a Free Jazz Genius
by Sergio Sorrentino - second part
Your album “Singularity” is a masterpiece. Can you tell us something about it?
For years I worked to find a way to play guitar with all of my fingers. At one point I just thought of myself as an American guitar player. So I viewed the tradition I was working in as not being a European classical on but instead an African and American one, and also of course and African/American one. And so I studied a lot of delta blues technique, ragtime, early jazz guitar and banjo and a lot of traditional African string music, made on harps, lutes and fiddles. I was also very interested in 20th century classical music and free music made by Coltrane, Cecil Taylor the AACM, Ayler, Dolphy, etc. And so my solo work is a synthesis of all of those thing filtered through my sense of invention, which I learned to trust through the long process of building my solo playing. Over the span of about 15 years those pieces revealed themselves to be actual unique technical ways of playing the guitar that also fairly easily showed the way in which I could improvise using them. Around the time of “Singularity” I abandoned the compositions, a couple of which I performed on my first solo recording “No Vertigo” (Leo 1993), and just used the techniques as the material for the solo music. So it became about how I played to determine what I played.
Free jazz and free improvisation are described perfectly in your book “Perpetual Frontier”. Why did you want to write a book on the improvisation?
I felt there has never been an adequate description of free jazz and free improvisation. Always those books that claimed to do that were histories or philosophies. It was as if it wasn’t possible to explain this music. To me, that was a failure that could be corrected. I started teaching in the 1990’s. I was hired based on my ability to explain these forms in language that was understandable. Since 2000 I have taught this material at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Over that period of time I developed the ideas presented in the book. In practical terms I wrote the book so I could record all of my ideas in it and use it for my classes. In artistic terms I wrote it to honor the music and the work made by all of us who make it.
You use both the electric and the acoustic guitar. How do you choose them for your projects?
I think mainly I choose them based on volume. I’m very particular about what an electric guitar is and what is amplified guitar and what is processed electric guitar. So the volume of each situation has to be considered by me in order to know how to approach it. I think playing through an amp is so completely different than playing acoustically, that I really have to think about what the group configuration requires, what do I expect to play etc. But from the point of view of timbre the acoustic just allows more. Think we either play the guitar or we play the guitar and amp or the guitar with the amp and with pedals. Each one is a pretty different instrument—at least they are to me.
.. continues thursday ...