Interview with Frank Kimbrough about Saturn's Child
by Frank Tafuri

[Interview with Joe Locke]

Tafuri: What motivated you and Joe to make a record like Saturn's Child?

Kimbrough: We've been friends for almost 15 years, it's hard to say.  Joe was one of the first people I met when I came to New York.  We've done gigs from time to time, he's played on one of my [Jazz Composers] Collective concert we did in a quartet, and I've done some gigs with him in quartet and quintet settings.  We've always felt we same some sort of empathy we've had playing together —something that didn't come out of necessarily rehearsing a lot, just from playing.  We complimented each other well.  In some ways, we're sort of musical alter egos —Joe tends to play a lot of notes and I tend to play less —but I think it works out.  Harmonically we tend to hear things in a similar way.  So with harmonies in tunes we play, we pretty much sightread them down, everything's pretty much understood right from the beginning.  And I think we're both listening players; we try to listen to the people that we're playing with and to complement them.

Tafuri: So this is something you've been talking about...

Kimbrough:   We'd been talking about doing a project like this for several years and the "duo thing" is not really overdone.  (You'd be hard pressed to find more than a handful of vibes/piano duos.)  We also did a trio recording, with [guitarist] Paul Bollenback several years ago, that was never released.  And we've always regretted that [it wasn't released] because we liked the recording. So, this was a chance to pick up where we left off.

Tafuri: You have several of your tunes on the album.  One that I really like —and it's really different than the other tunes on the album —is "Waltz for Lee."

Kimbrough: "Lee" is Lee Konitz. It's a tune I titled after I had written it.  Often times the tune comes first, the title may come a good deal down the road.  That's the hardest thing for me: to come with titles.  I was running into Lee with some frequency in the early '90s ('92 or '93) and I must have been thinking about him because I thought it'd be a tune that he'd play well or that he would like ... maybe.  I have yet to send it to him, but maybe, one of these days.

Tafuri: You could send him a copy of Saturn's Child.

Kimbrough:   It's a fairly simple tune. It's not real complicated.

Tafuri: It's fun.

Kimbrough: Yeah, that's what it's meant to be: fun.

Tafuri: I didn't know who Lee was, but now that you say who it's for, I can hear him playing it.  "727" is something you've recorded a couple times.

Kimbrough: The first time I recorded it was on my first trio record.  And "7" - "2" - "7", while we're at it, happens to have been written on the 27th of July of some year back in the '80s.

Tafuri: Now the musical theorists can stop trying to figure out 'where's the 2 and the 7?' and trivia buffs can stop trying to figure out what apartment you we living in.

Kimbrough: All of that. There's really only about four bars of melody there.  It goes through a succession of chord changes and then, at the end of that, there are four chords come one after another and each last for eight bars and then, at the end of that, you get to the melody which is played each time you get there.  That's really [all there is to] the piece.  I've played it in a trio situation, in the Noumena group, and here [on Saturn's Child].

Tafuri: And, as long as we're doing this, how about "Sanibel Island"?

Kimbrough: I was out on the road with this group and we had a day off and we were in Florida. Sanibel Island was close-by, so we went there and just spent the day.  That was about the time I was writing the tune.  So, I just called it that.  Like I said, titles are hard to come by.

Tafuri: The titles may come hard, but the music has been flowing.  From what do you draw inspiration for your tunes?

Kimbrough: You never know.   Some people can —and I admire and am jealous of people who can —sit down at the kitchen table and write four hours a day, eight hours a day, or whatever it is.  In terms of my own writing, I'm not that disciplined.  I really can't do that.  I have spent that amount of time arranging, but when it comes to writing a tune, I wait for the inspiration to strike and often the inspiration will come but you can't say 'Oh, well, it's inspired by this or that.'  You never know.  You could walk out of your house and it's a nice day.  Maybe that's all it takes.  Or you could be influenced by someone else's music you've heard recently or by a film you've seen ... whatever.  If you asked me what inspired any particular piece, chances are I couldn't tell you.

Tafuri: And it's usually hard for people to talk about things that they're very close to. When these tunes spring out of you, they're so close to you, they're probably hard to articulate in words.

Kimbrough: The one thing I can say about my composition is that 80 or 90 percent of the time, it occurs away from the piano, and almost always very late at night.  That's when it's quiet.   That's when the phone's not going to ring.  When everybody's asleep and there you are and it's two o'clock in the morning and you can hear something.

Tafuri: By the time the record is released, it will have been almost two years since you recorded it, probably enough time for you to sort of "distance" yourself from it.  How does the record make you feel when you listen to it now?

Kimbrough: I hadn't listened to it for a while.  I tend to listen to things a lot right after I'm in the studio; I'm the guy who goes straight home from the session and listens to everything twice before I go to bed.  Doing that is not really a good idea, but that's how I operate.  I have learned that if I'm a sideman on a record, I don't have to walk out of the studio with tapes;  I'm trying to get away from that.  So, [in those cases,] I leave the leader alone.  But if I'm the leader and it's my date, I tend to go home and listen to it and I usually enjoy it.   I've at least gotten to the stage in my career where I don't hate everything that I hear, which is good, but it took a long time to get there.  So, I listen a lot a first, then I put it away for quite some time. I put [Saturn's Child] on for the first time in months and I really enjoyed it.  The interesting thing about this session was it was something Joe and I had been talking about for a long time, something we really wanted to do, but there was no preciousness attached to it —

Tafuri: —or pressure —

Kimbrough:   —that's really what I'm talking about.  There was no label that was funding it or it wasn't assigned to a label.  This was just something the two of us wanted to do four ourselves and then, if it came out nice, fine.  Of course, we always had that [possibility] in the back of our minds, but there was no pressure, there was no studio executive standing in the control room with a stopwatch.  So that enabled us to be very comfortable in the way we approached [the album].  I think we spent two or three leisurely afternoons just playing through the tunes and getting used to them because a couple of them —especially Joe's tunes —were new.   We'd look over the tunes and talk a little bit, hang out and drink coffee and listen to music, and when the time came, we were reasonable prepared and we just went in and did it. Most of the music came out.  It was one five- or six-hour session and I don't remember any angst or neurosis at the recording session.  It was Joe and myself and Michael [Brorby] —Michael was engineering.  It was the three of us and we all know each other.  It was a very pleasant afternoon of musicmaking.   That's all it was, and I think you hear that.  Nobody's trying to really impress anyone.  We're just making friendly music.

Tafuri: You said you and Joe talked about it for a long time, but why is the music so peaceful and gentle and relaxed?  There really are no "smokers" on the set.  It seems more than just coincidence.

Kimbrough: I think the thought was that if you're playing duo, with a rhythm section, that tends to bring down the tempos immediately because you don't have that support of the drummer or bass player keeping the time up.  You can put more air in the music because you're not required to play "time" all the time.  You can play rubato.   You can take liberties harmonically you couldn't take —not that I feel like the music on this record is terribly "risky" music.  It's not like it's nothing that nobody's ever heard before, harmonically, rhythmically, or anything like that, it's just a pleasant day of musicmaking.  I think also that partly the comfort we have with each other, personally and musically, contributes to that easygoing quality.

Tafuri: The tunes are just what you brought to the table that day, though I thought I remembered you telling me, a long time ago, that there was an idea of doing an album of peaceful music, like a "peace album."

Kimbrough: The idea for a "peace album" actually started when I was still recording for another label.   [Pianist] Larry Willis and I were talking and brainstorming about doing a two-piano record of peaceful music.  That never came about, but that idea stuck in my head when Joe and I were talking. It was a seed that was planted in about 1992.

Tafuri: It's probably something you were talking to Willis about for the same reason: one doesn't often hear such extended peaceful-and-yet-deep jazz in the (and I don't like this term) "legit" jazz world.

Kimbrough: Perhaps people would associate it more with what ECM would do which is a far cry from the normal, day-to-day activities of most jazz musicians ... at least, in New York.  I grew up listening to ECM records when I was in college.  By the time I got to New York, I realized it wasn't hip to listen to ECM.  That wasn't the correct [thing].   Then I went in other directions. I mean, there's a lot of other music out there, you should check it all out.  So I checked out all this other stuff and then, after a while, I realized 'Well, why should I deny myself something that gives me some sort of sustenance?'  So I started listening to that kind of music [even] more and, realizing that I was not born in 1920 wearing a double-breasted suit and black-and-white shoes, [realized that] that's not who I am.  In a lot of respects, [Saturn's Child] is a very honest record because there's no fancy "nothing" going on. I think we were able to be who we were for that day, maybe more than some other days.

Tafuri: People are going to be really interested to hear this side of Joe Locke and this side of Frank Kimbrough, too.  The gentle side is something people don't get to hear enough of in a scene obsessed with "burn."

Kimbrough: Part of it is that Joe is really known for his incendiary playing.  Some of the things I've been doing, like playing with Maria Schneider (though there are certainly pastel moments), [requires] quite a lot of density and fire.  So, it was a chance for both of us to sort of get away from that and, for me, from the Herbie Nichols Project which swings pretty hard and is horn-oriented.

Tafuri: You could sort of "let your guard down."

Kimbrough: And you don't want to do the same thing over and over in your career.  You want to check out some other feeling that you have and other musical options that you have.  I think [Saturn's Child] was a good chance for us to do that.

Tafuri: I think both the honesty and the artistry come through.

Kimbrough: I think so, too.

[Interview with Joe Locke]

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