Courtesy of Fred Firth

Cuneiform Records



Fred Frith is a respected artist among the editors, here at the Roadshow. His work, labeled everything from (our favorite word) "avant-garde," "experimental," "fusion," "progressive rock" (whatever that is), and "provocative" (that's the worst). How about, he just kicks ass and does what it is he wishes to do? How about he is his own man? How about he is everything most "artists" on the scene are not these days? How about I just let him tell you? So without further to do, may I present Fred Frith, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Is it possible for an artist to grow under a label and produce and develop significant groups as Miles, Art Blakey, Trane, Ornette, and Mingus did, in today's climate?

FRED FRITH: There may not be such visible labels in the mainstream supporting new music (of any genre), but it has never been never that different, and since the '60s, the creation of musician-run labels have been more or less the norm anyway. You only have to look at the recorded work of Sun Ra and the AACM in the States, or labels like Instant Composers Pool (with Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg) in Holland, Incus (with Derek Bailey and Evan Parker) in the UK, FMP (with Brötzmann, Hans Reichel, von Schlippenbach) in Germany, ARFI (with Louis Sclavis and many others) in France, to understand how, starting in the '60s, the truly creative strands in improvised music, jazz-based or otherwise, have been able to survive only by doing things for themselves. And the artistic importance and growth of all of the above and their innumerable colleagues is hardly in question. My experience as an improviser in the last 25 years is that the audience for improvised music of all descriptions has grown enormously. I don't think you'd find many of the above-mentioned players who'd disagree. The audience is international, large, knowledgeable and supportive. The record industry in its overground manifestations has been irrelevant to the music for years! Places to play is a harder problem, but again, from where I sit, this has very often more to do with motivated musicians making things happen than with some kind of club scene. The figures you cite stand over the history of jazz like a colossus; since their heyday, it has been harder to create comparable mythologies. But there hasn't been a shortage of comparable figures in my view (starting with Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Lester Bowie, Evan Parker, Butch Morris, and others).

FJ: Is individuality a thing of the past in improvised music?

FRED FRITH: Clearly not. To the short list of greats above I could add dozens of players from all over the world - Ikue Mori, Sylvie Courvoisier, Zeena Parkins, Co Streiff, John Butcher, Caroline Kraabel and on and on. You won't read too much about them in the typical music press.

FJ: The "downtown" scene in New York, particularly the Knitting Factory, is something critics and writers associate you with.

FRED FRITH: The so-called downtown scene existed long before the Knitting Factory and was instrumental in its creation. They didn't create the downtown scene - the scene created them! The first gig they ever did was myself and Butch Morris duo, curated by Wayne Horvitz as the first of a series of improvised music concerts. The Knitting Factory people had never heard of any of us, and got interested because the place was packed. To their lasting credit, they had the vision to realize that this series was something they could build on, and build on it they did, crossing boundaries that hadn't been crossed before, and creating a focus for the music that had a significant impact on the way the scene was perceived, especially abroad. On many nights the place was full of music tourists from Europe or Japan. But I would say the coalescing of several elements that had already been operating with great vitality, was the ZU Manifestival that Giorgio Gomelski produced in 1978 - it was around this time that I met Zorn, Eugene Chadbourne, Tom Cora, Arto Lindsay, Bill Laswell, Kramer, Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham and many others who had already been making their presence felt. And there were many places to play at that time. I would say Roulette, which still exists, was vital in sustaining the scene, and I never read much about Jim Staley, who's also a great musician.

FJ: Tom Cora and John Zorn are musicians that have made significant contributions to music, how did they impact your musical path?

FRED FRITH: They were both idiosyncratic, dedicated, focused, unwavering, creative, funny and blessed with great ears and brilliant and unorthodox techniques. How could they not have had an impact - I owe them both a lot.

Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and makes fishers of men. Email Him.