An Interview With David Murray
David Murray Talks
June 16, 1997
Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, Il
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JazzUSA ‘Zine: Collaboration seems to be a big part of what you do, is this something you do purposely?
DM: Being able to have the opportunity to get some energy off somebody else and at the same time, deliver what you have to them, I guess that kind of defines collaboration. I’ve always tried to do collaborations with great artists. One of the first that I did was with Randy Weston, the pianist. I’ve found that when you do high level collaborations, like with Fontella Bass, it always take you to a higher level. For me to put together a gospel group is one thing. It would have the flavor of David Murray, but to put something together that has something to do with gospel that includes Fontella Bass, you have the opportunity to perform with one of the masters. When I played Latin music I performed with Ray Barretto. It means much more than me going out and deciding I’m going to write a song that sound kind of like Latin. But to do it with the people who set it in motion and the people who are carrying the flame in that particular genre is reassuring.
JazzUSA ‘Zine: The same thing can be said for your collaborations with the Grateful Dead.
DM: Sure, I mean, it would be one thing for me to put together a rock and roll band myself, but to perform with the Grateful Dead quite another experience, a better experience as far as I’m concerned.
JazzUSA ‘Zine: Have you tried your hands at any other collaborations besides these concerts with Fontella Bass?
DM: Yes I have. I did a thing over in Paris called the Deep River Gospel Choir. There’s a woman who lives here in Chicago, her name is Gwendolyn Robinson., she used to work at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. We put together this choir. It was a show called The Deep River. Later on it became the Deep River Gospel Choir. We’re going to be doing a tour, probably in December, of a lot of the cathedrals in Europe. We did a concert a few years ago at a festival in Paris. It was 20 great voices. So, certainly I’ve tried my hands at gospel, and I grew up in the Church of God in Christ. I grew up very close with Tremaine Hawkins and people like that. In fact my mother played in church.
JazzUSA ‘Zine: Wasn’t your mother a professional gospel pianist?
DM: Yes. Katherine Murray. She used to play at a lot of convocations as well. She was a very high level, high profile piano player in the Church of God in Christ..
JazzUSA ‘Zine: Is there also some kind of Off-Broadway play you have happening?
DM: Yeah, Next year, we’ll probably be on Broadway, I hope. We’ve been working on it for three years. It’s on Satchel Paige and the Negro Baseball League. (Grateful Dead guitarist) Bob Weir, Taj Mahal, Michael Nash, Kerry Williams and I are collaborating on this. We’ve completed the music, now I’m just doing some of the arrangements for some of the big band pieces. It’s a serious musical about Satchel Paige. It shows his life, the social implications he had to deal with, being the first successful black in baseball. A lot of people don’t know it, but Satchel Paige, for those times, was a wealthy person. He used to pitch for a lot of teams. In fact, he sustained the Negro Leagues, nearly by himself, him and Rube Foster. He would play on one team, he might pitch two or three games in a day’s time. He might go a pitch two or three innings for another Negro team that needed him to help them at the gate. We’re bringing out some of these things.
JazzUSA ‘Zine: I read somewhere that you’re the most recorded musician alive. Is it important for you to document every thing you do?
DM: Sure, I think so.
JazzUSA ‘Zine: How do you manage to do it? There are a lot of people who would love to document everything, and there’s always a David Murray album coming out.
DM: And there’s also things that they don’t have documented that I have. There are many things that I don’t have documented as well. I do a lot of things. I have a lot of different bands, it’s just the way it goes. I’ve got a trio, a quartet, octet, big band and if each one of those groups want to record once a year, that’s four cd’s in a year, just taking care of those groups. That’s not even including my special projects. Right now I’m working on a big project with (flute player) James Newton. We’re going to do the obscure side of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in Paris at the Cite` d’ Music. This is a large project. It’s something I’m going to have recorded by French Radio. It may or may not be a record, but I’m sure when it’s done, all the work and effort I’ve put into it, and James as well, I’m sure that somebody will want me to make a recording of it. If the situation is right when it presents itself, I’ll decide then whether or not to make it commercially available.
JazzUSA ‘Zine: Could you pull off that same kind of project you were just talking about with James Newton in the U.S. ? There seems to be a different kind of acceptance in jazz in Europe than in the U.S.
DM: I can pull off a project like that in the United States. I have pulled off large things. I did a big thing in ’86 with Paul Gonsalves, Ben Webster and Lester Young in Boston with a big band and orchestra. This one is going to be on a higher level, I think only because the people are totally interested. I feel that in America, the establishment, or people who want me to perform at festivals or whatever, they’re in pretty good shape. The enthusiasm is definitely there. I’ve played the Monterrey Jazz Festival, and played at the festivals in New York, Chicago and Atlanta…. I always think that when people say that jazz is better in Europe, I don’t really agree with that. I think that people really like jazz right here in the United States. I think that once you get outside the big cities, you might have a bit of a problem, but generally people love jazz if they get an opportunity to hear it. If the d.j.’s would play more jazz, people would like more jazz, it would be just fine and it wouldn’t be all this whining about jazz is not accepted in America because that’s bull. People love jazz. My kids love jazz. Every generation that I see out here, if given the opportunity, I think they’d love some jazz. I do workshops and I see kids who love jazz. I go into a workshop in Columbus, Ohio and there’s 50 kids sitting there with brand new alto saxophones trying to play a Charlie Parker riff. To me that’s a great indication that our youth, you just have to lay it on them, they’re ready. It’s probably our problem. Everyone could contribute to their kids hearing good music, not even necessarily jazz, but just good music, instead of just letting your kids be totally saturated by rap or music that you don’t really want them to listen to, but then parents still don’t turn it off, they just let it go on. We have to tell children, here listen to this, this might extend your brain a little bit. Okay, you learned the lyrics to that rap song , now learn the bridge to this song.
JazzUSA ‘Zine: There are some divisions in jazz itself. I noticed that you and keyboardist Rodney Franklin started together, now you guys have gone totally different directions. Some people wouldn’t even call him a jazz player.
DM: There might be a division within jazz, but me and Rodney are really cool. I still play with him sometimes. He’s a great player. There are different spectrums of jazz. Jazz is kind of like the hue tones of African-American people. We have a lot of different tones in our hue. We have a lot of different levels and different types of jazz. The determination, for me, and it should be for everybody else, is if it’s good, or not good. I don’t care if it’s electric, as long as its good. I don’t care if it’s acoustic, as long as it’s good.
JazzUSA ‘Zine: Speaking of that, a lot of people are going to be surprised by this high-octane electric band you’re performing with here, especially Miles’ ex-keyboard player Robert Irving III.
DM:That’s true, they will be surprised. I’m not really worrying too much about when you plug in, and people talk about you, that you’re crossing over. I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been crossing over ever since my people came here on a boat. (big laugh) To me, boundaries are lines made to be broken.
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