Sunday, November 16, 2014

Art Taylor on Art and Academics

“The student in the university will avail himself to many other facets of music that I didn’t even consider when I was playing. For instance, playing different instruments. Learning how to read, and read in a manner that would enable him to play in a classical situation, Western classical situation, and an Afro-American classical situation. We have to get into these terms now. You notice I’m using these terms because these were the terms that were thrown at me when I arrived on the academic scene. ‘Legitimate’ music, ‘serious’ music. Making an inference that music that wasn’t Western classical music wasn’t serious or wasn’t legitimate. So I have used that term, what they call jazz, I call that a classical music. It’s an American classical music.” 
Jackie McLean (quoted above) is of course correct: in its greatest manifestations, jazz is art music. But it is not always—nor even usually—that, and more importantly, it is not only that. Art Taylor explains below. 


 "Art on art" 

(Peter Pullman interviews Arthur Taylor)

PP: Does jazz go through cycles? Is it some precious resource that has to be conserved? I worry about the people who have appointed themselves to "save" jazz.

AT: Well that's related to my theory about people who say to me, "You're a great artist." I'm not an artist. I don't consider myself an artist. Charlie Parker was an artist. Bud Powell was an artist. I'm a drummer and I just play the drums—but people talk about this as an art form. It's not an art form; I used to play for whores and pimps—and I enjoyed playing better for them than I do for the crowd that comes now. Because they were swinging people, everybody was having fun. It wasn't about sitting down and playing, and the people sitting there in a trance, getting some special messages from somewhere that nobody was even delivering. And I've played for the whores and the pimps and when I got off the bandstand it's "Hi, how are you doing? Have a taste with my lady and me."

PP: So you are an entertainer.

AT: Yeah, I'm an entertainer. I believe in entertaining people. But that's a very difficult thing, to just play some instrument and be entertaining. Very few people can do that. A lot of guys are out there playing a whole lot of stuff but it's not entertaining. When you go home you don't even remember what they've played. And you can't hum it either. [Laughs.]

PP: So the guys who not only entertained on an instrument but could also create art... you are talking about only a handful.

AT: Yes, Dizzy, Bud, and Bird—Bird was quite an entertainer. I use all of Dizzy's, Bud's, and Bird's stuff, their mannerisms. And I can put in on and I can really be with it—or I can put myself into it, or I can take it any kind of way.

PP: Some people feel jazz needs an academy, an institution that will protect it—by including what it defines jazz is and excluding what jazz is not. Yet Philly Joe said in your book: "Music changes around and changes around. It takes all kinds of turns but it always comes back to the pure swing."

AT: That's what Taylor's Wailers do. 

PP: "Nothing seems to outlast jazz," he continues. "The real, true, traditional jazz... you can't get away from it. People like to pat their feet and clap their hands."

AT: That's correct, not sit there like a bunch of mummies.

PP: So it's not some solemn art thing, Art?

AT: No, not to me, it's supposed to be a fun thing. I'm trying to play it pure and swing and have fun and make people feel good.

PP: And Philly Joe is saying that has always been the case, that jazz is not endangered?

AT: I don't think it is. Jazz doesn't have cycles; musicians who can play can still play. You either can play or you can't play.

PP: So we don't have to keep some sort of standard for what jazz is and define it all the time lest it gets diluted?

AT: I keep the standard.

PP: But the standard is when you are sitting on the drum stool with the musicians who are out there and you're pushing them, that's where it comes in. It's not an academic thing, is it?

AT: No, it's not an academic thing. If we come off the stage and we are not laughing, nothing happened. If guys are coming off like they've come off some kind of seance, having done some "brilliant" thing... if you are not laughing, it ain't shit. Wasn't shit happening. See how the bands walk off the stage.

PP: So is that tradition dying, is that sense that this is about fun being lost?

AT: I don't know, maybe it's dead but I continue to play in my same manner... They're trying to refine it, but those old brilliant minds in my race came out of this music anyway.


The above is excerpted from an interview of Arthur Taylor conducted by Peter Pullman in 1992. It is included in the liner notes to Arthur Taylor's Wailers, Wailin' at the Vanguard. Buy it here. Buy Notes and Tones. Buy Peter Pullman's book, Wail: The Life of Bud Powell

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