Interview with Karl Berger

Bob Gluck

Woodstock, New York, September 25, 2011

Posted on April 10, 2023, in Karl’s memory (March 30, 1935 – April 10, 2023)

BG: I’m most interested in talking about 1970, 71 and 72. I’d like to get to the beginnings of CMS. But first, when did you come to the States? Did you go right to New York?

KB: I came with Don Cherry’s band in ’66, the first time. Gato Barbieri, Aldo Romano, and Jean-François Jenny-Clark. We had this quintet [Don Cherry Quintet] going in Europe for a couple of years. Before we came here we had been playing every day but Mondays. Literally. At the time you’d play a club for four weeks, not one day. In Paris we had our own club, so to speak: The “Chat Qui Peche”. We played there for five months, six months, something like that. It was that kind of scene. Or Montmartre in Copenhagen for four weeks. The Golden Circle in Stockholm for two weeks. It went on non-stop like that, except for Mondays. 

Cherry had a contract with Blue Note Records; he had done an album with Gato in quartet. I couldn’t go at the time because we expected a baby. The first album he did with a quartet was, I think, Blackwell and Henry Grimes, and Gato. This is in New York. Then we all came over in September ’66 for a Blue Note recording called “Symphony For Improvisers”, adding

Pharoah Sanders, Ed Blackwell, Henry Grimes. We played a Town Hall concert, initiated by Ornette Coleman, again adding more players: Rashied Ali, Charlie Haden, Lee Konitz. We played at the Five Spot Club for a while, on St. Marks Place. 

Then Don decided to stay here. And I said I’d stay here too. But he started to travel all across the country, with many different musicians and groups. It wasn’t the band anymore. He was more on his own. Doing separate projects. It was the end of 1966. I started my own group then. Carlos Ward, Blackwell, and Henry Grimes. That was the group we recorded for ESP in December ’66. The group was together for a while, except that Grimes disappeared in ’67 and Dave Holland came into the band. Dave played with Miles at that time. While Dave was with Miles he was also in our group. In ’68 we recorded for Milestone, “Tune In.” It was also Carlos, Dave, and Blackwell. Grimes was replaced with Dave.  Then Ingrid Sertso joined us again in ’69. We had worked together before the Don Cherry period and also during that time off and on, including a month with Steve Lacy in Paris.

BG: You scheduled around Miles’s touring schedule?

KB: Yes. We weren’t playing that much. We were basically a recording group, playing a few gigs here and there. I was working with another group led by a drummer Horace Arnold. With Reggie Workman, Sam Rivers. We played in a program called Young Audiences for the New York and tri-state schools. That was it at the time the only real steady gig in New York. Playing for the kids. So we’d go out twice, three times a week, play two, three concerts a day, one hour long educational concerts. We’d ask “what’s improvisation.” They’d come up with some melodies. That kind of thing. 

BG: We’re coming full circle. It’s coming again. 

KB: That’s right, it’s coming again. 

Around that time, we (Ingrid and I) played with many New York musicians, Marion Brown, Roswell Rudd, Clifford Thorton, Rashied Ali, Jimmy Garrison, Robin Kenyatta, Sonny Sharrock, J.C. Moses, David Izenzon, and many others. But there weren’t really a lot of gigs. You played Slugs a little, some things with Jackie McLean. And we hung out with Ornette a lot, at Artists House. 

BG: Can you talk a bit about what you remember about Artist House?

KB: The most vivid memory of Artist House is really when CMS had already started. Because Artist House only started in the early 70s. The first festival we did, we did at Artist House.

BG: That was when?

KB: I think it was ’74. There was a festival where I played there with the group with Dave Holland, and also with David Izenson’s group. David Izenson, Ingrid and myself, we had a trio called “Mind’s Eye”. That’s when I had started to work with David Izenson. Basically, he was the leader. He was looking at it more like a collective. J.C. Moses was the drummer. But we also had this trio. On the first compilation from CMS there are three cuts from that trio, opening the whole CMS Archive Compilation series..

BG: At that point the structures at that time were completely open or structured in any particular way?

KB: The structures were harmolodic, originally Ornette Coleman’s approach, which I learned from Don Cherry We had a real school sort of thing, playing each night four, five hours. And we had a rehearsal every day. Before I got here, it was almost like going to school, playing all the time. There was no vocal communication because Gato Barbieri spoke Spanish, Jenny Clarke spoke French and English, and Aldo spoke French and Italian. And I spoke German and English, so there was no common verbal language. So Don would come into the rehearsal, sit down at the piano and hammer out something. Ornette called him, he told me later, “the man with the elephant memory.” Don could hear a line and completely remember it immediately.  If you listen to the early Ornette quartet records, Don is often leading because he remembers the tunes. Ornette wrote new lines every week, but he didn’t write. It was all in his head and Don remembered it. Ornette would get the cue from Don often. Cherry could remember every note. He would walk around with short wave radio earphones all day long. He’d hear stuff from Indian, from Africa. This is how the world music started happening. He would come to the rehearsal and hammer out a melody he’d heard an hour earlier from India, from Egypt.

BG: He hadn’t been to those places yet?

KB: He did later, but not at the time. Of course, he expected us to have the same memory, you know. Don would always say, if you said: “what’s that?” he’d say “you heard me.” That’s what he said. That was his answer. What I learned there is what I’m now describing in my concept that I call “Music Mind”.  You had to be on your toes, completely at all times. Completely. If you missed a beat, that was your problem, so to speak. There was no slack.

BG: How was what he was doing different from what Ornette was doing?

KB: What was different was the material, the themes that were utilized. Don would pick up any material. He’d play bebop tunes. He would play tunes from popular artists, Beatles songs. African melodies. Egypt, Turkish. He was the first one to take any material from any part of the world and just use it without any stylistic considerations at all. Just improvising with that material. So that was the main difference. Ornette was really playing original music only, with the exception of one song, two songs, standards that he might have used. But Don wrote not nearly as much. There are about thirty songs that I have. Some of them I’m using with my Improvisers Orchestra in New York Stone. It is music that is largely forgotten. People don’t know it. It’s wonderful material to improvise from, because it’s very open. The way this original music of Don’s is written, you can go in many direction from it. I also use it some of these lines in workshops. Other than that, Don was really a disciple of Ornette.

BG: What about the dynamics of improvisation? Obviously if the band couldn’t talk, you wouldn’t talk about it. But how much of what you were doing was following in Ornette’s footsteps?

KB: Oh, very different. It was a lot more collective playing. It was less solo playing and actually Cherry didn’t like long extended soli. If Gato started playing, getting into what would have been a half-hour Coltrane solo, Cherry would start another tune right in the middle. He’d just start the new tune and Gato would fall into the new tune. We’d play suites, uninterrupted suites of like six, seven tunes per set. Don would often, just in the middle of anybody’s improvisations, start a new tune.

BG: Did he do any conducting, or just direct through his playing?

KB: No. No conducting. He really expected you to really be on your toes, every note.

BG: On your toes meant melodically, textually? What was most important?

KB: It was about that you were right with him. Totally present. He didn’t expect you to imitate what he did. He wanted you to play your own stuff. He wanted you to make sense from your point of view just as much as he did. There was no preconception of what the end result is.

BG: But were there certain trends?

KB: Of course. But I couldn’t describe that. 

BG: I guess that’s my job as a listener.

KB: How could I describe that? I came from a more classical background. I was a classical pianist. I picked up the vibraphone because I could get up and move around. The vibraphone wasn’t an instrument that I learned. I never had even one lesson on the vibraphone. That’s why I won six Down Beat polls, because I played different from people. I have my own idea about it, so to speak. So in a way, I’m a piano player. I’m thoroughly trained as a piano player. I’ve no training as a vibes player. The vibes is sort of what I’d call my toy. I use it as children would treat a found object; almost anyway.

BG: You find ways your imagination can go without constraints?

KB: That’s right. I have no classical technical ability on the vibes. 

BG: That seems like a little of an overstatement. I’ve heard you play.

KB: People say Monk couldn’t play the piano properly. That’s the same thing. He developed the piano for his own purposes. He played what he heard. So he wouldn’t be able to interpret someone else’s music. It would become his music. That’s what happens for me on the vibraphone. 

BG: That’s the good news, isn’t it?

KB: That’s the good news. Actually, I’d recommend everybody have such a second instrument. One reason I started playing the vibes is that I played a club in Europe that had a bad piano. I could always have something in tune if I played the vibes. A second reason, I mentioned, is that I could get up and move around a little bit, which I like. I don’t like the sitting position so much. And the third thing, of course, is that I really could see the rhythm aspect better. From playing the vibes I learned that the piano is really a percussion instrument for the most part. It really affected my piano playing. For two years, after the first cherry thing, I stopped playing the piano, to get rid of these classical licks. When I got back to the piano, I found that I could translate what I learned on the vibes to the piano. For that period, I only played vibes. There’s no piano track on the ESP album and none on the Milestone ( “Tune In” ’68 ) album either.

BG: Back to the history. Do you remember your first time being at Artist House?

KB: I think it was when we played that festival. Ornette lived upstairs at Prince Street. We went a lot there, in the late ‘60s. He had people coming over all the time. That’s the first time I met Leroy [Jenkins] and a lot of other people who’d come there. And we were playing pool. He had a pool table. Always on the weekends there was a bunch of people there. Ornette even recorded some of his records there. 

BG: Friends and Neighbors.

KB: Friends and Neighbors, right. And That Friends and Neighbors feeling was exactly what happened in that period. Basically, we were there every weekend, and also some weekdays. I really sort of studied with Ornette. Not officially. He has a way of talking that is like harmolodic talk. He does exactly what he does in music. He’ll say a sentence, then he’ll use a word in the middle of the sentence to start another sentence, and do that two or three times in one sentence. So nobody understands at first what’s going on. He says everything he wants to say, but it’s sort of shortened. And that’s how he plays. He plays the same way. I remember once he asked me to bring back from Europe on of these Uher tape recorders. They were  5 inch reel recorders, made in Germany. He wanted me to bring one back. In order to remind me, he sent me a telegram the day before I left Germany. The telegram said all the words, except in no order whatsoever. So it was like a puzzle. You put the words together and it would say: “I would appreciate if you would bring back with you Uher Recorder,” but the words would be all over the place.  As soon as I had figured that out, another telegram arrived. It was the same words, but in a different order. The purpose of that was possibly that you don’t forget. There’s no way you forget. There’s no way you forget that, right?

Artist House, in addition to that festival, had a concert series where Dollar Brand was playing,  Jimmy Garrison, and others . But I really don’t know much more about Artist House. It was not really very long. Ornette got pushed out of that building.

BG: I never quite understood what happened.

KB: It was mostly racial. They didn’t want him in the building. Ornette was one of the first ones in Soho, converting lofts. He was one the first ones living there. Then other people began moving in. And it became fashionable. Four or five years later they pushed him out. They found a reason. They found a way. It was warfare in this building. People wanted him out of there. It was racial, but it was probably also sound related.

BG: I had heard stories of people harassing him by dripping water down from the ceiling. 

KB: He was really harassed. From there he went to Rivington Street and he rented a schoolhouse. And there he got really robbed and beaten up. It was terrible.

BG: He must have been the first black person to move into that neighborhood as well?

KB: No, but it was an empty schoolhouse.

BG: At that point that whole neighborhood was pretty poor.

KB: Yes. There were wholesale stores.  

BG: During the day. And at night it was dangerous.

KB: It was a drug scene. He was alone on the last floor of an empty schoolhouse.  

BG: I find it interesting that like some, he comes out not bitter. Maybe being successful helps? How did people like Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor come out of all of the hardship they went through?

KB: I wouldn’t be able to answer that. These are three very different characters. 

About Anthony, he is one of those guys who remembers everything and follows through on everything. There are two situations I had with him recently. We played on the same festival in Switzerland. He came to the concert. We had a sextet (with Ingrid, Steven Bernstein, and others ). He came up and said to Ingrid and me, “I’d like to record with you. We could do that in the summer.” That was two years ago. Then he called recently. Two weeks later he was here. We recorded all day.  He left the same evening.  He was like the easiest, outgoing guy you could think of. 

As he left, I said: “Anthony, this trio is nice. Would you consider playing at a benefit for CMS at Symphony Space.” He said: “yes, sure.” And I asked: “Would you like to play some of the themes we recorded here?” He said: “No, let’s play new stuff because you need more material.” As if to tell me to take this music and put it out. I said “fine, let’s do something else.” When the day came, he drove from Middletown to the City to do this concert. We played 35-40 minutes. He got back in his car and drove back to Middletown. But he was there. Like no further communication necessary. He’s very methodical. He’s a very methodical guy.

BG: It seems like he organizes a lot around his students.

KB: In Switzerland he was with a nine-piece band of his students.

BG: They are incredibly lucky to have him. Where else could students have this kind of experience?

KB: Anthony lived here in Woodstock when we started CMS. That’s why he got so involved. He was one of the first and involved teachers here.

BG: How did CMS come about? At the beginning of CMS, it was you and Ornette?

KB: When I came here, I started this “Young Audiences” program, playing for twelve year olds. At the time, in the 60s, they were completely open to sound, no matter what sound; totally open. I knew, and experienced right there again, that stylistic entrenchment in the music wasn’t necessary to follow in terms of building your own idea of what you want to do.

BG: Your vocabulary.

KB: I heard that John Cage was leaving the New School. I wrote them to see if they were looking for another course in improvisation. He didn’t call it improvisation, of course.

BG: Right. Indeterminacy.

KB: He wanted to avoid that. He never wanted to get ID’d with jazz.

BG: Did you ever talk to him about that?

KB: Yes, of course. 

I was surprised that the New School said yes, so I started teaching that class there. On the way there—I had no clue what I was going to do—I said “that’s good. It’s about improvisation.“ And as I was driving there I started to make plans. I said: “No plans! Go into that class and improvise.” 

BG: How did you find college age students? I know it was the New School.

KB: The New School at that time wasn’t like college now. It was a collective of people who were playing music from different points of views. One guy was classical who wanted to improvise. Another guy was a guitar player who played in a rock band who wanted to come. Everybody came for a different reason. So when I had everybody play to see what levels they were and ask everybody why they came and so forth, it turned out that everybody had timing problems. It was very obvious that nobody could keep time. And I had played with Don Cherry a piece called Gamala Taki.  These were syllables that came from the Mideast; they were part of the North Indian tabla language also. And I devised a system right then and there. Let’s divide rhythms in odd and even syllables and play them that way. Accenting syllables in that way. This was 1967. From there came the idea that maybe we should have workshops. I thought, let’s have workshops where there is no talk about style at all. You don’t use any words that relate to style. You just work with what is the common basis of what is any kind of music. That was my main question.

BG: Who coined the term creative music?

KB: That was Leo Smith. He had a creative music orchestra. We started without knowing that. I came up with it I guess. We had an office at Carla Bley’s and Mike Mantler’s  Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Association on Broadway in New York, so that’s where we started. And I met Leo and he said yeah, I’m using that phrase. I asked whether it was ok to use it.

BG: He coined that for the AACM.

KB: The AACM was using creative musicians.

BG: In my own music department, I proposed using the term creative music. People took enormous offense at the notion that everything else was not creative. I said that this is not the point; or that it’s a little bit of the point about rote vs. non-bounded music.

KB: it can’t be used as a category of music. That would be wrong. We’re talking about the creativity in music and the process of music, no matter which music. 

BG: There’s a six-year gap between 1967 at the New School and CMS.

KB: In 1968 my second daughter was born. We went back to Germany. I took a band back to Europe. I took Alan Blairman, Albert Ayler’s drummer. I really liked his playing.  It was the closest I could hear from Blackwell’s playing. Between ’68 and ’71 we played mostly in Europe. Bassist Peter Kowald complemented the group.

BG: Did you still have an apartment in New York?

KB: Yeah. We kept the apartment. In Weehawken, New Jersey, right across from Manhattan Manhattan. Lee Konitz lived downstairs there. 

BG: So in 1971 you came back. 

KB: I came back and talked to Ornette about forming a not-for-profit, because I had learned from Carla Bley and Michael Mantler about the whole grant system and how it worked. And it was pretty good back then. They had this orchestra going and it was supported. And they had the Watt record label. And all of it was built on this not profit idea. And I said to Ornette: “That’s what we should do.” I like to teach in the spirit of this music.  At the time he had this quote where he said: “Rock, Jazz, Classical, these are all yesterday’s titles. It’s really all about personal expression”. So I said: “Ornette, would you consider getting it going with me?” He said: “Yes, but I want to stay in the profit work. You do the non-profit, I do the profit.”

BG: What was James Jordan’s role in this?

KB: He (Ornette’s cousin) had just come from California at that time. I just met him there. He played a big role later because he became director of the New York State Council on the Arts. He’s a wonderful guy. 

BG: You were in New York City?

KB: In New York State.

BG: You had at least a paper organization at that point. When did you start doing things? Was it 1972?

KB: Yes. Before we had left for Europe in 1968, Marion Brown had brought us up here (to Woodstock) and introduced us to several artists who lived up here. When we came back in ’72, we said: “let’s drive up there.” We weren’t going to live in the City with two kids. So we drove up here and rented a little place. I was getting ready to teach at the New School, commuting from up here. But the New School didn’t have enough people enrolled. So I started a workshop up here at somebody’s house here. That was the first unofficial start. The real official start was in 1973. 

BG: The workshops were during the year? In the Fall?

KB: That was the Fall.

BG: When did the summer ones start?

KB: Summer started later. Our problem with the summers was that the facilities that we rented… first we worked out of our house. We rented a barn. There was things going the year round; there weren’t any concerts yet. Then in ’74 we rented what is now called the Zen Mountain Monastery. That was at the time the Lutheran Youth Camp and they used it in the summer so we could only have it in the Fall and Spring. So we only had Fall and Spring sessions in ’74 and ’75. Then in ’75 we went to Boulder Colorado and did a session there at the Naropa Institute. It came about because we had recorded some of Trungpa’s texts. Ingrid had used some of his texts at the Peace Church in the Village. We did a series of 15 or 20 concerts at the Church. Everybody played: Dave Holland, Bobby Moses, Frederic Rzewski, Richard Teitelbaum, Garret List… everybody who was teaching there. 

BG: Did you do something at WBAI?

KB: WBAI, yes. 

BG: The Kitchen? 

KB: The Kitchen, yes. That was the John Cage story we started talking about.

BG: When Garrett List was programming?

KB: We did that when Garrett was there, but we did something earlier when Rhys Chatham was there. 

[Getting back to how the workshops started in Woodstock…] So, in ’72, we rented a house in Woodstock from Eileen Marder. 

What happened was… it’s like the funniest story. She rented an apartment in Woodstock that formerly belonged to Bernard Stollman, who started ESP. She sublet. She found all these ESP records. She saw my picture; they were like black and white portraits. She said to me the other day: “I saw this LP with his face and said ‘he’s cute.’” And she went into town to shop and she a paper I had put up; we wanted to do some workshops. She thought: “didn’t I just see this name on the record?” She called me and said: “I’m going to rent this house starting this month; you could do the workshop there.” And I said: “ok.” Then she organized the workshop and then the following year when we rented the barn she moved in with us. She became our first administrator. 

BG: I spoke with Rhys in Paris, about three years ago. One thing he said was that there was a strong feeling in the founding days of The Kitchen, on the part of some of the musicians who became connected with it, that black musicians have jazz clubs to play, and their small circle wasn’t liked or invited to play at Columbia, so they had their own place that was going to be for their own music. The outcome of that earlier on, as it was in the Electric Ear series and Automation House–except for one show involving Leroy Jenkins and Anthony Braxton in 1970, there was a sense of very bounded kinds of lines down there. It wasn’t explicitly racial. It was more about genre, although it had racial implications. 

KB: Sure.

BG: It was like: “ok, you can play Slugs or later, you have Studio Rivbea.” And then Garrett List comes along and started inviting a wider circle that included black musicians. 

KB: We already worked with Rhys. But that had to do not with really having this jazz orientation. It was probably something with Frederic Rzewski or Music Elettronica Viva, because I played with them too. 

BG: In their New York incarnation. 

KB: The Italian one. We recorded in Rome. Steve Lacy was part of it as well. 

BG: We’re talking late 60s at this point. 

KB: That’s ‘70s. In Rome, probably even later, like’74 or ’75. I think Garrett didn’t start there until ’76 or ’78. When Garrett was there, we did a bunch of things there. He was CMS trained. He was there (CMS) from the beginning. He even became one of the CMS program directors for a while. I had different people program different things. One of them was Roscoe (Mitchell). I liked different people programming.

BG: And they would program around their own interests?

KB: For example, starting in ’76 we would have two Summer sessions, early and late. So the early session would be run by an artistic director. Roscoe would be one of them, or Leo. The second would be more world music oriented, run by Steve Gorn or by somebody.  So we had different  artistic sub-directors. We also had a program director, Jim Quinlan. I didn’t want to be in the middle of that kind of work. I’d give a bunch of names to him and he’d come back to me and say: “there are these other guys that I want to bring in.” I’d say: “sure.” So it was pretty nice like that. I didn’t have to do the actual programming work. I could just really focus on what we called Basic Practice. 

The basic layout of CMS programs unfolded early on into three stages: 

One was Basic Practice, the fundamental question what’s common to all the music. So we talked about rhythmic training, about overtones, about tuning. Things like that. The Gamala Taki Rhythmic Training developed there and was a central practice each morning, led by myself and Ingrid Sertso.

Second, the afternoons, would be ensemble work, guided by the artists who would alternate from week to week. 

Third, the evenings would be about the participants making their own music. They divided up into sessions of their own choice, their own ideas, compositions, songs etc.

All of this would result in two concerts weekly: Participants’ concerts on Friday and Guiding Artists concerts on Saturday.  We would record both of those, and listen to them Monday. Then on Tuesday the next Guiding Artist would come in.

BG: The ensemble work would be conducted improvisation?

KB: The ensemble work would be whatever the Guiding Artist wanted to do. Let’s say Jimmy Guifre came in it would be more traditional. When Anthony would come in it would be big white and blue schematics. So everybody would do something else. There was no rule to that. As a matter of fact there was a lot of contradictory information from week to week.

BG: That’s the good news.

KB: Some students would come to me after a couple of weeks and say: “I can’t handle it.” I said: “Well, you might have to come back a year or two later.” It was not for everybody. Some people said it’s not structured enough. I replied that they missed the point. We were not a school, per se. That’s why we called it a studio. It was an experimental place, where people would study as well as experiment. Basically it was about experimentation. That’s what it was about. And it was about basic information about music, period. No genre. The Gamala Taki practices, or the tuning practices dealing with harmonics; the eminent role of dynamics; the definition of consonance and dissonance. I continue to deal with these fundamental issues in every workshop, and with my Improvisers Orchestra In New York, which is actually an orchestra of young (and young at heart) professionals, not students. We are fine-tuning the concept of collectively playing from the heart, from the ear, not the head.

BG: When did you first start doing conducted improvisation?

KB: 1973.

BG: Had you been in settings where you were a performer being conducted?

KB: No. We invented all of that. Leo Smith, Oliver Lake, Anthony Braxton. Each of them developed their own thing. There was no special method developed or anything like that. Spontaneous conducting developed at CMS to my mind. If you ask Frederic Rzewski, he’d say Cornelius Cardew started it. I wouldn’t know. 

BG: Frank Zappa did some. My teacher up at SUNY Potsdam, Donald Funes…

KB: We’re not claiming any…

BG: There are particular flavors of how you shape gestures, how you direct groups…

KB: Yes. I’ve developed a kind of conducting that I’m still using now. Basically, it deals with range, with lengths of notes—short and long—but it deals mostly with dynamics. And with the personal input of the participating players. The shapes of their ideas. Primarily, it is about dynamics, timbre, touch, the sensibilities that harmonizes the sound. Any sounds. You don’t have to worry about having to change notes, in order to harmonize the sound. That is really what I am into: infinite dynamics that one can feel and blend.

BG: That one sounds very Ornette.

KB: I’ve never heard him say it like that, but Ornette, to my mind, was the first to realize what he now calls the Sound Grammar. My experience is two-fold. One is if you hold a note and you change the chords to that note, you have to change that note ever so slightly. There’s no such thing as an “A”. It’s all context. You have to hear it. You have to get sensitive to that. That’s a lifelong practice. You can go from there. You can say that any sound can get tuned. You just have to get really focused, really sensitive.

BG: I’d like to go back to Cage.

KB: One thing that Ornette said when we got started. I suggested that the first thing we needed to do was form an advisory board that showed the breadth of what we wanted to do. So he asked me to contact Buckminster Fuller, Willem DeKooning, John Cage, Gil Evans, George Russell I think. A very diversified group of people, all over the map. He wanted to show through that that it wasn’t about jazz, it was not about a certain kind of music. So, I talked to all these people. Buckminster Fuller was fine. DeKooning I never reached. Gil Evans was fine, George Russell, even Cage.

BG: Did you go over to his apartment?

KB: Yes, I went to his apartment. On Bank Street, West Village. I went to John; it was sort of a basement apartment.

BG: Did he feed you a macrobiotic lunch?

KB: No. It was an interesting conversation. He said to me: “Well, you know, I really don’t like jazz. But I like Ornette.” That’s what he said. So I said: “ok, that’s fine with me. We don’t use the word jazz. We don’t need it.” So he signed up.

BG: What about the word “Jazz?”

KB: We didn’t go that far in the discussion. I know he had this famous discussion that’s written up in George Lewis’s book. I know about all that stuff. It’s a political thing because I think in Europe Stockhausen and those people were protecting their turf. That’s a million dollar turf, a big turf.

So Cage came up and he taught at CMS. Did a colloquium. We have texts from him. Then he came to one of my Kitchen concerts. After the concert it was too conversational for him. The style I play is conversational oriented. I talk the way I play. He said to me: “If I want to talk, I’d rather use language.  I’d rather speak, with semantics.” I said: “it’s the opposite with me. If I want to talk, I’d rather play!” That was the end of our conversation. 

He said something very interesting that I just read a couple weeks ago, in one of our papers, which will show up in the oral history project we are doing. He said: “When music is really getting into a difficult time, there’ll be such an abundance of musicians turning up.” And that’s exactly what’s happening now. Music is in a difficult situation. And there are not hundreds but thousands of musicians turning up. Every week I’m getting an emails from young professionals, who want to join my Improvisers Orchestra. When I ask the orchestra members, they sometimes haven’t heard of them. There are so many new players in New York, improvising players of all instruments, who don’t even know each other.

BG: People turning up are ones who are familiar with the vocabulary or the traditions or not at all?  People I’ve met through the “free improvisation” scene in Boston, for instance, have never heard of the AACM or CMS.

KB: Yes, but they are always eager to know when they do hear about them! 

BG: So, are you getting people who would know Ornette’s music and know Braxton’s music ?

KB: Yes, most of the people I talk to do. But there are a lot of kids on the student level (next generation) who’ve never heard a thing and just do it. Its in the air. Expanding improvisation in many forms and styles is what is called for now and in the future. 

~ by bobgluck on April 10, 2023.

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