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Sunday, October 29, 2023

Alexander Hawkins: Sunday Interview

Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix
  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    I would find it virtually impossible to prioritise between them, but some of the many joys would be: the possibilities for invention, for discovery, for surprise, for spontaneity, for communication, for expression, for collaboration, and more generally - for beauty.

  2. What quality do you most admire in the musicians you perform with?

    Near the top of the list would be a 'sound': understood as a personal tone, a personal language, and a personal way of engaging with others. I prize independence and clarity of thought. I also truly admire a type of fearlessness which I think of as linked to behaving without ego: the type of musician who is brave enough to take chances and push at limits, in the knowledge that there is a risk inherent in this. I say this because a perhaps uncomfortable truth in this music is that a lot of the time when we claim to be improvising, I think we are only really doing so at best in a very minimal sense...routine is as common in improvised music as in any other walk of life. Of course it would be possible to dive into many more specific answers to this question, but I think the answers would generally be contingent upon the specific musical context.

  3. Which historical musician/composer do you admire the most?

    I can't answer the question on its own terms: there could never be a 'most', as I admire countless people for countless different reasons. But in the spirit of the game, I'll play along and say J.S. Bach. Having begun in western classical music, I understand there are biases at play here...but I find the technical beauty of some of his music overwhelming - I'm thinking here of works such as The Art of Fugue and the Musical Offering. There are of course magical sounds to be heard everywhere, but the longer I spend with music, the more I personally find the real transcendence to be in form and organisation, and not many people have ever created oases of perfection in this sense like Bach did. (A million disclaimers of course apply).

  4. If you could resurrect a musician to perform with, who would it be?

    To perform with? Too tough. Parker? Dolphy? Coltrane? Or perhaps I'd ask Mary Lou Williams, Duke Ellington, or Monk to write us a pad of music?

  5. What would you still like to achieve musically in your life?

    Oh we don't even begin to have the column inches here...big picture-wise, I'll say this: if I knew conceptually where I wanted the music to go, a) I would have tried to go there already, and b) in any case, I probably wouldn't be looking hard enough for the new ideas.

    I would like to continue to improve my capability to translate the sounds in my head onto my instrument. Similarly, I would also like to continue to improve my ability to capture these sounds in some notational form.

    Then we can move on to the very mundane: at some point, I would love just to get around to learning all of the Well-Tempered Clavier, or all of the Vingt Regards. And no-one is more aware than me of the gaping holes in my technical ability: so I'd like to continue trying to plug these.

    I would also add this, however: I feel extremely fortunate already to have had so many wonderful musical experiences: so although I am hopelessly restless, I am also extremely grateful.

  6. Are you interested in popular music and - if yes - what music/artist do you particularly like?

    Oh certainly - and I'm not sure what I'd make of the person who claimed not to have an interest in a particular type of music. Even something which a person isn't into represents an opportunity to learn and to deepen an understanding of musical values, after all. As for what I particularly like, the list would go on for too long, so I'll limit it to some things I've been listening to recently and enjoying: Billy Woods, Jorge Ben, and Gal Costa. Incidentally here, sometimes it feels like barely a flight goes by where I don't listen to either 'Curtis' or 'Curtis/Live!'

  7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

    Part of me wants to reiterate that I'm extremely grateful, and part of me wants to ask 'just one???'

  8. Which of your albums are you most proud of?

    I wouldn't put something out if I wasn't proud of it, although of course it's true to say that personal standards change, and in general I suspect I'm far more self-critical now than I used to be. But again, I'll certainly play the game, but with some sideman appearances instead! Of all the albums I made under Louis Moholo-Moholo's leadership, for instance, I'm most proud of 'Uplift the People'. Live, that quintet could be totally transporting, and I feel that album - a live one - is the record which best captures just a little bit of what the room could be like some nights. I'm also immensely proud of the Quartet (Standards) 2020 box set with Anthony Braxton, for a number of reasons both personal and musical.

  9. Once an album of yours is released, do you still listen to it? And how often?

    In an earlier interview in this series, Lina Allemano's answer to this question really resonated with me: it's certainly true for me too that in the production phase of a recording, I listen to my recordings so much that they do indeed become somewhat internalised. I rarely, if ever, put on something just for enjoyment: and besides, in general if not exclusively, backwards seems like the wrong way to be facing as a creative musician. That said, I'm perfectly happy to listen to older recordings if perhaps there is a technical detail I am trying to understand in a composition, or if I am looking for a sample, or something like this.

  10. Which album (from any musician) have you listened to the most in your life?

    I'd love to know the actual answer to this! It would probably naturally be something which dates back a long way in my listening life, before a) having a little more money to spend on recorded music or (especially) b) digital technologies made it so much easier to listen broadly, if often in a more shallow manner. It could well be something like the late Art Tatum trio record with Red Callender and Jo Jones; it could well be some Sonny Rollins - most likely 'Newk's Time' or 'Saxophone Colossus', although possibly 'Plus 4' with Clifford Brown. It could also very well be a classical recording, in which case it would probably be the Riccardo Muti/Philharmonia recording of Respighi Symphonic Poems, the Svetlanov recording of the 'Poem of Ecstasy', or the Frühbeck De Burgos recording of De Falla's 'El Amor Brujo'. If we're talking individual tracks, I'd probably put the money on it being Rex Stewart's 'Menelik - The Lion of Judah'.

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    An old Supraphon album of Janáček songs featuring Eva Zikmundová and Beno Blachut, amongst others.

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    Again, I could go on and on here. But one thing which people may not know about me is that I am absolutely obsessed with the work of Charles M. Schulz. In his economy, he's like Thelonious Monk. Schulz can express in four panels what others may take 400 pages to convey. Anyway, I've read Peanuts complete from 1950-2000, and couldn't touch another book while doing this..! He is a genius.


Review with Alexander Hawkins:


Ian Brighton said...

Alexander is one of the most thoughtful improvisers around and a while ago I suggested that we play together at some point and he was looking forward to that. The guitar / piano improvisations have always been difficult not so in jazz with my favourite combination of Jim Hall and Bill Evans but in free improvisation there has always been a barrier in my head about resolving the context between fixed note playing and my pulling notes, harmonics etc until a few years ago when I recorded with Steve Beresford and Trevor Taylor on an album called Kontakte. I saw Pat Thomas do an astounding solo set in West Sussex and realised that a duo with him at that time would have not been appropriate. However Alex is a different proposition I think after listening to him he, like Steve, would leave spaces so that other stringed instruments could work into. It’s relatively easy working with saxaphone players because they move in and out of pitches but the piano, for me seems to be a challenge. Perhaps one day Alex and I will have the opportunity to work together to fulfill our promise and we will discover those Bill Evans Jim Hall type moments. Alexander Hawkins is a truly great and sensitive improviser.