Music and the Creative Spirit: Innovators in Jazz, improvisation, and the Avant Garde, by Lloyd Peterson

Scarecrow Press

©Laurence Svirchev

Music and the Creative Spirit Spirit is a set of forty-two interviews with prominent contemporary creative musicians. Two of them, Steve Lacy and Derek Bailey, died while the book was in process; the rest are active creators. Pat Metheny is interviewed twice and there is a collective discussion titled “Chicago Roundtable” with five members of the Peter Brötzmann Tentet. The first interview is with Fred Anderson, the middle interview is with George Lewis, and the last in the alphabetical listing is John Zorn. One can derive from this sample of names that Mr. Peterson (an American born of Japanese and Norwegian lineage) has interviewed a host of musicians from a broad variety of cultural, national and ethnic diversities.

Peterson’s interests lie not only in the music these musicians play, but also in the political, economic, and social issues that they contend with in the creative process. The interviews are arranged alphabetically, an organizational set-up that avoids chronological associations and is useful for a browsing reader, casual or professional. This arrangement also avoids the book being a compendium of gig-specific interviews designed for print journals.

With this kind of big-picture thinking, Peterson asked George Lewis to talk about the necessity to form the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Lewis was a good person to ask, for in addition to compositional, playing, and teaching work, his book about the AACM is due to be published in October 2007. Lewis, backed up by his academic research, is a great myth-dispeller, for he relates, “The standard histories of the AACM say it was designed to promote free jazz. No one [in the AACM] ever talked about that…People felt they were not in control of the venues and the circumstances surrounding the production of the music …So the necessity really was to assert control.”

Lewis’ statement concisely describes the self-determination that any creative community or individual faces. Steve Lacy, in an acerbic hand-written note to Mr. Peterson, expressed his uncompromised self-determination another way: “Nobody asked us to play like this. We all have to struggle to make a living at it. We play what and how we want to play, & only that, during a lifetime…What is the price of freedom?”

Not everyone responds to Peterson’s questioning with Lacy’s blunt austerity. Conventional-wisdom contrarian Derek Bailey gets asked, “Do you have your own set of disciplines that you bring to the table when you improvise?” His self-effacingly humorous reply is, “Oh yeah, I bring all kinds of hang-ups. I’m actually a very conventional musician. ….the difference between playing conventional music and playing free music for me is total, and yet there are so many connections, which often feel the same.” Bailey’s statement neatly summarizes how the music of the present is built upon the music of the past but also clearly postulates the struggle for musicians to keep their work fresh.

The interview with Hamid Drake is suffused with a kind of mysticism, the same sense of magic that is heard in his music. Drake comes across as clearly in control of a transcendent positivism. His articulation, however, gels nicely with Bailey’s thinking when he states, “Free music might seem contradictory to mainstream music and vice versa, but it’s really not. It’s just another mode of expression.” In Drake’s interview, he also talks about the philosophers that have influenced him, authors that one might never hear of without Peterson’s interview.

And then there is Evan Parker, the British saxophonist whose intellectual insights into the creative process are over-the-top profound. Parker’s musical pathway was inspired by another Parker, Charlie to be exact, and he is acutely aware of the history of the music and the historical political-social contexts that drive it. That includes developments on both sides of the Atlantic. Peterson asks many of his interviewees what they think of the future of the music. Parker gives, not the intellectual answer that might be expected of one who has been influenced by the philosophers Charles Arthur Muses and Pyotr Kropotkin, but a starkly practical one: “If somebody can think of it and if somebody can imagine it, then that is where it is going to go next.”

The value of Music and the Creative Spirit is that it provides multiple creative musicians the platform to express their insights into a music, created on New World soil as a hybrid of African and European forms, that has never stagnated in its short history. This book is not for the myopic and chauvinistic whose economic or musical biases conveniently ignore the fact that the world of jazz has become phenomenally variegated and internationalized over the course of its short history. It is for those who want to know what a cohort of contemporary musicians thinks about the issues of the day. Music and the Creative Spirit should be on prominent display in every music library and in the hands of any person who wants to know what music creativity is all about.

Music and the Creative Spirit contains several photos credited to Laurence Svirchev.

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