Steve: Continuing some of the conversations we have had in the past, talk to me about your thoughts on jazz.
Ed: Historically jazz has represented hipness. There was always something new and exciting. If you listen to the great musicians from back then, there is something exciting you can get from it. That’s why people still listen to Sonny Rollins or other older musicians. They hear something that you can’t replicate.
S: Do you think that’s gone now?
E: Basically. Even the people who weren’t doing fully developed bebop still had something super exciting, like Charlie Christian. Everything he does is so musical and original to the style and his instrument. As time went on, we have somehow lost that and got into the acrobatics of it. Although I will say I definitely enjoy being able to show off what you can do on your instrument. It’s fun to shred. But there’s something very self-absorbed about it and when it gets too cerebral.
S: What are you talking about when we talk about jazz? We have discussed how the word is super big and that Miles Davis would be found in the same section of a CD store with Sun Ra or Matt Mitchell. When you talk about the freshness of jazz disappearing are you specifically talking about people trying to replicate an older style?
E: When I’m talking about the word jazz, which has multiple definitions, I am talking about the form/tune-based jazz. Not just from the bebop era but more noticeably what a lot of the musicians are doing now. It’s not that I want to distance myself from that, but I find that sometimes it can get very repetitive, and since I didn’t grow up playing that music, I find that I can’t do it authentically enough to pay it respect. Something I value a lot is the compositional aspect of playing music and not playing the same thing over and over again. Nowadays you can ignore the song and just play again and again over a form and then play the melody again when you’re done soloing. The average jazz track now is 6-12 minutes and maybe a minute of that is the written song and the rest is just playing over the form and kind of showing off your shit with no reference to the melody or the song.
S: So why is it, do you think, when we say jazz that we are really tied to this older conception of jazz instead of continuing what Amiri Baraka talks about with the spirit of jazz? Why does it feel like we haven’t carried on the social context of jazz but instead just the form-solo-form aspect and tried to homogenize the history into something benign?
E: I think it has to do with academicization. Jazz loses its social essence when it comes into an academy like it is now. People that are playing that stuff today still sound like what they were making then. A lot of has lost its tracking as far as innovating new things. People have focused too much on studying and not creating.
S: So, what does the creative process look like for you? How are you trying to go against this or just totally steer clear and just do your own thing?
E: I came up playing in rock groups where you lock yourself in a room for 3-4 hours and write music collectively. One of my favorite things is playing in Secret Mall, and we also don’t have a leader. We don’t sit in a rehearsal room and write together, but we show up with music and then we all workshop it together and it’s still definitely collective which is something I value. When leading a band, the other people matter just as much as you and I don’t see the reason that someone should be highlighted more. Getting to the question I guess, the way I approach this is steering away from jazz. I am listening to different music and I’m trying to do my own thing. I’d say the state of jazz is kind of sad right now. On the average night you can play jazz anywhere in the city and play to 10, 12, 15 people at the gig at most.
S: Not that any of us were there, but how is any of that different than the downtown movements or the Fluxus stuff? How many people do you really think were coming to their shows?
E: Not a lot. And that’s fine if that’s what you want to do. I’m not criticizing. But for myself, I don’t want to play rooms of 3 people. A semi well known indie band can play for 1000-2000 people nightly and still not a lot of people know them. But for a very well-known person in the jazz scene, the top thing you can do is play the vanguard for a 150 capacity and hopefully the occasional festival.
S: So, would you say one of your main drives is audience enjoyment and experience?
E: Yeah, I don’t need anyone to think what I do is great, but I just want people to enjoy it at least at a superficial level. If you want to have an audience as a composer or performer you need to extend an olive branch to the listener so they feel invited to come listen to you, and that means making music enjoyable at a superficial level. The challenge is then to make superficial music also satisfying to you as a composer or performer that has some meaning. But it needs to be approachable in the first place. I am also not saying that one approach is better than the other, but just that I myself want to have an audience.
S: Yeah, it’s clear that you’re not making any quality claims.
E: Honestly, I could care less who sounds good or who sounds bad. The best example is Kamasi Washington. Jazz musicians talk about how he can’t play.
S: Yeah and people are at his shows.
E: Most people say he doesn’t exactly sound good but he’s doing what he wants to do and enjoying himself and being successful at it. That’s the most you can ask for. If that was me in his place, I would be fucking happy. I would be doing what I love, and people would enjoy it and that’s cool. Critics shouldn’t compare him to certain musicians the way they do I don’t think, and that’s where the problem is. This is all just my current outlook and it might change in a few years who really knows.
Ed and I made an electronic track together.