katan500: You seem to come up with some interesting, if not curious titles for your compositions...albums... How do you go about naming them?
AH: It completely varies to be honest, although there are a few devices I use: some of the titles are in the form 'x/y' - e.g. 'assemble/melancholy', 'listen/glow', 'totem/bud'. With these, the first word refers to a structural device I've devised for myself, and the second more to an emotional idea. There is a series of 'Baobab' pieces too: 'Baobabs', 'Unknown Baobabs', 'Baobab Constellation', etc. - these all share a melodic and a structural trait.
katan500: Tell me more because I'm imagining trees...
AH: There is also a series of piece titled with initials: MO, AW/LY, etc. Others compositions don't fit into any larger titling scheme...so 'ITTOQQORTOORMIIT' is actually the name of a place in Greenland, but the shape of the word with the repeated letters just happened to resonate with a rhythmic device in the composition.
katan500: How did you come up with Song Singular for you new solo album?
AH: Song Singular is actually the name of an (as yet) unrecorded trio composition, but it seemed apt to call the solo album this. Song and movement are useful ideas for me in thinking compositionally - hence also 'Song/Dance', the second Convergence Quartet album on Clean Feed.
katan500: And what about Step Wide, Step Deep with your Trio...
AH: Step Wide, Step Deep is a paraphrase of something which caught my imagination in an interview with Henry Threadgill. The second tune on Step Wide, Step Deep is called 'Space of Time Danced Thru' - this may ring a bell for Cecil Taylor afficionados...
katan500: You are playing at the Vortex Jazz Club on 18th November with Louis Moholo-Moholo how did this collaboration come about?
AH: My collaborations with Louis are the products of one of my most important musical relationships. He is in a very, very short list of the greatest drummers on the planet, and was someone whose records I had loved for many years before I ever got to meet, let alone play with, him. I still feel hugely privileged to get to hear him as frequently as I do, and from one of the best seats in the house. He is, for me, a model musician, in that he is constitutionally incapable of giving less than everything in a performance. Musicians are prone to pontification about concepts and the importance of what they do, sometimes at the expense of actually just *playing*: but a musician who has experienced what Louis has experienced has a very special perspective on freedom, and the social importance of music, which it's humbling to bear in mind. I think it's fair to say he keeps me honest more than any other musician I can think of.
Katan500: Is it true that you first met at the Vortex?
AH: I first met him when I subbed for Steve Beresford, and the request of Evan Parker, in the group 'Foxes Fox' (ordinarily Evan, Steve, John Edwards, and Louis; although on this occasion Steve was unavailable), and this is in the long list of things for which I am indebted to Evan. Actually, we literally met for the very first time on the stage of the Vortex that night.
katan500: I was hoping you were going to say on the sofa...but stage is good too...
AH: A few months after this, I was in the audience at a gig of one of Louis' own groups...he saw me between sets, and asked if I'd like to sit in for the second set. Of course I didn't really know the tunes, other than as a listener to the records, so in some respects I was little crazy to say yes, but naturally I'd have been way crazier to say no, and I've been lucky enough to have played with Louis since then time in various formations - sextet, septet, octet, duo, and most recently a quartet too. Suffice it to say that every opportunity to make music with him is a special one. We've certainly played together more at the Vortex than at any other venue, [Katan500: flattery gets you everywhere...] but this is the first time we've done the duo there, so I'm hugely excited about it.
Katan500: I only noticed yesterday that you had left a comment on my piece about Howard Becker, I was interested in what he called the etiquette of improvisation can you say how this idea of etiquette works in practice? What’s your experience of it?
AH: I have to confess, I don't know that specific Becker piece, so I shouldn't really comment without being familiar with it (the one which loomed largest for me whilst in academia was 'Outsiders', which I suppose is just one of the classic works of 20th Century sociology). That said, Becker being an 'insider' on this 'outsider' existence, I can imagine his account being compelling. As for things such as repertoire being negotiated ideas - absolutely, that resonates: at least, in a jam session setting, or in a standards-type gig where a group gets together on a less formal basis. I suspect Becker wasn't writing about bands with their own repertoires - e.g. if you turn up to Charles Mingus' gig, the process of putting together a performance is somewhat different than if you're on stage at 'Jazz at the Phiharmonic'. That said, Becker's observations would doubtless cast some light on the processes even in these settings of specific bandleaders/repertoires. For example, you might argue that musical choices - even down to the level of note-choices - are in some way negotiated (even if implicitly) in these contexts. Think of the negotiation in these terms: the musician has a broad decision-making context: his/her life experience, current background trends in music making, perhaps the venue in which he/she is playing - things like this. Then there are rules or norms which are active in the particular context: are there rhythmic matrices at play? Chord changes perhaps? Dynamic norms? Then the musician has his/her own interpretive practices through which (s)he makes sense of the context and the particular rules...and the form and substance of the music is what comes out of all of this.
Katan500: Jazz musicians tend to play with a number of bands e.g. you have the AH Ensemble and also play with the Convergence Quartet and others, how do you keep the identity and the sounds of the bands separate: or maybe it’s not even an issue...
AH: My only guiding principle is that I try to be myself, and play to the best of my ability in any context. Taking into account that different groups having different personnel, repertoires and working norms, there are plenty enough variables at play at all times to keep any new context sounding fresh!
katan500: I thought I saw somewhere that you are self-taught did you use sociologist David Sudnow's method? Does it work?
AH: To be completely accurate, I am self-taught as an improviser - I didn't go to music college or anything like that. However, in terms of instrumental technique, I did study classical piano and church organ when I was much younger - the organ in particular to a pretty high level I suppose - so I acquired an initial technical base from these studies (although over the years, I've obviously tweaked many things: my own improvisational language being, I suppose, pretty far removed from the these 'classical' languages).
I think the important thing about Sudnow though is that his is a descriptive sociology: he's really describing the process of learning an instrument, rather than being prescriptive - at least on my reading!
katan500: Tell me about your upcoming gig at the Vortex?
AH: As mentioned above, it's an exciting one, in that it's the first time Louis and I have played in duo at the club. It's difficult to say more, since in fact, one of the things which characterises a typical gig with Louis is that there is no such thing as a 'typical' gig. The moment really is everything with his bands; so whilst the repertoire is sure to include some open improvisations, many South African tunes (many of these associated with the two legendary bands he powered - the Blue Notes and the Brotherhood of Breath), perhaps some Ellington and so forth, how these will develop on the evening is anyone's guess!
katan500: You will also be busy curating 3 late night sessions can you say a bit about your plans for this...
AH: I was very excited when approached to do this, and my immediate decision was that I didn't want to play at all: I wanted to curate, and then just listen...however, at around the time I was approached, one of my favourite bands to play in - 'Human' (the fantastic project of drummer Steve Davis, a quartet featuring Steve, Alex Bonney on trumpet, Dylan Bates on violin, and myself) had recently had gigs in London and Belfast cancelled due to terrible weather preventing the relevant flights from going. I felt that I'd really love for this band to do something; so Steve's band plays the first night. On the second night, Alex Ward is playing a solo set on the clarinet. Alex was one of the first musicians I began to play with around London. By anyone's measure, he's an astonishing musician, and by mine, a genius (and I say this fully aware of how overused the word is). Alongside this solo, Kit Downes and Lucy Railton will perform a duo set. And on the final night, Tom Skinner is bringing 'Hello Skinny' along, which I'm really excited about. Tom *really* knows music. I sometimes feel that if he hasn't heard it and checked it out, it may well in fact simply not exist.
katan500: Thank you very much Alex for being such a good sofa sport. That concludes the first 'On the Sofa' interview. I look forward to seeing you at the Vortex soon.
VORTEX JAZZ CLUB DATES
Alex Hawkins with Louis Moholo-Moholo 18 Nov 20.30
Alex Hawkins curates: 21 Nov 23.00 , 22 Nov 23.30 , 23 Nov 23.30