a kind of rich color palette, a rich and deep feeling to it, instead of just playing at a surface level. 

Can you name two persons who marked you the most as a musician?
Wynton Marsalis, because he was very honest and clear with me, changing my perception of myself for the better. It was what I needed at that moment. He doesn’t know that or even remember, but to me he was very important.
And probably Steve Turre, who was always super helpful to me… but there’s also a composer called Dave Rivello. He was kind of in the Bob Brookmeyer school, arranging and writing, and I played in his 12-piece band every week when I was an undergrad. He really opened my eyes and ears to what it takes to put your music together and get a gig. He was a great example.

And two musicians you would like to play with?
I‘ve always wanted to play with Chick Corea. There was a time I was obsessed with Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, and I still go back to it all the time.
The other one is also a pianist, Herbie Hancock. The first jazz gig I really played was music from Herbie, so I’ve always wanted to play with him.


David Binney Interview, NYC

David Binney at 55 Bar, 2015  ©Clara Pereira

David Binney at 55 Bar, 2015  ©Clara Pereira

 

Name: David Binney
Instrument: saxophone
Style: postbop, contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Free To Dream (Mythology, 1998); Graylen Epicenter (Mythology, 2011); The Time Verses (Criss Cross, 2017).

 

 

 

 

The Time Verses describes a diurnal cycle. What were your motivations/inspirations for doing it?
It really wasn't about anything. I never compose music based on anything but what sounds good to me. I don't like when, like in the case of these grants people get, one is asked to explain their music and what it represents....  It's not political, it's not about issues, it's not about anything.  It's music. 
It's supposed to be listened to. I wish people would stop needing some other reason for why music exists. It's music. That's what makes it great. 
When people try or need some other narrative, it's weakness on their part. It's the inability to understand music and hear it on a deep level. 
So not to put down your question - it's a valid and normal question, but it hits a nerve with me and gives me an opportunity to actually say something that needs to be said. 
So I only made it seem like a suite and relate by the titles. The music was written outside of that. It's just a way to package it for people who need more than the actual music, to like it. 

All your fans know about your long-time association with the 55 Bar. In "Fifty Five", I spotted glimpses of Wayne Shorter and Sam Rivers and a deliberated swinging pulse that’s not so common in your arrangements. 
Yeah, it's a swing tune. And we do a lot of that at the 55. We always have. So I figured it was time for me to put a tribute to that place and show how important it is. Even for music in NYC. 
Swing is pretty common in my music. If you go through my records you'll see there is a lot of swing. 

Your sound and compositional style are very identifiable in this recording and still, it sounds so distinctive and fresh. What was the special secret for that?
I pay attention to those things. I have always wanted to sound unique. I'm not one to follow the pack. I’m always searching and stretching. I understand how to write and play interesting music. It's what I do and what I love. It's my passion. And it comes naturally to me. Plus, I'm obsessed with it. I listen to everything and often. I know what's happening in almost all music areas. So there's a lot to draw from. 
 
For how long do you play with the members of this quartet and what are their main features that most suits your musical creations?
I've played with Dan Weiss for about 17 years I think, maybe longer. Jacob Sacks for as long, although Matt Mitchell is in the group now. Eivind Opsvik I also have a long history with. They’re all very open and they are like me in their search. And they go for things. So the music is always different and expanding. I like to be in that environment. 
They also all have very unique sounds. And they think compositionally. I like that. 
 
Do you have everything planned and structured in advance before going to the studio or are you open to spontaneous creativity on the spot?
I have the framework. And then that is left open to whatever happens. The writing part of my music is usually pretty strictly adhered to and then everyone is free to do whatever they want during improvisations. I like that balance. 
 
"Seen" is a song that easily conquers the ear due to its deeply soulful approach. What is this song about and how did this collaboration with Jen Shyu happen?
It's a very old song of mine. We have been playing it for years but we just ever got around to recording it. 
Jen heard it years ago and loved it. She always wanted to write lyrics to it. So she did and we recorded it. I love the way she sings it and it's just one of those magical collaborations. She's great. 

Your solos are both striking and emotional. If in a particular circumstance you had to choose between technique and emotion, what would you choose to drop first?
Well, technique. It's not about technique. It's just that the more technique I possess, the more possibilities there are. I have always liked the balance between technique and emotion. I like Salvador Dali for instance, or Stravinsky, Bird, Coltrane, Beatles… well just about everyone that does something great. They usually have some high degree of both. 
 
What do you picture in your mind while you’re improvising? 
Sound. Shape. Interaction. The conversation. The moment. That's really all I think about. 
 
Are you constantly in a creative process or do you feel you have to stop for a while in order to find new inspirations?
I'm constantly thinking about creating. I find inspiration along the way. I really don't stop. 
 
Can you briefly describe the hardest moment of your career?
This interview. Hahaha, no, I’m kidding. I like this interview! 
The hardest thing for me, to be honest, is just that I've been such a part of the scene and an inspiration to so many and been on the forefront with composition and playing, and it's hard for me to even get gigs or work sometimes. And yet, I see many people whose lives I influenced, or in many cases even changed, and they are out there doing well while I mostly struggle along. I know the deal. It's that way for a lot of people who innovate in some way, and usually, it comes back to them in later years, but it can be frustrating. 
I mean, I single-handedly put together and created the band that David Bowie used for Blackstar, a huge and important record. That was a group I was going to use on my record at the time, but I gave it up to Donny [McCaslin] because I was producing his record and wanted to get more production work. I knew that it would fit his record and my vision perfectly. And yet, the press completely buried me in that discussion. Donny didn't even want to do electric music. It was my suggestion. I picked the musicians and sculpted the sound, working my ass off on those records. David Bowie heard it and flipped out. He took it and used it for his record and I got completely cut out of the story. How does that happen? I should be getting all kinds of producing work right now. 
I understand production as well as anyone. It's so obvious to me when I hear music, any kind of music, to be able to tell what it needs to make it better. The lives of the guys in the band are changed because what I did. And I'm pretty much in the same place. That's difficult. But again, probably this is not unusual in an artist’s story.  
The other thing that is a bit of a difficult thing is how influential I've been not only as a player but also as a composer. I've never once showed up in any poll as a composer and yet half the things I hear out there from a certain generation of people sounds liked stuff I did years ago. And they know it, and some even admit it. But the outside world and the music business, don't acknowledge it - sometimes a difficult pill to swallow. 
I'm also a great teacher and a very strong influential motivational person for young musicians and people in general and yet have never been offered a teaching position or anything that much lesser musicians have been given. 
The world is so based on perception and selling and bullshit that the truth gets buried. And on purpose! People protect their positions in all aspects of life so hard. I've always been way more giving, but with that can come frustration when you see that very few people are the same way. 
Haha that wasn't "brief", I guess!

If not a musician, what would you have been?
Probably a writer. 
 
You’re also a very in-demand producer. Besides Donny McCaslin, you've recently worked with Quinsin Nachoff whose album was released on your label, Mythology.
How was the experience and how difficult is managing a record label today?

Well, I talked a lot about the Donny recordings above. 
I didn't produce Quinsin's record but put it out in my label, which these days just consists of letting someone use the Label logo and reputation. I did nothing else but play in the record. I did however produce and release Philippe Côté's fine recording Lungta. If you haven't heard that, check it out. I'm very proud of that one. Both the production and the way I played on it. 

Can you point 2 musicians you have collaborated with and marked you the most, and 2 more you’ve never collaborated but you would like to.
Well, I'd say Dan Weiss and maybe Brian Blade as far as people that have shaped my sound and executed my vision in a way that I could not have come up with on my own. 
I've never collaborated on a project with Kurt Rosenwinkel and that seems like a natural to me. We're talking now about something.  And maybe Manfred Eicher.  I'd like to record a record for ECM. I mean my music is a natural fit there. I know more about that label than pretty much anyone. It was an important part of my upbringing and so many of those records influenced my music and the way I hear things. It would just be a satisfying thing, to do a record for them. 
 
Are you currently working on new projects or have any new ideas in mind?
Yeah, as I said, I have in mind something with Kurt [Rosenwinkel]. With Louis Cole, a young Brazilian musician who is in Kurt’s Caipi band named Pedro Martins, and I don't know who the bass player would be… but it would be cool to have M'shell Ndegeocello and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet. Kind of a modern funk band with horns, two guitars, vocals, and crazy solos. Just an idea at this point, but I've already talked to Kurt, Louis, and Pedro about it, and everyone is in so far. 


Aaron Diehl Interview, NYC

Aaron Diehl, photo by © Ingrid Hertfelder (used with permission)

Aaron Diehl, photo by © Ingrid Hertfelder (used with permission)

 

Name: Aaron Diehl
Instrument: piano
Style: postbop, contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: The Bespoke Man's Narrative (Mack Avenue, 2013); Space Time Continuum (Mack Avenue, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

Tells us one adjective that accurately describes you.
Realist.

If you weren't a musician, what would you have been?
Airline pilot.

What do you picture in your mind while improvising? 
The finish line.

Which color would you pick to associate with your music and why?
Chartreuse… I don’t know - I just like the drink.

Tell me two persons who marked you the most as a musician. 
Benny Golson and Wynton Marsalis.

And two musicians whom you've never worked with but you'd love to.
Ron Carter and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (conductor)

Can you briefly describe the hardest moment of your career?
That’s every day! Nothing is guaranteed. But this is also what drives me.

You are going to perform at Greenwich House on April 27 with pianist Dan Tepfer for the Uncharted concert series. How did this collaboration with Dan come up? 
Dan suggested the idea of performing duo piano for a performance at Bard College in October 2015. I’ve had a lot of respect for Dan’s musicianship, so I was very excited at the prospect of this collaboration.

Is it a challenge to play with another pianist?
Yes, because you are dealing with two instruments of the same timbre, with a wide tonal range. It would be like placing two symphony orchestras on stage, with two conductors. With two pianists, extra care has to be taken in playing within certain registers. Adding syncopation on top of that, each pianist has to be sensitive to one another’s sense of time.

On what other projects are you working right now?
I’m preparing for debuts with the Cleveland Orchestra (Gershwin’s Concerto in F) and LA Philharmonic (Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” Variations) this summer. 


Dayna Stephens Interview, NYC

Dayna Stephens, © Gulnara Khamatova (used with permission)

Dayna Stephens, © Gulnara Khamatova (used with permission)

 

Name: Dayna Stephens
Instrument: saxophone, EWI
Style: postbop, contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: That Nepenthetic Place (Sunnyside, 2013); Peace (Sunnyside, 2014); Gratitude (Contagious Music, 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

Tells us one adjective that can accurately describe you.
Lucky

If you weren't a musician, what would you have been?
Car Designer, most designs are hideous (lol).

What do you picture in your mind when you're improvising?
Bouncing circles.

Which color would you pick to associate with your music and why?
If I had to pick just one it would be green because it signifies life to me, blue would be a tie or close second.

Tell me two persons who marked you the most as a musician.
Sonny Rollins and Brad Mehldau.

And two musicians whom you've never worked with but you'd love to.
These answers would differ from day to day. I would love to work with Jack DeJohnette and Kurt Rosenwinkel, perhaps at the same time!

Can you briefly describe the hardest moment of your career?
Selling my baritone saxophone (my favorite saxophone voice) to move to NYC.

Besides gratitude, what other messages do you intend to convey with this new album?
Gratitude is also an attempt to exemplify a universal beauty with the goal of creating space for common ground and stronger connections in a time of increased fragmentation. 

Any other projects in mind at the moment or for a near future?
If limited to four burners: a project featuring the EWI and more (not necessarily taking a “fusion” approach), Big Band (long overdue), a traditional Quartet (featuring standards), a Sextet with 3 horns (featuring original compositions). Lots more in the oven, though.


Ben Monder Interview, NYC

            Ben Monder, 2015, NYC ©Clara Pereira

            Ben Monder, 2015, NYC ©Clara Pereira

 

Name: Ben Monder
Instrument: guitar
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Excavation (Arabesque, 2000); Hydra (Sunnyside, 2013); Amorphae (ECM, 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

Can you tell me one adjective that better describe your personality?
Mumpish.

If you weren't a musician, what would you have been?
There honestly wasn't a backup plan.
 
What do you picture in your mind when you're improvising?
Armageddon. 

Which color would you pick to associate with your music and why?
Periwinkle, my favorite crayola crayon.

Tell me two persons who marked you the most as a musician. 
Irwin Stahl, who instilled important musical values at an early age, and Chuck Wayne, who was the best possible jazz guitar teacher.

And two musicians whom you've never worked with but you'd love to.
I would love to work with Jack DeJohnette and Wayne Shorter, but I'd settle for coffee.

Can you briefly describe the hardest moment of your career?
Maybe the winter (in 1989) I spent working Wednesday through Saturday in a lounge band for $240 a week, commuting from Queens to New Rochelle, all the while convinced I had ball cancer.

Besides jazz, what other styles do you listen to? Tell me your favorite musician(s) for each style you mention.
Metal (Meshuggah, Defeated Sanity, Devourment, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum); Classical (Luigi Nono, Helmut Lachenmann, Georg Friedrich Hass, Bernard Parmegiani).

Any other projects in mind?
My next record will be a recording of cover tunes done in trio and solo guitar arrangement.