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Michael Zilber: Quintet, Big Band, Classroom—A Life in Jazz

An interview conducted for a feature appearing on, May 2003

By Jerry Karp

Michael Zilber photo

Saxophonist/educator Michael Zilber is a busy man. In addition to running the Jazz Studies program at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, CA, and instructing at The Jazzschool in Berkeley, Zilber leads the CARMA Big Band, an ensemble comprised of Bay Area heavy hitters, and performs and records with renowned drummer Steve Smith in the Steve Smith/Michael Zilber Group. The summer of 2003 will find this quartet touring jazz festivals across Canada, joined by famed saxman and longtime Zilber associate Dave Liebman. The group (sans Liebman) has recently released the CD Reimagined, Vol. 1: Jazz Standards. The recording features Zilber's “reimaginings,” almost complete reworkings of jazz standards by composers from the Gershwins, to Ellington, to Coltrane.

Zilber grew up in Vancouver and moved to Boston after high school to attend the New England Conservatory. A masters degree in composition from Tufts University followed. Next came a move to New York City, where Zilber immersed himself in the world of the working musician and earned a doctorate, also in composition. His previous CDs as a leader are Two Coasts, Stranger in Brooklyn, and The Heretic.

I met Zilber on a Sunday evening at Stanley Intermediate School in Lafayette, CA. He and the rest of the CARMA Big Band had agreed to give up their normal Sunday night rehearsal time in order to meet and workshop with the musicians of Stanley's student orchestra in their band room, as led by their director Bob Athayde. It was a terrific evening, as the musicians answered questions about preparation and performance, then sat side by side with the students, letting the young players see first-hand what professional sight reading is all about.

A week later, I had the following interview with Zilber as background for an article I was writing about him for

What was the experience like of moving to New York as a young player?

It was really scary, and overwhelming, and frustrating. You can supply any number of adjectives. I was fortunate enough that I happened to fall in with a group of musicians who it turns out now were among the best of my generation. These were people like Drew Grass, Wayne Crantz, Rachel Z, Dave Kokowski and James Genus. We were playing together all the time, so that was really a fun, exciting time. I didn't know it, those were just the people I played with, but it turned out that we had a pretty good group of players. So that was cool.

But the reality of making a living and surviving in NY was a real challenge. It was great for me from a personal tenacity point of view, and just realizing that I could play on the stage with the best people in the world. But it grew increasing clear to me that there was this two versus 22 proposition: the two hours a night that you were on stage were wonderful, when you were playing a jazz gig. The 22 hours of just surviving in New York was a pretty tough existence. And you have to remember that I lived in New York during the height of the crime wave. The second to last year there were something like 2,200 murders. That was in 1991, and we left in '92. There was one night when my wife and I were just talking, and she went and laid back on the love seat and thank God she did, because a bullet came through our window and grazed her hand. It would have hit her in the back. We became pregnant and we just said, “You know what? We're not going to raise a child in this town.”

In addition to working with the musicians of your own generation, did you get to play with some of the famous New York players?

I got to record with Dave Liebman, and that was pretty cool. I was playing with Danny Gottlieb and Harvey Swartz. That was cool. I got to do some playing with Miroslav Vitous and people like that. So that was good. But I was doing that in the occasional date. As far as consistent playing, I was playing with the future stars. None of us were thinking of ourselves that way, of course. We were just playing.

You mentioned Dave Liebman. He's someone you've studied with. He's even written liner notes for you.

We've actually developed a really good professional relationship. We're doing a tour of Canada this summer (2003), including all the major Canadian jazz festivals, and we're playing Monterrey together this fall. So that's a really close personal and professional relationship.

Does the word “mentor” make any sense?

Yes, it really does, although the ironic thing is that people think we sound somewhat alike, but neither one of us thinks that at all. I'm far more influenced by Wayne Shorter than I am by Dave Liebman, although I love Dave's playing. I think the reason people might think there is such a strong influence is that we're both so into Coltrane and so into Wayne Shorter. If you're into those two people, you come to some sort of similar conclusion, just in terms of how to lead an honorable life as a jazz musician and jazz educator. Dave is pre-eminent in both of those fields, and that has been inspirational to me. And he's also given me some of the best advice I ever got when I was thinking of leaving New York.

Which was?

He just said, “Don't look back.” It's like the old Greek myth. If you look back, you're frozen in stone. And it just reminds me of what I tell students and friends and people who are thinking about moving out here (San Francisco) from New York. They're saying, “But, you know, the Vanguard's not out here.” I tell them, “Yeah, you're not going to find the Vanguard in San Francisco any more than you're going to find the Golden Gate Bridge in Manhattan.” You've got to take this place for what it is. I think that's true. An old college professor of mine had a great, great line. He'd say, “You can't go into an Italian restaurant looking for an Indian meal.” I think that's what some people do. Some ex-New Yorkers move out here and twenty years later, they're complaining that they can't find Zabar's.

Let's talk about your Wayne Shorter influence. Do you see that in terms of your style of play, or your approach to composition or all of it?

All of the above. I'm not a Wayne clone, but the thing that I love about the way he plays is that he's a genuine improviser. He's so in the moment. He's not regurgitating things he's already worked out. My father's a writer, and it always struck me as very strange to replicate somebody else's material on stage when you're playing, which is what an awful lot of jazz players do. I much prefer the model of the Miles Davis Quintet of the 60's, where they were all responding in the moment. If you listen to that music, with Wayne and Herbie and Tony especially, they were really in the moment, and they were really having a conversation onstage. Once you get past mastering swinging and mastering all the chord changes and the timbre and the sound and all that, it really does become about telling a story and having a conversation. I don't think anybody does that better than Wayne.

Is that why the Live at the Plugged Nickel sessions are so revered, because that was a particular time when they were telling those stories really well?

I think so. And it's funny, because at the time, a lot of the critics were giving a lot more attention to some of the more supposedly “out” stuff. But in retrospect, we look back and realize that this was just the height of controlled freedom. These were five masters who had complete mastery of the materials of modern jazz, and they were using that mastery to explore and play beautifully together. A lot of times in jazz we're presented with an either-or proposition. Either you burn through the changes and you swing hard, and all that, or you play exploratory music and have conversations. I believe it's an and-also proposition, and the Miles Quintet from the 60's was the epitome of that. I know a number of people who have played in Wayne's band, and the thing they say he'll tell them is, “You want to play like you've never played your instrument before.” His whole point is one of discovery. I don't want to play like Wayne, but in that essence of trying to bring a sense of story and discovery to the music, that's really inspired me.

So every night, it's “Look what I can do.”

Well, not really, “Look what I can do,” but, “Look what we can discover.” It's really about telling a story. The other point that I really try to get my students to pay attention to, and I've been really on them about this, and having some positive results, is that they have to be responsible for every note they play. In other words, if I say a sentence to you, that sentence has to have some relationship to the previous sentence to move the narrative forward. But a lot of times in jazz, people are so busy plugging in prepackaged licks, they're not moving the story forward. It's the classic trees and forest situation. And I always say, you need be able to see the trees and the forest.

When you listen to other musicians, you can tell right away when someone's playing that way, I take it.

Oh, immediately. And it happens way, way too often. It just does. The dirty little secret about jazz is that it's supposed to be about conversation and interaction and telling a story, and that just happens very, very rarely. I often have to tell my students, “Hey, you've just taken a solo that has nothing to do with the melody you just played. Nothing.“ And there are some intriguing melodies. You play some Wayne Shorter tune or a Monk tune, those are some very characteristic melodies. It's not just about running lines and changes. The phrase I use with students a lot is, “You have to listen to yourself.” If you're not listening to what you're playing, why should anyone else? If you're just on autopilot and plugging it in, why should anyone else listen? You can apply those analogies across the board. I like to analogize with basketball, because I think basketball is the sport that's closest to jazz.

In what way?

Well, you have five guys, which is like a jazz quintet. Any one of them can score or pass or rebound at any one time. There are set plays, but there's a lot of improvisation at the same time. At its best, there's this ensemble of people passing, setting each other up, moving without the ball, and it's really beautiful. But at its worst, basketball is four guys clearing out and one guy going one-on-one. And that's like the guy who's got all his worked out licks, and he's going to do his worked out licks regardless. That's the analogy I like to make.

That brings us to the idea of the “reimaginings” that you do. What exactly is the idea behind taking standards apart and putting them together again differently? Is that a half-decent way of describing what you're doing?

Yes. That's the reason I call them “reimaginings.” Liebman likes to call them “deconstruction/reconstructions.” It's just the idea that if you're going to play a standard, sometimes it's fun to say, “What can I do to make it my own?” And one thing you can do is reimagine everything. That's what I'm doing. I'm reimagining everything. Everything's on the table, from form to harmony to well, everything but the actual melody, but even that can be reworked metrically. So what you're trying to do is recast this melody so that it has your harmonic stamp on it, your formal stamp on it, your rhythmic stamp on it. You're recreating it in your own sonic world. I find that that's really fun and exciting. I've been doing this for a long time at the same time I've been writing original tunes.

Steve Smith was actually the one who said, “I really love these things, and I think they will really help audiences understand how you write.“ Often, when people are listening to these tunes, it isn't until halfway through the tune that they realize what composition they're hearing. People often never figure out what “Mood Indigo” is, but it's all in there. The melody of “Mood Indigo” is in there, verbatim. And what's fun about it, then, is that it draws the listener in. They might say, “Oh, yeah, I know 'Freedom Jazz Dance,' but wow, that's really cool what they're doing with it.” So they have some touchstone of familiarity. I think that all music and art is a balance of expectation and surprise, so you have this sense of the familiar, in that you know these melodies, and then the surprise in how they're reworked.

So it gives the audience an insight into the things you have to take into consideration when you write originals.

Exactly. It gives you all of the flavor of an original except the original melody. And what that does is allow people into your world so that hopefully they can also listen to your originals and understand the context. I think that for a lot of people, when they come to jazz, it's just so mystifying and confusing. They donít even know where the melody starts or ends. So if you take a song like “Impressions” or “Solar,” they can say, “OK, I know that melody at least. But boy, that's really interesting what's happening to it.” I think it's a way to draw the listener in, and I like doing that.

And that gives people an opportunity to understand what about a piece can be changed. When they see what can be changed, then they can understand what decisions had to be made as you wrote. I used to teach creative writing, and in a way it was the same thing. Literature students are used to looking at stories as if every word was carved into stone. But when you start asking students, “Why do you think the writer made that character 42 years old instead of 32?” that's a whole different way of looking at a story.

It's really interesting that you should mention that, because my father was a professor of creative writing for 30 years at the University of British Columbia. He broke away from the English Department there with a couple of other radical professors because he was really tired of teaching about people who were dead. So I'm familiar with that, and it's fascinating. A lot of how I teach jazz and approach playing jazz is informed by the fact that my father was a writer.

Can you elaborate a little?

Well, as you know, as a writer, plagiarism is the worst cardinal sin. Unfortunately in jazz, there's an awful lot of plagiarism. There is a great Charles Mingus tune that said, “If Charlie Parker were a gunslinger, there'd be a whole lot of dead copy cats.” This art form, is supposed to be like creative writing, about expression of self and learning from the masters. Like Bird said, “Learn all your chords. Learn all your scales. Then throw it all away and go play music.” But a lot of jazz students just keep replicating licks and patterns from the masters. I was always much more interested in the principles behind what Coltrane and Bird did, rather than specific patterns. I think that in the back of my mind, I always thought it was cheating to just regurgitate what somebody else had played. Of course, in writing, you wouldn't say, “Hey look at me. I write like Hemingway,” and then write a paragraph just like Hemingway. You wouldn't do that. But in jazz, people do that. So I think I was really influenced by that. And also influenced by the idea of telling a story. Of narrative. The idea that you've introduced this character and this situation. Don't throw it away, develop it.

Where are you teaching now?

I teach regularly at Los Medanos College, running the Jazz Studies program there. That's my full-time gig. Then I teach two groups at the Jazz School in Berkeley, the advanced workshop and the advanced high school workshop. That's fun for me because those are extremely high level students. Another high level group I get to work with is students from the Brubeck Institute.

You seemed really at home with the middle school kids the other night.

Well, I have a ten year-old son. It's just really exciting to see students that age playing jazz, trying to play the music we love. I think that it's a beautiful thing.

The most interesting thing for me was the middle part of the evening where your band was playing their charts, and the students were watching you play. There was one young trumpet player in particular who was watching the chart and fingering his trumpet all the way through every time, and just watching how you guys were doing it.

That's the best way to learn music. I have become a big advocate of modeling. It makes the most sense. Music is its own language. Translating it into English, or any other spoken language, is an imperfect science. So sometimes the best thing to say is, “Hey, you want to swing? Listen to this. Listen to what I just did. Now you do it with me. Now you do it by yourself.” That's how all the cats learned in the old days. Right now, I'm teaching some incredibly talented students. In the old days, they'd all be on the road, learning through doing on the bandstand.

Playing dances.

Right. But nowadays, they just don't get that opportunity. So we have to try to replicate that in an educational situation. I really think that what Bob Athayde is doing is fantastic. If there were twenty Bob Athaydes in the Bay Area, the jazz scene would be infinitely better right now.

Tell me a little about CARMA.

It's a big band I formed that's been happening for about six years, now. I started it because I wanted a big band that I would enjoy playing in. There's always been this great divide between people who like playing in big bands and people who like playing in small groups in the jazz world. The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis orchestra has always been the model for how to make those people happy to co-exist with each other. There is a lot of wonderful big band material out there, and I also like writing for the big band, and I know a lot of people who do.

But there is far more terrible music out there for big bands. And unfortunately, what's happened is that, for the most part, big bands, especially in educational situations, have been taken over by non-players. So a lot of these kids are done this real disservice where they think that because they're playing a part in a section in a big band, they're playing jazz. But they can't improvise a lick, and most of the people running the big bands can't improvise or don't even like soloing, and they don't have a clue what to say to the rhythm section or what to say to the soloists. What they do is rehearse the parts over and over again on these really bad charts.

But, conversely, there is a lot of good music out there, or new music that's being written. For example, we did a performance with Kenny Werner for which we played only music that he wrote. We also did a performance with Dave Liebman, where we did his music. We'll be doing similar shows with some other great players. Some of the people in the band have written some fantastic charts. So I wanted to put together a big band in which real jazz players would want to play. That was my goal with CARMA. I wanted to put together the best possible band with the best material for the best players who really wanted that spirit.

We've done some good things. We've played Monterrey, we've split the bill with Wayne Shorter at SFJAZZ. Bob Berg, John Handy, Kenny Werner. A lot of good people, and we continue to do so.

It seems to be an incredible amount to bite off to organize, arrange, and run a big band.

It's a lot of work. I put a lot of hours in, and a lot of it is just logistics. But everybody who's in the band is committed to it and loves doing it. So I'm really fortunate that I have these guys who drive from all over to rehearse and play. They're really not getting compensated at all for it, except on the rare occasion where we get something lucky where we're getting paid. They do it for the love of the music. Is it worth it for me as a musician? Obviously, as a player, I'd much rather play in quartets. I like playing ensemble parts, but to me, quite frankly, reading music is a skill. Improvising is an art. If you know how to read music, you know how to read music. It's a skill, and I like it, and it's fun to work in an ensemble. But the fact is that unless you have a lot of solo space, it becomes kind of like an ersatz classical music. I think that's one reason it appeals to non-jazz players who are directing bands in high schools and colleges.

Although I got to sit in on a couple of rehearsals of the New Century Chamber Orchestra. They're a 17-piece classical chamber orchestra, and they don't have a conductor. So all of their rehearsals are really collaborative. From that, I got a really good first-hand lesson on the difference between being able to read music and being able to play a piece. Because they were talking about every single note, it seemed, and how it needed to be played. Everything from baroque music through Copeland, and even Shaker Loops.

Oh, yeah. And it's a really fun thing to do. But obviously, in the end, if you're a jazz player what you like doing most is soloing. It's just a different aesthetic. It's just like actors can be wonderful reading other people's lines. Writers write their own lines. If you look at jazz improvisers as writers, that's the difference. But CARMA'S a lot of fun. I have a good time doing it, and I'm really grateful that I get musicians of such high quality who like to do it.

The quartet with Steve Smith, have you been playing together, the four of you, for a while? [The Steve Smith/Michael Zilber Group also includes bass player John Shifflett. Original pianist Paul Nagel, who appears on the group's latest CD, now resides on the East Coast, and a variety of pianists have recently appeared with the combo.]

Well, Steve and I have been playing together since 1995 in various incarnations. We had a quartet together for about three years with the personnel that you see now on the CD. And then Paul Nagel moved the East Coast about two years ago. Since then we've gone with several piano players, all of whom are good. But in the end, we felt that the best representation of this music took place with Paul playing piano. The piano player we have performing with us now is Jeffery Keezer. He's played with Ray Brown and Rufus Reid and a lot of great players. That will be the band at Monterrey: Dave Liebman and myself, Steve Smith, and John Shifflett and myself with Jeffrey Keezer. For the tour of Canada we'll use the band that did the record, with Dave Liebman.

What happened was that Paul Nagel had a trio together with John Shifflett and Jason Lewis, and Steve Smith and I had a quarter together. Paul and I were just finding that we were really enjoying playing together, so we just mutually said, “Well, what if we just kind of combined our groups?” Obviously, we're not going to lose Steve Smith, who's one of the best drummers in the world, and we don't want to lose John Shifflett. So that's how that group ended up together. Originally, it was called the Mike Zilber/Paul Nagel Quartet, and then when Paul moved, Steve said, “You know, it's really you and me,” so we put together the Steve Smith/Mike Zilber Quartet at that point.

Paul is one of the most musical piano players I've ever played with. He's not going to bowl you over with lightening fast chops, but he is so musical, and one of the better compers I've ever played with. That group, when you put me and Steve and Paul and John together, it just becomes super musical. I think you can hear it on the CD. A funny little inside bit on the recording: we recorded in Steve's house. He has a beautiful studio in his house. But the way it works is that everybody has to be in a separate room, and there was no visual sightline at all. So we really had to listen, and I think that really comes through in the recording. We were just listening so hard to each other that it's really, really musical. That's what I really liked about it. I felt that all four of us were played very, very musically.

Maybe that's a good exercise for your students. Make them play with eyeshades on.

Well you know, it is interesting. When I solo, I just close my eyes, and a lot of musicians do. Maybe it gives you the sense that you're not being distracted. Some people solo with their eyes open. Miles is one of the most famous examples. But a lot of musicians play with their eyes closed. It really makes you listen hard. So I think that's what really appeals to me about our quartet. Here you have this guy, Steve Smith, who's widely considered maybe the most amazing technical drummer alive, a lot of people think that, and in our situation he just plays so sensitively and musically. That's such a great lesson for young drummers.

On the Reimaginings CD, his playing is really entertaining. It's really good, but it's also fun to listen to because he's getting to do different things on those standards, almost more than anybody else, it seems to me. He's getting to take a piece he's played a million times and play it differently.

I think that's really attractive to him, and in that particular recording, he's just so in the musical moment. That's what I like about that CD, everybody's playing in the service of the music. You know that famous thing where Quincy Jones told everybody to check their egos at the door [the We Are the World recording session]? I think that we all did that for that recording, and just played in the service of the music. And that's one reason I think that recording is a good one.

On the CD, sometimes you play soprano and sometimes you play tenor. Is there any particular way you decide which pieces work with each instrument?

I usually have an idea beforehand of what will work better, but sometimes I'll find that I'll imagine something on one and it will end up sounding better on another. There isn't any real hard and fast way to decide. I tend to write things on the piano, not on the saxophone at all. So it depends on range, mood, all those things. I will try things out on both a lot of the time. The arrangement of "Caravan" that's on the CD actually works well on both, tenor and soprano.

Do you ever do reimaginings for CARMA?

Yeah, I've actually expanded a couple of those arrangements. “Manteca” and “All Blues” I reimagined for big band, and that was fun.

Have there been time when you've “reimagined” the same tune several different times until you found a way that worked best for that tune, or done it once and liked it and done it again in a different way and liked that also?

I think what tends to happen, and I've learned this the hard way, is that when I write a piece, it's not finished until the band gets ahold of it and makes their suggestions to shape it. I used to be a lot more doctrinaire, because you know I have a strong composition background, and in classical composition, you set it down and it's done. There may be, as you say, interpretive points, but basically it's done. Whereas you might find that you play through a piece and you think a solo form is one way, and the rest of the band says, “No, no. This is a much better solo form.“ And you might have some hits and some anticipations written in, and they'll say, “That doesn't work. This does work.”

One of the beautiful things about a collaborative group effort is that the rest of the band actually helps to finish the piece off. That's kind of cool. Sometimes you walk in and a piece is great. There's nothing more to do to it. But much more often, you'll think you've got a really good piece, but until you hear it played . . . which I don't think is really that different from what the great orchestral composers had to do. They would write something and listen to it being played and say, “Oh, god, I've got to change that.” Even Mozart, as brilliant as he was, would sit there and listen and then go change things. And that's the beautiful thing about working with a group of musicians you respect. Sometimes you'll have an idea for a feel, for a groove, and then the drummer will try a different feel and it works way better.

When you're writing, do you ever say, “Well, I'll put this down for now, but I'll wait and see how the group handles it when they play it?”

Absolutely. I find that when I write now I tend to simplify a lot more than I used to. The further I get away from my classical composition training, the more I'm simplifying, because jazz musicians are incredible readers, and they can play tricky rhythms and harmonies on the fly that would stagger the mind of most other musicians, but they like to be able to breathe, too. They like a space where they can just breath and do their thing. Finding that balance, creating that space in a composition where the musicians can express themselves, that's really important. So I tend to try to do that a lot more than I used to.

The Reimagined CD is titled Vol. 1, which means there's at least a Volume 2 coming?

That's right. There are a couple of different possibilities to look at. We jokingly said that maybe we'll do the music of Journey [with whom Smith has played], which would be an interesting concept (laughs).

Or you could go the David Murray route and do the Grateful Dead.

I'm thinking that I might want to reimagine something to do with the Beatles. It's not an original thought, but I'm a huge Beatles fan.

I was just listening to my Count Basie Beatles album the other day.

Oh, yeah, yeah. It's beautiful music. And again, that's a place where we could take something that's very familiar, and then you recast and people would go, “Oh, OK, that's pretty cool.”

That would be interesting, because when you listen to Count Basie doing the Beatles, I guess he did a couple of albums like that, and then there's Woody Herman, who did an album of Steely Dan music, but they basically did big band versions of the originals.

Right, they didn't really change things up.

So it would be really interesting to see the songs taken apart and put back together again in the way you're talking about.

That would be the only way I'd do it. I think that's something we may look at. Liebman and Steve and I are talking about trying to record right around the time of the Monterrey Jazz Festival, so who knows? Maybe we'll do that.

I'm sure you'll be running tape on your performances, as well. You may find some live stuff you like.

I'm hoping that will be the case. I know for a fact that the CBC is going to record us. Hopefully, something will come out of that. With CARMA, at some point we'd love to record a tribute to Wayne Shorter. I'd also love to record a CARMA record consisting solely of original arrangements that guys in the band have written. They're really wonderful and they deserve to be heard. I know that [Jazzschool director] Susan Muscarella wants to release a recording of a performance that Dave Liebman and I did at the Jazzschool, so that may happen. The record I did before this one was called Two Coasts, and I have continued to write what I think are some pretty good original tunes. At some point, I'd love to do a Two Coasts 2. Go back and record half of it with my old buddies in NY, and then do half of it out here. Or maybe kind of collaborate and have it be an “east meets west,” with a band made up of half east coast and half west coast. I'll continue teaching at the Jazzschool and go from there. We'll see what happens.

I'm really concerned, as you are, about the paucity of legitimate jazz clubs in the Bay Area. I think that's got to change, because it's really damaging. I'm teaching all these really talented kids and they don't have anyplace to play. It's too beautiful a music to let it die or have it be a museum music or just a festival music.

Or everybody goes to NY and that's it.

I think if that happens, then it dies. If there's only one place in the world where you can hear the music, if you don't have the diversity in the gene pool of the music, it's going to die. The amazing thing is that I hear some of these young people play, and they are so much better than we were at that stage of our careers years ago. They're better players. But I'm just wondering what they're going to do. Where are they going to play? You know the whole drill. The record industry's dying. There's no place to play. I hope the young players are learning the music because they love it. Well, I guess that's always been the case. I mean, as bad as it is, I don't think it's as bad for jazz now as it was in the 60's.

Maybe we can cross our fingers and hope that the proliferation of independent, smaller labels, and people doing their own CDs and distributing them over the Internet, somehow or other will evolve into something healthy and good.

Well, I think it can. I know that a lot of musicians now are putting out their own records. I've never done that, somebody's always put out my stuff, but I wouldn't be opposed to the idea. Here's what I'm hoping will happen: the one thing you can't duplicate digitally, the one thing you can't put into your home entertainment system and six speaker surround, is live performance. There was an interesting piece recently in the Circuit section of the New York Times, about how these old cyber gamers are ditching their video games and playing board games with other people, because of the social interaction, the idea of the public square. As you know, there's no substitute for hearing jazz in a club, for hearing it live. So I'm hoping what happens is that there will be, among some people, a revolt against canned performance. And nothing is more live and spontaneous than jazz at its best.

I have found that when I talk somebody who tells me they don't like jazz into coming to a jazz performance with me, I can really get them to appreciate the music not even by insisting that they listen to a particular solo or musician. If you say, “Watch how the bass player looks at the sax player. Did you see how they just looked at each other and then what happened after that?” And when people actually watch that, that's what makes them say, “Wow, this is really cool.” It's odd. It's not even what they're hearing. It's what they're seeing.

It's the whole visceral response. I agree with you. And they see, wow, the piano player just played a rhythm, and the drummer responded to that, and look now the bass player is responding to the drummer. How cool is that?

Or all of a sudden, everybody on stage is laughing. What are they laughing at? Well, the pianist just played something from another song.

It's true, and it's a beautiful music. And jazz is so different from the canned, prepackaged crap they hear on the radio. So people get frustrated and they say, "I can't understand it." And I say, donít try to understand it. Just let it wash over you. If you go to see modern art, you're not going to try to see if a painting looks like a flower; you're just going to try to appreciate it for what it is. I think it's the same thing. If you just appreciate jazz for what it is, it's a glorious experience, and especially live. I think that's one reason these festivals are so successful. People buy a day pass, and they just walk around and hear all this great stuff, and something's going to catch them. That's such an important thing. Maybe the best example is, live, what goes over best? Nothing goes over like a drum solo live. But on record, nobody wants to hear a drum solo. It's a visual thing. It's a four-limbed independent octopus. It's wild stuff.

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