Jake: Speaking about the music on Kind of Brown, the vibe of the CD is definitely straight ahead, but I also heard a bit of blues and funk in the mix. Would it be fair to say that combination of musical elements is pretty much where you live?
Christian: Absolutely! I’ve been fortunate enough that I feel I can live in a lot of different musical places. I enjoy any music that has a fat groove to it. I don’t care what kind of groove it is. It could be some kind of Latin groove, it could be a reggae groove, it could be straight ahead swinging, and it could be funk, whatever. I just need some pocket. In this particular instance that was the straight ahead pocket.
Jake: I guess I want to say that with the mix of musical elements you’ve been talking about, and probably covered, I assume the people at the Village Vanguard were still OK with your presentation?
Christian: The gig at the Vanguard went extremely well, and everybody was happy. We just concluded an engagement at the Vanguard Sunday night. I would have to say that the Vanguard is Inside Straights official home.
Jake: Do you see a lot of bands in New York employing this mixture of elements and genres we’ve been speaking of, as well as those involved in the straight ahead scene?
Christian: I think there’s a pretty healthy mixture of everything going on. There are some players in New York like Eric Alexander, Mike Ledon, and Eric Reed that keep things happening. Eric Reed no longer lives in New York but is there quite a bit of the time. Then there are guys playing at Smalls and Fat Cats that are doing more experimental types of things. I think there’s always going to be a good healthy dose of everything as far as the jazz scene in New York goes.
Jake: What do you see happening with the younger players in New York?
Christian: All of the younger cats who I see coming on the scene kind of represent a healthy mixture of everybody trying to do their own music. I see a lot of different reactions on this particular topic. You’ll get one group of musicians that will say these guys are just trying to write their tunes, and they’re not looking into the tradition, the meat and potatoes of where this came from. But for me, it’s all about balance. I don’t mind some of these younger guys working on their music as long as they can keep a balance of learning the standards, really learning how to swing, really learning the language of the tradition. Then, when you make your own music you’ll have all that other stuff to fuel it. It seems like too many times people are trying to make their own music in a vacuum… why do I need to listen to the old stuff when I can just make my music as it stands, with my own sound. But one of my favorite sayings that I’ve heard is, the only thing new is the history that you don’t know. So when I hear guys talking about trying to make their own music, make their own sound, quote unquote trying to find my own thing, people already have their own thing, you don’t really need to try to develop that. I guess that’s a long way of saying that I think there’s a group of young cats on the scene now that are really keeping that balance.
Jake: A while back, I did an interview with Esperanza Spaulding, a definite young lion, and she commented on how she was not interested in transcribing the works of the past greats, she was more concerned with trying to understand where they were at when they were playing and recording their music.
Christian: You know, everything is fueled by your surroundings and what’s going on in the world at that time… that’s what history is. The study of not just what happened, but what fueled it to happen. It seems that too many times when guys are studying to be able to play traditional jazz, they don’t know that they’re doing it, but their approaching it from a classical standpoint. You have to play something just like they played it, or it’s not authentic. That’s what classical musicians do. It’s OK if you want to do that, but you need to recognize that that’s what you’re doing. I do think that in order to be a jazz musician, and not even a great jazz musician, just a good jazz musician, you do need to study all of that stuff that happened before you—as much as you can. You could spend your whole life studying the tradition and the history, listening to Paul Chambers and Ray brown, and Ron Carter and Jaco—you could definitely spend your whole life doing that. But nobody “should’ do that. Just really study it enough so you can understand, just like Esperanza was saying, where they were at—so you can understand what fueled that greatness. Not to just do it like them, but just so you can understand what it takes to move on to that next level. Don’t worry about what you’re hearing, just play what you feel. Most players that we’ve given that mythological status, like Bird and Coltrane, and Miles and Herbie, made it obvious from their recordings and obvious from their interviews that they weren’t actively or consciously trying to be innovators. There’s this over-idealism that we always have to go out and find the lost chord or try to find new things that nobody has done before. The people that did find ways to do things that hadn’t been done before just did it because it was a natural evolution for them.
When you think about a guy like Tony Williams, as much as an innovator as he was, his response to being an innovator would have been that’s nothing but my interpretation of what I heard Philly Joe and Roy Haynes and Max Roach doing…I studied all those cats like you younger guys do. He wasn’t one of those guys that consciously said, oh my god; I’ve got to come up with something new. You know, Max, and Philly Joe, and Elvin played everything, and Tony didn’t go, I’ve got to find my own thing, he would just say, play what you hear.