Freedom is nothing without self-discipline
Alice in Jazzland
Since the days when I was the house pianist at Ronnie Scottís, Iíve got into a lot of different areas, which Iíve found very rewarding.
When I hear albums that I made ten years ago, I can hear that Iíve expanded since then. It also makes me very brought down about the way I was playing then, because when Iím listening to myself, in my mind Iím going along with what Iím doing, hearing it different, and sort of willing myself to do it different. Iím sure this happens to everybody, to some extentóit has to be that way, if youíre developing.
During those years, working at Ronnieís. I made a lot of space for myself. By that I mean I tried to think about it in a broad way, simply because I think the music benefits that wayóat least, I hope it does. But I got worn out physically; so I had to leave. I mean, I was prepared to stay on forever; I got in a very zombieĖlike state about the whole thing. I really physically needed to leave there.
Since then, itís been fun. Iíve recorded with various size groups, including suites Iíve written. Iíve also got into things like the Duoówith Mike Osborneís alto, Tentacles, Open Circle, my present trio and quartet. Iíve got an octet padónot a very big one, but itís there. And Iíve just finished writing a suite based on four poems of Spike Milliganís, for a string quintet and rhythm section, which we did at the Newcastle Jazz Festival. I was very happy about the results; it was fun to do, because it was completely different, as far as I was concerned.
Iíd say making that move was a conscious decision; I felt inside me that I still wanted to go on expanding. And if I was going to do that, the thing to do was to play with the people who were thinking that way younger musicians. So thatís what I did. You get something from everybody you play with, but I suppose it was Mike Osborne mainly who helped me expand. Itís just that Mike lives just down the road from me; he was round all the time during that period, and we played together a hell of a lot. Itís hard to put into words what it is about his playing; I mean, if you could be inside my mind when Iím playing with him, you would understand . . .feelings are one thing, words are another. Rapport, yesóeverything falls into place, he always seems to do the right thing. Also heís a tremendously sensitive musicianóhe feels moods changing a fraction before they change, so that when it happens, heís right there making it happen.
And Iíve enjoyed playing with Keith Tippettówe do a piano duo, whenever we have the opportunity. We did a concert up in Edinburgh, and one at the Wigmore Hall. which was recorded. This was strictly free improvisation. I have a rapport with Keith, and itís like fun when we play together, because we can both feel each other out the whole time. For me, the fact that he has sort of a lighter approach than I have, thatís what makes it better, because youíve got the two. And sometimes we interchange: he will take on a percussive role, and Iíll become more lyrical. I can percussively highlight what heís doing, and conversely, he can highlight some of the figures that I doóyou know, put a different interpretation on Ďem. Itís good.
Itís lovely with tenorman Art Themen, tooóbut in a different area, somehow. Itís a similar thing, as far as feeling each otheróbut every rapport is different. Not in a clinical sort of way, you do adapt to whoever youíre with. If I seemed to take on another identity that time with Stan Getzówell, thatís a matter of compromise. I feel that the most important thing is the music. I donít think one should change completely to get it together, but a compromise is good, because itís up to you how much freedom you leave yourself within that compromise. If itís a battle of wills, then the music suffers, and itís a waste of time.
Itís true that I used to say the Ďfreeí area of jazz wasnít for me. But at the time, I was so into harmony, I was getting too clever harmonicallyóthe more I went into it, the more I nearly disappeared like the proverbial Dodo! So when I came out of that and went into free music, it was sort of a million light years away from the way Iíd been thinking. And having been so heavily into harmony, I found it difficult at first not hearing those sounds while I was playing. But now Iíve got some different sounds going on in my mind, and I can live with the two now more comfortably.
Really, this thing of letting your mind go as far as itíll take you is a bit of a challengeóitís not always at attractive as it sounds. Itís like being let out of a confined spaceóyou donít know which way to go. So the game is to try and discipline yourself to a direction, even though you know that all directions are available.
I havenít done away with swingingóI enjoy it, thatís why! Iíve found that Iíve been able to call on my experience in both areas to supplement what Iím doing. I didnít think I would at first, but it seems to be happening more now. Yes, free playing definitely helps me when I play tunes. I donít feel so bogged down by bars; itís just a sound over a space of time.
I donít have any more big band things in mind. First of all, financially, itís impossible. You could do it about once a year on the BBC. But the reason Iím not so keen on it is: when you get a big band thatís working together all the timeóletís go mad, and say four times a weekóthe way arrangements come together when youíre playing that regularly is so beautiful. Okay, so you assemble once a year, the guys are good players, and to the average listener the band would sound good. W,hen you know what is possible when a band works regularly, I find it a drag; so Iíd really sooner not nibble at it. Because you always end up thinking: ďIf only . . .Ē As for my listeningónow, when Iím at home, I only listen to straight music. Because all my life, from when I first started listening to records until a few years ago, Iíve listened to jazz recordsóand never to straight music.Now Iíve amassed a load of tapes, which I play whenever I can. Iíve got so much to catch up on. Yes, itís a vast field; thereís a whole new world there. Maybe my late exposure to it affects my jazz work, unconsciously óbut certainly Iím n,ot conscious of that. I know I can never use music listening simply as outside enjoyment; Iím always in there with it.
What happens, to some extent, now is that I fit my playing to the gig.
You get a feeling for what type of gig it is, you know; you can tell by the people whoíve been booked or whatever. Actually, sometimes I get into both areas, and it really doesnít seem to make that much difference; itís just if I happen to feel like it. Iím fairly lucky in that I usually play with musicians who will go into any area that the music takes us to. Sure, Dave Green and Brian Spring are like thatóitís a great joy playing with them.
Theyíre very flexible: they feel whatever moods happen, and we just go along together. With Dave and Brian, I feel at liberty to go where I wantóand I hope they do.
I wouldnít really like to do more writing than I do. Iíll tell youóI hate writing; I really have to drag it out of myself. Once itís done. and itís being played, Iím ever so happyóbut getting it down on paper is something else. Itís like giving birth! Itís a very lonely feeling; itís just you, your judgment, your musical ideas. I suppose playing is my main outlet; Iíd sooner be playing than writing, anyway. When itís all coming together, when Iím writing, I enjoy it thenómost times, itís a battle.
One quite successful bit of writing I did was ďUnder Milk WoodĒ, my musical impressions of Dylan Thomas. My wife Jackie and myself have got this label together, Steam, and weíre reissuing the record. We secured the masters; the company who originally put it out have gone to Americaóthey had a lot of other things going, and they were quite happy to let it go.
In the British jazz field now thereís a lot of talent, but thereís a great lack of opportunity to develop. If there were more things happening, the music would grow much quicker, stronger. You can put the blame on to a lot of things, such as apathy by the media. And I think youíve got to own up that thereíll never be a huge audience for jazzóalthough itíd be beautiful if there was. Possibly if somebody thought they could make money by promoting itóthatís when the music happens. Itís just the fact that nobody thinks that thereís any money in jazzóand at the moment theyíre right!