and the AACM
FIRESIDE CHAT WITH JOSEPH JARMAN
I can't remember the last candid one on one that Joseph Jarman has done.
So I consider it a great honor and privilege that Jarman would grant the
Roadshow this intimate portrait. When I see how weak the current state
of the music is, I only look to Jarman and his AACMers to find hope. Hope
is all we have and I cling to it daily. May I present Joseph Jarman, unedited
and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
JOSEPH JARMAN: I got started playing by growing up in Chicago in the middle
of the bebop jazz scene. Every time that I went out, there was music everywhere.
There was also a lot of music being played in my household by my relatives.
I went to high school at DuSable High School, where a famous teacher,
Walter Dyett taught many, many wonderful musicians. That's where it began.
FJ: When did you pick up the saxophone?
JOSEPH JARMAN: I picked up the saxophone while I was in the army. I studied
drums in high school and in the army, I picked up a saxophone and a little
later on, I got transferred to the 11th Airborne Division Band. I began
playing there within that band for about a year. Then when I got out,
I met Roscoe (Roscoe Mitchell), who introduced me to Muhal Richard Abrams.
I was going to school with Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors, Anthony Braxton,
Henry Threadgill, a whole bunch and we all were sort of stuck together
and we began to play in, we had a little study group and then after the
study group, we also worked with the Experimental Band of Muhal Richard
Abrams. And then a little later on, the AACM was born. And then in 1969,
the Art Ensemble of Chicago was born.
FJ: Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Malachi Favors,
and Roscoe Mitchell were in one school with you, what school boasts such
JOSEPH JARMAN: This was at Wilson Junior College. And there was an enthusiastic
teacher named Richard Wang, who is a professor now at Illinois University,
who was very enthusiastic about "jazz" and he would allow us to have jam
sessions. He got in a lot of trouble. He would write Charlie Parker solos
on the board and have us analyze them. He got in a lot of trouble because
of that because they didn't want to teach "jazz" at that time. They were
just supposed to be teaching music.
FJ: What was the administration afraid of?
JOSEPH JARMAN: Well, at that time, there was also political upheaval in
the whole country because of the war in Vietnam and because of the race
relationships between blacks and whites in the country. It was also the
beginning of the awareness movement of the intellectuals that became known
as hippies and later became known as flower children. So all this kind
of stuff was going on.
FJ: Yet, you gentlemen formed the AACM in this volatile social climate.
JOSEPH JARMAN: To create opportunities for the musicians to be able to
perform their music without disgression and without intervention and to
generate a feeling of respect and camaraderie among this group of musicians
that were so adventurous that they had very few opportunities to perform
in regular situations.
FJ: So there was a prejudice toward musicians that chose to play adventurous
JOSEPH JARMAN: The opportunity to perform? Yes, it was missing. Only those
musicians who performed bebop or post bebop were able to work constantly
or were able to really have an opportunity to perform. The Experimental
Band allowed us to experiment in large ensembles and then the AACM allowed
us to experiment in smaller ensembles.
FJ: Has the AACM accomplished its initial goals?
JOSEPH JARMAN: Yes, it is still accomplishing those goals today.
FJ: And do you consider yourself a current member of the AACM?
JOSEPH JARMAN: Yes, I do.
FJ: Let's touch on your work with the Art Ensemble.
JOSEPH JARMAN: It was formed in 1969. At the time, Lester Bowie was President
of the AACM and one day at one of the meetings, he asked me as he had
done with Roscoe Mitchell and Malachi Favors, if we would like to go to
Europe to Paris. And of course, we immediately said yes because that would
give us more freedom in the expression of the music. And so we went in
July of 1969 to Paris and had a small house in the country. Someone came
and asked, "What's the name of this group?" Our response, collectively,
was the Art Ensemble of Chicago. It was a wonderful and extraordinary
time, Fred. Overwhelming in both musical and worldly experiences because
it gave me the opportunity to travel all over this planet and several
others. I also got the opportunity to continue to express the experimentation
because the Art Ensemble eventually became interested in the performance
of what you may say was world music. There was not a form that it did
not engage, Asian forms, African forms, Eastern European forms, gypsy
forms, South American forms, island forms, classical, traditional western
and both European and American forms. Everything was available.
FJ: The variety of instrumentations that the Ensemble had at its disposal
could not have hurt?
JOSEPH JARMAN: Yes, because the idea was that every sound was available.
Every sound is possible. Whatever you hear in music, you are able to produce
it. This was really the reason that there was such a multiple factor in
the instrumentation of the Ensemble.
FJ: Did you or any member of the Art Ensemble feel limited musically?
JOSEPH JARMAN: No, one would come in with one form and if there was a
problem, he would teach the others that form and move on.
FJ: What is the legacy of the Art Ensemble of Chicago?
JOSEPH JARMAN: I really have no idea. That has to be left to the listeners
and the historians. That has to be left to the people who listen to the
music. I have no idea what that legacy will be because there are so many
different aspects and so many different views. I think I would like to
leave that up to you, for example, rather than try to categorize it myself.
FJ: Why did you leave the Art Ensemble?
JOSEPH JARMAN: I left the Art Ensemble because I became a Shinshu Buddhist
priest and I was already operating an Aikido dojo in Brooklyn. It required
more and more of my time to engage in those activities. We are also associated
with the International Zen Dojo, which is affiliated with Chozen-ji Monastery
in Hawaii and Aikido Association of America, founded by Shihan Fumio Toyoda.
I was ordained as a Shinshu priest and that aspect slowly began to draw
more and more of my energy towards it. So I had to choose between the
constant traveling with the Ensemble because it constantly traveled. That
was its thing. Or to devote more time to these other studies and practices.
FJ: As an Asian, I am curious as to how Eastern philosophy and religion
has impacted your life.
JOSEPH JARMAN: Tremendously, tremendously, tremendously, without it, I
am sure that by now, I would have made transition in being in a completely
different zone (laughing) because I had very, very traumatic experiences
between the ages of seventeen and twenty and after those very traumatic
experiences, I was invited to a party and there was this guy over in a
corner who was getting all the attention and I was very egotistical in
thinking that I should be getting some attention too. So they introduced
me to him and he said, "I will give you ten thousand years and then I
will kill you." That was the beginning and my introduction to Buddhism
(laughing). It was very interesting and it still is today.
FJ: Do you ever regret your path of spirituality, that you did not continue
your formidable musical journey?
JOSEPH JARMAN: Absolutely not. To me, it is much more valuable to share
the reality of how to fall down and how to stand up under any circumstance
and how to be responsible for one's own actions rather than blaming others
FJ: But we live in a society that is rooted in blaming others for their
misfortunes or mistakes?
JOSEPH JARMAN: Yes, I have been very fortunate. I practice and invite
others to practice with me.
FJ: So you have not turned away from your musical life?
JOSEPH JARMAN: No, as a matter of fact, Fred, I resigned from the Art
Ensemble in 1993 and in 1996, for those three years, '93-'96, I didn't
play or even think of music. I didn't realize it, but it actually depressed
me in many ways. I was invited by some associates to perform and so I
did and at that same time, I received the opportunity to compose a composition
and it occurred to me that I could orient that composition around Buddhist
teachings and I did and it was very successful. Since then, all of my
work, all of my music has been talking about the wonderfulness of the
FJ: And future projects?
JOSEPH JARMAN: The last recording I made was called The Lifetime Visions
of the Magnificent Human and I am producing it myself and I've been waiting
for them to send it to me. I have the artwork and everything together
and sent it to the company and I am just waiting for them to get it back
FJ: What is the instrumentation of that project?
JOSEPH JARMAN: Well, it is a trio and it is a quintet. Would you like
to hear some of it?
FJ: Of course. Jarman plays a fifteen plus minute composition from the
recording. It is beautiful, evocative music.
FJ: You are playing the flute on that piece.
JOSEPH JARMAN: Yes, a normal C flute. It is influenced by Middle Eastern
FJ: What is the release date?
JOSEPH JARMAN: Hopefully, it will be distributed everywhere. It will be
distributed by North Country Distribution and hopefully it will be out
August 1. At the end of this month, July 30, I am going to Japan for a
month and I hope to have it to take some copies there with me and then
when I get back here, there will be an official release notice in the
United States in August.
FJ: Remembering Lester Bowie, how has he impacted you personally?
JOSEPH JARMAN: Oh, tremendous personally. He was wonderful. I was fortunate
enough to be with him the last week and I was working on a commission
for an English ensemble that I had been commissioned to write a composition
for and I stopped working on that composition and started working on another
called "The Passage Song for Lester B.: The Voice" and it was wonderful.
Just as I finished that composition, his son called and said that he had
made his transition an hour earlier. Throughout my life, he had always
been very inspirational to me and very giving to me, both musically, intellectually,
all kinds of levels, even suggesting that this color shirt doesn't go
with that color pants. "If you look at it you will see that there is disharmony,"
and sure enough I would change the color of the shirt and feel much better
(laughing). So, yeah, he was incredible being and it is an incredible
loss to all of us.
FJ: Seems as though you miss him?
JOSEPH JARMAN: Yes, Fred, I see him from time to time in dreams, but other
than that, I don't have the opportunity anymore.
FJ: Will you be recording "The Passage Song for Lester B.: The Voice?"
JOSEPH JARMAN: Yes, I am sure I will. I will be going to Chicago to do
a thirty year retrospective concert of my large ensemble work and I intend
to conclude with that composition.
Fred Jung is Jazz Weekly's Editor-In-Chief and fuzzy naval king. Comments?