In your opinion, what distinguishes a musician from being good and being great, from achieving greatness rather than just being average?
As in any endeavor, I think that there are a lot of people who are just great thinkers, people who are able to take what the basics are and really expand that and extend that to greater horizons. In jazz, there are people like Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane. There have been a lot of great thinkers in jazz: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny. I think Greg Osby is a great thinker. I think Nicholas Payton is a great thinker, and Jeff Keezer is a great thinker.
A lot of musicians out there, as I said, they just take your basic rules and they twist them and they turn them, and they kind of just make their own personal thing out of it, not really worrying about what has been done before that. The reason why they don’t worry about what has been done before them is because they already know what has been done before them. They have studied the history thoroughly to know what has been done and what has not been done — and what can be tweaked and messed with so that they can make their own personal statement.
I think sometimes, as I mentioned earlier, before the jazz defenders, they kind of deter a lot of great thinking because great thinking might consist of going against the grain. When we are talking about this “Great Tradition” that we want to quote-unquote, “keep in tact,” a lot of musicians I believe subconsciously think that I better not mess with the tradition too much. But you kind of have to do that I think to really make something personal, either with the instrument or with the actual type of music that you play. Be free! Don’t even worry about what other people think.
Right, and then again it comes down to the labels themselves because I know a lot of artists talk about how they do not have the freedom to create what they want to create. They are kind of pigeon-holed into doing what the label wants to present to the public.
Fortunately and unfortunately, I think that is starting to change because there really aren’t any major labels anymore. I mean. if you think about jazz, Sony doesn’t have a jazz division anymore. Verve is certainly nothing like it was in the mid-90s. You have a label like Concord or Telarc or Maxjazz, there really aren’t too many big labels that have that machine that I spoke of earlier — the money machine to put into the artists that really want to touch jazz. So the musicians who really do want to be free and make the music that they want to make, a lot of them are starting their own labels now because we understand the music business. We don’t mind taking a few losses in order to get our message out there unadultered.