April 6, 2018
Ben Allison’s thousand layers
How did you choose the musicians for Layers Of The City?
There are some ties with each one of them: Frank Kimbrough, the pianist, is probably one of my oldest friends, I have been knowing him for almost thirty years; I wrote the music for the record on piano and when I thought of the perfect person to play it he immediately came to my mind. We have played a lot together, but not so much during the last two years, so it was also a way to meet again. I played in one of the last records by Jeremy Pelt and, since then, he entered in my groups, consequently when I compose I think of him. Allan Mednard is a bit younger, he has a good sensibility and also an incredible technique, I like him because he is always very musical, he never gets carried away by technique: he is always playing songs.
How do you usually write?
Like many musicians, I don’t have an organized system; I have an idea, maybe a simple starting point on my mind and then I try to document it, I record it on the phone, or I write it on paper, or I use Logic; I then try to develop the material so as it makes sense and then I bring it to my musicians. This stage is the most important to me: to bring ideas and to do something together, I always leave some spaces, so that the musicians too can express their ideas and, as a consequence, this becomes a collaborative process.
It seems that you avoid most popular forms, by preferring more complex ones, don’t you?
Simple forms are part of the music history, just like more complex, I actually listen to so much different music… I like simpler forms, sometimes I use them, but also the more articulated, I let my aesthetics lead me. I don’t have a mission, there’s no structure I force myself to use. Just aesthetics: it depends on the idea, on the melody fragment, maybe a special sound, then I put it in a certain form, I think of what we have just played and of what we should play and so on, I let this lead me, not a particular form.
What would you like to realize in the next years?
I’m still interested in cooperating with musicians who have a different sounds and different backgrounds; I have never recorded a live record, and I would like it very much; moreover, the last two albums I recorded, The Stars Look Very Different Tonight and Layers Of The City are the first I recorded with my label Sonic Camera, a project I would like to further develop; I then teach at New York’s New School… in other words, many projects.
The web: is it a gift or a curse?
We must recognize that the streaming model exists and that it will remain. The right question is: “How can you create a sustainable business model, as the musicians are facing many difficulties?” To talk about this in the USA means to talk about the legislator and the laws regarding copyright; I’m very active through the Recording Academy, the company awarding the Grammies, which works a lot behind the curtain to support recorded music. I think that streaming will remain very popular, but I think that CD’s and vinyl records will not disappear, people will still buy them. In the next ten years it will be important to have a strategy for each of these formats.
What would you suggest to a young student wishing to become a pro?
Whatever you do, always play the best music, the one on which you have worked a lot, the one you are proud of; new technologies let us be independent but they made it too easy to create; take your time to be sure that whatever you produce is perfect, the best possible. Then, take your time to develop something personal, look for your voice, and remember that this requires time, passion and hard work.
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