Archive for November, 2005
I had an opportunity to spend some personal time with the
great pianist and composer Billy Childs. He has a brand new album called
“Lyric” which features music from his Chamber group. Billy is and has always
been an identifiable force in the music, always foraging ahead in new
directions and never settling mediocrity. His firm commitment to wonderful
imaginative explorations continues to produce quality projects that keep us
floating in surreal dreams leading us with love down the path to ourselves!
LD: Whenever I hear
your music, there is something that is distinctively Billy Childs. How is it that people recognize your signature?
Billy: I don’t
know. You develop a sound over
years. I’ve been playing, like, 30
years. After a while certain things
appeal to you, certain know, I don’t
know, it’s hard to describe what my sound is technically.
LD: I can’t tell you
exactly what it is until I hear it myself. I recognize it, but do you recognize
a sound that’s your own?
Billy: You know,
not really. It’s like looking at
yourself in a mirror from another angle.
All of a sudden, you see somebody you don’t recognize. So that’s kind of the way it is.
I was doing this thing for Chris Botti, for his video. We did a shoot in Capitol Records. I got a chance to really see what I look
like. This was the first time I actually
saw myself from a lot of different angles, what I look like playing. I like the way my hands look. I don’t like the way my head looks. I was telling my son, when he’s playing, to
sit up. Then I see myself…. My neck’s all crammed forward, but Bill Evans
neck was crammed forward, too, so I guess it’s okay.
As a child I played basketball. In fact, I fancied myself a basketball
player…. But then, my parents sent me
to this boarding school for boys called “Midland,”
which is the name of my first CD. And so,
out of sheer boredom, I started to play, actually from listening to Emerson,
Lake & Palmer stuff. They had this
song called “Tarkus.”
Billy Starts playing…
LD: That’s lunacy music, right there!
influence of Keith Emerson is in a lot of my compositions. He has a real triadic thing that he does and
I copped a lot of that. Just the counterpoint,
LD: What is it that inspires
you to write such dramatic movements in your music?
Billy: Because of
the era I grew up in listening to music. I gravitated towards, the music that
influenced me when I was an impressionable age, like 13, 14, 15. This was music
that sought to solve the problems of the world.
This music was highly ambitious, highly dramatic and emotional and it
kind of relates to me, like, to romanticism in the classical era. Like Wagner
trying to write a five hour long opera that includes every element and he’s
scripting the opera, wanting to deal with the acting in it and all of
things. The point being, he was trying
to create large works that spoke to universal problems. And I thought of the fusion, especially in the
early 70s: Return to Forever, Mwandishi
with Herbie and Headhunters. And, like,
Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report.
These groups were trying to stretch forms to their logical conclusion
and incorporate electronic music in a way that made the music more dramatic, more
powerful and potent. So, this is the
music I grew up listening to. That’s
kind of what my concept is when I write.
LD: In the 70s there
was all this electronic music and all this fusion. I don’t know where I was in
the 70s. As I spend more time with the
music, Duke said there was only good and bad.
I say, good, bad and extraordinary.
I like the people who actually stretch out.
there’s a lot of jazz that’s good, like you said, especially the way that the
educational system is turning out really good players. There’s a lot more ways of learning how to
play jazz. So, a lot of time is spent
on the technical thing. But what you
miss in a classroom situation is that connection, like when you learn in the
oral tradition. Like a guy having you on his band and telling you what to do
and what not to do. What you gain there
is not systemized; you learn more in your bones. You internalize the music more and you make
the music serve what you want to express more, rather than playing, like, what
I guess you can play the same tune looking at a chart, but
if you’re in a band and playing the same tune, you’re playing the notes, but it
has a whole different feel.And that’s in a rehearsal, and then you go on stage and it
has an even other feel.
LD: And then the audience feeds you and that
would be a whole other feel. It would be
nice if the audience was participating.
LD: “In Carson’s Eyes”, It sounds like there’s so much
energy and wonder and dynamic in this song. You must see such a bright and
adventurous future for your son, Carson.
Billy: I hope
so. He has a lot going on his head. He’s 9 now. You know, when he was born, he
had these incredible eyes, these really big eyes, like saucers. And they’re like windows, you know, so I just
wrote a song called “In Carson’s Eyes.”
It seemed like a whole lot was going on in Carson’s
eyes. So I wrote this song.
LD: When you write, is
there a parallel universe that exists where all things are possible?
Billy: I guess. I laughed at first when you said “parallel
universe,” but that’s kind of an accurate way of looking at what I try and get
into when I write music. I try to depict
what I’m trying to express in a language that has no words but paints pictures.
Maybe the picture I’m painting is trying to be more perfect than the picture
that already exists in the real world, you know.
LD: What is the
essence behind Chamber music? I found myself enjoying the experience of the
music and it wasn’t until I heard the violins that the stigma of labeling it
classical popped into my head.
interesting you should say that because for a lot of people, there are certain
instruments that indicate an idiom. For
instance, if you’re coming from a jazz space when you hear, (Billy plays an
improvisation on the piano), or any type of listener, when you hear a violin,
you think classical, when you hear a harp you think classical. If you hear an oboe you think classical or a
clarinet, bassoon. But there’s a stigma attached
to a lot of instruments. So when you hear
a drum set, you may think jazz or pop or something. When you hear saxophone, you think jazz or
pop. So, a lot of the music that I’ve
been dealing with gets into this question of: What is chamber music? What is jazz?
What is classical music? As far
as I’m concerned, the fewer the labels the better.
LD: People who listen to music feel they have
to have some category to go to in order to find the music. How does this album fall into that?
Billy: It doesn’t
really. I never really paid attention to what the music would end up being
called. I mean, if you look at an atlas,
you have the state of California,
the state of Nevada and the state
of Oregon. You see these lines
that give you the shaped of California,
but if you drive to that point, there’s no line, there’s just the land. These
lines are imposed by man so that we can differentiate one state from another. The
line doesn’t exist except if you see a “Welcome to California
sign” so, that’s how I look at music.
LD: That’s a beautiful way to look at music. I
realized that the best way to enjoy the beauty of this music is to listen to
the album in its entirety with it being the primary focus.
yeah. I believe the most rewarding
experience, at least for me, as a listener is active listening rather than
passive. You know listening calls upon
you to use your own imagination while listening to the music. It can be more
rewarding than passive listening where you’re sitting in front of a TV set and
it’s telling you what to think and what to feel. They even have laugh tracks to
tell you when something’s funny. My
music requires active listening and I feel like that’s much more rewarding.
LD: It definitely does. And I’m all about big ears and active
listening, you know. One of the
tunes is called “The Old Man Tells His Story” but each piece tells a story so
does that mean you are the old man?
Billy: No, uh,
not yet. No, actually, I was thinking of
just two old men. There’s a song by Paul
Simon called “Old Friends” and it gives this really strong image of these two
old men who are friends, you know, and one of the lines was “sat on a park
bench like bookends.” And for some
reason, that conjured up in my mind the image of two men sitting in Central
Park, you know, kind of like sparring with each other, talking
about their life, you know and what it has been. So, maybe a young person comes along and the
old men start telling him stories about what it was like when they grew up,
when they were young.
LD: Each piece seems to relate to some aspect
of your life.
Billy: Or someone
whose life I’m just imagining, you know–a time or a place that I’m imagining. But I’m glad that you got the story telling
aspect out of the music. That’s what I’m
trying to convey. That’s what I feel:
music should tell stories. I mean, the
music that has affected me the most told me a story and had emotional peaks and
valleys and things that heightened the drama.
The drama of life was exemplified through the music. That’s what I’m trying to do.
LD: With all that we have to go through in the
world today, how do you anticipate people coming to your music and having the
clear mind to hear and appreciate its many meanings?
Billy: Well, I
would hope that the music creates a space and a place for people to go to visit
and just feel better about life. I mean,
this music is pretty. Much of my impression about the world and what I find
beautiful about the world, what we find beautiful about the world — the whole
group — you know. And this is kind of
the musical version of that and I hope people…when they listen to my music
can come to a place of serenity, can come to a place of hope and optimism and
beauty. That’s what I’m trying to….
LD: There is one
cover on the album, “Scarborough Fair,” and I did not even pick up on that
until ¾ of the tune was over.
like a big introduction. I do…. (Billy starts to play) Then you hear… (Billy plays again) The triadic things. You know, it’s like… (Billy plays once more) His April Touch, you know? There’s the triadic stuff. That’s what I’ve been into lately. They’re three-note chords played together as
a chord. Usually triads are thought of
as like chords that are major or minor, but it could also be chordal triads —
any three-note chord, basically.
LD: Exactly 3 minutes
into “Quintessence” you, Brian Blade, and Scott Coley just dropped into this
deep trio thing that really struck some serious jazz chords in me. It made me
exhale and melt into my seat.
Billy: It was the
solo section. That’s one of the parts in
the song where it just goes to a simple, idiomatic jazz ballad vibe there. The
rest of the song has a lot of counterpoint.
It has strings coming in and out and a lot of through-composed stuff,
but then when we get to a solo section we just go over the changes in a jazz
LD: If “Lyric” was a
movie, who would its star and what role would they be playing?
Billy: Wow. I don’t know. I love Meryl Streep. I love Denzel Washington. I don’t know what the story would be? I saw Denzel Washington in “John Q.” That was some of the best acting I’ve ever
seen. I was fighting back tears?
I don’t know what the movie would be about? But Denzel Washington in “John Q” and
“Glory”. And Meryl Streep in “Sophie’s
Choice”. Also, Candy Alexander, did you
ever see “The Corner?” Her performance
is unbelievable. She’d be another person
I’d like to star in “Lyric.”
sound, technique and old souls are a few elements that keep us grounded
in the rich history of the music. Wallace Roney puts together a fierce
team of burners and although their identity is maintained, you feel the
presence of Miles and Trane.
tsunami* of sound crashes and blankets our beings with a tenacious
fire reminiscent of years past. The quintets and sextets of the sixties
are alive and well only this time they are accompanied in 2005 with a
DJ who scratches and blends beats and sounds under, on top of and all
through the music.
Roney boys are kicking some serious ass and backed up by a rhythm
section that lives on the Autobahn. Out front tonight with Wallace and
Antoine, Azar Lawrence adds on more embers to the already flammable
peer to my left and see that the Jazz Bakery has some new art on the
wall. One of the most evident is a painting of Miles and Trane, I knew
they were here!
set is one tune right into the next. The ballads are long tone beauties
with mystical spoken word mixed in by DJ Val, creating a séance like
feel. “Brown Sugar, Brown Sugar, you taste so good”.
resolution from the ballad and straight into the deep, dark, scratchy,
vampy, full funk sound. From resolution to revolution with no
in the woods the cats are shrieking, the dogs are loose and the chase
is on. Screaming sounds exude from bodies. The fire is burning but,
there is no pain, only hedonistic elation.
a new millennium and the players of today are morphing the music to
higher heights and expanding the boundaries of jazz music to the outer
limits while still keeping tradition alive. The Wallace Roney band is
an exciting ride into the present and the future. Catch them when you
* (my appologies if the use of this word is offensive or insensitive. I truley do not mean it to cause harm or ill feelings)