An interview with Gerry Hemingway

An Interview with Gerry Hemingway

Ted Harms

The intersection between ‘great player’ and ‘great teacher’ is rather slim. Gerry Hemingway manages comfortably to straddle both areas—his decades of playing and composing in high quality, highly productive, and challenging groups have given him tremendous skills and chops, but his interest and desire to share and educate is like the opening of a vault.

Gerry has been on over one hundred CDs—released by his own quintet or quartet as well as duets and other groups such as BassDrumBone. He first came to critical attention playing in Anthony Braxton’s Quartet from 1983 to 1994 and has had a long and fruitful relationship with numerous American and European performers such as Marilyn Crispell, Ray Anderson, Mark Dresser, Anthony Davis, Ernst Reijseger, and Wolter Wierbos. He has received numerous commissions, including a concerto for percussionist and orchestra and is collaborating with video artist Beth Warshafsky. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000 for his work in composition. He has led workshops for many years and from 2005 to 2009 he was at the New School in New York City teaching music history courses and leading an ensemble. Since 2009 he has been on faculty with the Hochschule Luzern in Switzerland. His latest release is by his Quintet titled Riptide on the Clean Feed label.

His website, with full biography, groups, discography, and recordings is here:

He was part of the 2011 Guelph Jazz Festival, but unfortunately, travel problems limited his engagements. Thankfully, he made himself available for a few questions about his new teaching position and thoughts on free improvisation and academia. This interview has been edited.

Ted Harms: Tell me about the Hochschule Luzern experience. How did you wind up there? Had you done workshops there before?

Gerry Hemingway: I’ve been working as an educator all over the world for most of my musical life; in fact, I gave a workshop right here in Guelph at one point. I’ve done workshops in all kinds of institutions and levels of education. It’s a fairly common part of a being a professional musician. I have always enjoyed teaching—I’ve been teaching since I was quite young but there have been long stretches where I haven’t done any at all and was focusing on composing and performing. I came, for various reasons, to Luzern several times to do workshops or master classes as they often have visiting artists and so I got to know the school in this way.

Between 2004 and 2009 I was working at the New School in New York City as an adjunct professor and I really got into it as my time there progressed, signing up for teaching more classes than I began with. I ended up teaching two history courses, running an ensemble, as well as teaching privately; but as adjunct jobs tend to be, it only pays for the time you’re in the classroom, and I was doing 30-40 hours prep for these lectures. I was acting like a full-time professor and I was only getting paid for one day a week. So, I was always keeping my ear to the ground, even though I had this work and was grateful for it, searching for other options that I might be able to find something more full-time or more of a real academic position because I felt I was suited for it. Part of what happened was that I had been, over the years, applying to numerous positions in Europe but never succeeded in getting any of them—I did a few auditions and got close on a few occasions. And then there was an opening for a drum chair in Bern—Billy Brooks the drummer that had been there forever was finally retiring from his position—but I was slow getting it together and I applied late, which disqualified me, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because Luzern heard that I had applied which alerted them to the fact that I was willing to move to Switzerland. What happened in Luzern was that there was an opening as a drummer [Fabian Kuralti] who had been there about 10 years died tragically of cancer. One of the members of the drum faculty knew me pretty well—I had used his drum set a number of times and we had many friends in common…

TH: Is that Fritz Hauser?

GH: No, Fritz never joined the faculty there as far as I know, his relationship with the school is that he’s like an adjunct, doing occasional workshops; same with Pierre Favre, who in earlier times was on the faculty, and still takes occasional students, as does Fredy Studer.

No, it was Norbert Pfammatter, a very wonderful player living in Bern. Norbert and the administrator of the school, Hämi Hämmerli—who I knew from my previous workshops and liked a lot and got along with quite well—were enthusiastic about what I could bring to the school. Although I was invited I also did a regular audition like all the other applicants and right at the audition it was decided that they were interested to have me take the position.

TH: They could even have coached the job description in your favour: must be born in New Haven, must have played with Anthony Braxton, must know Ray Anderson . . .

GH: [Laughs] To whatever degree that favouritism existed, it was in my favour, for the first time.  I applied for a job at University of California Berkeley and the faculty were pretty much dead set on Steve Coleman; then I did my audition and that caused a huge rift as half the faculty wanted me for the position. They debated this, believe it or not, for six weeks. I found out later it was a huge tumult in the department and in the end they went with Steve and he stayed there for one year. I probably would’ve stayed there and developed it. And that’s the position that Myra Melford ended up getting and she took the position in the next chapter. This was some years ago now and by now she’s developed the position and it’s worked out really well.  

TH: You’ve been tangentially related to academic institutions but looking at your bio, I’m not seeing any formal accreditation. This is often how it goes for the fine arts where you can point to your C.V. and a list of gigs or shows as experience; unlike most other departments where they want to see the academic rigor . . .

GH: I’m a street guy—I have a high school degree and that’s it. No undergraduate degree, I went to college for one semester, and mostly I audited a lot of courses at Yale and Wesleyan University, all on a graduate level, and did a tremendous amount of academic work, none of which I received credit for. Meanwhile I was making a living as a musician by age 18. I went to these colleges because I was interested; I got very involved in both institutions, literally to the point where people would think I must be a matriculated student at these colleges. [Laughs] Well it was the early 70s and things were a lot looser and more open ended and it wasn’t such a crime to do what I was doing. It was because I was making friends and having close relationships with these teachers to the degree that some of them I ended up playing with, such as David Mott and Abraham Kobina Adzinyah. I was studying South Indian Carnatic music and West African music at Wesleyan and then jazz composition & arranging and a little bit of film and a few other things at Yale. I even got involved with the Yale radio station; I was there all the time.

TH: Do you think free improvisation has had an easier path, academically, because it can slide under the avant-garde aspect as opposed to jazz? The whole concept of straight-up jazz being academic—there were a lot of schools that took flack for starting jazz programs, not only by educators saying there’s no room on a campus for this but also jazz musicians, saying this is not a thing that you codify, that you can’t point to a textbook and say ‘read this and you’ll know jazz.’ Further, have you found resistance from people saying that you shouldn’t academically be teaching improv as it’s a ‘street thing’ where you should be hustling for gigs as opposed to sitting in a classroom?

GH: This is an interesting and complex subject. To preface it in a way that you might agree with, to me, the 60s represented a massive change in the direction of music that we could put under the general banner of jazz and improvised music. Everything that occurred in the 60s really caused real change. It caused expansion, as well.

I think the next most notable thing that happened in the progress of jazz and improvised music—I don’t separate the two because I’m equally involved in both, I always have been; I’m a traditional player as well an open improviser, I do it all—including classical. Maybe that’s what you mean by avant-garde, that you’re referring to through-composed music and things of that nature; I’ve been very involved in that as well, so all of these things factor into my musical systems and I merge a lot of them in a lot of different ways.

So, I think the next rather remarkable change that happened is the evolution of a jazz and improvised music pedagogy because there was, as you said, a resistance at first, but now there is most definitely without a doubt quite a well infused system of jazz education. For instance, my son was in a jazz band in the 7th grade—which was offered as an alternative to orchestra music—so there is that aspect of jazz education. We usually refer to it as happening in the [American] mid-west but it actually happened everywhere or at least it spread from there throughout the whole country, to varying degrees to varying economies to various public school standards, depending on the resources of the school, etc. etc. And it was a pretty straightforward big-band jazz education with very little emphasis on improvisation, mostly on arrangements. But it did introduce to kids, to some degree, something that was ostensibly about swing, which isn’t a bad thing, even if they weren’t getting the more substantive information about its cultural context and the musical possibility of improvising.

But that’s where folks like me would traipse into a public school classroom, sit down, and give a little demonstration on this is how you do this, this is how do you that, and it turns their heads around and you show them what really goes on and how exciting it can be. I was really on the case of my local high school that they had never found the budget to bring in real artists—I said this is ridiculous; it’s great that you teach what you teach, it’s good and not a bad programme but you have to bring in the real people who do this as a life so that this has the possibility to inspire, this is what gives them a potential direction. It’s always an option in this situation that there might that one person in the room who decides to explore this because of these things. That would be a gift to them and totally worth the effort and budget. But my declarations landed on deaf ears unfortunately.

TH: I don’t know how the Swiss university system is doing but here there’s a huge cash crunch and universities are charging whatever they want for certain programmes, on the assumption that grads from that programme will be making more money than average. And what’s getting pushed aside in these times are the liberal arts, music, etc. Is the university environment in Switzerland any better? Are there worries about funding at the Hochschule Luzern?

GH: There are. It’s the same the world around with these issues, facing pressures, and shifting priorities. The European system does work quite differently—in Switzerland what we might refer to as a college or university, they refer to as a Hochschule [literally translated as high school]; these levels of institutions are publically funded by taxes.  So when a student goes there, they’re paying a relatively low cost. The other thing is that a student who goes to a Hochschule has gone through a fairly rigorous process and must have certain levels of education behind them.  Starting from when you were 13 years old, the most important of these levels is called “Gymnasium” and it’s one of the four or five different ways you can navigate through what we, more or less, refer to as the high school system. Gymnasium is that level of education that allows you to earn a “matura” which then allows you to eventually apply to a Hochschule. There are Hochschules of the Arts and the Sciences and then there are Universities that are in the Medical profession and maybe Law.

So, for a student to get accepted to a Hochschule, they have to be quite good. They have to go through a rigorous audition, more or less akin to any conservatory in the US. They also don’t go to a Hochschule until they’re in their early 20s and between gymnasium, or whatever education led up to their matura, they have to do military or social service. That service is a massive amount of time and commitment and they don’t stop until their mid-30s. They keep going back every few years and they do three months service. So, the social and academic worlds are quite a bit different [from North America].

The debate about funding, the support, and the health of the university system rests on the Cantons (sort of equivalent to States or Provinces) that underwrite the costs and set the student quotas of the Hochschule which our taxes are paying for and the taxes are steep. However, it’s a very different society—taxes appear to me to be actually worthwhile and you see the results of a living societal system that works. So, yes, every year there are debates about the funding and what should be cut or added. And one Canton is now talking about dropping out of our Hochschule’s financial base, which is a big event—it’s a conservative area in the heart of the oldest part of Switzerland—which could change the structure of things dramatically. So, like the rest of the world, there’s no security anywhere in any job, not even mine which is about as secure as you can get. I’m about to have what amounts to an indefinite contract, which is basically their version of tenure. It was agreed that I wouldn’t make the move unless I was guaranteed this.  So, [it was] a verbal understanding at first as there was nothing they could put in writing right away because of the system of immigration.

Immigration on its own terms is rough even though the country’s population is one seventh “auslanders” or immigrants—you have to fight to stay or have somebody fight for you. My school is, fortunately, in my corner and doing everything they can to sustain my longevity and the institution.

But as far as what goes on as far as the general concept of jazz pedagogy—this is a very interesting area.

I think a lot about the differences between what these students have as their background, in contrast to what I grew up with. They’re often coming into the jazz education more directed towards pop music for instance but in Switzerland, at least, a Jazz School like ours is the only real avenue of getting performance and pedagogical training that will raise them to the technical and musical level where they can make a career in music. There are some schools offering training in actual pop music standards and to some degree that’s in our programme, too, but the basic tenet of the programme of our school is based on its history as a jazz school, it’s actually 40 years old (as of 2012) and one of the older jazz schools in Europe. It was originally an independent institution run by musicians, a lot of interesting ones, some of whom are still involved, and in the last 8 or 9 years it got assimilated into this University structure. And that meant it got assimilated into the system of accreditation and it all works out to making things a lot more economically viable but it also brings up lots of issues like what is a Bachelor of Jazz Performance? What does it really mean? It has so little relationship to what I dealt with because there was no education like this when I was growing up, none at all.

I don’t know if you heard Henry [Threadgill] speak yesterday [at the Guelph Jazz Festival colloquium], I didn’t hear it all but one thing I did hear him say rung my bell loudly, I know exactly what he’s talking about—it was a story about when he went to Yusef Lateef to get some information about how to work doubling on the flute as he was struggling with it and Yusef just said “You need to work on it some more.” No specific information at all! Definitely, this is the old school way and I appreciate this way and I understand it and I understand why and also experienced lessons like that. I went to seek guidance and I got a lot of this nebulous no-answer guidance where I was left on my own to figure it out. And that’s how it goes, or it used to go. A kind of Darwin mentality.

TH: Here’s the woodshed . . . we’ll see you in three years.

GH: And keep working on it! [Laughs] Keeping working on what? I had to figure that out. It’s very interesting and that shapes musicians in a very particular kind of way. Now, there’s a lot of systemic thinking and a lot of ideas about how to provide the tools to students and it’s interesting to watch the players emerging as a result of a well-considered curriculum. With me they get the gamut—I address a technical foundation, a musical awareness, and as well they get a lot of guidance, they also get a lot of stories from me because I experienced the scene from the early 1970s so they get vivid snapshots, they get the language because I’m a native speaker, which they don’t get very much of in the European school system because there aren’t that many American teachers over there. They have somebody that can actually relay some of the essence and a lot emerges through simply speaking it in English and speaking it in a manner and inflection aligned with the music itself, also known as prosody.

TH: I would think teaching improv is difficult because you’re codifying something which is unique to you. Some people might be coming to you saying “I want to be a student of Gerry Hemingway.” Or be able to say that on their C.V.; but while they may want to be a mini-Gerry, you’re telling them no. It’s like that scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where Brian says “You’re all individuals” and the crowd replies, “We’re all individuals” except for the old man who says “I’m not.”  That’s the dilemma—you’re telling your students, 'you have to find your own way of doing this,' but yet, I still have to prove to the Dean that this test is valid and so on. There’s the accreditation process where the school has to prove as a whole that yes, we need to continue to be able to issue this degree because we’re doing x, y, and z, which is what the law says we have to do.

GH: These somewhat contrary streams do exist, I agree, and I think about it a lot. We are somewhat buffered from the larger workings of the Hochschule because the person who administers our department, Hämi Hämmerli, who is also a bass player, gets all these nuances, he’s very intelligent, and also open-minded to our suggestions and concerns. Having a bass player running the foundation of your environment is a very good choice! He filters out the unnecessary bureaucracy, so we can stay focused on our musical work. He negotiates for the principles we are concerned with and he’s thinking himself a lot about that. I find working with him very interesting and we often have very useful discussions about what we’re doing and how we go about what we do.

The three other drummers, whom I share the drum department with, get together fairly regularly, several times over the course of the year and hang out, have dinner and just sit and talk about what we’re doing; we show each other about the content of what we’re teaching the students. Two of us will have one student through the whole year, so we also compare notes.

Some of these students you end up simply talking to them more than playing and demonstrating, helping them try to sort it out, just giving them an ear and listening to what they have to say and in some ways you have to be very, very patient with unfolding the information . . . it’s not like you’re giving things away or you’re telling them all the secrets—if  that’s the case, then maybe I’ve blown the whole cover off [Laughs], but it’s more about trying to clarify things, seeing each individually and also trying to inspire them and to hopefully get them to really go for it. Some of them are trying to expand out of the Swiss music scene, to become more internationally oriented which I encourage, and I have to say some of them are really badass players that have real potential; I’m excited by it. They’re teaching me a lot, too; teaching, in my opinion, should ideally be a two-way street.

TH: That’s what others have mentioned about academic integrity. If you write a paper, you need to cite and credit those who have helped, but for musicians, you’re learning from everybody. You may be up at the front of the class, but all your students are bringing something unique that might twig something in you and then that’s something that you take with you . . .

GH: I listened to an interesting interview with Steve Coleman one time and he mentioned something that is very true for me, too, which is that he often goes for teaching things that he’s on the edge of understanding himself. I do teach what I know, that’s inevitable, but I’m also pushing projects and ideas and considerations and even technical things that are a little bit beyond my own grasp, things that I have not had the time to investigate in great detail. I do this on purpose so that I’m pushing myself and keeping myself on the edge. I also think that if we’re all figuring this out together, it’ll be a lot more interesting than me waiting for the student(s) to figure it out. So, that’s a different tactic and Steve does exactly the same thing. He says that sometimes he gets these very good questions about what do you mean exactly by this or that and the only answer is “Let me get back to you on that,” because he doesn’t know the answer himself. [Laughs]

TH: And that gets back to what is improv; there isn’t a book to read it and then you’re done. It’s the constant self-exploration, constant communal exploration, and yet to teach it, you don’t want lay it all down so that everyone comes out as a clone of you.

GH: It wouldn’t happen anyway, as I see it. Students who come to me that are primarily concerned with developing their skills as improvisers are basically learning how to listen and how to respond. I teach them critical thinking—how do we evaluate, how do we judge, how to think . . . I play with them, we record it, and sit back and I ask what do you hear, then I roll the tape again and I say this is what I hear and let’s compare notes and see what falls out—this is why I feel that this moment fails, it loses its tension, it’s tired, etc. and that’s my take. How did I come to this conclusion? Well, I’ve listened to a lot of stuff and I have a lot of reasons why certain things succeed and I gave example after example, composed or improvised it doesn’t matter, that shows me point A to point B to point C and how it flows and how it all works and engages beautifully.

TH: Do you have core texts that you refer students to? Is there something that you find yourself referring back to?

GH: Because of the language issue of a primarily German-based environment, I don’t tend to throw too many texts at my current students. When I was teaching history at the New School, then I threw all kinds of texts at them and for that I pulled on a variety of resources. But on the subject of improvisation, one thing that was really interesting for me, as a process, was I did a year-long workshop on Ornette Coleman’s music. I had seven musicians that joined the workshop and I asked the school to beg my indulgence, as I wanted to work with them for one whole year, as opposed to the usual half-year.

So I did a whole year with these guys and there was then time to go deeper. Ornette’s music is a fantastic vehicle to teach improvisation, there’s so many interesting things that it offers that are foundational tools to understanding the art of listening and the art of interacting and the art of communal thinking and the act of not-knowing, as in not understanding why it works and where it’s going but allowing oneself to trust and believe in the musical initiative of the moment. It’s a perfect vehicle. And these guys, they could see that they were enjoying the music and learning everything by ear. There were no lead sheets, they had to go home and listen to the recording, no transcriptions but they would’ve done whatever they needed to learn it. Come to class and then debate about how to play it because there’s never any one way to play an Ornette tune. He never plays it the same way twice himself!

Then we would listen together to one of his classic pieces, and I would ask how did Charlie Haden make that decision? How did Ornette seem to be making the same decision at the same time? How did that happen? How did they play together without conventional chord changes? There’s no chorus, there’s no bar structure either . . .

TH: Are you writing thoughts down and have a notebook somewhere?

GH: Not exactly in that way. It’s just so personal to the student that I’m interacting with because there’s so much about listening deeply to them and hearing somebody. The art of listening is partly what you teach by learning how to listen to your students, to find out who they are in all this. There are themes that are emerging and things I’ve been thinking about, though.

The thing I want to take on academically is history—it fascinates me. Both the teaching of history and the documentation of it. There are some holes that I’d like to fill in, particularly from my experience in the New Haven scene in the 1970s—which I know was a very rich and important scene. The musicians and the interactions—it was for me a very interesting crossroads for a lot of very fascinating and important players. And I happened to be there to witness the whole thing and be a part of it as well, but there’s no real documentation of it. George Lewis’s book [A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music] is inspiring in this regard because it really went the distance with the AACM—it found a way to do great justice and to provide us with valuable collected anecdotes and vivid, intelligent analysis.

I already have done a fair amount of work on this New Haven project. When I lived in New Haven, I was the [scene’s] archivist, a job that I just took on naturally as I’ve always been a collector of music, so I recorded hundreds of concerts. Those reel-to-reels are now sitting in a temperature-controlled environment in New Haven. There’s a grant I’m trying to get to pay for digitally archiving this stuff. There’s a lot of recorded documentation; not all of it is great but it would be interesting to make some of it available. And, I’ve been trying to think about how to do this and thinking it should go through a web-based archive so that these recordings could be available for investigation—have text about everybody and also video interviews with whomever I can track down from that time.

Interviewing is something I’ve been getting more and more into; at the school, I took on a little side job of being the person that interviews musicians that come to the school to do master classes and I end up doing one-on-one interviews  with them. It is eventually podcast and I do a written piece based on the interview and based on my own research.  [podcasts can be found here: and here] Sometimes I know them and sometimes I know of them but I don’t know them that well. Even the ones I know, I get more into their work than I have before and it’s fun to do a lot of detailed research on say, John Hollenbeck. It’s a lot of work, too, but I enjoy it. And I think it’s interesting for musicians to interview musicians—we think of things to ask that might not be thought of by others. So, I would like to do this with all the people that I can think of from the New Haven scene, who are still with us. We’ve lost a few but we still have many that are around. Bobby Naughton has some very interesting documentation, Leo Smith says he’s got some stuff in his archive—let’s just pull it all out and get it all resourced into one place.

I don’t know if it’d work published as a book but web publishing is maybe the way to go, the most logical way. There are resources to get this together, there are grants; Yale University might take up an interest because they’re a big part of the story—a lot of these folks went through Yale. Including me, unofficially! And gratefully I might add.

TH: Apart from all this, you need to keep gigging. The gigs help build the academic reputation, land some grant money, and keep you in good with the dean but yet you still need to hustle for gigs.  But showing up at a venue and saying I teach at the Hochschule might not get you a gig. I think in an article you said 70% of your time is spent on arranging the work and not actually working. So how do you balance the academic demands, which are very creative and very intense, and then you’ve got the gigs which are also very creative and very intense?

GH: Quite simply I work hard, I’ve always been that way. And now it seems somewhat exceptional even to me. I think, and I’ve said this to a few people, I’ve never worked harder than in my whole life at this point.

TH: And you’ve got several standing groups—your quintet, BassDrumBone . . .

GH: The quintet is a very big focus and it is massively important to me to get back to that particular project now. I’m returning to something that I have not done a whole lot of in the last 10, 12, 15 years.  But to create long tours, well a) the economy got difficult, b) the time to be able to do this while teaching, c) being a Dad . . . it just became too much, I couldn’t handle that part of it. But luckily, fortunately, I kept getting invited into things, and stuff happens between musicians and stuff gets generated, some agents were handling some things. So, I was continuing to play the whole time. I never stop playing.

TH: It’d be easier if everybody was in one city; at least then it’s easier, theoretically, to get together; but you’re in Luzern, Kermit Driscol’s in New Jersey, etc . . .

GH: Kermit, I must say, is an unbelievable musician. In my perception he’s crescendoing as a player, his playing gets more and more wonderful. I love him dearly, and I am so grateful for his generosity as a musician and well, simply put, he really plays his ass off in my quintet! I believe I have a great forum for him to do what he does and I believe he appreciates it, too.

The new guitarist [Terrence McManus] I’m working with in this quintet and other settings as well I met originally in a short-lived trio that Kermit put together some years back. There is something with his playing that is fresh both with where he is going and what he has assimilated. Perhaps he’s the next generation of players, breaking new ground and new navigation on an instrument that’s pretty hard to do that on. So, I’m enjoying it all a great deal.

TH: So how do you balance being off the continent, and perhaps off people’s radar, when you come back does everybody just want to talk about Braxton, even though it’s been 20 years since you were in his group?

GH: I deal with that by being extremely productive, recording-wise; I have a passion for audio production—I really enjoy the work even though it’s time consuming and detailed. I spent a year producing this quintet project. Not a year non-stop, but I spent a great deal of time getting comfortable with it first; I went through five pre-masters until I was satisfied. I’d take the recording to various people’s sound systems and situation—cars, homes—and keep listening to it until I was happy with what I was trying to do.  It was a delicate, very delicate, experience to get it to its proper end.

TH: Some people are giving up on the mastering process—whatever they do is going to get ripped to an mp3, played on crappy earbuds or computer speakers.

GH: I understand most people listen to music on headphones and I’m aware of that so I mix on headphones, just for that reason. But, to me, audio art is the real art to make a great sounding CD.  I have this advantage—the way I’ve been working more in studios is less from live tapes but multi-track, and I’m able to really create a good audio environment.

Another example of my production is this duet with Marilyn [Crispell], which was released recently on Intakt [Affinities], and there I think I also achieved some of my ideals in fidelity. Some of the initial tracks were okay, but not fantastic; however, I was able to mix and master that material and I think now it sounds quite wonderful and vivid.

To me, it’s really, really worth it to get a compelling sound, and to create a really engaging audio experience.

It’s very hard to describe to people what an adventure finding and buying music was back when I was growing up.  For me, nothing equaled the experience for me as a teenager of finding a record in a store that I had not a fucking clue what was on the inside, taking your fingernail across the plastic to open it up, the smell of the vinyl that poured out and putting it on a turntable, listen to the first crackle of the needle and just laying back. There was something so incredibly magical about opening up the record jacket, reading the notes and just engaging in the experience of listening.

I know that it goes over the head of a new generation that don’t or can’t possibly follow the richness of that, but I keep telling this story because I feel it’s important to tell it! To celebrate the experience of really listening to music from a recording. And I think it’s hard because the students now, they’re coming at the music from seeing it on YouTube, and they’re not even smart enough to go to these blogs that have these great rips of out of print LPs. I had a student that just wrote who’s participating in a workshop of my music this coming semester saying, 'I can’t find your music anywhere.' Well, you obviously have to get past YouTube and look a little further . . . !

TH: Which gets me thinking about the Walter Benjamin essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” On the one hand, the music is accessible to someone in the middle of nowhere—if they have an internet connection, they can hear your music. Which is great, but on the other hand, now it’s too easy and it loses something . . .

GH: Easy should be good, but somehow something has been lost in the effort made to find the music that has meaning to you. Then again it is what it is and it’s such a fast-changing game that I’m reticent to define what exactly is happening as I don’t really know. On the one hand, if I look at it from the model of what I grew up with, all of these things—the pedagogy, the interaction of music, the nature of cultural replication which is so strong in this time—the nature of reduplicating things with precision (what underlies digital technology) and often sanitizing it in the process—all of these issues are changing all the time.

I’m actually hosting a roundtable discussion about “Where is Jazz.”  I will be hosting a discussion about what goes on in the international community at this time. The panel has a lot of observant and well-informed guys; (Christoph Wagner (Germany/England), Enrico Bettinello (Italy), Bert Noglik (Germany East & West), Andreas Felber (Austria), Bill Shoemaker (US) and I’m curious about what they have to say in this context having observed and written about what’s happening for many years. It’s tied to the school so there’ll be an educational aspect—what we are doing, why are we generating a whole new generation of players that belong to a completely different system . . .

Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation is generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (through both its Major Collaborative Research Initiatives and Aid to Scholarly Journals programs) and by the University of Guelph Library.
ISSN: 1712-0624