Exploring Jazz Music Overseas As our series on jazz continues, we explore how the sound is developing in far-flung places. For more on the genre's reach abroad, NPR's Tony Cox talks with bass clarinetist and multireedist, Bennie Maupin; flautist and conductor, James Newton; and saxophonist David Murray.
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Exploring Jazz Music Overseas

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Exploring Jazz Music Overseas

Exploring Jazz Music Overseas

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TONY COX, host:

This is News and Notes, I'm Tony Cox. All month long we've within talking about jazz. Today we take a look at the genre's spread overseas.

Since the 1940s - the 1920s, actually, American jazz entertainers have made pilgrimage to Europe. By mid-century, jazz scenes were thriving globally. During the height of the Cold War, the U.S. State Department sponsored a series of official international jazz tours. Let's take a listen to Dizzy Gillespie, 1956, playing his "Night in Tunisia" on a State Department tour in South America.

(Soundbite of Dizzy Gillespie playing "Night in Tunisia")

COX: Joining us to talk about the international jazz diaspora are three acclaimed musicians. Bass clarinetist Bennie Maupin, flautist and conductor James Newton, and - are both here in the studio with me at NPR West. And saxophonist David Murray joins us from Paris. Welcome, gentlemen.

Mr. BENNIE MAUPIN (Bass clarinetist): Thank you,

Mr. JAMES NEWTON (Flautist; Conductor): Thank you.

Mr. DAVID MURRAY (Saxophonist): Hello, hello.

COX: It's a pleasure to have the three of you here with us for this edition of our month-long jazz series.

Early jazz musicians, as you know, sought personal and creative refuge in Europe. Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, just a few of the greats who thrived there. This cultural exchange had been going on long before the U.S. State Department began using jazz as a good will tool.

So David, let me start with you, because you're an expatriate living in Paris for more than a decade now, but you grew up right here in California, in Berkeley. Why did you choose to decamp to that part of the world?

Mr. MURRAY: Well, it was a - it was a series of different things, but mainly it was because my family lives here. My - what is it, my wife now, Valerie Malot, she made a challenge to me after living 23 years in New York, and she said, well, I don't want to live in New York, and basically, well, is it the city or is it the man? And I decided to go where my baby was going to be born, and now I have an 11-year-old son who is very astute, and I have a six-year-old daughter. And my family lives here and, you know, I travel and work from here, just like I was working and traveling from New York, it's pretty much the same.

COX: Man, traveling is for sure something that you do. You are all over Europe. You collaborated, by the way, with another one of our guests, James Newton, on an album.

Mr. MURRAY: Oh, yeah.

COX: Oh, yeah.

Mr. MURRAY: I haven't seen James in a while. I miss you, brother.

COX: He's smiling, he's smiling here.

Mr. NEWTON: David, I've got a smile on my face. I'm sorry everybody out in radio land, but this is my brother.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: He's happy to see you.

Mr. NEWTON: It's great to hear you.

COX: Here's a bit from that quintet. It's called "Moon Over Sand Number Two."

(Soundbite of song "Moon Over Sand Number Two")

COX: Let me bring all three of you in, Bennie and James and David as well. Now, how do you find the response to your music different in places outside of the United States, James?

Mr. NEWTON: Well, I think the audience reflects the culture. And for me, you know, it's like every different place you go to, to play, you're learning something about who the people are by the way that they respond to your music.

And the other thing that's interesting to me is there's nuances and differences in each culture in each country, and all of that also really impacts the music that we play. But I think the thing is, we are - we go to places that are very resonant about the language that we play and about the tradition that we're a part of, that we come out of.

COX: The language or the music.

Mr. NEWTON: That's right. It's celebrated.

COX: Now, Bennie, what's been your experience overseas, and is there a place, let's say a Japan or London or Rome or Paris, where the music feels differently, or where you react to the crowd differently, sort of along the lines of what James was just talking about?

Mr. MAUPIN: Well, my first visit actually going - going abroad was - I was thinking about it as I was coming here. It was 1968, so that's 40 years, and I was fortunate enough to go with Horace Silver that very first time. So I got to travel quite a few places. And what I came to understand over a period of time, going back and forth with different groups, is that Europe is very much a horn culture.

COX: Really?

Mr. MAUPIN: Yeah. Every little nook and cranny, and most of the towns you go to, they got a little oompa band, they got some trumpets and saxophones and clarinets. And so I discovered that most of the people who were in the audience at one point or another had studied music. And they knew quite a bit about American music, specifically, because it represents freedom of thought.

COX: That's interesting.

Mr. MAUPIN: Which is something that they were unable to have, quite a bit, especially in the places that I've been going to most recently, which is - Poland has been one of them.

COX: We're going to talk about that in just a moment. It's no coincidence, I assume, then, that the three of you are horn players. And David, that's been your experience, they seem to really love the horn?

Mr. MURRAY: Yeah, of course. Yeah, they are big bands. You know, I was at a festival just the other day outside of Oslo, and they had a - they had a gentleman from New Orleans come and lead a parade of, you know, of horns and trombones and saxophones and flutes and piccolos and whatnot, euphoniums. And it was a lot of horn players, and they always want to have a marching band, and they're very interested in what the culture of New Orleans, with the whole marching thing. They're very interested in - when they see things like (unintelligible), bands that have that kind of a culture of - in the United States they're very interested in drum blind, you know, they like all that stuff.

COX: That's very interesting. You know, now, Bennie, you know that the music business as a whole is facing sort of a paradigm shift, and you mentioned Poland a few moments ago, and you recently collaborated with a group of Polish musicians for your 2006 album, "Penumbra." Here's a track from that. It's called "One For Eric Dolphy."

(Soundbite of song "One For Eric Dolphy")

COX: Eric Dolphy, of course, was another great who spent a lot of time in Europe, eventually dying there. What was your connection to him, Bennie?

Mr. MAUPIN: Actually, I met Eric during the time that he was playing with John Coltrane. At that time I still lived in Detroit, and they came to Detroit and absolutely upset everybody, because what they were doing was so new and so beautiful to me, a lot of people were very distressed by it because it didn't tie in to "Favorite Things" and all the things that they were previously interested in.

But after one of those performances one night, I got to meet Eric, I just walked up to him and introduced myself to him. I had heard him before when he had come to Detroit, but this time I decided, okay, I'm going to meet this guy. And I walked up to him and introduced myself to him and told him that I was just beginning to play the flute. He was holding his flute, he just thrust it out to me and said here, play something. And for about 30 minutes he stood there and he talked to me and he showed me to how to balance the flute - because you don't hold it, you balance it - and talked to me about how to put the air into what is known as the aperture and the various things like that. So that was a - that was a phenomenal way to meet him.

And, you know, after that time, I didn't get to meet him again. I only met him that one time, but I knew him through his music and I - I especially remember that night, how gracious he was to me. He was totally open to showing me something. So he taught me immediately. And then later I got to see and hear him again when I was in New York City, and he came and he played with John Coltrane, and that was like possibly the last time he played with Coltrane. He just sat in and then he took off and he left. Everybody was saying, well, he's getting ready to go to Europe, and of course, we know that unfortunately he passed away in Berlin.

COX: Now you mentioned something, all three of you have mentioned, James mentioned and David mentioned it earlier with regard to the music in - overseas, and that is the teaching element of it, and you mentioned how in Japan they are students of the music. James, I know that you have taught this music.

Mr. MURRAY: Absolutely.

COX: And talk for a little - talk a little bit about what that means and how that interplays with you as a musician teaching the music overseas.

Mr. NEWTON: Well, I think one of the things that's interesting, a lot of the students over there are - they want to get to the core of what makes this music so unique. So there's a much greater emphasis - again, we're going to culture, you know, and the fact that whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, they know that they have to really look at blues and they have to look at spirituals. And then look from there at all of the - as the music developed out of blues and spirituals.

And - I was talking about a student in a master class, a composition master class I did earlier this year in Italy. And he grew up in Perugia. And so every year since he was a little child, he was going to that festival. So he's heard probably more people playing this music live than anybody we could pick up off of the street in Los Angeles. You know, the comparison. So there is a resonance with the depth and the profundity of our music.

So the students - they want to get to the core. They want to - you mentioned Eric Dolphy. They want to know what is it about Eric that makes him so special. They understand the fact that he comes out of Charles Parker and all of the great work he did with Charles Mingus. But there's all of these modern things that Eric developed that 40 years after his death, we're just coming to grips with in a lot of ways. I mean, all three of us are very much touched by Eric.

COX: David, let me bring you in, because I'm curious. As a musician who has been playing abroad for a number of years the way that you have and the fact that your audience, be it in Japan or in, again, in London or in Paris, seems to be perhaps more highly educated with regard to the music than the audiences here in America, how does that impact you as a performer when you go to play in front of an audience that you know knows something about the music and the history of that music?

Mr. MURRAY: Well, let's not sell America too cheap here, because you know, I mean, really, you know, my experience in the United States, you know, when people come here in the United States, they are - a lot of them have serious record collections. They have a very serious - I mean, there are young people that come to me, students, whose fathers may have taught them jazz. Let's not sell America completely too short. I mean, it only has been within the last 15 years that our music departments in the United States have stopped teaching our kids music. I mean, it's relatively recent. You know, I'm not going to cosign that whole thing about the Europeans are smarter about music than Americans because, you know, we understand our culture.

I mean, but what I think the Europeans may understand is that their own culture of European music, classical music, is well-taught in their institutions. And they just need - they always want to have a balance by having jazz programs. Like for instance, there are programs - like for instance, in Holland. They have very serious jazz programs where you have a lot of students in the north of Holland, Groningen. They have schools where half of the students in their school are from Japan. They go there to study because they can't afford to go to Juilliard. They can't afford to go to Berklee School of Music. They can't go to the New York School in New York - the New Music School in New York. So they come there.

So I mean, OK. But let's not sell America too short because there are a lot of people in America who are very wise to the music, and there always have been. So I mean, I play at all the major festivals in every part of the world. And I - you know, I'm not sure that that's completely true that the European is completely more educated in terms of jazz.

COX: Of the music. All right.

Mr. MURRAY: And I'd also like to say...

COX: Go ahead.

Mr. MURRAY: That, you know, this whole thing about Europeans jazz, which is something that you might mention even later - and if it is, you tell me now and I'll continue later on this subject. You know, European jazz - and James mentioned a moment ago, about gospel and blues. See, what happens here, they have this label here they call European jazz, which kind of translates down to East Country German jazz - Dutch jazz. You know, Scandinavian jazz. And they all have - what they do is they have to - in order to add something to it, they have to take out something. So they take out blues because blues is very difficult for them to play, because they don't understand the whole dynamics of playing the blues. I mean, for them to play a fast blues is much easier for them to play a slow blues, where your soul is just right there on the floor.

COX: Well, let me bring Bennie and James on this, because we're going to round our conversation out. It's coming to an end. There's another cut that I wanted to play of your's, and what I'm going to ask our director to do, if it can be done, is as we end the conversation to just kind of bring it in underneath us at the very end, OK? And the question is this. Where are you seeing the most exciting developments in jazz today? We have just about a minute. Bennie, I'm going to come to you first.

Mr. MAUPIN: I think I'm seeing it here. Right here in the United States.

COX: Really? That's good. That's along the line of what David was just talking about.

Mr. MURRAY: I agree.

Mr. MAUPIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's come out of the schools. I think those of us who are actively involved in the music, we realize that we have to make it accessible for the kids. So what I've been doing, I've been doing as many workshops as I can in middle schools and elementary schools. And those things are flourishing.

COX: What do you say?

Mr. NEWTON: Well, I would say that it's happening here also. And the reason that I would say is because of what - exactly what David was talking about and what I had talked about earlier. People here understand we can't go let go of the blues. We cannot let go of the gospel spiritual influence in the music. And the point that I was trying to make earlier, I was not trying to say that, you know, that - I guess the point I was making is that there's so many festivals in Europe that people get exposed to the music a lot. And I would like to see that kind of support that exists in Europe for the music to exist in our own country.

Mr. MURRAY: Exactly.

Mr. NEWTON: That's my point.

COX: It's a good point, and it's a good one to end this conversation on, unfortunately. We could talk all day long, you know that?

Mr. NEWTON: I sure do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: But we just don't have the time. Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us today. Bennie Maupin plays the bass clarinet and other reed instruments. James Newton, a flutist and conductor, or flautist, if you like. And they both joined me here in the studios of NPR West. And David Murray, a saxophonist, joining us from Paris, France. You can listen to our entire jazz series by going to our website, nprnewsandnotes.org. Thank you, gentlemen.

Mr. MAUPIN: Thank you.

Mr. MURRAY: Thank you very much.

Mr. NEWTON: Thanks, Tony.

Mr. MURRAY: And I appreciate everybody. Mr. Maupin, thank you. And James.

Mr. MAUPIN: All right.

Mr. NEWTON: David, we've got to be in touch, man.

Mr. MURRAY: Yeah, very soon. Like right away.

(Soundbite of laughter)



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