Tafuri: How did you
guys come up with this concept of doing Bartók?
Lossing: Well, it was
an aborted jam session, actually. We had a session scheduled
at my apartment. And I don't remember who was suppose to
play drums, but for some reason the drummer didn't make
it. So, it was just the three of us, and I had this music
sitting on my piano. And we got the idea "Let's just
try playing this..." You know, "whatever"...and
we did. And it just kept evolving from there - different
ways of playing that music.
Tafuri: So everybody
just huddled around the piano score...or piano pieces and
Hebert: Well, we didn't
play any really complicated ones at first.
Kolker: No, the first
time we played, we played free on one of the Mikrokosmos.
Just kind of picked out parts and.... I don't remember
which one it was, and just let it evolve
Tafuri: So that was
the start of it?
Kolker: That was the
Lossing: And we dug
Hebert: And it was
fun to improvise. Just within that one get-together, we
noticed a lot of possibilities within the music that we
could develop further. So, we said 'OK, that was great,
let's get together again.'
Hebert: it really happened
kind of fast, I thought. As far as between then and actually
putting something on tape, recording the actual thing...
Tafuri: So it was natural...it
felt like something that was very natural ?
Lossing: We'd been
playing together a bunch before then.
Hebert: Yeah, and in
various different grooves and combinations.
Tafuri: So you guys
already had a certain rapport?
Lossing: I think so,
Tafuri: But then after
you started working on this stuff for a while, and playing
it for a while, did you get it strictly from the printed
music, or did anybody listen to recordings, or play it?
Lossing: I think we're
all familiar with Bartók. I've personally played
them since I was a boy.
Tafuri: The Mikrokosmos,
or Bartók in general?
Lossing: The Mikrokosmos.
That's what pianists do when they're little boys: they
play Bartók. [Laughs.] So, we're all familiar the
- and fans of Bartók. Concerto for Orchestra and...
Kolker: Maybe not the
actual Mikrokosmos pieces...I don't think I'd really played
through them before we got together playing
Tafuri: I love his
string quartets and Concerto for Orchestra. Did you ever
hear Don Sebesky's arrangement of that. Strings, percussion,
Tafuri: and Celeste.
Actually it's that and a couple of other things. It's on
a funky album on CTI years ago. It was called The Rape
of El Moro...It's called "Footsteps of a Giant." The
bulk of the piece is based on...it's three different Bartók
things...but the bulk of is...
Hebert: I first heard
that piece in the movie Poltergeist
Tafuri: Oh really...(laugh)
Hebert: The first Poltergeist
he used that percussion/Celeste movement for some of the
theme music in that movie. I was really diggin' it then,
and checkin' it out now...
Tafuri: Why do think
you got so interested - why do you think this felt so natural
? I mean, we know that you guys play together - so there's
a certain rapport. But individually, why do you think this
appealed to you?
Lossing: I think it's
the material itself. The way he uses modes and little motivic
ideas. The interval play in the music. The way he actually
composes music and puts it together lends itself to using
the raw material for improvising. It's a natural thing
Kolker: It's very melodic
and in some ways it's kind of simple-especially the pieces
that we've dealt with in some ways - on some level they're
folk tunes. Well, they're not necessarily folk tunes, but
his inspiration - which is very similar to the way jazz
developed. It was improvisations based on folk melodies
or on simple melodies.
Kolker: We discussed
different composers to do this with, after we started on
this. It was difficult to find any others whose music was
so melodic and lent itself to actually composing improvising
variations on it, because a lot of other composers.....I
don't know, that may be wrong, but-
Hebert: Well, the instrumentation
has a lot to do with it...
Kolker: It just lent
Lossing: It's these
particular pieces themselves though. Because of what they
are - they're progressive piano pieces. Six books, and
the first book is very simple. But even the first book
has wonderful ideas. They seem very simple if you just
look at them but, if you really start to look at them carefully,
they're fantastic. So we take from books four and five.
That's what all of these come from: book four and five.
Kolker: Which is also
kind of coincidental because those are the ones I happen
to have, and six gets a little more complicated. [laughter]
Lossing: Six is more
pianistic, right? Six is more for piano. That's why these
pieces lend themselves...it's not like taking an orchestral
piece and extracting, or something like that.
Hebert: It's all there.
Tafuri: Well, it's
funny that you mention melody, because when you sent me
the recording and I first put it on, I immediately thought
of each of you and other works that you've done; other
groups that you play in; other recordings that you play
on. I think that one of the commonalities between the three
of you is that you all each do have a sense of melody.
Even in the improvisations you play and the accompaniments
you play - John especially. What you do is very melodic.
It's not even accompaniment, but you could almost record
it in a separate track and play it back, and we would go "hey,
listen to those little melodies." I thought that was
interesting, because it allows for the "melodicity," if
you will, to come through, and yet the freedom to play,
the space to play.
Tafuri: I'm curious
- did you ever think about expanding the group - adding
Lossing: We talked
about doing drums. I like the space with no drums.
Tafuri: And it seems
like there's a certain tension without the drums. There's
that element that's...
Hebert: There's a lot
of freedom, too.
Lossing: I think it's
really special to find a rapport. You know, you add another
person to the mix and it changes. It screws it up a bit.
It's something special that we just kind of decided to-
Hebert: -we found something
Tafuri: Besides, those
other guys didn't show up for the rehearsal....forget it!
Lossing: It would be
great, but I think it would be different maybe do some
other music or something.
Tafuri: Now, in the
midst of these, these aren't all actual Mikrokosmos?
Kolker: All but two.
Lossing: Yeah, there's
one piece that I wrote: "Pozeny." That's where
Bartók went to school, in Bratislawa.
Tafuri: What inspired
you to write that?
Lossing: I wrote it
in his spirit. If you listen to it, it sort of has some
of his vibe. I use some of the materials and the way he
thinks about intervals and things.
Tafuri: And then there's
this piece on here 'Béla' - which is co-attributed.
Lossing: That's a free
piece - totally free and improvised. It was at the end
of the session thinking about what was in the air. We had
been playing these Mikrokosmos all day, so it kind of culminated
in that improv...we just played free.
Kolker: When I had
started sending this CD out for gigs, I had written something
up that said that no directions or instructions were discussed
before we recorded them, and that was true. At the recording
session we were like "which one are we going to play?" And
that was it...we didn't say anything.
Lossing: But on the
other hand we had prepared.
Kolker: We had played
a lot before, so there was a lot of material we had done
before to draw upon. But the level of adherence to the
printed music was varied greatly from piece to piece. And
we didn't prioritize that at all. If we felt that that
was important...well, in other words, there were no rules
at this session.
Lossing: The process
was like this: after we decided to do it, we decided which
ones we were going to do. Then we took each one, and we
examined it very carefully, and we learned how to play
it exactly as is on paper. We tried different combinations
of voices and who takes what...but we learned the pieces
exactly, so that we know how to play them exactly as they
Tafuri: But there weren't
always three lines.
Lossing: No, but there
always seems like a way to divide it up three ways somehow.
And then we tried arrangements - different concept of arranging,
like we'd play part of it in tempo, and the next part rubato...we
tried all these different combinations. We rehearsed like
that for weeks. That was the idea from the beginning: it
was a preparation - preparing our minds and everything.
Kolker: As an improviser,
you practice things and, when you play, you forget about
them. We did that as a group. We did practice very specific
things, but when we performed, for the most part - even
when we talk about things sometimes when we start playing
in the performance, it goes out the window.
Tafuri: Do you find
that if you talk about it too much, it spoils what happens?
Lossing: Not necessarily.
Hebert: It can happen.
I believe you can over-rehearse certain things and take
away some of that.
Tafuri: What kind of
response do you get from live audiences when you do this?
Kolker: It's been interesting.
Hebert: For the most
part people seem to really dig it.
Kolker: Well, no. [laughter]
One concert we did at my school, University of Massachusetts,
for my faculty recital - it was packed. There were a lot
of professors there who dug it. There were a lot of people
that had to attend because of their jazz history requirement,
so it was packed, but with people who have probably never
heard any jazz performances live - maybe one. And this
was introduced to them as "jazz". We talked to
them before hand and said don't have any expectations,
because this might not be like anything you've heard in
class. Part of their assignment was to write critiques
of the performances. And some people loved it, and some
people said "I don't think the saxophone player knows
how to play his instrument. How come the piano player was
in the piano pulling at the strings?" Or, you know, "this
was just noise, I couldn't wait to get out of there." [laughter]
Lossing: The great
thing was that the head of the classical piano faculty
came backstage afterwards and said he thought Bartók
Kolker: Nigel Cox.
Lossing: And he's somewhat
of a Bartók aficionado...as a pianist.
Kolker: We played at
this place called the Vermont Jazz Center. A bunch of people
came out toting their copies of the Mikrokosmos to read
along while we played....
Tafuri: Oh, really?
They brought music to the gig?
Kolker: Yeah, and people
really loved it. There were a lot of kids there who loved
it. A lot of people said they didn't know what to expect.
I have to say, the response has been...
Lossing: We did a gig
one time at Cornelia, and I made copies of the scores and
put them on the tables...and they were all gone, everyone
took them home. They really dug that, it gave them something
to latch onto. And there were a lot of musicians there
Tafuri: But the music
is in general is easy enough and clean enough that people
that can - even people with moderate music background -
Kolker: I found teaching
jazz history in school, even people that don't read a note
of music...if you put a Bird solo up on a transparency
while you're playing the record, they can relate on some
level - just seeing it. The shape...the density of it.
In the whole scheme of things, these things are on the
simple side in terms of the actual...
Hebert: ...how many
notes are there...
Kolker: ...yeah. So,
they're fairly easy to digest by people in varying levels
Lossing: Yeah, they
are definitely playable. That's the beauty of it.
Tafuri: And even if
you just pick out little parts of them - like if you can't
play everything...you know, just little shapes to everything
that's there. So what are your goals with this? What would
you like to do with this music?
Kolker: Make a lot
of money, and become famous and marry Pamela Anderson (laugh)...
Hebert: It would be
nice to go on the road - this music and band, and keep
investigating the music. I mean, there's still a lot there
that we can...
Tafuri: In each of
your own spheres, in the areas that you work in, do you
see in your own experiences more of a coming together of
the "Classical" world and the "Jazz" world?
Hebert: Yeah, it seems
lately that a lot of people are sort of adapting 20th century
music to play in smaller ensembles and improvised music
using some of that material.
Tafuri: We heard that
with folk music and we hear that with - Balkan music was
big...the klezmer thing is big and a lot of the folk elements
are big. And it seems like there really is a folk element
to Bartók's compositions - even his very sophisticated
ones. I'm just curious from your own experiences.
Lossing: Do you mean
if the classical world and the jazz world's are coming
Hebert: I don't know
if the worlds are coming closer, but I think maybe the
jazz musicians are sort of adapting.
Lossing: Lee Konitz
did this thirty years ago - he recorded the Mikrokosmos,
with Jean-Pierre Rampal.
Hebert: But if you're
referring to what's happening now, in the scene that we're
all associated with...
Tafuri: Well, thinking
about the stuff that ECM first put out - I'm thinking about
back in the 70's. A lot of that stuff I never considered
to be jazz. I call that sort of contemporary European classical
music or European improvised music. And it seems like in
the "jazz" world you had either people that were
playing straight-ahead, you had people that were playing
free, and you had other people who were trying to find
something in the middle, to play within structures, within
forms and stuff like that. It seems to me like there are
certain types of music that are coming out with a resurgence
of a better understanding of twentieth-century music and
the general acceptance of it. Now maybe is really the time
for a sort of cross-pollination to occur.
Lossing: I think more
people are drawing on twentieth-century music now. You're
right...especially within the last few years. I see people
playing Schoenberg's music and Webern...
Tafuri: Right, Uri
Caine, the Mahler project, and then this group Side Show
that's doing Ives. Oscar Noriega and John Hollenbeck are
playing Ives' music.
Lossing: Right, I haven't
heard that yet - I'd like to.
Tafuri: I wouldn't
call Ives' music folk music...
Kolker: Some of it
Lossing: Yeah, the
elements are Americana - Sousa marches twisted and bent
all over the place.