About two weeks ago, I interviewed trumpeter and composer Arthur Brooks for a profile that ran in today’s issue of Seven Days. Brooks studied music at Antioch College in the late 1960s and later worked with two pioneers of what was called the New Music, or free jazz, movement: pianist Cecil Taylor and trumpeter Bill Dixon. It was Dixon who brought Brooks to Bennington College in Vermont, where he taught for nearly 25 years before retiring in 1997.
Our conversation spread out over decades - from the October Revolution in late-’60s New York to Dixon’s death earlier this year.
As these things often go, I couldn’t include everything in my profile of Brooks. Luckily, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I can include a few of my favorite excerpts below. Enjoy.
On music as an art form:
“There are basic questions that I feel have to be addressed if you’re trying to do music as an art - as an art form. And that is basically, what is music? Where does it come from? And that’s personal. For me, that’s a personal pursuit. There are spiritual and philosophical aspects of it, and that to me is what the finest music manifests - those deeper areas. It doesn’t matter what form. It can be classical, it can be country, it can be folk. If the person doing it has a certain amount of integrity and you can hear that soul element, that’s what does it for me. I’ll listen to heavy metal if those people are tapping onto that basic core….”
Explaining why he describes his music as “country” music:
“Go down to the lake. Look at the water. And listen to it. Listen to what you see. God, up here in Vermont you’ve got these mountains that have their own shapes and rhythms, and along with the rest of everything else going on…. One of the exercises I used to give my students was for five minutes a day, no matter where you are, stop, focus all of your attention here [points to ears] in what you hear, and let it extend your hearing as far as you can. And let it absorb it, be aware of it. Go to the woods, go to the lake. “
On his mentor Bill Dixon’s involvement in the October Revolution, a protest of clubs by free jazz or “New Musicians”:
“Bill was also the architect of what was called The October Revolution…. Its design was to boycott all the clubs and festivals to get a better deal for the New Musicians. [John Coltrane] was a part of it, Cecil [Taylor] was a part of it…. Again, the model had already been set by the post-Modernist painters in New York. When they - Rothko, Kenneth Noland, [Robert] Rauschenberg - couldn’t get their work into regular galleries. They said, “Okay, we’ll pull our stuff out and we’ll make our own galleries.” And they kicked ass. [Laughs] They made it happen. Of course, they had some very wealthy patrons, too. We never really got that.
On playing with Cecil Taylor:
“I was kind of intimidated with playing with Cecil’s Unit, because the music is so high, so technically demanding in a certain kind of way, at least the rehearsals were, but when we got on the gig, it was [makes a “takeoff” sound and motion with his hand] pew! Cecil’s sets last for an hour, two hours, and I said, “I don’t know if I have the chops for this.” And it would be this whole universe of sound open up, and you’d be there watching yourself play and the horn is playing itself, and Cecil’s just in front of you, behind you, on your side, above you [makes more sound effects, like Cecil is zipping around him while he’s playing], just urging you on…. And we’d finish and you’d think, wow, you’ve been playing maybe 10, 15 minutes - maybe 30 - [but it was] two hours. And you finish and you can’t say anything because you’re so high. It’s amazing. And every single time I’ve played with Cecil, it’s been that way. … And that’s what I aim for. That’s what I want, is to reach that state where the music is just revealing itself. To me, at its best, that’s what you do: You become the instrument. You put yourself in position where you become the instrument.”
On where he believes the music comes from:
“I probably come from a Sufi concept of what sound is: That sound is one of the elements of the soul, that it’s the connection between heartbeat and the soul; that music is a very other-dimensional manifestation of being. I think that’s why it moves us so much, because it transcends us. If one can believe that - even if one doesn’t believe that the heart is propelled by something other than massive chemical reactions - that the heart is connected to this stream of energy that exists, that stream of energy, to me, is music. That’s why I love nature so much, because that’s a more authentic stream of energy, a less man-made stream of energy.”
I interviewed Mike Gordon and his engineer/producing partner Jared Slomoff recently for Vermont Public Radio. My segment focused on the making of Mike’s new album, Moss. You can listen to it here.
I drove out to Mike’s that day, which is way out in the woods of Vermont at the top of a hill with a crazy, winding driveway. His wife, Sue, answered the door graciously and explained that she and Tessa, their daughter, were on their way to the library. (Tessa was shy, of course.)
I climbed a few flights of stairs to the top floor, which is a rehearsal space and recording studio where Mike and Jared do a lot of their work. The majority of the space is a large room shaped like a half-moon, which Mike call the Round Room. Ancient cypress wood lines the walls and a series of large windows show the trees and hills outside. It’s very Vermont. At one end of the studio is the control room, an intimate little space Mike calls The Nook.
The three of us talked for about 45 minutes about the process of making Moss, whether there’s a difference between Mike’s creativity in Phish and in his solo career, and how every time they finish an album they drive around Manhattan blasting it in an expensive rental car with a killer sound system.
You can read the entire interview at State of Mind. I plan to post it here as well.
PS - Jared and Mike made this video about the making of Moss. It’s a great compliment to the interview.
I wrote a profile of Ryan Power for the 11/17 issue of Seven Days. Power’s talents are near-legendary around Burlington, Vt. He’s an incredible guitarist - though he hardly plays anymore - an original and highly confessional songwriter, a karaoke performer, and in-demand audio engineer and producer.
As part of my research for the profile, I emailed several people who have worked with Power over the years. I wanted to hear what they had to say about what he does and how he does it. Though I could only use two short quotes in the piece, there were so many detailed recollections and kind, honest praise for the man that I wanted to include some more of them here.
Burette Douglas, The Cush
We played at a party at Brett Hughes’ old apartment in Winooski. We didn’t know anyone there except Brett, but the place was full of people. I think it was Creston [Lea] who introduced himself and we got to talking, then Ryan wandered by and he joined up in the conversation. Ryan and I really started to hit it off when we started talking about recording music. Recording is a real passion of mine and when you find someone else that is into it, you could talk all night. Which we did. At that time he hadn’t yet released his first album. So we were all pretty new to town.
A little later we were still working on rounding out the band. We knew that Ryan could play just about any instrument so we asked him about playing keys for us. He said that sounded good. Over time he ended up playing keys and drums for us.
Ryan is a superb musician, he really knows music from the inside out. He knows all the technical parts as far as reading music and such. But he goes 100 percent off of vibe. He is so much fun to play live with. He really gets into it.
He quit playing with us full time once he released his first album, but we continued to play with him in Rock ‘n’ Roll Sherpa and he would sit in with us on drums from time to time. Although he didn’t play in the band, he was still like a member in the band. He mixed New Appreciation For Sunshine as well as The Lonestar Chain album. He has golden ears, and has such a natural knack for mixing music.
We always bounce ideas off of each other and can talk for hours about recording. He is one of my favorite human beings. Truly a humble genius.