Friday, March 26, 2010

Zinman Unbound.

(Eric Zinman)

1.What brought you to music?

"One is never sure about these things but I know I was singing as early as I could. My parents fought alot when I was young and playing the piano was a kind of solace for me. My mother was my first piano teacher. I began formal studies on the piano at age 7 with Angel Ramon Rivera. Whenever there was music, I couldn't focus on anything else. There are the stereotypic attractions that famous musicians talk about like Ellington saying that his initial interest was in attracting women and I was certainly drawn by the attention and the emotional import of music.

My initial studies were in singing, choir, piano, composition, rock band. I sang boys soprano in opera choir from age 9-11. I always wanted to get closer to this music called "jazz" where you really express yourself on the instrument as opposed to interpreting music. Gradually I began to understand the difference between art and culture.

When I discovered "black music" , I mean all of it, there was no turning back. I'm not sure one can be brought to music through recordings though they are important, so its important to tell you what I saw and the effect it had on me.I was fortunate that although my education was extremely conservative...I was able to see good pianists (mostly prodigies) play the piano. Most of it was, of course, solo.

The jazz that I had seen was mostly lounge music. I didn't hear the real thing until my time at Bennington College with Bill Dixon. He brought a number of musicians from NYC and other places who completely altered my sense of musical reality forever: 1983: William Parker, Marco Eneidi, Dennis Charles, David Ware, Ya Ya (Washington DC), Peter Kowald, John Voigt, Laurence Cook, Mario Pavone etc.

Later in the late 80's when I was going for an MM at NEC I met Marc Liebowitz who organized a series of the music at the Brandeis Winer Wing where the radio station was. I saw Jamil Moondoc, Karen Borca, Beaver Harris, Rashid Bakr, Zane Massey, and many others. I first saw Cecil Taylor at Nightstage in 1987.

I also remember John Voigt brought Sabir Mateen to Boston in the 90's. It is difficult for people to come to the instruments today because there are very few visible role models.When you ask people their favorite athletes they usually have a name for you. But when you ask them who their favorite pianist is, they don't know what to answer, they just play the instrument."

2.Describe your role models, muses and mentors.

"I had jazz teachers in Boston. Most of them did not believe the avant-garde was music. I was inspired by Bill Dixon, Cecil Taylor, Paul Bley, Lowell Davidson, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Lyons, George Russell, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk Horace Silver to name my favorites. I met Bill Dixon in 1981.

It completely changed my life. Its impossible to sum up what you learn from someone but these points are key. "If you play one note for 20 years, no one will be able to play that note the way you do and from that will emerge a technique, method, and a philosophy". " There is no technique. There are techniques".

The idea that the most authentic expression is the most spontaneous, that everything you do on an instrument has structure, form and content if you do your homework. So I have spent the last 29 years since 1982 finding out what I could do on the piano. There are of course many other influences. From Laurence Cook I continued a concept of sound placement that began with Bill Dixon.

I was very influenced by Nadi Qamar (formerly Spalding Gibbons, Mingus's first piano player)who taught me many dark secrets about the music, the way he would spring into the piano with that dry punchy sound and make the left hand sound like a bass switching strings, minimal use of the pedal.

Like the old timers, Nadi played with the outer and inner locked voicings that would express the melody with that "shout" sound, like Errol Garner, keeping the melody on top and even voicing over the melody, the way Art Tatum would, but he voiced like George Shearing. Most important though, he swang more than any pianist I have ever known personally in terms of metrical time.

After that there were many influences, roommates, friends. Glen Spearman lived with me for a while and I picked up many ideas from him about how to hit the piano in relation to the horn and percussion. I loved his sound and the way he played effortlessly into the altissimo on the tenor making it sound like an alto at times and then doing these chords and shakes in the low register like his mentor Frank Wright. Glen turned me on to Frank Wright, and I may also have received some misinformation about Frank Wright as well as Glen loved to brag. But when it came to the horn he was sincere.

Earlier and for many years I knew Raphe Malik and we did some large ensemble projects which taught me a lot. Raphe was always very generous and we would share the piano and trade chords. I wasn't so interested in playing standards but I learned more about that music from Raphe, ideas that I could use creatively, I mean in terms of how to phrase and how to shift the weight in the phrasing.

My beginnings were with Craig Schildhauer on bass and Laurence Cook on drums. We learned together but Craig and I always looked to Laurence to find the way, like Laurence said: its like running around the block looking for an address; most of the time you don't find it. But when you do, ahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!....

We tried every way we could to create compositions, from conventional notation to attacking the situation instantly and all methods, chords, melodies, rhythms, themes like Laurence's famous Sabrina or channeling the founding fathers or Hotel Germain with the telephone on the floor tom. You always expected it to ring and and unexpectedly Laurence would pick up the phone and answer it.

To my eyes and ears it was pure surrealist magic in music, Laurence playing under a white sheet with red splotches on it,a Webern row. Craig tuning his bass to a shortwave radio.

I discussed with Laurence the difference between human speechlike gestures and mechanical structures, different types of endings, a sudden spatter or dissolution. Laurence also talked to me about Lowell Davidson saying that in the end Lowell had reduced himself to playing small intervals no greater than a tritone in each hand.

Laurence was always a romantic and continuously said ," play the pretty chords" "like Bill Evans" which used to annoy me especially since I thought Laurence was more inventive than Paul Motian. But of course in all the good music we try to appreciate the subtleties versus the niceties.

Bill Dixon had told me about Lowell and had asked me to seek him out.It was just a coincidence I guess but everybody I knew, knew Lowell and had worked with him, painter Linda Clave , cellist Glynis Lomon, Laurence Cook, John Voigt, Craig Schildhauer.

I mean it felt like I was surrounded by Lowell though I had never heard him especially when Linda Clave showed me a painting called 'Cities' which was based on a Lowell piece called 'Cities' and Dixon told me I had some of his sound which of course made me very nervous since I had no idea what he was talking about.

I got to meet Lowell and talk to him about Boston musicians and music.To me in a certain context Lowell was extremely lucid though I would not say linear. Lowell answered all my questions and even laughed with me about my awkward encounters in academia learning certain techniques like Madame Chaloff. Lowell clearly had an infamous reputation in academic circles which is what Boston is about musically and that made me feel better and also gave me courage in knowing I was right about certain things especially in regard to pedagogy.

One musician who will remain nameless said that Lowell always tried to get Madame Challoff's sound but never could. I knew this was horseshit but I wanted to hear what Lowell had to say and he said exactly the right thing because studying with someone and learning from them is not the same as imitating them. So Lowell said "They played scales, I studied with her" and Lowell was very proud.To me that encounter was a miracle, in such a cold academic/insurance town like Boston.

I liked Lowell's way of combining triads in different inversions.He was also extremely lyrical with a great balance of tension and release.John Voigt gave me a number of recordings on cassette of him with Laurence and Lowell.The spacing and interaction was something I had never heard in any ensemble.
My first recording called the Eric Zinman Trio had no acceptance or distribution.

Later John Voigt joined the group and I called it Eric Zinman Ensemble. I had been a fan of John Voigt's music since 1983 when I first saw him play with Bill Dixon. I loved his speechlike side stepping swinging way ,extremely sensitive to every dynamic, nuance, inflection and when I found out he was a poet, it made even more sense to me, plus John is full of ideas to create music.

Though obviously I've been inspired by musicians, over the years I have not been inspired by the music scene so much. My biggest influences in my life have been poetry and painting and more recently theater because of my work with Ian MacKinnon. My second recording was accepted by Cadence and it seems well distributed.I have continued to learn from everybody I play with, however I am a pianist and that limits me in many ways. That's why I took up the euphonium.

Whats important about the euphonium is that my thinking in music is always orchestral so the euphonium is a very useful instrument with a less common but strong supportive color. I like doing these very simple orchestral sketches with this horn.

Music is the only thing I have in my life. I worked at many jobs, like you have said, one where you focus on a task you don't care about, I mean like cab or dishwashing where you can still think about music.

When I look back most of my life has been spent alone, thinking. I'm an only child and not so social an animal though in recent years I've gotten better at being social and my work in business certainly helped socialize me.

I realized if I was going to be taken seriously as a musician I would have to leave Boston/Cambridge and travel, something that is very difficult to do with the piano. My first trip to Europe was in 2006. I was very well received in Berlin, Paris, and Vienna and I got to play with (in my opinion) some of the best players in Europe, Ernst Petrowsky, Jan Roder, Thomas Rehnert,Michael Griener, Benjamin Duboc, Didier Lasserre, Mario Rechtern, Fritz Novotny, Sepp Mitterbauer and more.However that did not get me plane tickets right away.

My teacher Bill Dixon exposed me to the European school. I first met some of these players in 1983 and through the 80's. Certain American players have shown their disinterest and even disdain for the European school but I feel it is the future.Perhaps my thinking is more political than just aesthetic. Right now nationalism is very strong all over the world. Music has the power to cut through that and change the way people interact.

So (it is) as Coltrane said "a force for good", because though it may be an American music, it is increasingly an international music.Perhaps it is the contrast of US foreign policy. Art and music are emotionally believable in a way that media and culture are not.

I learned many interesting things about art and politics in Europe. Culture is political influence through the feelings of the people. So it is said that Art speaks to you and I, but "culture" speaks to us. Most of the money for the arts in the US goes to culture meaning the Symphony Orchestra, museums, ballet etc.

When I read the interview you did with John Voigt he made the point that the widows of the robber barons gave their gelt to the symphony orchestra's, museums, ballet etc because they wanted their influence to continue. The BFA gave approx. 96 million dollars in MA in 2007. So contrary to what people say, there is a lot of money in the arts but artists receive very little of it."

3. Describe your community of colleagues and audiences.

"You have to be grateful for what audience you get. The problem in one art is the same in all the arts. I think Lola makes the right point. We must take joy in keeping this music alive. And she's right that there is a devoted audience.

So far my favorite audience has been Paris, each time they are completely silent and when the music is over they make more noise than anybody.

Though there is a devoted audience, in a transient city like Cambridge that is always changing. The audiences we've had have been extremely kind. For me they were larger in 1995 than now. Recently a number of musicians in Boston have really tried hard to get things going again and I am grateful for that. Its an honor to have really fine musicians in the audience. There seems to be a whole new line of fine musicians who take to this music with fire and that makes living here a lot more fun and exciting.

I described some of my colleagues in other questions but I left out Glynis Lomon and Syd Smart. I have known Syd since 1983 but did not play regularly with him until 2005. There were two drummers I had always wanted to play with, Laurence Cook and Syd Smart.So I feel I have lived my dream.I built my work around Laurence Cook.That was my beginning.

Raqib Hassan was the only musician ever to hire me for a band in the US. He hired me three times and fired me three times. Raqib's sound on the tenor was always a thrill for me, a unique sound and I used to love the way he would play whole solos in chords.I agree with Forbes (Graham) that Raqib's music is about peace on Earth as he so often says and that also attracted me.

I met Glynis in 1989 when I lived in JP. Bill Dixon had asked me to contact her and I did.The first time I didn't relate to her playing at all. I mean I was still under the spell of culture.I had done music since I was a kid and I didn't believe that the cello could or should sound like that.

Glynis is an anomaly (check out the astronomy definition of anomaly: the angular distance of a planet or satellite from its last perihelion or perigree) .She is known as the cellist who stands, as with bassists who sit on stools and play in symphony orchestras.

When you stand and play you get a different sound. Everyone knows she studied with Bill Dixon in the 70's and has recently been a part of his orchestra in several concerts and at least one recording but what people may not know is that Bill Dixon played the cello at one time and even recorded a film score entirely with him overdubbing all his own cello playing. I think the film is called the 'Wealth of a Nation' done in the 60's.

Bill Dixon knows what he wants from the cello and Glynis learned to play with all the instruments in Bill Dixon's ensemble equally, whether its playing fourths with the piano which you know is not easy for an instrument tuned in fifths or duets with percussion.

She has a dry sound more akin to a wind instrument, so she can play long tones with any wind instrument so it sounds like a section. no french romantic stuff and no prisoner to culture.She doesn't overdo the vibrato so she can blend more easily if she wants to.

She is equally at home with percussion and no one I know gets a sound like Glynis in the high register on any instrument.Glynis also is completely contemporary and uses the whole instrument with an enormous variety of color, rhythm,register, line, pizzicato long/short and wonderful bounce bowing.

She told me (and I happen to agree), that in formal concert music there is often a tendency to go for A SOUND or THE SOUND especially with string instruments which is a pristine rounded vibrato sound even as a soloist, though Glynis thought that Rostropovich was the exception and I once saw Rostropovich play and was surprised by the variety of colors that he could make within a phrase.

I think Syd Smart was one of Milford Graves longest standing students but I might need to verify that.Some may know that he played, toured and recorded with Sam Rivers in the 70's and performed with Bill Dixon in Vienna in the 80's, Jimmy Lyon's Box set and the recently released recording with Raphe Malik and Frank Wright which is really an incredible document of his playing from that period.

I think I covered the releases that are currently available.Syd understands where I'm coming from so he is very easy for me to play with. I like the impulse he creates with each sound, the way he uses his hands also on the trap set, the sense of surprise with sudden compounding rhythms, a dynamic subtlety that's very intense but rarely loud.

I worked for Clair Mallardie at Harvard in their dance program as an accompanist. I learned many things from Clair about performing and art. She said an artist has only two strengths, their humility, and their vulnerability.

I have come to believe that the best way to reach an audience is not the way of the entertainer by giving people what they want or trying to impress you but through your humanity which includes your humility and vulnerability and one concert that struck me where I think we felt that maybe there were some people in the audience who were not digging what we were playing (call me psychic for knowing this) and Syd suddenly left the drumset and continued to play the drums just by walking into the audience and using his feet , hands and voice and you felt this warm feeling because he wasn't trying to impress you.

He was just sharing deeply and intensely his feelings and as he got close to certain people in the audience I saw several of them smile like they felt it.Another time in Pittsfield recently he just stopped us and said "this is too serious" and began to tell this story about an entertainer named Penis Van Lesbos and had the audience laughing ridiculously. Glynis was not too happy.

Initially I was laughing because I needed to laugh that night (I'm also trying to practice nonserious therapy )and I guess I was impressed because it worked, though they all left after 30 minutes.They must have thought of us like some traveling circus act. So of course you can't win all the time ( at least we weren't singing Raw Hide while people threw bottles, like in the Blues Brothers movie). One more story of this nature deserves to be told.

As you may know when you start out in music, you invite friends and family, later on you know better because unless you play for people you don't know, you're not really a performer. One evening at the Willow Jazz Club, I had invited my relatives to see what I was doing.

They all started to talk while Laurence was playing. Laurence's approach to this was not so humble. He put on a boom box of an ailing distorted recording of Elvin Jones with Coltrane on cassette and proceeded to eat a sandwich on stage by the boom box while my family and relatives talked.Laurence finished the sandwich turned off the boom box and proceeded quite suddenly to imitate the sound of the drums on the boom box.

I've already said a lot about Mario Rechtern online he is gradually being recognized for his contribution, though its a bit late as always.
I should also say something about a record that I'm fond of that I made with Glynis Lomon and Blaise Siwula and two drummers: William Buchanan and Hugo Manuschevich.

Blaise is among the few people that called me and wanted to work with me and we did a number of sessions and concerts that led to a CD I called the THE GREAT DIVIDE which I was very happy with.The piano is a bit ambient sounding but it doesn't bother me.I tried to be like glue in that recording feeding the dialogue between Glynis and Blaise.

I don't think there were any solos of mine on that. I really liked the density, fleetness and fire in Blaise's playing and he was easy to work with and is a very sensitive ensemble player. Blaise also introduced me to Mario Rechtern. COMA, directed by Blaise Siwula is also a very positive force in NYC."

4.What are the important elements you apply to your personal approach to performance, repertoire and composition?

"What you practice has to come out of your ensemble experiences. I think of myself as an ensemble player. Initially I am not a fan of solo playing unless it encompasses these experiences. I use Bill Dixon's definition for composition:
"The assembling of materials generally accessible to everyone into a new order." I like this definition because it crosses disciplines.

It is not acceptable to academic composers. I am not a fan of repertoire though I give in a little. I was asked by Laurence and John to create compositions and provide guidelines and so I tried my best to comply. I have always kept sketch books. I also listen back to many sessions and often create pieces from those selections.

But each piece is supposed to help you get to the next thing or idea you are working toward. This involves understanding and contemplating what the musicians in your ensemble do and what you can do as a composer to make them sound their best i.e getting the most from them and imposing the least on them. I can't explain beyond that."

5.What role does teaching have in your work?

"Because I only teach at an elementary level, its role is to reinforce fundamental materials that all musicians use. Everybody knows what a major scale is so we're all classically trained. The question is more ' How can the instrument function in the contemporary (present) ensemble, based on what's been accomplished in 100 years?

As you know every new work of art changes the way we perceive the old, so in my opinion history is only useful in relation to this question. Rhythm is still the unexplored territory in music. So then I say that's how music should be taught, in relation to the present ensemble. I think most creative musicians would agree with me.

6. How have changes in the economy impacted your work?

"Because so little is offered, I'm not sure yet."

7. If you perform beyond your region or overseas, how has that changed over time?

"It has improved for me since 2006 as people get to know who I am and what I do. I was able to get more opportunities and money but I think that is mostly through musicians and not promoters. There are some but not many reviews in their languages. Several times people have asked for information about me and I send it out and hear nothing back so now I don't do that."

8.How has technology and changes in the way music circulates impacted your work?

"The internet seems to have made my career in some ways, but that can be deceptive as internet presence does not always translate into high paying gigs. Ayler records in Sweden has been good to me and has brought some reviews. As you know the-improvisor has been online for over 10 years now."

9. Describe your current and potential future projects and collaborations along with things you would like to do.

"I have no special plans other than the projects I am currently working. I have generally led my own groups. Its only recently that people have asked me to do things. When I return from Europe I would like to perform an electric concept that I've been working on with Laurence.

It seems to stem back to 1992 when I was doing some electronic music with Laurence Cook and Marc Leibowitz. We were using a casio sampler and also an old patch analog moog snythesizer with amplified acoustic guitar and piano. One other project I want to finally get to is solo piano. I'm creating sketches for this and I am using several drawing/paintings by Linda Clave."

(Eric Zinman and Ernst Ludwig Petrowsky)

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