Friday, July 31, 2009

On Interview Music

A term that's come up in this highly intriguing and informative discussion of grant funding for jazz is "interview music." Coined, as A Blog Supreme states, by an unidentified colleague of Mulgrew Miller, it seems destined to be a disparaging phrase.

For me, as a composer, I suppose I write a certain kind of "interview music." The majority of my tunes have a backstory, whether it's a tribute to someone, a piece based on poetry or art, a tone poem for a place or life experience, or even just a certain set of musical challenges I set up for myself. That backstory keeps me focused throughout the compositional process, which can sometimes drag on over a long period of time. When I look at the tunes I'm writing now vs. tunes I wrote four or five years ago that were purely tunes - no story, no nothing, just musical ideas - both the end result and the actual process are much tighter with the backstory tunes. As a listener, I find pieces that come from a specific musical or extra-musical place - e.g. DJA's "Transit," Maria Schneider's "Hang Gliding," Don Byron's "Himm," Geoffrey Keezer's Aurea, Dave Douglas' work - often more immediately compelling.

I sympathize with the point that's being made - music composed under the banner of projects, suites, cycles, oratorios, and other lofty terms, with heady influences recognized and loved by traditional arts-funding agencies, are what tend to get the money. Whether the end result is technically and formally a suite, song cycle, or Hiphopketball: A Jazzebration is sometimes besides the point. John Murph and Joe Phillips raise another valid point, that the use of hip-hop, r&b and broken-beat influences by Black jazz artists is somehow less "jazzy," less "academic," or less "interview music" than the incorporation of rock (indie or no) and various indigenous and folk musics from around the world. Certainly, the role of electronics in modern classical and jazz pieces is generally closer to the world of Subotnick than J Dilla. I wonder if Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's Suite for Ma Dukes would have garnered grant funding.

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