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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Interview with Jack Wright

Jack Wright in 2013. Photo by Peter Gannushkin

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Ιn the following Q&A, Jack Wright claims (and we have no reason not to believe him) that he is not interested in becoming an authority in the areas of free jazz and free improvisation. In addition to being an exceptional improvisor, he has just published a great about it. Enjoy Wright's interesting answers to questions provoked from reading his book, Free Musics.

1. Why write a book about free jazz and free improv? Do you find that, still, there are stories untold?

The stories about the great names have been told, but this is about the collectivities of musicians. First of all, understand that the focus is North America. I only briefly discuss the European origins of free improv and its evolution, with the exception of Derek Bailey, the major inspiration for the music here. The book probes the rise and rejection of sixties Free Jazz and its later transformation into a traditional model, no longer a dynamic and changing movement. It discusses free improv in the states as it evolved in the 80s, a loose collectivity of players, some of whom were interested in free jazz and many others who were not. Besides these two historical genres I have two chapters on what I call free playing, an approach adopted by a few improvisers that is akin to the original approach of free improvisation.

2. Writing a book is, also, about contacting with others your thoughts and views. How different is it from playing music? Especially from the collective nature of free thinking music.

I am not an academic or journalistic outsider to the music but have been exclusively involved with free improv since its origins. My source of information was mostly my own experience of this music community, some fact checking with others, and research into jazz history. The book is organized thought about what we do when we play freely, so it's very different from playing itself.

3. Writing about the past of improvisation can help place its importance in the present and how necessary it is for the future, I believe. Do you agree? 

Free improvisation as a genre is today best accessed as a European tradition, with representative figures who have not ventured far from what they were doing decades ago. Many scorn it as passé, eclipsed by experimental, largely composed musics prepared in advance. It is considered so stable and non-threatening that educational institutions are attracted to it as an object of study and classroom practice. My interest musically is rather in the approach of free playing, which is an underground phenomenon of no cultural importance at present. I don't know what "necessary" would mean; I would only advocate it for people who don't feel the need to achieve the kind of recognition and reward that professionals depend on. If it does achieve significance, it will not be a matter of the music world institutions plucking this or that name out of the hat, but of a collectivity of dedicated players. There would also be listeners who refuse to be instructed who is "the best," and respond directly to their experience of the music. This is by no means impossible, for the official avant-garde today has no life of its own, repeats itself endlessly, and many are bored with it.

4. In the book you are referring to the collapse of the free jazz movement and, on one of the final chapters, to a resurgence of free improvisation. Is this the case today? 

The resurgence I refer to was a grass-roots interest in playing freely, which began in the later 90s and ended about ten years ago. There are still small pockets of players here and there, but free playing that lacks the familiar markers of free jazz is not publicized or known, certainly not to the middle class art music audience.

5. Free playing or writing about the personal, social and political aspects of it? Your preference?

These are just two different activities of mine, although they feed each other.

6. To be an accolyte of free jazz and free improvisation is, for me, a personal choice but also one that is derived from the current structures and every day mishappenings. What do you think?

Every choice originates in a range of cultural options, "current structures"; we merely bend and contort it in directions that make it less recognizable. When people ask, "What are your influences," they're trying to pull us back to what is familiar to them and away from where our freedom has taken us.

7. One of the most interesting parts of the book is, for me, the links with the current situation. Firstly, it makes me think that there will be a companion, kind of a second part. Second, could you comment about the current situation in your country and how does it affect all non-mainstream musics?

I'm not interested to become an authority in this area; there are many other directions I can imagine going with writing. I have been surprised at the strong interest in my book, but it's hard to say if readers have grasped this central point--namely, to become a full-time professional performer of free music, which was assumed among the originators fifty years ago, is no longer possible. Perhaps a few older free jazz musicians earn a living from performing, and a few European improvisers; the icons are either dead or can be adequately known through recordings. All the social order needs is a few names playing and behaving predictably to keep alive the myth that if you're good and work hard you too can achieve the same. This decline of the musician social role means we no longer need to think in terms of the entrepreneurial, ambitious musician. We're cut loose from the career path and can push the limits of playing without being financially punished for doing so. The "free" of free playing is musicological, and only possible when one is free of the limitations that the music-world imposes in exchange for recognition. When players grasp this conjuncture then that word scorned by postmodern culture, "freedom," is given new life and meaning.

Jack Wright Music Reviews on the Free Jazz Blog: