I WAS ALWAYS OFFENDED BY THE IDEA OF WHAT WAS OR WAS NOT CONSIDERED TRADITIONAL. DAVID MURRAY WAS PLAYING A TUNE CALLED "BECHET'S BOUNCE." HOW MUCH MORE TRADITIONAL CAN YOU GET IT? IT WAS HIS OWN INTERPRETATION OF THAT TRADITION, BUT HE MADE VERY EXPLICIT CONNECTIONS. Now a lot of that stuff has been forgotten. Part of the repercussions of now having generations of musicians who've gone to music school was that they've only learned about the stuff they teach in music school, and that basically leaves out all of the AACM stuff, leaves out Cecil Taylor, leaves out basically anything that Miles did after 1970, it leaves out anything Coltrane did after 1965, leaves out most of what Ornette ever did. And it leaves out anything that's happened since 1990.
The other thing you have is that music schools select for prodigies. So there's this focus on young people who have this astonishing prowess on their instruments, and that has ended up becoming the easiest and safest thing to market in terms of like "This is the young award-winning pianist," and it's less about the content and more about those shallow characteristics.
. . . . SIMILAR TO CLASSICAL COMPETITIONS. DO YOU THINK THE THELONIOUS MONK COMPETITION CONTRIBUTES TO THAT — EVEN THOUGH GOOD PEOPLE HAVE COME OUT OF THAT PROGRAM? It still is contributing to this prodigy mentality — that basically the future of the music is in the hands of the prodigies. It selects for different sort of values — virtuosity and prowess and velocity and these kinds of things and less about storytelling, less about emotional content and connecting with people, which is what music has always been about and for.
DO YOU HAVE A COUPLE MORE MINUTES?Sure, I don't want this whole thing to be a tirade about what's wrong with music education!
FROM WHAT I READ, YOU HAD SOME FAMILIARITY WITH DIFFERENT INDIAN TRADITIONS AS A KID. READING ABOUTTIRTHA, I GATHER THAT THE OCCASION IT WAS CREATED FOR WAS A CELEBRATION OF INDIAN INDEPENDENCE. I WAS CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP TO THAT TRADITION OR HOW YOU EITHER STUDIED IT OR AVOIDED STUDYING IT. I HAD AN INTERESTING DISCUSSION WITH RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA ABOUT THIS A WHILE AGO. I BELIEVE HE SAID THAT IT WAS REALLY JAZZ THAT HE WAS INTO WHEN HE WAS COMING UP, AND IT WAS LATER THAT HE WENT BACK AND SERIOUSLY INVESTIGATED THE MUSIC OF INDIA. That's mainly true for me too. In a way, he and I started doing that in parallel before we met, and then when we started collaborating, and we continued it together and tried collaboratively to draw from those ideas and build new things for ourselves.
I wasn't trained in Indian music. Or I guess I could say I studied it the same way I studied jazz, which is sort of on my own terms and at my own pace. I never set out to be a practitioner of Indian music. I studied it more as a composer and improviser in American music, looking to deepen my understanding of music in general and also looking to connect to my heritage. That happened a bit later in my life, like when I was 20 or so. I had had some passing encounters with Indian music growing up of different forms, but it wasn't ever something I studied, it was more something that I became kind of obsessed with nearly 20 years ago and it was one of my many obsessions, along with Monk's music and James Brown's music, a lot of those things.