GC: I certainly think in terms of your piano playing and your writing, to me you should be out there as much as any of these other cats. One thing I wanted to ask you...you’re from LA, and I know you were kind of going back and forth...was that a hard decision not to go back to New York?
BC: I think it really had an effect in terms of my profile in the jazz world. For two reasons - one, the connection to Europe is a lot longer. Promoters find it more difficult to fly me out from LA than New York, for obvious reasons. Number two - New York is perceived as the jazz center of the world. If you’re from anywhere else, especially LA which is perceived as an industry, a commercial town, then you’re incapable of not putting out anything of any depth. Combine that with the fact that I was on a jazz label when I was making a name for myself back in the late 80s, with a really great distribution, the problem was that it was called Windham Hill Jazz. Some genius at marketing thought that they would have a jazz label called Windham Hill Jazz, which of course Windham Hill was the poster boy for New Age music which is the antithesis of jazz. And so a lot of people would look at the label and go “Windham Hill? Nah this is bullshit, I don’t want to hear this.” Or they’d hear it, but the Windham Hill image would be so strong that they would still call it New Age.
GC: I could see that. I don’t know if you ever heard some of Dave Holland’s ECM records, there’s one I’m thinking of with Steve Coleman and Smitty Smith and it really doesn’t sound anything like what you’d typically hear from ECM. I could see people being confused, if they buy into that. That’s interesting. Did you ever want to live in New York full time?
BC: I had a place there, it wasn’t full time though. By the time I had the place I had a family and everyone was used to being here. I kind of did, but I’m in New York so much now. I’ve kind of established myself in this particular direction, like I have this jazz chamber group, and I’m kind of cool with not having been in New York, but do I wonder how shit might have turned out? Yes, I do. I think as a jazz pianist, I think I’d be way more out there and touring every summer and that thing. But being in LA has given me a minute to reflect and become more of a skilled composer. Which to me is much more rewarding and important. Because I’ve developed this thing here, LA’s kind of a studio town, so when I have some heavily orchestrated thing, or some chambers type thing, it’s not difficult to call people to rehearse it and hear what it sounds like. Everyone has a car, and you have your garage to rehearse in, it’s no think. In New York you’ve got to get everybody into a practice room in the city and people have to worry about parking - it just wouldn’t work. So I’ve learned a lot just about getting together with people about composing. And that’s contributed to who I am right now. One thing that New York critics don’t like about me is that I don’t apologize from being from LA, you know? I don’t defer to New York. They listen to my music and they have that geographical chauvinism that nothing of depth can come from anywhere other than New York. That’s a pet peeve I have with critics, and that’s why when that cat jumped on you, I was like “who the fuck are you to say that?”
GC: Well it seems like a lot of times there’s an agenda or there’s preconceived notions not based on anything that has to do with the sound of the music. Because if I was listening to your music I wouldn’t think “oh, this is an LA vibe”. I would just hear it as some killing stuff.
BC: Well, I appreciate that.
GC: Yeah. I don’t like to think of things in that way, because certainly there’s a lot of things that come out of New York that don’t have the “New York sound”, whatever that is. Your music certainly has as much intensity if not more than a lot of stuff that comes out of there.
BC: You know I have to say - a lot of times I use a New York rhythm section because it’s still hard for me to find drummers and bassists that are playing like the ones in New York. In LA you’re not going to find any Antonio Sanchez’s or Clarence Penn’s or Brian Blade’s. Actually you would, he lives there doesn’t he?
GC: You know, I keep hearing that, I saw him last year and he seemed to imply that he wasn’t really here that much. But there’s Brian Blade sightings once in a while. So I’m not really sure. He’s not on the scene at all. But you never know. Portland seems like it’s getting a good reputation as a good place to live, I’m sort of wondering if more cats are going to move out here.
BC: Hey, you ever play with Ron Steen?
GC: Yeah, he does a bunch of jam sessions.
BC: Tell him I said hello when you see him. I used to see him with Joe Henderson, Tom Grant, and Patrick O’Hare.
GC: That’s amazing! Tom Grant’s still around too. Hey Billy, I should wrap it up, but I really appreciate this. Good to talk to you always.
BC: I appreciate you interviewing me for your blog! Your blog is much better than most blogs concerning jazz. You know, I’ve always thought that musicians should critique the critics! There should be some sort of thing, 4 stars, on what we feel the guy knows. How sound he is on history, his grammar, his fucking punctuation...
GC: I hear you. It’s a touchy subject, I certainly wouldn’t want to alienate all critics, but we should hold them to as high of a standard as they seem to like to hold us to.
BC: There should be more rebuttals. A lot of musicians, including myself, tend to think “well I’ll just let the music speak for itself, I’m above that, I’m not going to lower myself to get into a battle of words over music.” The time for that is getting old. They’re just fucking writing what they want, and giving that impression to thousands of people.
GC: I think creative music is not in a great position now and these critics are people that claim to love this music, yet nitpick something. I’ve paid out of my pocket to do some of these records, and then to be crushed by some dude who didn’t even listen to it, is an insult. They don’t realize what we’re up against.
BC: Yeah! Or maybe he listened to it but didn’t like it for some reason. Instead of saying “this guy is obviously great, I just didn’t get it” they’ll say “this sucks” in a very declarative, definitive way, like it’s an empirical truth that you suck.
GC: But then you have a bunch of reviews like that, and you wonder why nobody likes jazz. The stuff that’s really good will fall by the wayside, the people who are already doing well in the industry - they’re always going to get a good review. So the people one or two tiers below have to really struggle just to be mentioned. And then when it’s a bad or unclear mention...it just feels unfair to me.
BC: I’m with you. I don’t think I’ve ever - and I’ve been doing this for 35 years - I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a good review from a New York critic about anything that I’ve ever done. Which to me is upsetting.
GC: I would think they would dig your stuff the most. I don’t get that.
BC: I think I got one good review from the Wall Street Journal on my last record. Chick Corea tells me I’m good, Herbie...I think I must be good.
GC: Yeah, they should know!
BC: I’m glad that you called me. Hope we can hang soon.