Taylor Ho Bynum Interview

We recently had a chance to ask Taylor a few questions about his music and the sextet he will be bringing to St. Louis this Saturday for a concert at the Luminary Center for the Arts. This is the first in a series of interviews with upcoming NMC artists.

NMC: Your music is a skillful melange of modern ideas and trends such as extended techniques and instrumentation combined with perhaps the most important elements in Jazz. It’s clear from listening to the 3 THB Sextet recordings–Asphalt Flowers, The Middle Picture and Apparent Distance– that composition plays a part in your music, but clearly so does freedom and unplanned improvisation. How do you create your music, i.e. how often do the six of you get a chance to practice and evolve off stage. Are you (Taylor) the only member working as composer or is that role being shared?

THB: The juxtaposition (and blurring) of composition and improvisation is one of my primary interests as an artist. I want to improvise with how we implement the pre-composed materials, and apply compositional instincts to how we improvise. All of the musicians in my sextet I’ve had long standing relationships with, so I can really trust their choices in that space, and we can take risks together as an ensemble. In this particular ensemble, I’ve composed all of the music, but I’ve spent much time playing compositions by all the other members, and those have clearly been influences on my writing for this group. Also, with the new piece we’ll be playing in St. Louis (tentatively titled “Navigation: Possibility Abstract”), I’ve tried to increase the freedom the musicians have in creating the structure of the piece while maintaining a strong compositional imprint. I’ve written six movements of composed materials, but how and when we play anything is up to the members of the group, they choose the direction of the journey in the moment.

NMC: The title of your most current album, “Apparent Distance” describes a sort of reflection of current events, mindsets, and a shift of language and realities…could you extend upon your choice in this title a little?

THB: I enjoy playing with language (with the new title for instance, abstract is more a noun than an adjective; an overview of the possibilities rather than the possibility of abstraction, but it’s also a little bit of both). With Apparent Distance, I was referencing both the visual illusion that makes objects of different sizes appear the same, and the idea that things that are viewed as separate (composition and improvisation, in and out, known and unknown) are actually more related than we generally assume.

NMC: Taylor, in your upcoming touring you’ll be performing in Poland at a “Made In Chicago” concert. The Chicago jazz and improvised music scenes continue to be some of the most important around – Do you see any direct links in your music to that of the Chicago heritage?

THB: Well, clearly the musics that emerged from the first generation of the AACM (Anthony Braxton, Herny Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Muhal Richard Abrams) are some of the primary touchstones of my whole artistic aesthetic. The kind of creative individualism and compositional and improvisational innovation those masters pioneered remains one of my primary inspirations. I know I share the love and respect for that music with many of my generational peers in Chicago. But I also think the current scenes in both New York and Chicago are engaged in exploring our own ideas, and I think there is definitely a feeling of kindred spirits coming from different cities that is more about the present than it is about the past.

NMC: On your website you posted a piece about the passing of Bill Dixon and your memories and experience of working with him. Would you mind sharing any specific memories, learning experiences, or quotes from this giant of music, art, and expression?

THB: Bill Dixon was a life-changing influence for me, not just as a trumpet player but as a thinker, an organizer, and a philosopher. The way he combined sound and silence, patience and surprise, lyricism and noise, remains something I think about every time I pick up my horn or write music or lead a band. Bill dropped serious wisdom on such a regular basis it is very difficult to sum up in any one anecdote. However, I will close with the words he gave me immediately before we took the stage at the Victoriaville festival, at his final concert just a few weeks before he passed away. He told me I was going to start off the music, and instructed me to “Play something you’ve never played before, but that only you could do.” Those are words I try to live by every time I play.