Everything’s a continuation. You’re the same person you were two years ago, with some added experiences, trauma, whatever happened to you. But there are significant artistic differences for me. (…) Every year I go on retreats, something like sabbaticals. Like Sonny Rollins, Don Cherry, Henry Threadgill, Randy Weston and classical composers, I go away to change the atmosphere, research and practice.
(…) The birds would be in the foreground, sometimes in the middle ground, sometimes in the background. It was almost like a three-dimensional kind of thing. That got me excited, because I thought if it in therms of orchestration, which I ended up calling “camouflage orchestration”. So that was a big difference, because I had the different instrument colors to work with.
(…) There’s the harmonic level and the rhythmic level. This is like an ecosystem in itself because these are all things that work together. That’s the content level, because it just deals with melody, harmony, rhythm and maybe form. Then you have substrate, what underlies something, what’s at it’s basis. All these melodies, these chords have to be in some kind of environment. I look at the music of Louis Armstrong, of Charlie Parker, of John Coltrane. The reason I give those three examples is because Duke Ellington once said that the history of this music can pretty much be summed up using three improvisers, and those are the three improvisers he named.
I said, “What are the things from Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane that are similar and what are the things that are different? What makes their music sound different, on a physical, functional level, in terms of the actual music? I wanted to know, how did the drums function with Louis Armstrong, with Charlie Parker, with John Coltrane? How did they treat melody, harmony? What I found was that the rhythm was a substrate underneath the whole thing. I look at the rhythm almost as a delivery system. When a listener i listening to the music, what’s the delivery system that’s bringing the music to their ears? What is the format that it’s riding in on? I’ve found that people respond first to the rhythm of music.
I thaught, “If I’m going to get to a music that’s personal to me, I’ve got to look first at this substrate thing or else I’ll pretty much be doing what everybody else is doing”. (…) I didn’t want to do the same substrate that Coltrane was dealing with, that Bird, that Armstrong were dealing with.
(…) And there was another element to it: comunication. When I came up, a lot of these older guys would say, “Tell your story, young man”. I wondered, “What story are they talking about?” I began to realize it was more than just figurative. They were thinking of it literally, like they were actually communicating something. I wanted to learn how does music without words tell a story.
(…) You can’t buy a concept. No amount of money has ever written a piece of music. I noticed early in my career that the more people got managers, the less they produced – not in terms of quantity but in terms of quality. They may do a lot of big things, but there’s that whole thing of not being as hungry. There are so many things you start managing that it takes time away from the music.
(…) Charlie Parker, etc. I was never interested in copying their music verbatim. This grant thing can give you a bit more space, but I was never the kind of guy to do gigs just for monetary reasons. I was always kind of hardheaded, and had I had a different attitude, I could have been way further along career-wise.
When I was younger, all we got was bad reviews. When you’re young, everybody’s older than you. You have people whose opinions are based on what happened before. If you try to do something that’s coming out of you, there’s less to compare it to. People usually are not going to like it. When you look at Charlie Parker, or Coltrane, or even Louis Armstrong, the people who didn’t like them were older for the most part.
Talking about things that inspires you, How would you mirror that in music? I start with attraction. Something inspires me. Then you figure out what you’re going to do with that information. You’ve got to study what that means. But that leader thing is fascinating.; it’s almost like it’s living. (…) Anything you can see that inspires you, you can imagine. This is all motion, and music is perfect for doing things with motion. All iI know is whatever I come up with, it’s got to be different than what I did before, because the concept, the starting point is so different. (…) There has to be a kind of critical mass where you have a feeling: “Now’s the time to investigate this.”. I try to investigate one thing on each sabbatical.