Courtesy of Michael Moore

between the lines

Palmetto Records



I cannot say enough about an American who shuns the spotlight of hyped pop culture for the quiet, introspection of the Netherlands. That is right, the Netherlands. And no, he didn't go for the hash. Michael Moore's (no not the Roger & Me guy) new recording on Palmetto with Gerry Hemingway (a guest of the Fireside Chat) and Fred Hersch is blow your hair back good. But I will let him tell you, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.

MICHAEL MOORE: I grew up in Humboldt County, California. My father was a music teacher in various schools around there. There were instruments all over the house. I played the piano. Took a few lessons. I came crying home from my first clarinet lessons, stopped, and started again in Rochester, New York, when my dad was at Eastman and then switched to alto sax in high school.

FJ: What were you listening to at the time?

MICHAEL MOORE: Early on I listened to my dad's records - lots of Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Miles, Kenton - later on Adderly, Parker, Rollins, Coltrane, and Stitt. Sly Stone, Steve Miller, Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, The Loading Zone, Cream, Beatles, Stones, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, and The Association all got to me early on. In high school, I started hearing Mingus, Dolphy, Braxton and Coleman. I remember my first encounter with Mauricio Kagel's music as being revelatory - it may have been Exotica (KOCH Schwann 313912).

FJ: Do you remember your first gig?

MICHAEL MOORE: My first gigs were on the back of a flatbed truck with the local musicians union concert band. My first night gigs were with a cover band playing "Light My Fire" and "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" on a VOX Continental organ. More creative music didn't come until I was in high school when I played a Fender Rhodes piano, sax, and flute, four or five nights a week in clubs.

FJ: Did you take formal lessons?

MICHAEL MOORE: I learned sax technique from Barry Block and had informal bop lessons with Don Sheridan. I studied classical piano with Charles Fukerson at Humboldt State University before going to Boston to study with Jaki Byard. When I got to the New England Conservatory, I started studying sax with Carl Atkins, and then with Joe Allard. There I began playing the clarinet once again so I could work with a fund raising dance band under the direction of Gunther Schuller.

FJ: Let's talk about your studies with Jaki Byard. What were your impressions of the late pianist?

MICHAEL MOORE: Jaki had a great deal of respect for people and music and he did not take himself too seriously. He could play many different ways. He had a huge palette of colors. When he wanted to move from one realm to another he just did it - which annoyed people. He was not afraid of humor. These are things, which I understood better after being in the Netherlands for a while. He was sometimes bitter, understandably so, considering the way things were/are. He was a wonderful observer and listener.

FJ: You grew up in the California sun, what prompted you to move to the Netherlands?

MICHAEL MOORE: I live in Amsterdam because I like the city, I enjoy being able to go places on a bicycle and I can earn a living playing music that I enjoy. There is a challenging aesthetic here, as well. I love visiting and playing in the States but I don't know how I would survive if I came back there. I don't think that I would be happy living in New York but I sure like playing with New Yorkers!

FJ: Should your move be attributed to the climate for "free" improvised music in America?

MICHAEL MOORE: The gigs I do are usually small scale and organized by a small group of people who really like the music. Their work usually entails getting money from various governments to support their vision. I don't know any independently wealthy promoters. In the United States there seems to be a lot of opposition to the idea of state sponsored art so it's more difficult for these people to put on events. When corporations sponsor art events I assume that they write off the expense from their taxes, which amounts to the same thing, or am I being naive?

FJ: No, quite a few musicians have expressed to me their concerns on the quality and support of the arts, or lack there of here Stateside, do you find it is difficult for you to get work outside of New York?

MICHAEL MOORE: Any difficulty I have in getting work in the States is probably because of lack of exposure. I know that things can happen if one hires a publicist, but I don't have one.

FJ: Does it concern you that so many American musicians are forced to go to Europe or Japan to earn a living?

MICHAEL MOORE: I don't think that it's such a problem. If money and goods can travel freely I think that people should be allowed to as well.

FJ: Do you see the circumstances changing?

MICHAEL MOORE: Immigration laws being scrapped? No. More people getting interested in improvised music? I'm not holding my breath. When certain people are offered a homogenous artistic landscape they may grow tired and want to look further and may find these alternate fantasies of ours.

FJ: Who are some of the musicians who are allowing the artistic landscape to grow?

MICHAEL MOORE: I'm of the opinion that most everything has been done before and we're here sifting through all the knowledge in the world, hopefully, finding a personal vocabulary. I am enjoying the work of Cor Fuhler, Tristan Honzinger, Ab Baars, Wolter Weirbos, Tobias Delius; pianists Achim Kaufmann, Benoit Delbecq, Georg Graewe, Curtis Clark and Alex Maguire - but these are guys I play with! I don't really care whether they're innovators or not. In America you've got Bill Frisell, John Zorn, Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas who are enjoying the fruits of media attention as well as Matt Maneri, Mark Dresser, Hamid Drake and Chris Speed, to name but a few, who are not.

FJ: How did the Clusone Trio come about?

MICHAEL MOORE: The Trio Clusone began as a quartet with Guus Janssen in 1988 when the Clusone Jazz Festival asked Ernst Reijseger to put together a group for the festival. It was fun and we did a few more gigs as a quartet before Guus left saying that he was afraid that it would take up too much of his time and he wanted to compose. We worked a bit as trio in 1981 but it didn't feel too good - I think that I wasn't flexible enough at the time - it took me a long time to find a vocabulary that could fit into various textures.

FJ: Let's touch on your latest endeavor for the Between the Lines label, Monitor.

MICHAEL MOORE: Monitor came about when Franz Kogelmann, an Austrian flugelhornist and composer asked me to make an album for a new label. He had a budget and liked the first idea that I had suggested. Cor Fuhler is a very talented, young Dutch keyboardist; in the tradition of Misha Mengelberg and Guus Janssen, he is interested in lots of music and ways to approach them. Both Cor and Tristan can be very provocative, which is good for me. Tristan is an American who has been living in Holland and Italy for 25 years. He has a huge sound and wonderful instincts. He taught Ernst quite a lot years ago. He makes beautiful music and also great theater pieces.

FJ: Tristan Honsinger plays the cello on the before mentioned MONITOR release, which is nothing new for you. You have included the cello in more than one of your projects. What is it about the cello sound?

MICHAEL MOORE: For me the cello can produce some of the most beautiful sounds in music. It has a wooden sound, blends well and, because of its range and varieties of articulation, can play different roles in the music. Ernst has done much work with a chordal, guitar-like approach and the walking bass function. Tristan is a great melodist.

FJ: You have a new release on the Palmetto label with Gerry Hemingway and Fred Hersch. Now, correct me if I am mistaken, but I think the trio's referred to as Thirteen Ways. Catchy name.

MICHAEL MOORE: I believe that the trio with Hemingway and Hersch is indeed called Thirteen Ways. The title comes from a poem by Wallace Stevens, which inspired Fred to write a piece, which became the title of the first trio CD on GM Recordings. I met Fred in 1977 at the New England Conservatory in Boston. We were both studying with Jaki Byard, among others. Gerry and I met later but have played with more often in the last ten years. Fred and Gerry played together first on my album Home Game (Moore with Herb Robertson and Mark Helias, Ramboy #2). Also on Ramboy are two trios with Hersch and Helias: CHICOUTIMI and Bering; and a trio with Hemingway and Marilyn Crispell entitled MGM Trio. I have also done four CDs with Gerry's quartets and quintets. I hope to be playing with Gerry and Fred a lot in the future.

FJ: You guys play a Jaki Byard composition on the album, was that a dedication to the late pianist?

MICHAEL MOORE: Both Fred and I wanted to do some of Jaki's music. He was such a great guy and a wonderful, open musician. I'm not much one for tributes. Usually the people don't want or need it -- a tribute to Miles? Why? But Jaki's music could definitely use more attention. He did some great things.

FJ: Are you comfortable in the trio format?

MICHAEL MOORE: Trios seem to be very easy for me. There's something about how you can make a move and influence the music while maintaining the forward momentum. I've heard that it is often easier for three instruments to play in tune with each other than two; maybe improvising is like that. If you have more than, say five people, it gets real difficult to improvise together. You need to be together for a long time -- like ICP. I've never been one for large groups and I'm not much of a soloist so…

FJ: What prompted you to start your own label, Ramboy? Does the label take up much of your time? And what is the most challenging aspect of running your own label?

MICHAEL MOORE: I started the Ramboy label after receiving a few rejection notices from various labels that I thought should have been interested in the music. I was shopping the "home game" quintet recording around at the time. When Trio Clusone started playing a lot it seemed to be a good idea to have something to sell at gigs so we quickly got some tapes together and Han did the cover. I called it Ramboy because my son Reuben Aaron Moore (RAM) was born about the same time. The label doesn't take up much time. It is basically recording, editing and graphic design. I finally have some people to help me with the editing and design and B.V. Haast does the distribution. I have no budget for promotion so distribution is basically passive. I haven't learned much business-wise except that some people are very natural about talking about themselves and their "work" and I'm not, but I knew that already. I feel that there's are a lot of people who would really like this music if they were introduced to it and it's a pity hat it's not readily available (and so expensive in the States). Maybe you prize more what you have to go after--there's enough information being thrown at us all the time that I don't feel that I need to contribute. The hardest thing is making all the decisions myself--but that's also the beauty of it!

FJ: What do you enjoying doing when you find you have some down time?

MICHAEL MOORE: I don't really divide my time into down and up. I spend a lot of time with my family and I listen to music a lot. My life doesn't get too intense. It just flows.

FJ: What do you think of the word jazz?

MICHAEL MOORE: I've thought about the word jazz a lot. Definitions like Louis', "What I play for a living," and Charlie Haden's, "Creative music born and bred in America," make me think. I don't mind the term. It's better than "light music" like they call it in the conservatories here. I listen to what I think of as jazz a lot and I derive inspiration from it. I don't have the idea that I am attached to a chronology and all the greats are my ancestors and I'm furthering "the tradition." I've studied three traditions in depth--the "jazz" tradition, the European improvisation tradition and the Brazilian "choro" tradition. I've also tried to learn something about Balkan, African, Irish, Japanese and other types of American music traditions. Had I grown up in another milieu then perhaps I'd feel more like a "jazz" musician. I think that some of the music I make is "jazz"; there's a groove and/or improvising on chord changes perhaps. A lot of it is just chamber music. I like the word jazz because it implies spontaneity and that the written material is not of utmost importance.

FJ: What effect has John Coltrane's music had on you?

MICHAEL MOORE: Coltrane had an incredible ability to concentrate and systematically work through his ideas. He had a lovely sound, too. I could learn much more from him. When I was in New York in the late '70s, early '80s, it felt like there were about five gigs for sax (tenor) players: Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Horace Silver and a couple of others, and thousands of horn players were working on their post-Coltrane stuff. It felt like a huge waste of creative energy. His was one approach and an overwhelming one.

FJ: Then how about Ornette Coleman's music?

MICHAEL MOORE: Ornette was a greater influence on me. The chordless counterpoint spoke to me immediately. The colors he used--timbre, intonation, scales and the relationship between instruments all gave music more possibilities. You're always aware of where things can go. It was always more ensemble improvisation compared to the soloist/accompaniment Coltrane idea.

FJ: Do you feel younger musicians, who are versed in these styles, overplay?

MICHAEL MOORE: Many musicians, if not all, overplay. I know I do sometimes. There is the idea that you first get your technique together, then work on your concept. People end up playing what they practice and they get ahead of themselves.

FJ: How have you avoided those trappings?

MICHAEL MOORE: I have tendency to go into my own precious, delicate musical area. I think for me it's necessary to work with others who will keep me away from that. I learn from playing with others and I think that one of the joys of playing music is that there's no end to development--you can always change partners.

FJ: Are there any future projects you have in mind?

MICHAEL MOORE: I've got great plans for the future. I want to record trio with Matt Maneri and Mark Dresser, more "Horn Guys" and a project with the Dave Douglas Quartet. I want to play Dylan songs with Linsey Horner, David Tronzo and Michael Vatcher and three other Euro/American quartets next year.

FJ: What releases do you have coming out next year?

MICHAEL MOORE: Ramboy #13--MT. Olympus, a Moore/Alex Maguire duet should be out in early February. The Achim Kaufmann Quartet on Leo, Benoit Delbecq Quintet on Songlines, and maybe, eventually, some more Clusone Trio music. I want to re-release some recordings of Available Jelly and the Persons from the mid-eighties.

FJ: Any New Year's resolutions?

MICHAEL MOORE: To write more--music and otherwise.

Fred Jung is Editor-In-Chief and suggests you put money into CDs and not stocks. Comments? Email him.