Interview with Nate Wooley
Nate Wooley, recipient of the FONT commission in 2007, is among the most unique, creative and powerful trumpeters in the world today. He is a busy musician, with a full touring schedule, a steady stream of gigs in New York and a long list of albums in his discography. His newest, (Put Your) Hands Together, features a set of new compositions for his quintet, and is out now on Clean Feed Records. Hands Together is essentially a jazz album. If you are familiar with Nate’s music, you know this isn’t normally what he does, but what could have sounded like a musical shotgun wedding instead sounds natural and compelling.
All of Nate’s work has a very personal feeling to it, but Hands Together sees this approach turned in different direction. All of the pieces are dedicated to all of the important women in Nate’s life who have raised him, influenced him and supported him. Nate mentions how the album is an answer to his roots in jazz and big band music with his father when he was growing up. The band is made up of musicians with whom Nate has known and worked with for many years: Josh Sinton on Bari Saxophone and Bass Clarinet; Matt Moran on Vibraphone; Eivind Opsvik on Bass and Harris Eisenstadt on drums. So, the album has layers of personal significance, and his words about this in the interview reveal some charged personal feelings. His ideas about the album are an important look at his musical personality, and tell a great deal about him as an artist.
We also talked about Nate’s ideas about playing the trumpet and how he feels that his music came into its own. The key, for the Nate, was to stop trying to play in a way that he felt he was supposed to, and instead to play what he was interested in hearing. The idea is simple, but given the way that music is transmitted from player to another, can be hard to put into practice. We don’t merely collect a set of techniques and stand in front of the audience to put them back together again and call this music. We are emotionally and intellectually connected to the ideas behind the music, and for some musicians, finding a personal foundation for the music, a reason for playing, can be the most challenging obstacle of all. Nate is a musician who has struggled with this issue, and continues to struggle with it. His music is a fruit of this labor.
One other memorable part of the interview was Nate’s relationship to what he considers the tradition of the trumpet and how defines this tradition in his life. We talk about the idea of the “trumpet revolution”, as I have with Brian McWhorter and Jeff Kaiser, where we have to confront the idea of tradition. For a trumpet player deeply involved with the playing of the instrument on the fringe of the field, Nate’s has often been challenged by the idea of tradition. Many players reference the traditions of their artistic practice to prove the legitimacy of what they do, to give it context and added weight, but this an approach that Nate has intentionally avoided.
Nate is wary of trying to fit his influences, and himself, into any kind of lineage and he is wary of trying to define a music that defies categorization. He is very conscious of the players who have come before him and is very earnest in his praise of their music, but at the same time is hesitant to put any of these players into a “lineage”. For Nate, his music is the result of the path of individual experiences that he’s had over his life. These times spent listening intently to recordings, attending concerts and conversations with musicians are what could be called a “tradition” for Nate. They have provided a personal frame of reference, unique to Nate, that gives a foundation to the music that he plays.
But, even with all that said, it’s not that simple. Nate is also very clear in pointing out that his music is also intrinsically linked to his personality. He talks about asking audience members at his performances to right next to him. At the last performance of Nate’s that I saw in New York, with Paul Lytton and Ikue Mori at the Stone, Nate sat in a chair right next to the front row, as if his was just another chair in the row. This is further evidence of his commitment to “letting in” the audience, as he puts it, to an experience that is unique to Nate. To Nate, this is the most valuable thing he can offer, and it is his goal as a performer.
Enjoy the interview, Nate is an articulate and thoughtful person, and this interview, done just after the release of Hands Together, catches him at an interesting time. I won’t call it a new chapter in his career, but certainly a step in a new direction that broadens his previous work through its contrasting approach.
Douglas Detrick: I wanted to start focusing on your music and your approach to your instrument. I first heard you play in a workshop you gave at the University of Oregon; you played a very short solo improvisation. I won’t try to describe it too much, but I remember it very clearly. You played quiet sounds on the instrument that I’d never heard before, none of them were conventionally played notes. I’d heard some people play music like this before, but it had never had such a direct impact on me. It changed things for me. People have told me they think that your playing skips music and goes straight to emotion. By this they usually mean that it bypasses the constructed concepts of music, like ideas of genre, or harmony and melody, and goes directly to the manipulation of affect or of emotion, or at least the direct manipulation of sound.
I’m wondering how you feel about this idea. Do you feel that your music is emotional? If so, how are you emotionally involved with what you are doing? If not, could you describe through what means you are familiar and involved with your music. It would also be interesting to know if things change for you when you are actually playing, in the moment, and when you are away from music, either just thinking or listening to someone else’s music.
Nate Wooley: I think I’m most interested in playing honest and direct music. Maybe a better way to put it would be that I only want to play music that is intimate in the sense that I give the audience something that is very interior and personal to me. That can be perceived as being emotional, but I think there is a lot of emotional music out there that achieves its aim by running some sort of “emotion algorithm” having to do with density, volume, extra-musical techniques that may have widespread nostalgic connotations. I’m not interested in that. I want to hear people make music that I think is only one step away from a sort of true inner voice. For example, I think Axel Doerner plays very honest music. For him. I like his music because I think there is nothing there that is contrived to get a specific response or to follow an ideological path that is outside of him somehow. I don’t think that his music would be called “emotional” in conventional terms though.
As for my music, the idea of working as far from genres or the idea of melody and rhythm came more out of personal neuroses and dissatisfactions that have nothing to do with music than any attempt to create something emotionally satisfying for an audience. I grew up learning just like everyone else, maybe more obsessive in a way. I started buying jazz records seriously when I was 12 or 13 and did what I was supposed to do, learned everything by rote, memorizing in all 12 keys, trying to completely ape a particular style. In that way I was extremely involved in genre, rhythm, and melody. I started realizing though that a lot of the players I was reading about and listening to were, at best, people who had maybe found a slightly different path through a set of language or a different way of finding a solution to a particularly knotty musical math problem than the people before them. There’s Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, people like that who defined a very personal language, and then there are thousands of people that are just putting embellishments on that language. Adding an “um” here or a “absolutely” there to make the syntax seem different, but the basic meaning was the same.
Something about that (and maybe it was because I was coming to that conclusion at a time when I felt especially raw about “safe” music and the way music is sold in the media) made me depressed. Since then, I can’t say that I’ve been very successful at getting all of those influences out of my playing and I’m realizing, really just in the past two years, that it’s okay to let those things play, that the amount of music of other people that I’ve listened to is as much a part of me, and in some ways more of a part of me than any articulated aesthetic that I’ve come up with about trying to be singular in my approach.
I guess that’s where I am now in relationship to my own music. Rhythm and melody are slowly becoming valid expressions for me again as I find something in myself to express through them and gaining enough confidence in my trumpet playing to try to work in that area again. Genre is still a problem for me that I am working through slowly. I don’t know, as of yet, if I’ll ever find a way to work specifically within genres or styles and be personally satisfied with the result. That’s just me though.
So, that’s a certain answer. The other answer to that question of if my music is emotional to me, is this. Ultimately, I’m an extremely shy person, probably to an unhealthy level. I don’t feel comfortable around large groups of people unless I know the majority of them very, very well. I’m usually insanely nervous around any woman for example. Playing solo, especially, is my one chance to let people in to myself, really, without any kind of struggling to put on a certain public face for business purposes or to maintain a certain sense of civility that I would like to put forth. I’ve said it out loud in certain solo performances recently, but I like people to sit right up next to me, to be right in front of me during the performance. Not so it’s uncomfortable for them, but because it’s uncomfortable for me and I am really learning to love that anxiety, but also I get a real feeling that I am with people and can become close to them that easily. When I am in that kind of situation, I want to play the most honest and direct music I can in hopes that in the 30 minutes that constitutes that performance I can reach out as much as possible, knowing that afterward, I’m probably going to be back to my old self, staring at the ground and feeling skittish.
DD: Its been said that the more one talks about a thing, especially something so complex as music, no matter the form it takes, one gets further and further from the actuality of the thing. It seems like your talking about a type of experience where emotion is only a part of the equation.
When you are performing this way, trying to “let in” the audience to this experience that you’re talking about, how do you know if you’ve achieved that goal? It seems like a “perfect” performance with this goal in mind might be hard to achieve, if not impossible. So, is this an achievable thing? And, how do you know if you have done well in this respect? What is fulfilling for you in this exchange with the audience? Talk specifically about what a “good gig” is for you.
NW: Well, the idea of “letting in” the audience and that connection has nothing to do with how I judge a performance. I don’t make music with that feeling of connection in mind as a goal. What I said is more of an explanation of that specific idea of playing “emotional” music and why it may be perceived as such.
The concept of what constitutes a “good gig” for me is tricky. I don’t usually go into a performance thinking about that sort of thing. It’s too subjective and too relative. For example, a good performance for me with Evan Parker means something very different to me than a good performance in the duo with Paul Lytton. Because I’ve only played with Evan a handful of times I feel like it is a positive gig, and this is just thinking technically in a way, when I found some new way of communicating with him and with Chris Corsano (the drummer in that trio) that doesn’t lean on trying to just bring raw energy to a group that already has enough of that. The duo with Lytton however has a totally different set of parameters that, at this point, I couldn’t even begin to articulate to myself. I don’t mean this in some sort of alchemical or mystical sense, but it just feels like a good gig or feels like a bad gig. If I had to differentiate every gig in that way, I would go nuts, and I’m already a little predisposed to obsess about if I’m doing well or not, so it’s best for me not to put too much energy into that sort of exercise, when the energy can be put to better use.
I guess if there was an answer to that question of what constitutes a “good gig”, for me anyway, would be involved with the fact that I choose to play this music specifically because it holds a possibility of constant growth. That’s what really excites me about improvising. So, if I’m really honest about that and try to live within those parameters, then every performance is part of a greater body of work that extends from my first dance gigs with my dad in a big band to the last time I get up in front of people and play before checking out, whenever that may be. I try my best to look at it that way and not get hung up in striving for an individual ideal for each performance as much as trying to recognize what I can learn each time. I guess if there has to be judgment, (and don’t get me wrong, I’m not so naïve to think that I can float above the idea of good and bad in my own music making like some magic ray of enlightenment, I am as subject to it as anyone else), then I tend to be more disappointed with shows where I feel like there isn’t much new for me to get out of it for practicing the next morning, or for the next gig.
DD: You are certainly known for pursuing a form of music with a high emphasis on sounds that are not considered part of the western heritage of the trumpet, “non-traditional sounds” or “extended techniques” as they are often called. You just finished a recording session with the Nate Wooley Quintet, and after hearing your compositions for this group a few times, I hear a lot more traditional jazz playing in this music than I’ve heard from you before. Its very interesting music to me because I still hear very clearly your personal musical voice, and you’ve created a context for jazz improvisation in this music that really suits you. There is room for both bebop inspired playing and non-traditional playing, and you can and do move seamlessly between these worlds, often in the same breath.
Could you talk about the ideas behind this group and your compositions for it? Would you say it’s a new chapter for you? If so, what has moved you to go in that direction?
NW: The quintet is a tough one for me. On the one hand, it comprises four of my favorite musicians on earth, Harris Eisenstadt, Matt Moran, Josh Sinton, and Eivind Opsvik. I think all of these guys are able to move seamlessly between bebop or contemporary jazz and sound worlds in a way that makes perfect sense, and for that reason I love the quintet. I think, though, in regards to the group in terms of my own playing and the compositions (especially as it references some sort of feeling of jazz tradition), I am constantly on the precipice with it. I don’t really have any desire to start up a dedicated career playing modern jazz. I feel like jazz is only a part of who I am musically, if I’m totally honest with myself. That being said, and relating to the above question about playing honest and direct music, it would be a lie to deny that part of my heritage. I grew up playing in a big band with my dad. He took me to buy jazz records on my 13th birthday which still feels like a huge milestone, like being let into a secret club in a way. I still listen to as much Charlie Shavers and Ornette as I do Walter Marchetti or Prurient. To stay away from playing time, or playing jazz harmonies, or just with a straight tone would be like disowning my musical parents in a way, and that’s not something I’m willing to do, obviously.
The quintet record, called Hands Together, is a couple of things. It’s mostly a thank you to the women that raised me, my mom, my wife, my grandmother and all of her sisters (the Albertson sisters, my great-aunts). It’s also a nod and a thank you to my dad who has always wanted me to just make a record where I am playing notes in time with a rhythm section. There are tracks on the record where I’m out and out playing changes with no extensions, no substitutions and no extracurricular sounds. Those parts are for him and for my mom who also would like to hear a record that doesn’t sound like “breaking glass” as she puts it. So, it is primarily because of them, and because I feel strongly about the women in my life that the idea of even attempting the project came about, and I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been to actually do something like this and put it out there with Clean Feed and play with the other four guys as much as we get to.
About the compositions on the record, technically speaking, they are all based on certain sets of ideas that were abstracted from jazz tunes. I don’t really feel like I’m up for playing head/solo/head and like I said, there are other folks better at it, so each tune is taking some specific idea and expanding it out. Pieces like Elsa or Cecilia use specific tunes or chord changes and abstract the form or harmony to create a different composition. For example, Cecilia is one chorus of Charlie Parker’s confirmation changes spread out over 9 minutes with Matt and I playing the changes at our own rates during our solos. Elsa is based on the tune Lazy Bird, but with turnarounds that push the changes into an unrelated key for each of the sections of the form. Other tunes have more to do with some of my other listening, but are distilled through a jazz lens in someway or another. Pearl is an homage to Stuart Saunders Smith and his Links series for Vibraphone as played by a vibraphone led version of the classic “piano” trio. Erna was written after listening to Reich’s “drumming” for a whole tour of Poland. Hazel and Shanda Lea are both coming more out of Appalachian folk music than anything else, but I think they are all being approached as if they are fodder for jazz composition as opposed to anything else.
After saying all that about my own troubled relationship to jazz history (and it is completely my own), I don’t feel like the quintet is over or that this is a one-off record. There’s a lot of thought going into the quintet going forward, it may just not be as overtly jazz oriented as it is now, but I’m still interested in the idea of looking at some ideas through that jazz lens. I go through phases where I’m upset about my own playing in that group, or I think the composition could be tighter or slightly more interesting, but that is another neurosis. I have a commitment to myself and to these guys to really try and figure out what I can do that is the most personal and what we can do as a group to build an identity that we all feel good about.
DD: Your jazz playing is really interesting to me. It doesn’t sound forced, though it does sound like you have a different relationship to the tradition, one that’s built on an exploration of the parts of jazz playing that appeal to you, and that suit you, and not worrying about the rest, but also doesn’t ignore fundamentals of jazz improvisation style. Though, you talk about being “on a precipice” with playing jazz, and your role in the group. Maybe this feeling is part of what makes the music interesting? Obviously the group and the music is very important for you, on a musical and personal level, and confronting this level of discomfort with the music is also important in those same ways. How has confronting discomfort with certain elements of music affected your creative process? What advice might you offer to younger musicians with similar concerns?
NW: I think the discomfort with jazz that we’ve been talking about comes from years and years of listening to it, understanding the lineage and the importance of the history of jazz to a lot of people and realizing that there is a certain amount of pressure that I apply to myself to fit into that history and what I perceive as a set of rules relating to jazz. It’s much easier to relax when there is only a vague concept of historical context in the music you’re making. In that case, which I think is the case of the music I primarily work in, there is less of a sense of having to “measure up” against not only your peers, but thousands of trumpet players before you.
A lot of the things I do now come out of an inability to make something physically happen on the horn. That may be the most tangible example of a feeling of discomfort affecting things. I went through periods of having a sound that I hated, having a very limited range, with no flexibility and only okay articulation. I felt like I had to move into areas like timbre, density, differences in volume or velocity, etc. to get a point across, because I couldn’t consistently do it with such a limited ability to access the traditional technique of the trumpet. So, because of that, I developed a love for things that are more raw or overtly vocal, as well as concentration on micro-detail within longer sounds, and I think those things define more of my language now, because they are natural to me and feel honest, even though I feel more like I’m in control of the trumpet.
As far as advice for a younger musician with similar concerns? It’s tough. I don’t know what works for other people. For me, I found that my music started flowering when I stopped reading about music (specifically music media, biographies, magazines) and cut out buying and listening to records because someone I don’t know told me I should. I stopped thinking I had to be defined a particular way, like a jazz musician or even just as a trumpet player, and just started dealing with trying to take the music I was making out of anything but my own frame of reference. That definitely includes trying to sidestep jazz tradition, but also a certain standard of technique and feeling of expectation, both my own and what I perceive the audience’s to be. For me, that was one of the scariest and perplexing things that I’ve ever done, but now I think it was worth it to at least put all that stuff at a certain distance for a time and make music that feels much more personal.
DD: How do you see your music in relationship to the tradition of the trumpet? I’m thinking very broadly about the tradition of the trumpet: from its beginnings as a signal device to the many ways that the instrument is played today. I’m curious if you have given this question much thought, and when and how. Do you think about this when practicing? When performing? Do you identify with a particular lineage of trumpet players? How has your thinking about this changed over time?
NW: I try not to think it about it all that much, although the above answer might seem to the contrary. I have had people write about it in that sense, and maybe that has affected my playing in a certain way. I went through a phase when I put a lot of thought into what Brian McWhorter calls the “historical contextuality” of what I was playing, and I found that I tended towards either a journeyman approach that meant playing stylistically correct for a specific gig, or to strive to play as close to completely outside of the traditional context as I could, meaning to always play something brand new, to think outside of what the trumpet is meant to do, or what has been done already on the trumpet. I found both of these ways of thinking pretty damaging to the actual music I was making, so I stopped thinking about it and started concentrating on the music I was making at that moment, be it in practice or performance and how it was working with the group, etc. That doesn’t mean that tradition doesn’t come up, either positively or negatively. I still have moments that I realize are coming straight out of Freddie, or Lee Morgan, or Ed Harkins or Leo Smith, or moments that are dealing with the horn in a classical or pre-classical context, but they just happen with less of a conscious effort on my part.
I don’t really consider myself of a specific lineage. There are the players I admire, but I admire them because they don’t belong to a lineage no matter how hard you try to cram them in. Players like Herb Robertson, Paul Smoker, Rob Blakeslee, Ron Miles, Franz Hautzinger, Axel Doerner, Bill Dixon, Jon Hassell, Mark Charig, Henry Lowther, Kenny Wheeler, Leo Smith…..where do they fit in a lineage? For me, using players like that as a starting point to a lineage, or thinking of them as truly individual voices is more interesting than following the same path of Armstrong/Eldridge/Gillespie/Brown/etc., but again, that’s just my specific take on things and is utterly subjective.
DD: You said you “stopped thinking about” the historical context of your playing. How did you do it? It seems like this is a really common stumbling block for many musicians.
NW: First of all, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m putting forth a dogma. This is just the way I’m thinking about things. I don’t think there is anything wrong with dealing directly with the history and tradition of the trumpet. That can be a tremendously powerful direction. Look at people like Taylor Ho Bynum or Ron Miles. They have dedicated a certain part of their playing, to my ears anyway, to exploring and bringing that tradition into the 21st century. It’s just not in my nature to do anything more than admire that lineage from afar.
That being said, the idea of historical contextuality, especially jazz tradition, is still a stumbling block for me. It’s a process not an aesthetic certainty, and it’s not necessarily something I think I will ever achieve any consistency with, to be totally honest.
There are two things at the center of the process though. One is being open to what I can learn by continuing to attempt to listen critically to every little bit of music I can find. I truly believe that almost any piece of music, no matter if I like it or not, or whether it fits into a certain set of aesthetics that I subscribe to, has some aspect that can be appreciated and used in an abstract way to inform your own music making, improvising, composition, thinking. The other is this idea of making honest music that we keep coming back to. Practicing and thinking about music right now for me is a process of accretion of materials and language followed by jettisoning of everything that doesn’t feel right or true to me as an artist. That doesn’t mean that I turn my back on all that music, it leaves its mark on my playing because of the time, even if it’s brief, that I’ve spent thinking about it or working through it but, just like in the quintet where certain ideas are consciously being filtered through a jazz aesthetic, all of these abstractions from listening to different musics, looking at art, reading books, generally just trying to really pay attention, then gets strained out through a filter that is less defined by genre or historical considerations and more related to my own personal frame of reference.
DD: The internet and all the associated developments in technology have changed the way music is being made by pretty much everyone involved in the last ten years or so. Do you feel that trumpet players are affected by these changes in any particular way? I don’t mean this in a purely technical sense, but also in terms of how we are able to present our music to the people who may be receptive to it. How has the change in technology affected your music? Do you feel it’s any different to trumpet players than to other musicians?
NW: Speaking personally, I don’t know how much the internet has been a tool for me. I have done some work in the past to get my music up on the internet in hopes that it reaches a wider audience, but it’s not something I concentrate on anymore. I’m by no means a Luddite, but I have a heavy attraction to the ritual of the object when it comes to music (as well as with books and movies). I need the CD or LP in my hand and to sit in front of the stereo with it for that first listen while reading the liner notes, looking at the art work and just experiencing the music fresh. I don’t like downloading things if I can help it, and so I don’t actively put things up for download unless someone asks me for that specifically. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, I just am very specific about how I like to experience music.
However, one of my favorite things about being a musician is the amount of discourse you can maintain with other people. I like talking to writers and musicians and audience members and that activity would be much harder if we couldn’t contact each other via email or facebook or some kind of apparatus like that. I know that the internet has been very good to me, as far as getting music out into places that I would never expect, and I have definitely taken advantage of the ability to get information on music that I would never be able to just walk into a store to buy, even in New York, but I think there has to be a balance in there somewhere between the dissemination of information and music via the web and the ritual of the musician and audience exchanging the musical object in the form of a CD or an LP.
Does it mean something more to trumpet players? I don’t know. I guess there are trumpet boards and sites where people talk about their practicing, but from the ones I’ve seen it tends to default to the kind of talk that I try and get away from….equipment, specific technical concerns mostly having to do with how high and loud you can play and who’s better Marvin Stamm or Chuck Findley? That being said, for every 10 sites like that, there is a person like you or Brian McWhorter talking about making music on trumpet specifically. I find that interesting, so I can’t simply discount the whole apparatus.
DD: Maybe the meaning of the musical interaction has changed. To a lot of people the kind of interaction you’re talking about, a live performance and exchange of a physical LP or CD, has become nearly obsolete. This is more true in the mainstream music world; I feel like players in your scene haven’t moved this way as much because of the immediate and personal nature of the music, but it seems that the trend is here to stay. Do you think this has affected the value or the nature of the relationship between the audience and the performer? As someone who is a bit weary of the role the internet plays in music, is this something you feel you have to deal with, or to confront?
NW: Really, in that sense, in the way that people interact at concerts, the face to face nature of what we do and the passing of objects back and forth from artist to audience member, etc., it hasn’t really changed that much for me. In some ways, the ability of the internet to be a marketing tool, which is the very reason I have such a strong negative reaction to it, is an upside for the amount of personal interaction at shows because you can effectively and easily get word out about upcoming performances, new recordings, etc to an international audience without having to temper your personality through a pr firm. I don’t think that would be as possible in a world without the internet and for that I’m thankful. However, I would hope that the quality of interaction isn’t that much different just because the audience is starved for something live or, like me have a connection to a physical object. I couldn’t say that for certain, but the hope is that you connect with people in a certain way because that’s what you do and not because of a hole that has been left by a certain set of technological advances. I have a feeling that is a naïve thing to say, but the part of me that has retained any sense of idealism still hopes that two people can make some sort of meaningful connection that isn’t centered around social media or the internet.
DD: How do you feel about the idea that we are in the midst of a “trumpet revolution”? As I’ve been doing these interviews (with Brian McWhorter and Jeff Kaiser so far) I’ve learned a lot about players who have come before that made and are making unconventional music on the trumpet, so I don’t really subscribe to the idea, but I feel that the question is still useful. There is certainly a tradition of unconventional trumpet playing out there, if you know where to look. So, do you feel there is a significant, perhaps revolutionary, development occurring in contemporary trumpet playing right now?
NW: No one talks about it being a revolution until it’s essentially over. If people are working on their music then it continues to grow and change at its own rate, just because it is being made by a creative individual that wants to always move forward. Once someone says that it is part of this thing or that thing, then the impetus is there (which didn’t exist before) to recreate and work within the set of parameters defined by the label, perhaps longer than one needs to, so that they can continue to conduct business at a certain level and be recognized as part of a specific group or generation. That’s really attractive. I want more festival gigs and newspaper articles, of course, so if I got lumped in with the new “trumpet revolution” and that provided more attention than I’ve, very thankfully, received than it would be very difficult and scary to try and work outside of those parameters.
I would think that if it was truly a “revolution” then it would affect the mainstream trumpet world more. Specifically jazz trumpet players. I don’t hear Tom Harrell or Terrell Stafford changing their playing, so if there is a trumpet revolution going on, does that make them reactionary? I don’t think so. It’s really tempting to get caught up in your little bubble and think that strange trumpet sounds are having an overarching worldwide effect on music, but I just don’t see any evidence of that. It’s still a subset of a subset of a subset. It’s a fantastic little subset and one that is getting more attention, which I’m really happy about, but I think the idea of a trumpet revolution is overblown a little bit, and I’m growing wary of buying into it. Once you start thinking that your little subset is something that’s changing the world, then you’re fucked. You stop making music. You start trying to change the world and no one is interested in that kind of openly articulated attempt.
DD: A friend of mine who initially suggested this idea was talking about this as a very local phenomenon, like the trumpet scene in New York is particularly exciting right now. When I wanted to ask trumpet players about this idea, for both Brian and Jeff it has brought to mind a long list of players whose influence has shaped trumpet playing. So, I guess the value in the question is that it really shines a bright light on the meaning of tradition to this vein, varied as it is, of music making.
The nature of this music is so often an intensely personal one. Except for a few exceptions, performances by these musicians are usually sparsely attended, and no one is selling lots of records. So, it seems the transmission of the music happens on an individual level. For instance, little of this kind of music is taught in schools. (Brian McWhorter and I, to note a great exception, had some great lessons where I would just improvise a piece or come with a technical concern about non-traditional playing and he was always able to offer really valuable advice.) Also, a concert experience can be incredibly varied from one musician to next, and even the same musician on different nights. You’ve said that your experience with music has been a very personal one, and you’ve found a way to make music that embraces this reality. So, the idea of a revolution coming out of such a particular scene does seem very paradoxical in that light.
I’m wondering if you feel that the way these musicians see themselves has changed over time. It seems that some infrastructure has built up around non-traditional music, like some of the festivals that are producing this music. Do you feel that the relationship to this tradition has changed? This could be for the artists, curators, press or audience, or whatever comes to mind for you.
NW: I don’t know how other people’s perceptions of themselves has changed based on the changes in infrastructure. I think the tendency is to take the environment you’re in (for me it is this environment of a certain amount of press and attention for people doing experimental music, the festivals that are featuring it, the people that are making it, etc.) and believe that it has and always will exist exactly as it has. I know that it won’t stay like that forever. It may get even better, it may get much worse and I can only hope that I adapt my perceptions of the audience and myself in a way that makes sense. I think that is probably what most musicians of this kind of music are thinking, although I wouldn’t want to speak for them.
Because curation, press, record labels, etc. all have a certain parameter of business, and I don’t know how much of that has to play into their thinking, I feel like I can only speak to the question of “relationship to the experimental tradition” from what I see with musicians and audiences. There is a much higher level of dedicated listening happening on both sides. I find that audiences are much more willing to be patient and experience a piece growing in an organic way then when I first started playing. Musicians seem to be more open to working collectively towards making a piece of work as opposed to thinking of a piece as a series of solo statements. I think, in general more musicians and fans of music are embracing a much, much wider set of musical aesthetics and that provides them a larger frame of reference which is exciting.