The Point Of All This...
I grew up in a small town on the coast of Maine, and although for many if not most who grow up there, it's an experience that shapes one with a deep connection to the location, I only partially found that to be true. Maine, the rough coast and the toughness of the weather were all powerful influences and lasting ones to be sure, but thanks to my dad, I always had one eye looking elsewhere. My dad turned me on to jazz as he understood that (and that meant lots of Stan Kenton and Brubeck) while I was still very young. When I was seven I saw the Kenton band at a ballroom somewhere in the Portland area and it was like I was shot through the skull with a diamond bullet. Although Kenton was renowned for his famous low brass sound, it was the trumpet section that got me. They were incredibly present and I wanted to play that horn. After a few years of badgering, my folks came to realize that this wasn’t going to go away and I eventually became a trumpet player.
I went to college at Berklee in Boston and it was life-changing on many levels. My conception of what jazz music was changed dramatically – and I started to really learn to play it. I met and lived with some amazing talent and absorbed a great deal before moving to New York upon graduation.
My years in New York were not always easy and there were constant struggles. Living a musical life, particularly as a jazz musician (and a trumpeter) is not for the faint of heart. I played, I took day gigs – whatever it took to continue what I considered a lifelong process. And I never gave up.
Part of my continuing education was branching out from just playing jazz to taking every gig imaginable. I played funk, pop, rock, street music, drum corps, high end stuff and gigs to keep your chops up – I pretty much played everything and something interesting happened as a result. I came to realize that musical people – musicians and listeners alike - had managed to convince themselves that whatever particular niche/genre that they had attached themselves to was clearly the highest level of musical expression possible. I found this mind-boggling - that people who thought of themselves as the most open-minded actually had a vein of musical parochialism deeply embedded in their thinking and an incredible ability to rationalize practically anything. Not only was this tendency tremendously short sighted it was also intellectually and artistically dishonest. I had encountered this throughout my life, yet still couldn’t believe that the inherent contradiction in these views was not self-evident, something long since relegated to the junk heap and recognized as being that by a community capable of policing itself. Call me naive. The more I turned this around in my brain, the more it seemed to me that the best any style/genre/school of thought could possibly achieve is to make an incomplete description of an infinitely greater whole. It is as if each musical aesthetic is a painter at the foot of a great peak, staring up, poised in front of an easel with brush in hand and desperately trying to capture it in its entirety. In such an analogy, no single painter can possibly get it all – they can only reflect what can be seen from their particular vantage point (which is fine, of course, but that’s not what is being claimed or attempted). To understand "the mountain" fully, you’d need a number of painters at different spots surrounding the site to more completely represent it. Then, only when the work of the assembled artists is complete, can one take in all of the collected paintings and more clearly understand the subject. Similarly, no one musical style can capture what music has to offer the listener. Music is too inescapably vast for the achievements of any particular genre to be the only standard by which we judge the whole (if we even dare do so, although that judgment is clearly pervasive). I had always suspected this was true since I was a kid and again at college, but now living in the “musical multiverse” I could see it as it actually was. There was no wishing it away - it was clear that there was no single path to the promised land. In fact, if you wanted to reach "musical Nirvana" it was a prerequisite that as many paths as possible be trod.
Shortly after I met my wife, we moved out of the city to a quiet area an hour north of Manhattan in the woods. There, I built a studio (The Defiant Amoeba) with the intention of making recordings that simply refused to play by the rules. I was tired of creatively stifling dogma regarding what could and could not be done and I really resented the idea that pop musicians could seemigly do whatever they wanted in the studio, but that "serious artists" could not. I thought to myself, "No fair. Why can't I play with the toys like the cool kids? Shouldn't a balance be possible between an over-reliance on technology and refusal to utilize it?" With these thoughts in mind, I resolved to mix styles on a whim but with a purpose – to break down the barriers of musical parochialism wherever and whenever possible. Force the listener to switch gears - the culture has prepared us for this, it's just time to make the leap, because if we can see various points of view in our music, perhaps we can see the wisdom in being more open-minded in other aspects of our lives as well. Furthermore, I do not believe that "popular" is automatically good or bad or that the only good music is a kind that is played for other purists (and I know a ton of people riding that train to oblivion). I've tried to remove this intramural aspect from what I do to the degree that it is possible. I simply want no part of that.
Our job as musicians is to distract and transport people – all people, not just the musically educated - and I don’t think we should care about genre anymore. What we want above all else is passion and something sublime that moves us. I will not find additional barriers besides the copious ones that already exist to hinder my expression. In a world that does not support or respect what people like me do, it is vital to me to find any way possible to say what I must and get that word out to more people. If there is a political element to my work, it is to inspire in others a desire to be more flexible, to be less influenced by groups, organizations and dogma (artistic and otherwise) and to be comfortable with the notion of thinking independently and creatively.