Monday, July 02, 2007
In Full # 1, part two: Walt Dickerson (w/ an Abdul Wadud appetizer)
before we get to the continuation of the Dickerson interview, make sure you get over to Jazz e Arredores--one of a seemingly infinite amount of incredible Euro free-jazz blogs--and download "By Myself," a 1977 solo cello album by Abdul Wadud. if you don't know Wadud, he did his most prominent work w/ Julius Hemphill, laying down some serious funk on records like "Dogon A.D." and "Coon Bid'ness."
"By Myself" is a masterpiece, and impossible to find at that. some very out sawing-style frenzy on here for the skronk lovers, but also some seriously folksy, lyrical and steady-grooving stuff. the beauty and range of the instrument really come out, i.e. it's like the best parts of solo double bass and solo acoustic guitar wrapped into one. some of this stuff, esp. the first track, reminds me of Robbie Basho in its raga-like churn. read Wadud's awesome liner notes here.
does anyone know of Wadud's current whereabouts? i had assumed he'd passed away b/c i haven't heard of him playing in quite a while, but i have no real evidence to support that.
without further ado, i present to you part two of the Walt Dickerson interview from 6/29/03. first part is here in case you missed it, and a Dickerson mp3 is here if you're curious.
[some quotes depend heavily on inflection, so if you have trouble deciphering what he's getting at in any particular passage, drop a line and i'll try to paraphrase.]
HS: It seems that your music requires a lot of dexterity. Having never seen you live, I’m curious: Do you move around when you play?
WD: I used to - used to - move. That's they way- That's what I felt, and my feelings would cause me to move, and I would move according to my feelings. What I was playing at the time, and- So they would be varied, my physical movements would be varied according to what I was playing at the time. Over a period of time, the movements became less, less pronounced, and now my movements are usually to get over the instruments; sometimes, some passages cause me to move in a very accelerated fashion to get what I'm reaching for. But my movements are less, and I think that's due to being able to reach or access what it is I hear more easily. As the development of the technique increases or increased, the movement became less; the physical movement became less. Yeah, that's how that whole movement thing was.
HS: You played with a lot of people that are not well known, such as the drummer Jimmi Johnsun and the bassist Andy McKee.
WD: Andy McKee is a fine bassist, and he's around New York now to my knowledge; yeah, he's around New York now, and he came to- The last time I saw Andy was when I performed at the Vanguard in New York, and he came down, and we had a nice time together. As a matter of fact, he brought his bass down; he wanted to play in the worst way, but at the time it wasn't possible. But he was in several of the big bands around New York.
Jimmi Johnsun was a musical drummer, a very musical drummer; he played piano also- very tasty. And he played with several of the New York musicians. Their names escape me now, but at the time, they were among the ones doing it on the scene, and Jimmi Johnsun was a part of that group of very good musicians. [He was] out of Baltimore. I know Jimmi from when I was in school at Morgan State University and Peabody Conservatory, and he had a strong desire to go to Europe, and I fulfilled his burning desire to visit Europe, and he performed excellently.
But then, there was Abdul-Malik who was well known, the bassist who was a cornerstone of Monk's quartet for a good while; we had some interesting excursions. Malik, I enjoyed playing with.
I played with all the musicians that- Benny Golson, out of Philly; I played with them. So, along the way, I played with many of them, but I chose certain individuals when I was in New York for the recordings, individuals that appealed to me at the time; I didn't go according to, you know, who they had played with; it didn't matter to me, no. Their talents, their taste was what persuaded me to choose them; all of them that I chose for my recordings, that's what it was based on. There were those that were with the individuals that one would say- front-line individuals that asked, but I didn't care to have them record with me, yeah. Choice, choices was the reason that I chose them, the individuals that did perform with me. Based on musicality, compatibility, and I liked them as human beings; that has a lot to do with it too.
HS: Henry Grimes has resurfaced recently.
WD: Yes, I heard, I heard. Isn't that wonderful?
HS: Have you been in touch with him?
WD: No, I have not. No, I got the wire [Note: Though Grimes’s story was reported in the music magazine the Wire, this is actually a reference to Dickerson’s personal network of musician friends. It’s explained just below.]—of course I always get the information... by way of the wire, I have connections; I'm well-informed of what's going on just about everywhere because people are in constant contact with me, letting me know what's going on. So, I'm not in a void.
Yeah, I was glad to hear that Henry was back- a very fine bassist. I recall, he was on the West Coast- the information I received was that he was on the West Coast and that he's now back. And I think Reggie [Workman]'s doing his best to assist him on his return. That's what I've heard so far, and I’m glad to hear it; I look forward to hearing some things from Henry, yeah, yeah.
He had a brother that was a tremendous tenor saxophonist, tremendous tenor saxophonist. I recall the Grimes brothers... Oh yeah, he's from Philly... Oh yeah, I chose him [for the Jazz Impressions of Lawrence of Arabia session]; he came right in and did a fantastic job.
HS: Who are the other musicians, besides Andrew Cyrille, who make up "the wire"?
WD: Strangely enough, they're- most of them are PhD's at various universities; constant contact. During the summer, they'll be through; they'll call me, and we'll spend time together- come down, come up, come down, come from the West, come from wherever they are. We'll spend a couple of days going over things. A couple musicians- I won't name them, I won't give up my sources, except for the one that you mentioned.
Yeah, having to do with the educational process they find me aggravating at times, but interesting, is the reason why I guess we're still in contact, [why I've] developed a friendship with them. But there's always a heated debate when they come around, and I find it enjoyable, and they find it enjoyable- refreshing. They need that; they need it; I understand that they need it, so I give it to them! They need it in the worst way, and they love me for giving it to them, getting them out of the doldrums of academia.
I understand it's a job, a job, as most of these institutional things are, but don't become enamored with it, you know, like, it is what it isn't. See it for what it is, and do your job. Some find it increasingly difficult; they become rather rebellious as far as the curriculum is concerned, and I've been accused of that- through conversation with some of them, and them becoming rather rebellious and wanting to institute certain things in the curriculum that kind of rub the hierarchy the wrong way. And I've been guilty of that, and happily so; it means I'm doing my job. So musically and verbally, which are the same - One and the same; always remember they're one and the same; what one espouses verbally is what you'll hear musically; they're one and the same; but of course that isn't taught in academia, that they're one and the same; they're separate; those two areas are separated. "Now let's talk about the man. We've discussed his music; now let's talk about the man." is the way it goes. Well, don't you know, when you discuss his music, you discuss what he's about; you're discussing what the man stands for; they're one and the same. Then the person gets a better glimpse of what the person is really about when you put the two together as it should be. He's not a separate entity from his projections; they're one and the same. Treat them as such; view them as such, and then you get the complete picture. Isolate them, and you'll get a distorted picture, not complete, subject to your assumptions, which are ninety percent of the time erroneous. Put them together; like in life, you put them together, and you bypass the automatic bicameral processes, and that's the objective: to become conscious to the state whereby you can pass those bicameral processes. That's evolving because they're automatic bicameral processes; that's an automatic process; those are the automatic processes that occur, no thought involved, subject to hallucinatory events; by way of the automatic bicameral process one is subject to that hallucinatory phenomenon, listening to.
Hence, mysticism; hence the formation of institutions to control and dominate the mass by way of various figures put before them.
HS: Are you talking about religion?
WD: [sarcastically] How keen you must be. Of course. Also astro-quantum-particle physics are involved in that, one of the culprits, dealing in cold fusion, low-energy nano-nanotechnology in the search for the fictional, wishful birthplace of our forever-evolving plasmatic universe by way of the Big Bang. Remember what I told you earlier, and you put the pieces together: Starting here, starting here, starting here - that which forever has been. Fact! Honesty. It's a joy. And as you do that, Hank, some interesting facts come up from your storehouse of facts which are already there. As you meditate, focus on these profound things, things that come to you as some would say out of the blue. No, nothing is by chance; everything can be determined [???]. It appears a bit cloudy at first, but then one focuses; the clouding dissipates, and another fact appears on the photoscreen of your mind, an undeniable fact accompanied by honesty; already there, already there waiting for you to access it.
Some revelations appear so clear, I've had occasions, and my wife also, to just embrace each other with joy, sometimes with tears of joy as to how it occurs, how the process works. They ask me, and they'll ask my wife- she usually passes it on to me- "How long have you been married?" they'll ask my wife. She'll say, "Ask Walt." Well, they're usually kind of reluctant if they've ever said anything to me; they usually have their reservations about asking me things, people in general; I don't know why, but I do know why, because my reply is "Forever." "No, no, no" is what they'll say, "I don't mean that." [laughter] And my reply is, "But I do mean that, but you don't understand what my forever encompasses, and simply, it encompasses forever! Now one day when you have time and I have equal time, I'll be glad to sit down with you and share some things with you so as to bring about some clarity in your mind regarding what I meant by the statement 'forever.'" And that's always an amusing point to make, pursuing that question; it always has been very amusing to me, but it is congruent with being ageless, "Oh, but that's right, we haven't talked, or you would begin to put the pieces together." When we can communicate- I mean communicate - we are of the same age; yesterday, today, and tomorrow are today, thus the sameness on the scale of infinity.
HS: I’m curious about other members of your family. One of your compositions is dedicated to a brother who died, right?
WD: [hesitantly, gravely] Yes, yes, we were very close. Service-related; at sea. Hmmm... a smaller craft capsized and went down. We were very close; we had many moments of joy together early on... [He was] older...
As a matter of fact I had two brothers that passed by way of the service, armed forces. There were four of us; two went that route. So when I speak about wars- totally unnecessary. Initiatory force is only valid in self-defense; other than that, it's destructive and value-less. There is no need for that kind of activity; it does not occur in the civilization of the universe- civilizations of the universes; it does not occur. Again, a fact that we are in the anti-civilization. And I hear them speak; I hear the verbiage: what we must do to them, what we must do to them- I hear it. You can't help but hear it; it's so pervasive; we're being inundated by it. And I did my time in that part of the system, the armed forces, strangely enough; so it's not like I'm speaking as an outsider. I went through that, but even then what did I do? I looked at the gun as if it was my enemy. I looked at the rifle that was given to me to do what, to do what? To commit murder to another mother's son and I knew that wasn't right; I knew that wasn't right.
So then, the forces that I later became aware of told me what to do. I did that. So I was assigned to the Seventh Army Symphony- again, playing music – which is located in Stuttgart, Germany. I also toured with my own quartet while in the service, playing music. I discarded the uniform while I was in the service; I wore civilian clothes while performing in the army; I toured extensively; I enjoyed playing music while in the army.
My eldest brother wasn't as fortunate. When he went in, he was shot unfortunately; he lost his little finger on his left hand. He was a fantastic concert violinist; of course that ended his career as a violinist, as you very well know how important that little finger is.
So, that was my excursion through the service and the realization that there had to be a better way for man to deal with man than warfare. No, that's not civil at all; that's not humane at all. Therefore, the music indicates that. It's there; it happens when performing, various thoughts come across one's mind. Sometimes, it happens before you commence to perform; something will be on your mind of that ilk, and whereas I used to try to shake it from my mind, I learned to embrace it and let the thoughts and creative projections coexist which is what's supposed to happen: one answers the other; therefore it's there in the music.
Oh, what a sea of sound [responding to birds chirping?].
HS: Is there a possibility or a desire for collaboration with other musicians in the future?
WD: There's always been requests; I'm always being requested. Requests are always being made: "Let's do; let's do." And I'm not saying that I won't at some point in time; I probably will at some point. I might just do a duo performance with someone, a concert duo performance. I haven't ruled anything out; nothing is etched in stone, so that remains to be seen.
HS: Your duets have been very artful, sparse and meditative. I think you really pioneered something in your duets with Richard Davis and Pierre Dorge that hasn't been pursued by anyone else.
WD: Yes, you're right; I don't know of it having been pursued by anyone else, but there again, that's the beauty in the art form: there's a niche there, a niche there, so many niches to be filled. That's the nature of what we're dealing with. It isn't necessary. If you want that, there it is; if you enjoy that, there it is; if you enjoy that, there it is. So many areas to be filled; we're dealing with an art of creativity at its highest level. When you're dealing with creativity at its highest level, all of the niches can never be filled; there's a niche for everyone, every artist, and it behooves the artist to seek his or her niche, and, as it has been written, that that is the area of greatness. Be that as it may, it's just something that I'm a part of, and it's a part of me; we are the same, one and the same. So, it is with great honor and distinction that I accept that and cherish that uniqueness. Hopefully, it will allow others - and this has happened to hear that, pinch from it, and try to find their own niche; that has happened: many pinches from it, hopefully in route to finding their own niche. Yes; yes; yes.
HS: You seem to want to record and perform.
WD: Oh yeah! Hank, that's my job; that's what I'm here for; that's my love!
HS: Actually I’m here for the same thing. My band played last night in Philadelphia.
WD: Why didn't you tell me? Yeah, why didn't to tell me! Awww, don't do that!
HS: You would have been into checking it out?
WD: Of course I would have. Wow, wow.
HS: Well, it’s sort of a heavy rock band...
WD: It's funny, one time I was performing someplace, and there was a very strong rhythm and blues element at the club, and they were used to some very hard – you know what I’m talking about – the backbeat and so forth; that’s what they were used to. So, I started to play in that area just for the hell of it and the fact that I can, and Andrew [Cyrille] was the drummer, and Andrew picked it up and began to apply the backbeat, and we got into a thing there [laughs]- I never will forget it; we brought the house down with this backbeat, blues excursion, and after it was over, Andrew ran up to me and said, “Damn, Walt, I never knew you could play that shit!” [laughs] It was one of the funniest experiences. I said, “Man, please, don’t you know that’s how you come up, playin’ everything?” You come up playin’ everything… I forget who the other ones [on the gig] were; it was really just Andrew and myself who got what was going on because I think the other two were just shocked; they weren’t even present really; there was just the two of us, you know, into the thing… I was playing the things that I was playing in the Prestige days… It was back then, but I never forgot it. Oh, you never forget that; oh no; never forget it.
Like I said, we came up playing everything; that’s how we came up. We played everything coming through. You name it: singers, the rest of it. Yeah… It brought me to where I am; it was a part of the growth cycle; sure. It’s enriching, and everybody has their own way of coming through; I don’t say, “You should do this, or you should do that;” no, no, no; it’s not for me to say how you should come through; that’s you; you’re building your uniqueness. How you come through? No, I don’t give advice on that; no. “You should do this; you should do that.” No. I can appreciate you for where you are. I don’t care where you are in your growth cycle; I can see where you are, and I can appreciate where you are. See that’s the difference, knowing that that’s a period in time; that’s where he is or she is at this period in time. “Now let me hear; let me hear.” Then you listen to things; you listen to things; you hear things; beautiful, beautiful. And it doesn’t matter where you are on that scale; you would get nothing but encouragement from me. You see, that’s being who we really are. If I can be an inspiration to a person, if I can uplift their spirits, that’s what I’m about. [We] don’t have to be about the same thing, ok? We can go into a blues house and enjoy it, and enjoy them for where they are.
I’m not to say [whether or not rock is valid]; I’m not to say that. I know they’ve attributed some things about it that they used to attribute to the music that I play. Quote: “Awww, what could be any worse than the devil’s music?” And I’m going to turn around and join that mentality by saying derogatory things about what they say is that music? No, you don’t get that from me; please, please. I’m not there; I’m not there at all; I will not join you as you go about abrogating this music or that music; no, I won’t join you there; no. The same thing has been done to me; should I repeat it? Then I haven’t learned. No, no. I want to hear what you have to say. I don’t care where you are. If I happen to be there, or you happen to be in my presence, I want to hear what you have to say, musically and verbally, and then I’m going to pick out nothing but the delightful aspects of what you said or what you played; those are the only things that are going to come from my lips. You see because if that’s all I look for, that’s what I’ll hear, that’s what I’ll see, that’s what I’ll receive, and that’s what I’ll become. Only the beautiful aspects.
[I tell Walt about the rock bands that I’m in.]
… So many ways to get what you want done from that person; they do things that you enjoy, so we just bridge the gap and go over here and sit down and talk and, “You know what? I like your strength. We were playing that song and your strength…, and if you were ever in control of your nuances, that would be awesome, baby; that would be awesome.” “What did you say, Walt? ‘If I was in control of my nuances?’ Well, hell, I can work on that.” I said, “I know damn well you can work on that.” It’s done… They love you; they love you because you’re giving it to them with love. Remember what you throw out; throw out what you want to come back; throw out the love. I love the love coming back- Oh yes, yes, yes! … Sure, but that’s why we’re alive; we love love comin’ back at us, just being inundated by love comin’ back at us- the greatest feeling there is.
Dudes on the street: “Man, I love you Mr. Dickerson; man, you a cool dude [laughs]. Everywhere, I mean wherever I go. They could be hoods, what some people would call hoods, gangsters- I talk to ‘em; they don’t even know who I am, but I talk to ‘em man-to-man about an issue one of ‘em had.
[His grandmother said,] “Mr. Dickerson, would you talk to ‘em? There’s three of ‘em over there, and I’m tryin’ to tell ‘em they don’t have to do the things they do; life’s not about bein’ a gangster; you’ve got the wrong slant on life.”
“Sure, sure, sure. They your boys? Sure I’ll talk to ‘em.”
“You gonna come down and talk to ‘em? It’s kinda rough down there; it’s kinda rough.”
I said, “How rough is it?”
“Well, you know, shootings go on.”
I said, “The place ever blow up?”
“No, the place never blew up.” [laughs]
I said, “Ok, that’s cool then.” [laughs]
And I go there; I go there, drive down, and usually- I remember three of ‘em in particular - they were considered very hard-core, ok? – and one of ‘em’s grandmother asked me to talk to ‘em – she’s a fan of mine… I’m a father; they’re young men, ok? See, it encompasses all areas of one’s life, ok? The music. I remember this particular incident: the fellow to the right of me was sitting there with the other three, and I walked in; he introduced himself; the other three introduced themselves; a couple of ‘em reluctantly did so. I gave them their handshake. “Oh man!” one of ‘em said. I wasn’t supposed to know their handshake, you understand? I wasn’t one of them. I said, “I don’t have much time, fellas; I don’t have much time, but the time we spend is going to be quality time, ok?” “Yeah, that’s cool.”
Because they were about to do something, ok? I said, “You hope to have kids someday, right?”
“Yeah, I’m gonna have kids; sure, yeah, I’m gonna have kids.”
“You don’t want any harm comin’ to those kids, right? To your kids? You don’t any harm comin’ to ‘em? You have a beautiful little daughter, you don’t want anyone harmin’ her? You have a nice handsome son, you don’t want anybody slidin’ up to him, blowin’ him away, do you? You wouldn’t like that, would you? They’d better not.” I said, “Ok, let’s start now by preventing that from happening.”
“How you gonna do that, man?”
“By you not doing it; by you not doing it; that’s the first thing. There’s gotta be another way, man. I tell you what, I’m gonna invite all of you over to my crib, and then we’re going to talk further.”
“You gonna invite us up to your room?”
“I said up to my crib man? You know where I’m comin’ from; I hope you know where I’m comin’ from.”
“Damn, man, you real. Man, where you get him from, man?” they said to the one who invited me.
“I told you, man,” he said. “I know some down old dudes.”