Friday, March 11, 2011

Andrew Cyrille interview by Ted Panken

Here's another in my series of choice, drummer-relevant bits of other people's interviews, this time with Andrew Cyrille, by Ted Panken:

Ted Panken: Are there different challenges for you in dealing with, let's say, the less pulse oriented forms of drum music? Did you have to develop new techniques or a different vocabulary?
Andrew Cyrille: That's an interesting question. Most of the time, I think about myself as using pieces of the language that I have learned from seeing and hearing the traditional greats, like Jo Jones, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones and Baby Dodds or Frankie Dunlop and Rufus Jones in the big bands. Buddy Rich, to some degree, who was a speed merchant.
Ted Panken: That came in handy with Cecil!
Andrew Cyrille: Well, that's right! When I was working with Illinois Jacquet, he had Jo Jones in his head, and I had to give him some of it. On "Robbins Nest" and "Flying Home," certain things would happen that brought forth certain climaxes things that you might say were scientifically proven! They reached certain peaks, made certain descents, and returned to those peaks. You had to know what to do. Of course, I was young and didn't know a lot about Jo Jones, and sometimes I got frustrated because I couldn't give Jacquet everything he wanted all the time. Then, again, I don't necessarily think that I had to, because I was trying to find my own place and do my own stuff, which maybe he didn't like. He was stronger than I was. He was the bandleader, and I was finding my way. But still, he hired me.
Anyway, I can use all the stuff I've learned in the things I do today, even playing in 2/2 way back with Nellie Lutcher. So for instance, if I'm doing a duet with Braxton or Greg Osby, I might think of playing with a two-feeling for a part, or maybe even the whole, and maybe stretch the meter. Then it's up to THEM to deal with what I'm putting down. So it isn't that I don't use my techniques or vocabulary. But I might use them differently.
Ted Panken: Do you approach the interactive aspect of playing drums differently in different configurations?
Andrew Cyrille: It depends upon the music. The composer dictates my information on what to do. If David Murray's Big Band is playing Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower" and Carmen Bradford is singing, I've got to play in a way that allows them to deliver something in the Ellington mode. I do that with everything, regardless of the concept.
Ted Panken: A lot of pianists say they think of the piano as an orchestra. Do you think of the drumkit as an orchestra?
Andrew Cyrille: You could very well say that. The set has so many different parts, and you can get so many combinations out of the different pieces of sound you can find within those parts, and generate the sounds in a way that isn't what some people might consider noise. I guess it has to do with the drummer's attitude, too. If you think it's noise, then perhaps you won't make any music. But if you think it's music, then it's a different story.
Another thing you've got to remember is that the "jazz drummer" and the Rock and Fusion people, too comes out of a metrical sense of time, and the rhythms the Africans play are a lot of the basis of the feeling that jazz musicians play off of, like the shuffle beat. For example, many jazz pieces still are written off the rhythmic motif called the quarter-note, and I'd say that damn near 85% of all the music written in jazz is based on the dotted eighth and sixteenth beat.
Ted Panken: So 30 years ago, when you're making "Akisakila" with Cecil Taylor, your patterns and responses are constructed off these very elemental building blocks from African music.
Andrew Cyrille: Precisely. And from those building blocks you can thrust a certain kind of feeling or many kinds of feelings. When I worked with Mary Lou Williams, I said to her, "Gee, Mary Lou, I'd like to play the ride beat differently and still play the music." She said, "Well, if you did that, a lot of people wouldn't hire you." So if I'm playing BANG-DING-A-BANG, DING-A-BANG with Jacquet, and then I say, BANG-DING-A-DANG, and let a couple of beats go and no space, or say, BANG-DING-A-BANG, BANG, DING-A-BANG, DINGABANG-DINGABANG, DANG-DANG, DINGABANG, DANG-DANG, DINGABANG, he'll say, "What the fuck are you doing, man?! Swing!"
All I'm saying is that certain things will elicit certain responses. Musicians deal with emotions; you can make people feel certain ways by the notes and scales you play. It's the same with the drums. If I want you to march, I'll play a march. If I want you to waltz, I'll play something in 3/4. Then I can augment or contract. I can play rhythm just like we're having a conversation. I'm not talking to you in 4/4 meter, one-two-three-four, here-I-go-Ted, you-can-hear-me-talking...
Ted Panken: It's not iambic pentameter.
Andrew Cyrille: Right. So sometimes when I'm playing music, I think in the same way as when I speak to you. But I'm still using the words I've learned. Maybe I can go in the dictionary, find out the meaning of another word and bring it into my vocabulary. But it just further clarifies what I'm trying to say.
Ted Panken: When we did the Blindfold Test for Downbeat a few years ago, I presented you a Braxton-Max Roach piece. You said, "Most of Max's rhythms are very clear. They're distinct and anchored. How he thinks of some of those original rhythms, and executes them with such clarity and weight, using motives and theme-and-variation construction, is amazing." It seems that in this recital, more or less, you play from that perspective. After Max and Braxton, I presented you a Cecil Taylor-Tony Oxley duo. You said: "The drummer sounded as though he was matching Cecil's panorama of sound colors and textures and dynamics, rather than playing his own contrasting rhythm, as, say, a Max Roach would. So there wasn't very much push-and-pull, the polarity that sometimes generates electricity, which brings forth another kind of magic and generates another kind of feeling. I think usually in improvisation, a lot of the invention comes from people playing their own rhythms and motifs in keeping with whatever their concept of the music is." You described two different aesthetics in discussing these separate duets, and it seems very much that you're in the former camp.
Andrew Cyrille: Yes, I would say so. To me, very often Tony plays these glisses of rhythms. Which is cool. But sometimes, too, you could take pieces of those glisses and make certain rhythms from them. I can't say that's all Tony does. But my general impression is that this is how he plays at least with Cecil. Maybe when he was working with Bill Evans years ago Š
Ted Panken: Well, when it was time to play time, he played time, and when it was time to play with Cecil...
Andrew Cyrille: But time can also be pointillistic. And he doesn't do that. He plays glissando time. People use these terms, and I come up with them sometimes, too. It's difficult to explain sound and feeling in words. All of us are human beings, and we have to try to relate whatever we do to our bodies on this planet! So we can't get too far out, but sometimes we can make analogies as to what we think and feel, from whence these ideas come. So you come up with stuff like "liquid time." Liquid time to me would be like water, where you get motion, but not separation. Think about a river or the ocean. Don't you see motion? Don't you see rhythm? But is it divided?

Read the entire piece.

No comments: