AN INTERVIEW WITH LAURENCE HOFFMANN
LH: How do you define your music?
BR: My music is music that actually CAN heal the listener. By healing I mean inducing a shift in vibration through the listening process, which inspires. That is something that my music DOES. In terms of genre, I consider it Planetary Evolution Music; Future Folk Music. Those terms represent the ways my music can be used, and experienced. It involves improvisation, and composition as vehicles of/for musical discovery/revelation.
LH: How does Harriet Tubman, whom you refer to, influence your music?
BR: The choice to name one of my projects after the historical figure was a spontaneous response to a remark made by one of the band’s co-leaders, JT Lewis, describing his experience of how we were making music together. Harriet Tubman was a way-shower, a liberator, a woman, an African, born in America, who demonstrated unparalleled courage and invention and determination in order to be free – In order to know herself AS herself and not as defined by an “other.” In music, in America, that opportunity beckons still. My choice to create and perform music is to know my musical self, AS myself, and NOT as defined by a musical “other”.
LH: Does jazz have a role in society today?
BR: Jazz is relevant if understood and expressed as a process and not as a stylistic destination.
LH: How different is it for you to perform in a festival setting?
BR: It depends on the festival. And I suppose you are meaning different from a club, or concert hall? Festival situations can be extremely inconvenient, or highly accommodating. Unfortunately it tends to go that the bigger the festival, the less accommodating it can be. Unless you are a MAJOR “star” and travel with your own crew/gear, etc. I like intimate performance settings. I think most improvising artists do. In an arena or large hall, one has to consider translating to the last person in the last seat in the last row. That’s who you are playing to! So the intimacy element can become strained or challenged unless that audience is primarily there for YOU. In festivals, audiences are there for the variety of artists they can experience in one location for a relative bargain. So “getting through” can be tricky.
LH: What is the role of the musician in this city?
BR: The role of the musician in NYC is very important, but the role of the Artist (regardless of the discipline) is in decline in NYC. Once a certain age is reached by an artist, once a certain tribal/communal level of life has been passed through, unless “success” has been acquired, or attained, the conditions in NYC, appear increasingly difficult to develop in – geared toward other professions and interests. Great Art and the progression and development of great Artists is undervalued by political and social processes that heed commerce and profit above most endeavors.
LH: How different are European audiences?
BR: I think European audiences relate to AMERICAN music/musicians in various ways. Black American musicians are STILL experienced as somewhat “exotic.” There is still enough unfamiliarity with Black American culture on the part of Europeans, who naturally, view reality through the lens of European primacy, so that whatever the dominant media channels (that filter through from the U.S.) portray as being Black American, or African American, is the extent of the average European’s idea of what a Black, or African American person is – certainly in terms of what they can expect from a Black American performing artist. That is a very broad generalization, but it is valid, in my experience.
In the context of the music I have performed in European university or college settings, the audiences have typically been far more aware, open or advanced regarding the Art and music of Black Americans, than the average American is. Those audiences are listening audiences, and I find that they are accustomed to experiencing Art in general.
American audiences are more often than not, undereducated and unfortunately limited in their access to the rates of artists’ evolution and the work they create. Musically speaking, the size of the audiences for Black Art Music and creative music is very small (or so any booking agent or music promoter in the USA will tell you). A similar situation has been developing in Europe as well, over the last 10 years. My preference of audiences had been European for quite sometime. Now, Europe has become stultified for reasons I attribute to “globalization” which is some seriously treacherous stuff, if one considers how it impacts true creativity and humanity.
LH: What is music’s role in society? And what is your mission as a musician?
BR: Music has a role that is so powerfully important and connected with a dimension of healing and enlightenment that most of us are unaware of. Music is USED… perhaps abused, daily. Its power is no secret. HOW to use its power to uplift and balance and HEAL, totally heal, will be a part of the next phase of “cutting edge” human culture. In short, “No music, no life.”
My mission as a musician is to inspire, to illuminate the present moment, to reveal essence, to illustrate Beauty, to serve through Art.
That’s my “ministry…”
LH: How different is the music/musical expression of Harriet Tubman, Living Lovers and Pendulum which you created with different musicians you compose music for?
BR: The common variable in each of those bands is me. So in a sense, they are each different aspects of the same essence. Different applications of the common core of discovery and adventure – fantasy, innovation, personal language, freedom of choice, harmony, breath, beat, melody, LOVE.
Brandon Ross is a musician, composer and producer.
Harriet Tubman (co-lead with Melvin Gibbs, JT Lewis)
The vocal song “Can’t Tarry” and Hards Dry
Harriet Tubman double trio (with DJ Logic, Val Inc electronics, Graham Haynes cornet)
Brandon Ross Pendulum (with Kevin Ross electric bass, Hardedge sound design, Chris Eddelton drums)
COLLABORATIONS: Kip Hanrahan
For Living Lovers (with Stomu Takeishi bass- guest Tyshawn Sorey drums)