Courtesy of Sam Rivers


Technique is dependent on artistry to exhilarate. And few are more inspiring than Sam Rivers. Thrilling live and impressive on record, Rivers is representative of creative capital. Rivers demands study and expects thought. Ambitiously challenging, Rivers is edifying to the weary soul of mediocrity.

FRED JUNG: Eighty and time has not caught up with Sam Rivers.

SAM RIVERS: I am very fortunate that the ideas keep coming. You have to keep active mentally. That's the main thing.

FJ: What pushes the mind?

SAM RIVERS: I just sit down and start writing. At this point, I am finishing up a lot of compositions that I started. It's a process of finishing up works in progress, which are quite a few, at least 50. They all have their own personalities.

FJ: Do you write for the trio?

SAM RIVERS: No, I never really wrote for this trio. I think about jazz compositions for orchestra, four trumpets, four trombones, and five saxes. The trio is spontaneous creativity. With improvising, you have to have something to improvise on. When we go out, we create the melody, the theme, and everything, right on the spot. It is a big difference from improvising because we're creating something just out of our imaginations, but then we improvise too and play traditional songs. This is the most unique group in the history of jazz. We cover the spectrum and that is why we are respected in the tradition and also in the avant-garde. I am one of the few musicians that is respected in both because I came up in the tradition with Miles Davis and ended with Dizzy Gillespie, and in between with Cecil Taylor, and before that with Jaki Byard and B.B. King. I consider myself a full jazz musician, but I play all styles of music from funk to classical.

FJ: Jazz discriminates between the tradition and the avant-garde and rarely the two should meet.

SAM RIVERS: I am accessibility without compromise.

FJ: Obviously, since Fuchsia Swing Song and Crystals were reissued last year.

SAM RIVERS: It is classical music. It stays fresh. That's the same with Beethoven and the other masters. I often boast about the fact that the recordings that I made in 1958 are still available. You can't say that about another pop star. We don't sell a lot, but it stays at a certain level. The music is as fresh now as it was when it was first created.

FJ: What is your recollection of the Fuchsia Swing Song session?

SAM RIVERS: That was recorded in one day. We had already been playing that in Boston. That was the group we had together, myself, Tony Williams, and Jaki Byard. We had been playing together for years. The only new one was Ron Carter. We recorded it in a few hours because we had been playing for so long. It wasn't new music for us. That was music we had been playing for three or four years.

FJ: When was "Beatrice" composed?

SAM RIVERS: It was about that time. It was around 1965. It is the only one out of 500 compositions that I have received any royalties on. One out of 500 is a pretty bad average, but I accept. "Beatrice" is very easy to improvise on. That was the idea for me, something that was very easy. It is pretty well known in jazz circles around the world.

FJ: You are performing at the San Francisco Jazz Festival with Jason Moran and Reggie Workman.

SAM RIVERS: I played on a recording of Jason Moran and two of Reggie Workman. We have done many performances around the country and in Europe too. Reggie Workman and I go back to when he was working with John Coltrane. Reggie is one of the stalwarts as far as jazz bass goes. Jason is fairly new and was a student of Jaki Byard. Jaki Byard and I, we played together for many years. That was one of his reasons for getting me on his album.

FJ: And have you written compositions for that trio?

SAM RIVERS: We do both. We always have written materials, but we will do some improvised material.

FJ: Do you take requests?


FJ: "Exultation."

SAM RIVERS: (Laughing) Well, it's only a trio. I can do that. I can do some of the thematic material. I do that sometimes.

FJ: Will you revisit a large orchestra recording?

SAM RIVERS: I have about four large ensemble CDs ready to go. We're getting ready to produce one ourselves. It is called Aurora and should be out in the next few months. We recorded that a few years ago. I sent it to some of the record companies and they said that it was very inspiring music and they loved it, but it wasn't the business climate. So I am not going to bother. We're going to produce it ourselves.

FJ: And you have a trio record coming out with Adam Rudolph and Harris Eisenstadt.

SAM RIVERS: They are highly talented and sensitive musicians. We are pretty much on the same level. I consider them colleagues. And so I play like they are at my level and they seem to come up to it. I don't hold back and I don't expect them to hold back. It gives them a fearlessness that they need.

FJ: I noticed your touring schedule has not tapered.

SAM RIVERS: No, but the flying is the most horrifying part of traveling nowadays. So much you have to go through. I remember the days when you just walked on an airplane. Not too many people remember those days, but I do (laughing). Now, we drive everywhere. I fly when I am by myself, but with the trio, we drive. Traveling is very tiring.

FJ: And the future?

SAM RIVERS: It is strange. I see all these things by me and no one says to me that they are re-releasing this, nothing. It is very strange. I am not rich. I didn't know Impulse! re-released Crystals. Somebody just puts them out and all of the sudden, they're there. So I guess I have to start taking things in my own hands and start re-releasing my own music.

Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and is Wang Chunging tonight. Comments? Email Him