Iverson (left), Ben Street, Ingrid Jensen, Lewis Nash, Dayna Stephens and the Umbria Jazz Orchestra
an echo of it remains in the first of the “spells.” They all have one little idea pilfered from Bud that served as a place to start. Live, it’s quite effective because the band plays these chorales without the quintet, and then we play the origi- nal quintet music. So it’s sort of like there’s a lit- tle volley back and forth: two minutes of cho- rale, three minutes of Bud. I’m happy with the record, but live it really worked. It was fun the- atrically that way, too. What are some other examples of ways you incorporated bits of Bud into this project? We played Bud’s solo on “Celia,” which is a masterpiece, as a saxophone-section soli. And you know, there is a tradition of bebop big band, which would include Gillespie and Gil Fuller, and then Thad Jones. And I like it. But it’s not really my central aesthetic issue. I would say that I love small-group bebop, which is one reason I wrote those “Simple Spells” to inter- sperse with the quintet, because I didn’t want to have an hour of thick, notey, big band charts. I would say my arrangement of “Tempus Fugit” is my one concession to the Gil Fuller tradition. You needed to have it in there. It’s very beauti- ful. You’ve got to have one. But almost every- thing else is normal big band music. I really love Carla Bley and what she did for Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. And I love Stravinsky and his arrangements of older songs and classical music. And those two were people I thought about, like, How would Carla Bley arrange this? I would think that because it’s simpler, it’s more transparent. And it can be far more provocative. Because sometimes that modern big band style, with a lot of notes and all those bebop harmonies and screaming trumpets—it all sounds the same to me after a while. There’s something I like about clarity; I want things to be very, very clear. The first arrangement I wrote, I actually threw away. I wrote a big, long arrangement
of “John’s Abbey” that had counterpoint and Thad Jones types of voicings and all this stuff. It went on for pages. It was like 10 minutes of big band charts from that world. And I sort of came to my senses: “Don’t do this. Get it out of your system, but don’t do this.” I threw it away and made sure that everything I wrote had that kind of directness I really appreciate in the music I really love. It’s the easiest thing in the world when you’re writing for all those instruments to make it very thick all the time. It becomes a real etude at some point. So when I talk about Bud Powell’s vocal quality—that’s what we need. We need the blues, we need vocal quality, we need simplicity. I once heard Ornette Coleman talking about his ideal orchestra: that you could hear every single person in the band while they were playing. You could hear their personality. And that’s muchmore my world. That’s like Carla Bley, when she writes for the Liberation Music Orchestra. If you listen carefully, you can hear everybody playing their parts. The same thing with Duke Ellington’s band. I’mnot saying I got there with Bud Powell In The 21st Century , but I was trying for that. There’s noth- ing particularly unique in what I wrote for the band in terms of standard instrument combi- nations. It’s all sort of like Duke Ellington or Count Basie. But there are certain intervals that are my thing, and they’re in this music. Many musicians, including Mark Turner, have mentioned your touch at the keyboard as being something that dis- tinguishes your sound. Is there anything about Powell’s touch that you’ve incorporated into your playing? I’m still working on my touch, and I was actually practicing with some Bud this morn- ing. I’ve got a long way to go. But there’s some- thing quite similar in the sonority between Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Monk is a pri- mary influence for me. For many of my con- temporaries, Bill Evans was a real touchstone in
terms of how to make the piano sound. And for me, that isn’t what I thought about. I want to make the piano sound like Thelonious Monk. And that is perhaps closer to Bud. It’s different, but Monk is a closer starting point to Bud than Bill Evans or someone like that.
Will you be performing
the future? Absolutely. It has already been played once at New England Conservatory. The college band played it great, and I’m booked to do it in Washington, D.C., when we’re back up and running. [Saxophonist] Brad Linde has a big band in D.C. and in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and I’m supposed to do it with him. I would love to play it with college bands all over the country. It’s not so hard that it can’t be played. So it certainly would have a future. Tell me about your work on choreographer Mark Morris’ hit production . I’ve had a very blessed life. One of the rea- sons is that in my 20s, I wasn’t really playing jazz professionally yet. But I was doing other stuff in New York to get by. And I ended up in front of Mark Morris, which led to me playing for Mark and then becoming his music direc- tor for five years. He’s one of the top choreogra- phers of all time, so it was a profound lesson in the larger world of the arts. That opened me up to see the larger world of the arts, and commu- nication, and the American spectrum of high to low, stuff that’s very advanced and intellectu- al, and stuff that’s sort of down-and-dirty and guttural. A lot of the best American art lives in the direct intersection of those things: high and low. And Mark is the master of it. Getting to apprentice with himwas of incalculable value. Then, like a miracle, the minute I left The Bad Plus, I got a commission from Mark to do this Beatles project in England celebrating 50 years of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band . It
24 DOWNBEAT MARCH 2021
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