Hey everyone, since the group is currently on break for the holidays I'm going to put up some interviews with current participants. Chris is a great example of what's been great about the BHIC. He's someone that I had heard about but never worked with until now. He's been a joy to work with and a class act. You've also got to love a man calls you out on a straw man fallacy when you try and goad him into saying something inflammatory.
BHIC: How do you practice improvising?
Cb: First, I view this aspect of my art from the context and perspective of a trained composer and arranger of music. Parallel to that fact is the obvious mastery of certain tools that are necessary for one to spontaneously compose music on an instrument during the course of an improvisation opportunity in the music. Today, I primarily play Eb alto saxophone, Bb clarinet and C flute. I practice material inherent to each instrument and studies that are respective to the classical technique required to professionally play that instrument. I think that I have found my own voice as a performer and improviser at this point. I am still growing too.
The best way to currently describe the points concerning where I am with regard to my philosophy and applicable practice of improvisation would have to include acknowledgement of the inherent musical maturation process as being an intentional progressive action over the course of my career to this point. When I was first starting in the music, I did the transcribing of solos and imitating the vocabulary of the improvisers who spoke to me personally in the progressive traditions of our music. I think that most great improvisers have followed this type of path. But ultimately, it comes down to the fact that the creative goals should be grounded in having the courage to be yourself musically. That comes with time - in most cases.
There are many different philosophies about this area. I learned that a composer deals with chords and scales as theoretical constructs made up of essentially the same raw materials. I take this approach when creating music in most any context. So, for me it comes down to voice-leading and what harmonic cycles you choose to integrate. And the cool thing is that everyone makes different choices, resulting in totally different ideas - no two can be alike in this dynamic.
BHIC: Where have you studied music?
Cb: I have had the opportunity to study music with significant teachers and active performing artists. Some of whom are/were associated with colleges, conservatories, and universities; and, some who are/were not associated with any formal institutions at all. I took formal courses at the Armed Forces School of Music, Webster University, Columbia College, Berklee College of Music, and American University. After continually going to some type of formal schooling over the course of twenty two years, I learned that the content of the courses and studying with specific teachers was the goal, not getting stacks of degrees. The greatest educational impact on me has come from those teachers who were also active in their field (composing, conducting, performing, arranging, etc.). This was especially true of my teachers at the Armed Forces School of Music. Some of the best musicians and teachers I've ever heard and studied with are/were in the military - they really loved what they do because inherently nobody in the general public knows who they are as individuals. The motivation is the art, not being famous or going down in musical history. That's another cool lesson I have learned...
BHIC: Do you think that formal music education is a good way to produce a thriving music scene?
Cb: Music education has a special positive place with me and I have credentials of having been involved with teaching, both formally at the college-level; and privately to a significant number of students of most all ages and most all ability levels since 1984. However, I have legitimately mixed opinions on this general topic because so much in the music industry is still in a state of flux - and has been for at least the past 10 years or so.
So, in that context, I will start my answer by stating that I think that it is difficult for music education to be contemporary to the needs of what a "thriving music scene" would need in terms of current and future denizens. When the fact remains that the majority of music majors can not earn a living wage practicing their craft after graduation, outside of primarily teaching in a school district classroom somewhere, something is perhaps missing in the educational process at most all levels. And perhaps it has nothing to do with the technical specialties of the field like performing and teaching.
I don't think that all of the issues related to producing a "thriving music scene" involve most aspects of music education being taught at most schools. So, my opinion includes that perhaps there should be courses established and degrees offered for vital business-related areas of our industry like: commercial venue management, performing artist management, booking agency operation, non-commercial recording label operation, non-commercial music marketing/promotion, and musical community coalition building.
Despite all of the advances in technology that are available to the working professional artists and aspiring music students today, it is still the people working in these business support areas of the music industry who continue to have the overall greatest impact and control over the quality of a scene. This is particularly true where non-commercial music is concerned.
BHIC: Who is your favorite musician that plays your instrument and why?
Cb: I don't have a single favorite of anyone living. Although I do appreciate the paths of several working today. Go to my website and see who I link to and that will give you an idea of whom I think to be significant in some context. Then, check out their music at their site and it should speak for itself better than I could. Cool?
BHIC: What do you hate to hear/see whenever you see live music?
Cb: Nothing. I don't go to live events that I would hate to see or hear.
BHIC: What do you love to hear/see whenever you see live music?
Cb: It depends upon the context. I rarely go to hear/see commercial groups because they are all over the airwaves and saturate most mainstream media anyway, so I don't need to spend money to see more of that. So, I guess my answer would be "honesty" - creating in the moment, not pandering or entertaining.
BHIC: What living musician would you most like to play with?
Cb: Herbie Hancock - because I think that he can do anything on his instrument and play any direction in creative music legitimately. I also think that he would not patronize me for playing "my own stuff" on purpose.
BHIC: How do you feel about Wynton Marsalis?
Cb: I don't have any history with him, so I don't have any "feelings" about him on that type of level. Objectively, I have seen stuff written where Wynton Marsalis, who is now at least 50 years old and has paid a butt load of dues, still gets a lot of crap from people who should perhaps shut up and get a life of their own. That's what it seems that he has done, like it or not. Sometimes folks suffer from what author, Stephen R. Covey calls a "scarcity mentality". Whereby the belief is that there are only so many pieces to the pie of life, when in reality there are an infinite number of pies to be had in life by all of us. It is the same with people who worry about if smooth jazz is art or if it isn't. I don't care about that type of drama-related stuff. It is a distraction from the music. And the music is all I care about when I interact on the scene. I am fortunate to be at a point in my life and career where I can avoid drama and the people who like to bring it around as part of their game - at least for the most part...
BHIC: If you went back in time and could start all over, what instrument would you play?
Cb: Sorry, but I don't think this way. I am doing what I am supposed to be doing and playing what I am supposed to be playing.
BHIC: What aspect of your playing do you feel needs the most work?
Cb: It is an on-going dynamic and literally changes from one moment to the next. Everything always needs work. Always. There is no "most", it is all interdependent within itself in my opinion. It is like saying that music is similarly analogous to the myth of Sisyphus and rolling the stone uphill for eternity, it is not; because developing musically is more like life - a never ending process of growth. That should be celebrated.
BHIC: Could you talk about your experiences in the military?
Cb: I was a musician with military bands for twenty two years. That's what I did as my military job specialty - musician. There were so many experiences (as you might well imagine) over the course of those couple of decades. Experiences of all types, including good and not so good. There are only about 2,500 total US military musicians at any given time serving on active duty in bands around the world. To be among that number you have to be quite good as a musician, a great sight reader and have a type of self-discipline that is conducive to that job. All three traits.
I grew up in a military family, so the adjustments were not that demanding for me. I liked the equality of the society and the fact that everything was extremely based upon merit. But, I am also glad to now be my own musician again and that I get to choose what I do musically. But, paying those dues in the military bands has allowed me to have the choices that I do today. I worked hard so that I can continually study and concentrate on other musical areastoo at this extremely creative time in my career. I appreciated those times as being necessary for establishing the basis for my long term career in music. Thinking of the promise of my life now, kept me going to completion. I do sincerely miss many of the people whom I worked with on a daily basis back then, but I don't miss the military in general. If they didn't have a music program, I would not have joined at all.
I went into the military with a couple of goals in mind. I could not afford college tuition when I graduated high school, so the GI Bill benefits and decent regular pay check were foremost in my logistical decision making process. Then, I knew that I would become a professional-level player by playing with professional players all of the time and I would get to travel around the world for free. More cool things too numerous to go into here.
BHIC: I've observed that you're a well dressed man. Any reason for that?
Cb: This is a first for my getting this observation and question... [LOL] I always thought that I dressed like a regular guy, and likely similar to the way that most of the modern era jazz men I admired seemed to. They looked like regular people too - no funny hats, Zoot suits, or pimp clothes. Seriously, never thought of myself as being especially well-dressed beyond an attempt to present who I am as a professional and represent myself as the type of man that I work hard to be every day. Hmmm... [puzzled] again, no special reasons or thought processes are involved on a conscious level that I know of. Perhaps just a habit left over from leading an orderly military life to start my adult experiences? I don't know, really...
BHIC: We're now 3 weeks into this Black House residency, what have you thought about your experience so far?
Cb: I am enjoying the experience so far and encouraged by the fact that something like this exists on the scene here in Kansas City. To be able to write for specific people is always cool. All of the musicians are great, forward-thinking, and there is a lot of progressive original music that we are exploring. It is going to be a nice concert. I hope folks come out on January 15th to hear us. I was honored to have been invited because I don't have an opportunity to perform much here in town. There are not many venues where you can just perform and those that do exist are booked so far out that it is more than hard to get in. Also, I like the purpose of the residency including the act of rehearsing regularly toward performing new work. It is initiatives like BHIC that help make a scene viable in a broad sense of the artistic spectrum. So, thanks to you all and the Charlotte Street Foundation for making something specifically for musicians happen like this.
BHIC: How would you respond to someone who says the fact that jazz is taught in schools is proof that it has long ceased to be a relevant style of music? Hip Hop, Country and Rock don't need institutional support to survive.
Cb: I could be wrong, but it sounds more like a Straw Man fallacy is likely being committed inherently through that type of logic. These debates are circular to me. I try not to waste too much time on them really. One could further argue if the type of jazz being taught in most schools is the jazz being made in the real world, and on and on. I have heard enough "doom and gloom" prophecies about jazz being dead or ceasing to be relevant over the past 35 years that I'm almost numb from hearing or reading them. Yet, the reality of the paradigm is that here we are 50 years after Coltrane released "Giant Steps" and you still have cats studying his solo and changes to the title track. I think that it has a lot to do with the eye of the beholder. The "jazz" music that I grew up with has always been an intellectual being. I was never profoundly moved by the jazz music that was considered to be the pop music of its day, just as I am not profoundly moved by the jazz music that is considered to be the pop music of our day. It's all good and cool, but that music is not the undiluted truth - which I prefer personally. All modern popular music owes much of its substance to borrowings from jazz and jazz has borrowed from all musical styles too. Taught in schools or not, it will always be relevant in that context.
For more of Chris check him out here