Interviews with the members of Equal Interest

Joseph Jarman, Myra Melford, Leroy JenkinsFrank Tafuri, founder of OmniTone, posed this series of questions to all three members of Equal Interest individually; following are the responses of each member of the collective.
  1. How did Equal Interest come about?
  2. How was the name of the group arrived at?
  3. How do you see your role in the group (in other words, what do YOU contribute to the "collective")?
  4. Every member of the group has done a variety of "creative musics." Why (and what) do you think Equal Interest has to offer in the wide-ranging creative music world?
  5. How does Equal Interest fit in with your other ensembles?
  6. How did you come to your instruments and what do you think they add to your repertoire
  7. Tell us a little about each of your tunes on the album.

Read responses by:
Joseph Jarman   ·   Leroy Jenkins   ·   Myra Melford

Interview with Myra Melford

  1. I had been invited as a guest improviser for an AACM concert featuring the music of Joseph and Leroy--each were having pieces played by the SEM ensemble.  The first half of the program featured a quintet of Joseph, Leroy, myself and the other 2 guests: Jeffrey Schanzer and Lindsey Horner.   Based on the success of this quintet performance which was entirely improvised, Joseph and Leroy were asked to make a recording for Ocean Records of this ensemble. While we were in the studio I had the idea that it would be fun to play in a trio with Joseph and Leroy.  I don't recall whether we actually spoke about this or not, but shortly after that I got a call from the Knitting Factory about the Jazz Festival, and I suggested this trio; Leroy got a call about a gig in Boston for the next Fall and he suggested this trio, though I don't think we'd actually talked about pursuing gigs until these two came our way. Then a few others around the country and in Europe came up all within about 4-5 months of each other, and we were a group.
  2. At one of the SEM rehearsals for the original concert, Muhal asked Leroy what the name of the first piece of the concert would be -- i.e., the quintet music.  Since we were going to improvise (though we did have a road map, so to speak), Leroy said something about each person having an equal interest in creating the piece--so Muhal interjected, "how about calling it Equal Interest?" and they did.  When the trio came together, it seemed to make sense to go on using that title.
  3. In an unspoken kind of way, I see myself representing the next generation of creative musicians.  The AACM philosophy and music was so central to my formation and development as a pianist and composer that I identify with those musicians even though I was never a real member of the organization -- I've certainly been very influenced and inspired by them. I also see myself representing the younger generation of improvising musicians and composers at large in New York -- a sort of extended "downtown scene".  I'm also the member of the group that wants everything to be super well reheased and together -- sometimes to a fault -- and I've learned a lot from both Joseph and Leroy about the importance of the feeling and intention of the music first and foremost, with "perfection" either taking a back seat or requiring a new definition.
  4. There's something very unique about the music we play as a trio -- I also think each of our musics is unique -- that though we may have similar influences and so on, none of our original music sounds quite like anyone else's, and then the combination of our musical personalities seems to have a magic spark -- a certain charm that goes beyond verbalization. But I think it has to do with three playful spirits who have found a common internal space where this music can live and develop.
  5. It's a nice complement to the groups I lead -- I like being able to share the responsibilities that go with having a band, from writing the music to arranging the gigs, etc..  Also, the music that we play is very different from my own bands and from the way my own bands play my music.  Joseph and Leroy bring a whole other perspective that comes from years of musical and life experiences.  I'm always inspired by their playing and example both in rehearsal and on stage.
  6. I feel like the harmonium, a small hand-pump organ with its bellows and reeds, is a nice complement to the more percussive qualities of the piano -- it can sing and sustain a line more like the human voice.   It also suggests organ music, the blues, and various Indian/Pakistani devotional musics, which have all influenced my playing on the piano as well as my writing.  I began playing about 2 years ago, originally to accompany chants at my yoga center -- but I realized very quickly that this would be a great second keyboard for me and would be a good voice for my compositions as well.
  7. "Over This/Living Music" was written for Joseph and Leroy after we'd been playing together for almost 2 years.  I knew what kinds of backgrounds or situations I wanted each of them to improvise in and how I wanted to capture the spirit of the ensemble, which straddles the line of chamber music and jazz. "The Beauty We Love" is a short meditation on the nature of beauty.   And "Everything Today" is a kind of sped up, contemporary, "rhythm changes," inspired by both Ornette Coleman and the Tarif de Haidouks.

Interview with Joseph Jarman

  1. Equal Interest came about at a recording session that Leroy and I were doing, and Myra was playing the piano for us on that session.  We did one tune that used piano, violin, and me -- I can't remember what I played!  After that event we started talking, actually just joking: "It sure would be nice if we played more together."  Somehow the word just got out that a new trio had been formed between us, so we thought about it and agreed to go ahead with the idea!
  2. We came on the name after talking about what we wanted to do, as a team; Equal Interest is what we all had, so that became the name.  Many people, however separate us by name.
  3. I contribute my feeling about the music and the Dharma as well as compositions.  I also think because of my work at the dojo, I give us all a feeling of sureness, just as they give to me.
  4. I think we have a wonderful difference to offer to the music world, because we all have really beautiful and unique approaches to the music.  Our interest in other forms is very unique -- for example, I am very interested in Buddhist music and forms, as well as Eastern forms.  This, and all the groups that I work with now, allow me to share the teachings of the Buddha through contemporary music.
  5. Equal Interest is the vital, open, group that I work with. All the other groups that I work with are just "sometimes."   EI is the only group that I, for example, have time to tour with because of my work at the dojo.
  6. I have many, many East Asian, African and other areas where I study music from, and I therefore have interest from the cultures not only to have but to better understand the cultures that the music I study and listen to come from.
  7. "Poem Song" is an excerpt from a suite that I have written about the gentle nature of Buddhism and the uniqueness of meditation.  "Rondo for Jenny" is actually based on musical ideas from South Indian nomadic musical forms that I love. The oboe is there as a voice in the center of the vibration of the nomads.

Interview with Leroy Jenkins

  1. In 1997, Joseph and I were featured composers/performers at an AACM concert.  We both agreed to engage Myra as a featured soloist.  It went so well that we decided to form a trio.
  2. I said to Muhal, in front of Myra: "we're going to form a trio on an equal basis."  Muhal said "maybe you should name it Equal Interest."
  3. My role in the group is to inspire my colleagues, so that they can inspire me, so that we may inspire the audience.
  4. Equal Interest offers a strong group of players that complement each other with sensitivity and verve.
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  7. "In the Moment": The best way to capture moments is to pay attention.  Wherever you go, there you are.   "B'Pale Night" is a blues, but not a blues form.

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