Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mission statement

POP Montreal is far from my natural habitat, and while I ran into people I knew, it was more often the case that I made new acquaintances. It's been a while since I had to tell people what it is I do, and questions that came up from both the film score and improvising panels sparked some reflection.

Much was made at the improvising panel of genre-specific labels, and dealing with genre-specific traditions. I remember at Banff, Vijay Iyer asked whether most people at his master class would call themselves jazz musicians. Many, including Dave Douglas, adamantly did not raise their hands. Vijay later qualified it as being a musician who has intensively studied and dealt with the jazz lineage, and most raised their hands. I don't really have a problem with the "jazz" label, at this point. Jazz is the music I've spent most of my life studying, both officially and not. It's the root of how I've learned how to play my instrument, and how to think about music. My sense of groove, time, harmony, melody, phrasing, inter-band communication, development, etc. is all influenced by jazz. Maybe "jazz-trained" is a better phrase, the same way many musicians, whether they pursue the concert path or not, are "classically trained." Matana said on the improvising panel that she often tries to push against the jazz tradition; I endeavour to find my own little nook within the tradition.

Yet I understand the desire not to be boxed in by a genre label; not to be confined to only jazz. A fellow panel attendee asked me what music I would like to score for film. My answer was whatever the film required. If it calls for a jazz score, I'll be happy to compose in that vein. If it calls for more electronic elements, or a chamber ensemble, or whatever, I'll be happy to oblige if I have the requisite tools to do so. Obviously, my composition for any instrumentation belies my jazz roots and my other stylistic predilections, but I'm not limited to writing spang-spang-a-lang, nor do I really want to. I find my music, and the music I love most, sits at the apex of multiple styles and influences.

I have a complex relationship with the term "authenticity." In some cases, I demand it of myself and my colleagues. In others, it's the least of my worries. If I'm playing in an R&B band, I'm not going to load up my comping with dissonant extensions and blow bebop all night long. There is, however, an element of bebop and post-bop that's inherent to my improvising language, and so when I step out for a solo, it'll probably come through in some way. When Indigone Trio plays "Erghen Diado," I have absolutely no pretension that we're a Balkan band, and I have no desire to be authentic in that case. The tune is our canvas to paint on, and it just happens to be a folk song. I suppose it's the divide between my music and other people's music. I strive to make my music on my terms - music that is personal, and I don't really care which traditions it draws from and how loyal it may be to them. When I am involved in other people's music, though, I do my best to maintain my own personal character while devoting my creative energy to their ends.

My feelings may, and probably will, change in five or ten years, but this is how I feel now. I'm truly curious to read what other musicians think of their own creative roles and approaches. It always forces me to re-evaluate my own.

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