It is so refreshing to get back to what I love doing with this thing, putting under appreciated strugglers out there for a place in the web2 sun. Slagging the jazz hogs is a handful but there are so many ways to do it. Don't worry, controversy fans, I have plenty of work on that too as the jazz hog crowd has made monumental messes that are endless fun to poke.
What brought you to music?
"I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland Ohio listening mostly to country music around the house, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens etc. with an occasional Ray Charles and BB King. I really enjoyed listening to this stuff for the most part; it was all about the complete package for me, the music, the record cover, and song titles.
It was truly fantastic and exciting imagining where these people came from, and how the music was created. Eventually I bought a guitar, took some lessons here and there. In the mid 70’s growing up in suburban Cleveland, music was all about industrial working class kids getting together and making noise, anti disco, anti country, pre punk. We were playing in the shadows of greats like Pere Ubu, Dead Boys, etc. It was a very exciting time for sure.
Later I continued studying music in different Universities and privately, it was at this time I heard one of the early Ornette records purely by mistake! I was talking with a friend, dumping on “noodly jazz music” when he played me a few cuts off of “Dancing in your head” and I was completely blown away!
The guitars were strangely compelling, stark and beautiful, not to mention the greatness of the tunes themselves. This was certainly the beginning of my fascination and real pursuit of the electric guitar, composition, and ensemble playing."
Describe your role models, muses and mentors.
"I’ve always been impressed by artists from the avant-garde for the most part, painters, dancers, musicians, poets. That kind of self-expression has always been inspiring. John Cage of course, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, Schoenberg. I’ve always loved their concepts and artistic fortitude.
As far as actual role models? Wow, I guess I’ll keep that question musically based. I’ve been encouraged and mentored by several impressive musicians over the years either directly or indirectly. I studied guitar some years ago, a handful of lessons with Joe Morris. Joe is a great teacher and a passionately tenacious musician.
Recently I finished a recording with the multi instrumentalist, reed player Daniel Carter, now there’s someone with role model potential! Daniel’s a great guy and a great musician. He really emphasizes the beauty and spontaneity of the music and brings a sense of happiness and appreciation to the project.
Describe your community of colleagues and audience.
I’m currently located in the greater Boston area for better or for worse! There are certainly some great musicians in the area. Players such as Joe Morris, Allan Chase, Steve Lantner, Jim Hobbs etc. old school Boston free jazz improvisers who’ve been hammering away at their thing for years now.
Unfortunately Boston is pretty much user-unfriendly in the improvised music world in my opinion. There is really very little sense of musical community. This is mostly due to the fact that even though Boston boasts of being a music town it’s really more of an institutional music town. Plenty of places to study, very few places to play. Over the past three years I’ve held a yearly music festival, the Skycap Festival, in hopes of bringing players together, developing some type of musical community that might be recognized and focused on more seriously than it has been in the past.
The events were successful for the most part but, up to this point, haven’t really created any type of positive reaction or support in the Boston free jazz musical community. Suffice to say, Boston is a difficult place to survive as a musician., both spiritually and economically."
What are the important elements you apply to your approach to performance, repertoire and composition?
"I guess I’ve always been a big fan of melody. I like some structure in the music. The total free approach always seems to be hit or miss for me whether I’m playing or listening. I think that it can be very self indulgent and alienating for the audience as well unless the energy and professional ability of the players is spot on.
I do however love the idea of combining the two styles, a strong melodic motif that eventually evaporates into something else entirely, free and fully improvised using the original melody as the springboard. It’s a really interesting approach I’ve been working on for some time now. I don’t claim this as my own concept of course but I guess you could say that it is the basis of what fuels and challenges me musically.
I typically get inspired by bass lines, ostinato figures, and then build from there trying not to over complicate things too soon, not box things in or over structure the original idea. I find more often than not, people will generally comment after a live performance by saying that they like the third tune or the fourth tune, etc. There was something relatable that stuck in their ear. This is also a very important aspect of the music for me, creating something relatable to both the musicians and to the audience. It’s really what we all show up for in my opinion."
What role does teaching have in your work?
"I’ve never really taught lessons or had an interest in this. I certainly do not criticize those who do; it’s just not my thing."
How have changes in the economy impacted your work?
"It’s hard to say. Again, living in the Boston area, or any where else in the U.S. for that matter, trying to play experimental music is difficult enough with the lack of places to play, media support etc.
It seems like “paying to play” is becoming more common, renting the space, producing your own show etc. With commercial rents being out of control it’s almost inevitable that to present anything new whether it be music, dance, art, the artist has to expect to spend something to make it happen. The other issue is the rising cost of simply getting to the gig, eating, sleeping, and transportation costs leave very little if anything left for the players pockets."
If you perform beyond your region or overseas, how has that changed over time?
"I do perform overseas whenever possible. At this point I travel to Europe, usually twice a year, spring and fall. I’ve been co-managing a small label based in Germany for the past years, which has also helped me build some in roads to the improvised music scene in Germany and Europe. My personal feeling is that things are certainly better in Europe for improvised music than in the States. Of course there are some of the same problems, limited venues, money, etc.
And over the years things have gotten more difficult economically speaking for sure but the public interest, curiosity, whatever you want to call it is certainly greater in Europe than in the U.S, from what I’ve experienced. In Europe the arts in general are held in a much higher regard. The local media is involved and there is usually decent press around an event. I also feel that European towns and cities take a certain amount of pride in keeping current with what’s happening, and support more interesting and unusual performances.
You see this sense of support reflected in the musicians as well. Sure everyone still has the same bitches and complaints as in the States but the overall enthusiasm for projects, collaborations and events is much greater and much more positive. I’ve been fortunate to have played some nice festivals and been treated like royalty, by my standards, in some situations. However, I usually come home just breaking even monetarily speaking, but certainly much more spiritually enriched from my experiences. These visits are essential to my musical psyche and creative determination."
How has technology and the way music circulates impacted your work?
"The computer has really changed things for the better for sure. At this point almost all of my opportunities have come from some type of communication via the Internet. The days of sending out press kits and making fifty phone calls for a gig are pretty much over. I also find the music writing software handy when developing projects and ensembles. Being able to send ideas for collaboration makes the projects much more cohesive and understandable."
Describe your current and potential future projects and collaborations along with the things you would like to do.
"Currently I’ve just finished recording a new project with the amazing multi instrumentalist Daniel Carter. It’s a quartet recording with my trio partners Kit Demos on bass and John Mclellan on drums. I’m really excited with the results and look forward to the final product. I’m hoping to get the quartet to Europe sometime in the spring. It’s really been an eye opener working with Daniel, his outstanding ability and experience, I’m thankful to have this opportunity to work with him.
I will also be traveling to Europe in the fall. I’ve been invited to do a handful of gigs with the German group Walter Konigstadt duo that will also feature the Dutch bass player Meinrad Kneer. If all goes as planned we’ll be recording the group live for release at our final show in Hamburg with the great German recording engineer Tobias Levin. I will also be playing some gigs in Italy in the fall with pianist Alberto Braida and saxophonist Achille Succi."
Jeff will be performing at the Outpost with the majestic Daniel Carter and his ensemble on Friday, July 10th. You can also get his music at Skycap Records.