Until April 18, Monday nights were usually dark at The Stone, John Zorn’s exemplary and invaluable performance venue at Avenue C and 2nd Street. That changed when Zorn invited Karl Berger, the founder of the Creative Music Studio, who has lately been overseeing a 12-CD subscription release culled from approximately 400 hours of tapes documenting the musical production that transpired at C.M.S. during its dozen-year run, to run a weekly CMS Workshop Big Band. I haven’t attended yet, but last night’s listed performers [(Ingrid Sertso (vocals, poetry) Art Bailey (accordion) Skye Steele, Frederika Krier, Eloisa Manera (violin) Sylvain Leroux (flutes) Miguel Malla (clarinet) Jorge Sylvester, David Schnug (alto sax) Stephen Gauci, Yoni Kretzmer (tenor sax) Catherine Sikora (soprano sax) Thomas Heberer, Herb Robertson, Brian Groder (trumpet) Steve Swell (trombone) Bill Wright, Adam Caine, Harvey Valdes (guitar) Dominic Lash, David Perrott, Adam Lane (bass) Lou Grassi, Harris Eisenstadt (drums) Philip Foster (odds and ends)] denotes the high caliber of musicianship being brought to bear on Berger’s concepts. The project is scheduled to run through the remainder of 2011.
I had an opportunity to speak with Berger and Sertso (his wife) at some length in late 2008, when they received a $25,000 grant from a German university that enabled Berger and engineer Ted Orr to digitize and remaster the first hundred reel-to-reel tapes, cherrypicked both for artistic quality and condition, and produced several benefit concerts at Manhattan’s Symphony Space towards the realization of this goal. The first conversation transpired at WKCR on October 24, 2008, towards the end of my run at the station; the second, for a DownBeat article that was originally intended to be a comprehensive feature on the history of CMS and the Bergers, took place in a diner opposite Symphony Space on December 12, 2008. As it turned out, the piece never got off the ground, and in 2010 DB ran a shorter “News” piece on the CMS digitization project for which the great preponderance of the raw transcript could not be used. The two interviews appear below in their entirety.
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Karl Berger (WKCR, Oct. 24, 2008):
[After playing march piece from Anthony Braxton’s Creative Orchestra Music recording from 1976 on Arista]
KB: This work was basically developed at the Creative Music Studio. Braxton had the opportunity at the Creative Music Studio to always have a large group with which to rehearse pieces, so a lot of the concepts of his orchestra music developed right at CMS.
TP: I have several questions to ask about that. But before, let’s paint the picture. Tomorrow, Friday, at Symphony Space, at 7:30, there will be a concert featuring Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso, Anthony Braxton, and Steven Bernstein’s Millennium Territory Orchestra. The proceeds will go towards the digitization and release of your capacious archive of tapes of concerts given on Saturday nights at Creative Music Studio between 1972 and 1984, featuring many of the seminal figures of jazz progression and creative music progression during that time. We’ll hear some selections from the 16 CDs they’ve done so far.
KB: We just started, basically. It’s a three-year project.
TP: How did the project begin? Did you get funding?
KB: Yes. We apply for funding in various places, for grants, and we received one grant from a German foundation and we received membership contributions towards it. So we are about one-fourth into the $120,000 we need. That gives us the first 9 months to work with right now.
TP: Was documentation always an intention?
KB: No. I never thought of that actually. We did tape everything, but we weren’t really into history. We were into Now at the time very much. The reason why I think these tapes need to be heard, or at least digitized and preserved, is that in the ‘70s, as you all know, the record industry started to shift gears and started to produce records from the producers’ point of view rather than from the artists’ point of view, and a lot of stuff that started being…except maybe for Anthony’s and a few other fortunate ones… The artists didn’t get an opportunity to record their music the way they felt it should be. CMS was all about that. Like, people would come up and work on their newest works, and they would have the opportunity to work with larger groups and to develop ideas that they could not develop in recording situations. Therefore, what you’re hearing there has a lot of stuff that you don’t even know existed in the ‘70s and ‘80s…
TP: Unless you were on the scene in New York or had an opportunity to hear…
KB: True. But also, we were in Woodstock, not in New York where the scenes were quite separate. Up there, people started to blend more. People would get together. Let’s say Lee Konitz would meet Leroy Jenkins, or David Izenson would play with Harvey Sollberger—stuff that would never happen in New York, because the scenes were much more separate. People were more relaxed up there. They didn’t think in terms of the PR quality or the career situation or whatever it was.
TP: So through this archive we can find different angles or approaches or nooks and crannies of the musical production of even artists with substantial discographies which might not otherwise be visible.
KB: Yes, exactly. For example, Cecil Taylor could develop orchestra music. He never did that before. He spent ten days working with a 20-piece group and recording two evenings with that. This sort of stuff that just wouldn’t have happened.
TP: Before we talk about some specifics of CMS, what do you recall about the gestation of Braxton’s Creative Orchestra Music project? You were there. You played glockenspiel and vibraphone on it.
KB: There’s a funny story, which is typical for Anthony and his way of teaching. I looked at the part, and some of the notes were not on the vibraphone. So I said to Anthony, “How do you want me, “How do you want me to play that?” He said, “Play as written.” So what do you do with that? “Play as written.” Ok, so I played as written. Some of these notes were outside of the instrument.
Or Fred Rzewski playing the bass drum. What other record do you know where… [LAUGHS] So a couple of things like that were going on. Actually, I was already a little bit familiar with that music, because it had been happening among the participants at CMS before. But he was using professional musicians at the time of the recording.
TP: Perhaps I can use your performance on glockenspiel on Braxton’s piece as a door for some remarks on your own personal history. Did you play in marching bands as a…
KB: No. I never played glockenspiel before this recording.
TP: I’m no expert on glockenspiel, but it sounded fairly accomplished… But you came to the States in 1966, was it…
TP: You’d met Don Cherry in Europe and came here as part of his working group.
KB: Yes. We had a working group, a quintet for two years prior to that in Europe, and we played pretty much every day except Mondays. It was a real tight group. Then we got the invitation to record Symphony for Improvisers and to do a Five Spot series, and to play at Town Hall, which Ornette had organized. So we came on that premise. So we came in August 1966 for the first time.
TP: I realize that you’ve related these events publicly on many occasions, but would you talk a bit about the path that brought you to Don Cherry?
KB: It’s quite a simple story. In the late ‘50s or beginning ‘60s, I was a member of the Hans Koller Quartet in Germany. Hans Koller was a top European saxophonist who was one of the few Europeans who played on international festivals. So we opened for Miles, or we opened for Mingus, and we would play in Antibes, and so on. We sort of got around internationally a little bit. I started to listen to Ornette’s quartet albums, This is Our Music and The Shape of Jazz to Come, and these things. It really hit me that this is the kind of music I want to play. The free music was so slowly developing, but it wasn’t rhythmical, and this had the powerful rhythm and it was free. It really hit me, like, this the music I want to play.
Then the opportunity arose in ‘65, in March… We used to play in Paris a lot at the Chat Qui Peche with people like Chet Baker and Steve Lacy and other people, and in March 1965 Don Cherry came to Paris, and I met him at the Buttercup Club, which Bud Powell’s wife ran. I saw him sitting there, and I just walked up to him and said, “I want to play with you.” Don was a very intuitive cat. He looked at me and said, “Come to the rehearsal tomorrow at 4.” Then the same night, after the rehearsal, I played with the band, and from there on, the next three years, I played with that band. So this is how simple it was.
TP: Now, you had also an academic background in philosophy. So you were dual-tracking as a student and a musician in post-war Germany.
KB: Yes, exactly.
TP: In any way, did the philosophical teachings, your studies…how did it intersect with your musical production?
KB: I think studying particularly in the area of philosophy and aesthetics…when you study there and you go through the history of everything that’s been going on, it opens your mind to new concepts. It really does. It’s not so easy to get stuck in patterns. It’s a mind-opening experience. That’s the only relationship that I can see.
TP: So in other words, it allowed you to accept what was happening perhaps on its own terms.
KB: Yes, exactly. Particularly studying people like Schopenhauer or aesthetics by Kierkegaard or things like that, it gives you a real powerful intro into the philosophy of music and art.
TP: How did vibraphone become your instrument of choice?
KB: That’s also very accidental. I am a classical piano player, and as I was playing in a little club in Heidelberg called the Car-54, which was frequented by a lot of American players from the Air Force and Army bases around there… That’s where I met Carlos Ward, Cedar Walton, Lex Humphries, Don Ellis, and all these people. The piano was always in bad shape and out of tune, and there was a vibraphone player who came in sometimes, but then he left his instrument there. So I basically started playing it because the piano was so bad! The other reason was I could get up and move around. Because music makes me think of dancing always—and there I could do that, I could move around. But purposely, I never took a lesson on the vibraphone. So it’s my toy. Like, I played a vibraphone probably, because of that, like nobody else, just because I never learned how to play it classically.
So piano is really the instrument I know everything about. Vibraphone I only use for my own compositional and improvisational purpose.
TP: Was there a real separation for you between… Had you given up classical music during those years, and was there perhaps some desire to bring forth those ideas?
KB: When I played with Don’s band, often there wasn’t even a piano, or, if there was a piano, it was so bad that I would just play the vibes. Like, at Chat Qui Peche, the piano was terrible. Also, purposely, I didn’t play piano for two years during that period in order to get away from the licks, the classical licks, the way you learn to play classically. I wanted to re-translate back the vibraphone to the piano, which I now do. Now I understand the piano a lot more as a percussion instrument, which is what it is, and really go note-for-note.
TP: So you arrive in the States in ‘66, straight into the fray at the Five Spot. Not the same location where history had been made years before…
KB: The one on 8th Street.
TP: Can you describe your first impressions of New York?
KB: The first impression was that I wanted to go back home. It was a shock, in many ways. The living situations that I saw…all these famous musicians that I knew from records, how they lived and what they did and how they operated. It was horrible. I thought, “My God, these people should be respected more.” It was a hard one.
I would say that the man that got me to stay was Ornette Coleman. I started to have almost weekly conversations with Ornette. Ingrid and I went to Ornette’s loft all the time, and we discussed matters. He was the only one who made sense to me in terms of how he talked about music. But he also insisted that we should say. He said, “You’ve got something to say. New York is like a radio station for the world. You’ve got to do it.” So we did, and we sort of got used to it, slowly but surely.
TP: Did you intersect during those years, 1966 to 1972, with other artistic communities in New York? With filmmakers, with writers, with visual artists?
KB: Tthere were a bunch of scenes that we oscillated between. We were always in Brooklyn, Williamsburg, where there was a scene… There was a loft building with musicians like Rashied Ali and Roger Blank and Archie Shepp, and everybody living in there, and there were sessions every day. Rashied must have a host of tapes, because he recorded everything. There was like 12 lofts, all musicians. Then a bunch of musicians who came there all the time. I was a lot in that scene. I went there all the time to play. Then, I was around Roswell Rudd’s scene. He had a band with Robin Kenyatta and Beaver Harris, so I played with that. Then with Marion Brown. Then there was another scene around Dave Liebman, who started out at that time. Dave Holland and Dave Liebman lived in the same loft building in the Photo District. While Dave was playing with Miles, he started playing with our quartet, with Carlos Ward and Eddie Blackwell. That was an ongoing project, and we recorded that a few times—and then trio music also.
So there were these different, disconnected scenes that were not overlapping. As a matter of fact, I asked many questions about that, and I never got the right answers.
TP: What would the right answers have been?
KB: The right answer would have been, “Oh, gee, why not?” In Williamsburg, for example, one day, after like 6 weeks of going there and playing there all the time, I said to everybody in a break, “So what do you guys all think? I am the only white man here.” It was all black guys playing. They said to me, “You’re not white; you’re European.” So that was a distinction. Stuff like that was going on.
TP: Such ideas were also part of the zeitgeist (forgive my throwing a German philosophical term at you) in the late ‘60s. So those were musical scenes. Were you also intersecting with people in different disciplines?
KB: That happened actually later. What happened was, we were there in ‘66, ‘67, and then in ‘68, I went back with my own group, with Alan Blairman. We went to Europe and toured there; for about a year-and-a-half we stayed over there. We only came back then in ‘72, to Woodstock directly. I was here in ‘70 and ‘71, in order to start the Creative Music Foundation. I had discussions with Ornette. He introduced me to John Cage, Gil Evans, Gunther Schuller, a few other people, and we started an advisory board for the Creative Music Studio. I started to talk with Carla Bley and Mike Mantler, who had office space on Broadway with the Jazz Composers Orchestra. So we started to form the process of setting up the Creative Music Foundation. Then I went back to Europe, and a year later I moved to Woodstock.
TP: Why at the turn of the ‘70s did it seem important to set up the Creative Music Foundation?
KB: I had very egotistical reasons. I wanted to know what I was doing. We were all playing, playing, playing every night, and my academic training told me I needed to know something more about this. Everything was fine and perfect, and it sounded great, but I didn’t know what it was. I wanted to find out what it would be. So I wanted to meet more people. I wanted to get groups of artists together, have them talk about their music. If you have to teach it, then you have to know what you’re saying, so to speak. Also, what are methods I could use in order to tell the next generation how to loosen up their conceptual ideas. That was all in the back of my mind, to do that.
TP: For how long before doing this had you felt this way? I’m curious about how your academic background and cultural background as a German led to some of the pedagogical concepts at CMS.
KB: What really got me going on this, I started teaching at the New School. John Cage had a course there, and he left, and I applied, and funny enough, I got the job, and I started an improvisation class there. I realized everybody had timing problems, so I started to get into time, beat-for-beat attention and all that. One of our mainstays at that time was a job with Young Audiences. There was a group led by the drummer Horacee Arnold, and there was Reggie Workman, Sam Rivers, myself, and Mike Lawrence was the trumpet player—and we would go to all the schools, playing for sixth-graders. This was all about what is improvisation; sing us a song, we’ll play over your song; we’ll just experiment with your music—and the kids got involved. That’s when I realized that people are not compartmentalized like we see them all the time, like somebody just likes this and the other one likes that. They liked everything. They were open. So I realized that the capacity of every person is really to be open, and to really get involved in all kinds of concepts and ideas. That really helped me to say, “you know, we can probably create a situation where we can help people to develop their own music.”
TP: When you arrived in the States in ‘66, it was maybe a year or so after the incorporation of the AACM in Chicago. That, of course, was on its own parallel track during the years you’re speaking of, and musicians from there started moving to New York right around the time you started CMS. Were you aware of the AACM in those years? Or did you encounter some of them when you returned to Europe? I think 1969-1970 coincides with the time those musicians were staying in Europe.
KB: Well, first I heard about it from Anthony, of course. Anthony lived in Woodstock… A lot of people moved to Woodstock during that time—Anthony, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Carla was already there. More and more people were following. So first I heard of it through Anthony. Then we started to bring AACM musicians in to teach at CMS. When CMS got bigger and it became a year-round institution, then we did whole summer sessions, whole so-called “New Year’s intensives” with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, or with Roscoe Mitchell and so on.
TP: But in the ‘60s, you weren’t so aware.
KB: No, I wasn’t aware at all. No. I’m not the type of person who is always keeping themself informed. I’m more focused on the stuff I need to do.
The music to follow was a project of mine that was realized in ‘95 in Germany at the Donaueschingen festival. It has a mixture of American and European musicians on it. I wanted to start the session by introducing my own work, and then go to CMS. I’m not just an administrator. I want to show what I do. Here I’ll play piano. One of the reasons I’m playing this is that I like people to start off understanding that I’m a piano player.
[MUSIC: “No Man Is An Island: Movement 2”; “Remembrance”]
TP: “Remembrance” is a tune you played with Don Cherry during the ‘60s, with a working group. That’s from a radio broadcast, with Karl Berger on piano, Carlos Ward, alto sax, Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophone, Graham Haynes, cornet; Ingrid Berger, vocals; Bob Stewart, tuba; Mark Helias, bass; Tani Tabbal, drums…
How many of these concerts did you record?
KB: We recorded approximately 400 over the 12 year period, and the digitization process generates about 10 per month.
TP: During a given year, did CMS run on a semester system, or a trimester…
KB: In its heyday, it was year-round—two 8-week semesters in the fall and spring, and two 5-week semesters in the summer. Then there were intensives, a New Year’s intensive and another intensive around Easter-time.
TP: So about 30 weeks a year.
KB: Yeah. It was pretty intense. It was just ongoing. From 1976 to 1984, we had a campus that was a former motel with five buildings, so about 50 people could stay there all the time. There was also a soccer field where you could have festivals and so on. So it was a pretty ideal setup.
TP: So using infrastructure from the former Borscht Belt… Woodstock and the Catskills has a preexisting infrastructure that could easily be used for this sort of thing.
TP: What was your first facility? You come directly to Woodstock after a year-and-a-half in Europe. So presumably the gears were previously set in motion.
KB: We rented a big barn, and the upstairs of the barn was set up so we could live upstairs, and downstairs was one big room with a fireplace, and that’s where the workshop started. This is where we started. Then a couple of years later, we sort of grew out of that, and it was not big enough. We rented a Lutheran camp, where now is a Zen mountain center, all the way out in Mount Trempa, which was a big space. The only drawback was that the camp was on in the summer, so we could only use it in the fall and spring. That’s when we started looking for this motel, and we found that in ‘75, and so from ‘76 on we had a year-round program.
TP: Who was the faculty at first? You…
KB: At first, all the people who lived up there, which was Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, myself, and Ingrid. That’s how it started.
TP: How did you organize the curriculum and the pedagogy? Was it that Braxton wanted to teach in such-and-such a way, and Dave Holland would teach in a different, and Jack DeJohnette the same, or was there some organizing principle?
KB: It was pretty loosely organized. In other words, we gave the guiding artists the afternoons for as long as they wanted. Most people started at 2 and went til 6 or 7 or so, and just worked with all the people that were there.
TP: Was it on technique, on workshopping their music…
KB: No. It was always about composition and improvisation. It was not about the instruments. We actually everybody that wanted to come, “You are not going to have training in your instrument.” It’s all about concepts. It was a conceptual situation. So in the morning I would do what I call “basic practice,” which was a rigorous rhythmic training, then a training in overtone awareness, like getting really into sound, so that you would get away from the idea of a tone and get into harmonics. Then the rhythmic training would be about beat-for-beat dynamics, so dynamics was a big issue. And I would do all of these non-stylistic, I’ll call them, exercises in the morning. There would be also body practice, body awareness before, at 9 o’clock. Some people wouldn’t make that! Then the afternoon was open to the guiding artists until dinner-time, and they could structure that any which way they wanted, whether they wanted to have a small group and people, or they wanted to have the whole group, or whatever they wanted to do. Then after-hours, the room was there for the students to develop their own works.
TP: What was the age range of the students early on?
KB: Early on, the first people that came, like Donnie Davis and these guys, they were probably around 21, 22…
TP: Just graduated from college or having attended college.
KB: Exactly, yes. Usually, we wanted to make sure people knew how to play their instrument well enough not to worry about that. So that was sort of our prerequisite. They had to send a tape or some kind of way of auditioning.
[The next selection was a 1979 duo by Berger and Nana Vasconcelos]
TP: You spoke before about the rhythmic exercises that you gave to students, and you told me off-mike were saying that the information you garnered and transmitted to students you learned during your years from Don Cherry, who himself was distilling these lessons—through his own prism, I guess—from Ornette Coleman.
KB: Yes, in a way you could say that. I received through Don Cherry invaluable impressions and information about music. He used to walk around with a shortwave radio on his head 24 hours a day—probably even in his sleep! I saw him sitting in the movies having this on. Anyway, we would not only play every evening in these clubs, because at that time you could play for months in one club (it’s not like today), but you’d also have a rehearsal every afternoon. In these afternoon rehearsals he would come and play on the piano the most recent stuff that he had heard on the shortwave radio. He had this amazing what Ornette calls “elephant memory,” where he could remember every note. He would bring in pieces and play them. He wouldn’t even know where they were from, whether they were from India or Egypt or wherever. We used some of those melodies in the concerts, and he would just like use them, not thinking about any stylistic considerations or anything. So that was startling for me. It was new for me that you can just go and take any music coming from anywhere, and look at it as if it was all the same.
TP: I guess he was beginning to incorporate these principles right around the time you started playing with him, around 1965-66.
TP: Then he really developed them at much greater length in the ‘60s, culminating with pieces like Relativity Suite and other…
TP: You were associated with him all through this time, or sporadically…
KB: Off and on. I recorded the Art Deco album with him, and a few other places. But I wasn’t playing consistently with Don Cherry any more after ‘68. I started doing my own projects. But we kept in touch all the time. He was one of the major people at CMS. He was there every term, in each semester.
TP: Now, you were just mentioning that he would grab themes from everywhere that he heard on the shortwave radio, without knowing where they were from, in a decontextualized way, out of the function in which the music was created. How important did it then become to recontextualize this within the framework of CMS… In other words, to do full justice to the actual music. Was it a kind of balancing act?
KB: I basically didn’t go there. What I did is, I used some of this information, particularly all the additive rhythmic stuff that comes from Turkey, Egypt…the Middle East…from India… All this additive rhythmic stuff intrigued to a point to create a practice system called the “gamala taki.” Those two words came from Don Cherry, but he wasn’t thinking of them it a rhythmic system. He just had heard them on the shortwave radio. They are part of the tabla language in Pakistan, for example. So I would take it out of that context altogether, and just create an additive rhythmic training. Because you go into that kind of place where you’re no longer thinking bars or forms of that kind, but you are just adding odd and even, and you use language as a tool rather than counting, you’re going into a new world of…you create a sense of freedom for yourself, for beat-for-beat attention, as I call it. That led me also to the fact that we not only could study something for the reason of learning new material, but also to train our mind. Like, to train our mind to listen for each beat
TP: But on the other hand, for instance, on the prior track with Nana Vasconcelos, or the piece we’re about to hear with Trilok Gurtu, these are musicians who are deeply trained within the folkloric music of their own cultures. How did they respond to moving outside the notion of idiom? Of course, Nana Vasconcelos was involved in many transcultural projects with Don Cherry and other people.
KB: Trilok and particularly Nana and others that came there, these percussionists were there because they wanted to go beyond their traditional culture. They wanted to move beyond that. So therefore, we had people who were eager to absorb information like that. I just met Nana at a festival in Sardinia that we were playing on about a month ago, Sant’anna Arresi, which was dedicated all to Don Cherry. Nana sang all these gamela taki practices to me. He still has them in his head, and this is still fascinating material for him, because that’s not what you do in Brazil—additive rhythm of that nature. So he actually enjoyed that to a point, because it sort of opened him up in his playing. Trilok is the same way.
TP: So you found one system that would enable musicians to look for that universal language that seems so appealing to musicians, because it’s a language of notes and tones.
KB: Exactly. There you go. So that you go there, and then from there you can go back to any style in which you play, and you will be a lot more open around it. You can go back and play tones and play forms of any kind, but you will have another beat-for-beat attention in your mind, and also a sense of harmonics about every note you play. Don Cherry would tell me things like, “there’s no such thing as A. There’s A in the context of whatever harmonics there are.” Once you go there and practice that, you open up a whole territory of precision in your tuning. For example, like, a trumpet player who plays a G, he can basically, with that one note, determine whether it’s in C or in G or in A or E-minor
TP: Now we’re hearing the Ornette Coleman root.
KB: There you go!
TP: Next is a CD of Trilok Gurtu, a sextet with Nana Vasconcelos, Ismet Siral, Steve Gorn, Ted Orr and Karl Berger, from 1980.
KB: That was a Turkish folk melody called [tk], and Ismet Siral is a saxophonist from Istanbul who is very revered over there, and came to CMS to teach a week of Turkish music, and ended up staying for two years. He was just insistent. He just didn’t want to leave. I realized very quickly that particularly Turkish music is ideal for studying additive odd meter. It is such simple structured, melodic work that is actually perfectly structured in the gamela taki fashion. So these are all actually exercise pieces for students to learn Turkish music pieces, and it was an eye-opener for everybody and a real practice. He just kept one house, put a fire in front of his house, and taught in the evening after hours when everybody else was finished. He would just stay and continue to teach. Then something tragic happened. He went back to Turkey, and he was so influenced by the American way of life and the style of playing that his Turkish colleagues would not accept him any more, and he actually committed suicide. But the Turkish energy is such a fervent energy. I don’t know how to describe it. But there is now a group in Turkey, if you go to a site that’s called IS-CMS, that’s Ismet Siral Creative Music Studio—there is actually a page on the Internet. They created a summer session two years ago, and brought Trilok, myself, Steve Gorn, all these people there to do a summer… They want to continue in the honor and memory of Ismet Siral.
TP: In 1972, I guess the notion of field recordings had been undertaken since the ‘30s and ‘40s, and more systematically in the ‘50s and ‘60s with the UNESCO series and so forth, but in American jazz, these influences were considered somewhat exotic. Of course, Dizzy Gillespie incorporated Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and Max Roach as well. But it seems that beginning in the ‘70s, and perhaps in some part through developments in CMS, and perhaps other reasons, the assimilation of rhythms, melodies, and scales from around the world began to be incorporated more into the mainstream vocabulary of jazz and creative music. Do you have any observations about these developments?
KB: Strangely enough, we were not really in the middle of that. We were less concerned with how materially jazz as a style was developing, for example. I was more interested for people to open their minds for their own music, so there would be influences but not material influences in the sense of stylistic influence, but more to get more flexible, to be more attuned to differentiations that you might bring into your music, and not being hesitant about expressing yourself just because you’re not sounding like everybody else. As you know, when we hear our own voice for the first time, we think the tape recording is wrong. This is how different we are in terms of sound and rhythm, in terms of timing and all that. To get there, to go there, and to do that by way of studying all these different things, not so much by taking in Turkish music or taking in Indian music and incorporating it into your art… I wasn’t really that interested in that. It happened, of course, automatically, and a lot of that is going on now, and has been since then. But that was never really our focus. Our focus was to see the music as one, and to begin to learn to get more specific about your own music. What is it that you like?
TP: It’s been 24 years since CMS dissolved. In your own musical production now are you following pretty much the same path? Is it more a process of consolidation? Talk about the impact of CMS on you, Karl Berger?
KB: Oh, of course, I’m the lucky one. I was there all the time, and I got to meet all these musicians and to play with all of them, and it opened up my way of playing like never before. Actually, I took myself out of the scene, so to speak. I didn’t record as much as most of my colleagues. I am actually happy about that, because now I know every note to play. So when I go into my studio, now things are beautiful. I am not worried about anything any more. It’s not almost. It’s not any of that. So that’s the great thing about it. We’re even playing some of these pieces. “Zenibim(?),” this piece that you just heard, we’re still playing that today. I’m using that with the orchestra. I have the Creative Music Studio Orchestra, of which a lot of the members used to be at CMS, some of whom still live in Woodstock, too. The orchestra is about 15 players, and we’re playing a lot of these materials. We’re playing Don Cherry’s pieces. We’re playing Ismet’s pieces. We’re playing Ismet’s pieces. We’re playing Nana’s pieces. But in our own way, of course.
Karl Berger & Ingrid Berger (Dec. 12, 2008):
TP: I want to discuss a few things. I’ve previously spoken to Karl about his personal history before you came here, but not to Ingrid about hers. I’m interested in the way your ideas gestated, how you evolved into the notion of an institution like the Creative Music Studio, and the sort of music you were playing in the ‘60s. I also have some things to ask, more philosophical than specifically about the CMS, more large-picture than micro. Also about the digitization project, what you’ve both been doing since 1984, and also how you see the legacy of CMS in a broader sense. That’s a rough picture…
KB: It’s a whole book.
TP: It’s an article. You’re both improvisers. Ingrid, let me ask what you were doing at the time you met Karl.
IB: Singing in Heidelberg. I worked with different groups. I’m coming kind of out of an artist family. My older brother was a fantastic painter, and he brought me to music. He took me to the first jazz concerts in Germany. So for me, it was clear. I always wanted to be a dancer, but it didn’t work out. My mother didn’t get the money together. I had three brothers, and they had to study…
TP: Was it a family where the boys went to college, and you had to…
IB: Wait for the beautiful man, a millionaire, aristocrat… So for me, it was clear, singing always. So I started very early, when I was 17…
TP: You were born in Munich, your family were artists and they made it through the war.
IB: Yeah, they did. I left them, and then I started working with different groups—a Dutch group, an English group. When I met Karl, I was working with a group that needed a piano player. We met in a Special Service bus where they brought the musicians to the clubs to play, and Karl backed me up.
TP: what year was that?
IB: I can’t remember. What year was that?
KB: ‘59 maybe. Yeah, it could be.
TP: You were singing the standards, the American Songbook in English?
IB: Oh, yes. I had English in school. In Europe, we don’t have a choice.
TP: Were you listening to American singers? Were you under stylistic influences?
IB: My first singer was June Christy; she was the singer for Stan Kenton. My second singer was Louis Armstrong. Then the last one was Billie Holiday, of course. But then I immediately stopped listening to singers, and listened more to music, because I felt I learned much more from it, and I didn’t want to copy styles from singers.
TP: Were you formally trained in music?
IB: The piano. My mother was a classical pianist. She played concerts, but then she had family, so she couldn’t keep up.
TP: Did she teach you piano?
IB: No, I studied with somebody else.
TP: So it’s around 1959, and you’re singing in these combos. Were you the leader?
IB: No, never. I went with a jazz quartet to the Frankfurt Festival. That was before I met Karl. Then we met, and then we formed this friendship and partnership, and we wanted to stay together, and we started playing regularly together.
TP: What was your first impression of Karl?
IB: Hey! [LAUGHS] My first impression of Karl? Well, that he was a fantastic musician, and very kind of mysterious, because he was always very quiet.
TP: Karl, you were born in Heidelberg during the ‘30s, and you studied classical piano, and studied philosophy in the university. Did you get a doctorate in philosophy?
TP: So you were a student until your mid or late twenties.
KB: At the time, studying in universities in Europe was a bit different from what you think about now. You could basically be part of a program, but you didn’t necessarily have to be there all the time. So the only exam I ever took was the actual Ph.D. You didn’t have to go through…you know, and write a book… You had to be inscribed in this program for a minimum of five years. I was just in and out of the school in Heidelberg and in Berlin.
TP: Heidelberg was a famous university.
KB: Yes. But I really finished in Berlin, at…Berlin West, the university there. But I was already playing during that time professionally, traveling and all that. So it was kind of strange. We lived in Paris, and I had a real small hotel room, and my books would be in the car that I needed to write my dissertation.
TP: So you moved to Paris after you got married, and became…
IB: I have to tell you this. We worked together, we didn’t work together, we worked together—whatever jobs came up. One day Karl came… We lived together. We got married. Karl came and said, “You’ve never heard this music; you’ve got to listen to this music.” I said, “What is it?” “Ornette Coleman.” It was This is Our Music. He put it on, and we both almost fainted. We decided we want to be where these musicians live.
TP: That was the eureka moment.
IB: That was the first time that the wish came up. Then we moved to Paris, and the second week we were there, we went to Buttercup Club. Buttercup was the wife of Bud Powell. We were sitting there, and then Karl says, “Look over there—this is the trumpet player that is on the record This is Our Music.”
TP: They made that record in 1959, so it was some years later.
IB: So this was later. We moved to Paris in 1965. Karl walked over, and Karl immediately invited him.
TP: Looking back, what was it about your backgrounds in music and your development that made you respond to that music? Was it a gradual thing? An immediate thing?
IB: For me, it was immediate.
TP: Well, you were singing in a closed-form, harmonic medium. That was your orientation.
IB: It was unusual. It was different. It was very expressive. It was very emotional. The tunes were so beautiful in terms of being artistic. It was something else. It was not the usual. Incredible. A very high artistic level to me.
TP: How about for you, Karl? What you said on the radio…I asked if there was any connection between your training in philosophy and your musical orientation, and you said the only connection you could discern might have to do with being open to different things, not accepting received wisdom, as it were.
KB: One area that… I specialized in ideology critique. I was working with Theodor Adorno and those people.
TP: You studied with Adorno?
KB: Yes. I actually worked with him.
TP: One of the great jazz lovers!
KB: Yeah. I worked with him later, and he basically told me he didn’t understand anything about jazz, and I said to him, “Why are you writing about it?”
TP: How did he respond to that?
KB: He said, “Why don’t you write about it?” But he said, “Just don’t ever call it ‘art.’”
IB: That’s amazing.
KB: I said, “Listen, I don’t have any problem with that. The ‘art’ definition that you have in mind is obviously a strictly European one, and we don’t need it—we don’t need to use it. So we’ll just leave that outside.” Then he sort of said, ‘ok.’
TP: Do you remember when you had that conversation?
KB: Yeah. That was probably around 1964.
TP: By then you were almost 30 years old and working a lot.
KB: Right. I basically started a project under his guidance, because I still wasn’t sure whether I wanted to just do music or wanted to also be dealing with philosophy, particularly with this field. But that soon faded, as soon as I met Don Cherry, because then there was strictly no more time.
TP: So you did meet Cherry in 1965, five-six years after it came out. Another broad question, which I feel I can ask you because of your academic background. I’m no authority on German cultural history, but I’ve studied it a bit. Do you see yourself as the heir to any particular streams in German cultural thinking?
TP: Not at all? You don’t see yourself positioned… I’m not even talking about consciously. Just retrospecting on your own cultural production, do you see it as related in any way to that legacy?
KB: Well, of course, I knew and met all the people who developed free jazz in Europe, and particularly in Germany. But they took a radical approach towards everything. I liked the freedom that Ornette started by opening up the form, but really deal strongly with rhythm. That’s what I was interested in. In that, I was pretty much… I didn’t have a lot of peers. In France, yes. In Germany, no.
TP: So you’re referring to people like Brotzmann and Peter Kowald and the Wuppertal crowd…
KB: Yes. We worked with all these people. But it was not satisfactory to me, because I didn’t feel… I needed to feel grounded in the beat. I needed to feel connected to…yeah, a groove.
TP: It’s interesting you married someone who was going to be a dancer. But in asking that question, I wasn’t thinking so much of your contemporaries. I was thinking of German history. I was thinking of streams of German thought and aesthetic philosophy. I was wondering if you see yourself as heir to any of those traditions or streams?
KB: Not really, no.
TP: Not even unconsciously.
KB: Well, I would have to think about that.
TP: Would you mind doing that? I think it’s important, because it seems to me that Creative Music Studio is as much the result of your personal philosophy, and this doesn’t emerge from a vacuum, but out of the context of a life lived.
KB: Well, ideology critique… I don’t know if this expression exists in English. That’s what it’s called in German—“Ideologiekritik,” which was my main area. It really has a lot to do with crossing borders, getting borders out of the way. Because ideologies create boundaries and borders, and CMS was really about going past that, but not by going through the borders, but going behind it, by seeing what is the common element of the different kinds of music. Ideologiekritik works exactly the same way. You go behind the ideologies, and see what is the common ground of all these.
TP: It’s interesting, because German academics invented anthropology and ethnography in the 19th century in many ways, so perhaps there’s some trail…
KB: Yes, you could probably trace that.
TP: I’m not equipped to do that, but it’s an interesting notion. Ingrid, can I ask you a similar question? Do you see yourself as heir to any particular streams of German culture in the way you think about music or art?
IB: Yes. For classical music, absolutely. Bach, Beethoven, Handel… Absolutely. I listen more to classical music, to those people, than to jazz actually. I never felt completely German, because my family is kind of from everywhere. Moroccan forefathers. Moorish. Then there’s French people in the family. Most of my family lives in Italy now. But I’m very fond… I love the German language. Not the one that got distorted by Nazi movies, but a real beautiful, soft-spoken…
TP: Southern Germany. The soft accent…
IB: Yes. And I love the European classical music. The Italian music. Absolutely.
TP: When you heard jazz, did you see a relation?
IB: Yes. Ornette said that to me. Ornette and Abdullah Ibrahim. The first thing Ornette said to me was, “You’re coming from Germany; you’re coming from a country with fantastic musicians”—classical musicians. Ornette used…what’s his last record called… Sound Grammar. He uses a Stravinsky thing. Well, Stravinsky is from Russia. But he’s an admirer. Marilyn Crispell, a friend of ours, said she heard him weave some Bach things into his music in concerts in Europe. So that definitely I am very fond of.
TP: You were speaking about your earlier singing influences. Before Ornette, who were the instrumentalists you admired?
IB: Charlie Parker. I didn’t know too much about him, but Thelonious Monk. It was mainly Charlie Parker, because I could relate to the way I feel with my voice.
TP: You liked the intervals they use…
TP: Karl, you were originally a pianist and studied classical piano. When you started playing jazz, were there any pianists whose influence you were under?
KB: I always was intrigued by Monk’s playing. I always liked that a lot. Actually, I found myself pretty alone in that. In Europe, the traditionalists didn’t understand what Monk was all about.
IB: They didn’t understand what Monk was about either.
KB: Right. So Monk was really one from the beginning; I was interested in his stuff. But then I went, of course, through trying to copy Bud Powell and all the people from there. Also, Cedar Walton was a guy who came to Heidelberg a lot, so I met him. I was just trying to play like these guys. Actually, I taped some of it. When you listen to these tapes now, you can tell from the mistakes I’m making, that I’m not quite hitting what they were doing, that’s the beginning of my music. I can hear my phrases in my mistakes.
TP: A common jazz nostrum, to develop vocabulary from your mistakes. During the early ‘60s, you’re together… There’s a five-year span between when you meet and when you meet Don Cherry. You’re both professional musicians, and Karl is getting your Ph.D. What was your Ph.D?
KB: My thesis was “Definition of the Function of Music in the Soviet System Between Stalin and Khruschev.” That period. Through the example of Shostakovich.
TP: Would it be a mistake to say that you’re not a particularly political person. I’m thinking of Brotzmann and Kowald—a lot of their musical choices emerged from their politics. I get the sense that your politics were a little different…
KB: No. I was pretty radical at the time.
TP: Still are.
KB: [LAUGHS] We were very arrogant in a lot of ways. I was working in an institute in Berlin that specialized in studies about the East. There was a lot of politics there. I basically brought the musicologists and the sociologists together so that I could write in this area. It was interesting, because at the time, at least, in the Russian system, the Soviet system, ideology was, of course, prescribed. It was talked about, it was written about, and it was formulated in all these magazines, which all got translated into East German magazines. So I needed to learn enough Russians to know which titles are which…and get the literature from East Berlin. There was no wall yet at the time. I could go to East Berlin and get those materials. So it was all on the example of Shostakovich, who was one of my favorite composers—even now.
TP: So you meet Don Cherry at the club and you tell him you want to play with him, and he tells you to go to a rehearsal. What was that first rehearsal like?
IB: Big love. No problems. Big love. I didn’t… The work was done. Of course, not nearly as much as Karl did, because his gigs were just for instruments. But the few times I sang with him… I sang a lot with him when he came up to Woodstock, and I sang with him in Paris for two nights, and I did the Multikulti record with him, A&M Records—I did all the voice parts. Big love. Sensitive, intelligent, spirited person with lots of humor and an incredible musician.
TP: In the book by Robert (?), there’s some very good descriptions of him, and there’s a great picture of him with your daughters and another kid. So Karl, you played the next night with Don Cherry and became a member of the group. I’ve heard a number of things by the band. Speak about the musical ideas Don Cherry was working with, and how they related to your aspirations at the time, and retrospectively how they foreshadowed your future production. I know that’s a book, too, but…
KB: Don used a real eclectic mix of materials. From the very beginning when we played there, he would play pieces by Ornette, he would play pieces of his own, but then he would all of a sudden start a bossa nova, or he would start something he had just heard on the radio, or he would play some Asian or Indian scales. He would just come up with anything. He was Mr. Surprise. You basically had to stay on your toes to keep up. He had what Ornette called an “elephant memory,’ and he probably, unconsciously or not, expected the same from us, that we hear a melody once and we can play. Of course, we couldn’t, but we tried our bes
TP: The band was Gato Barbieri, Aldo Romano, and Jenny Clark.
KB: Yes. Gato was very quick. He was very good at picking up stuff. The great thing about that band was that it actually played every time. We had 5 hours of playing time every day except Monday. Then we had a couple of hours of rehearsal every day also. So it was 7 hours of playing every day. And there was no talking, because we didn’t talk. We didn’t have the same language. Gato only spoke Spanish, Aldo only French and Italian, Cherry only English, and I only German and English, and Jenny Clark only French and English—so there was no common language. So it was just, ‘Ok, yes, let’s go.’ That’s what was said, and everything else was Cherry pounding out the melodies on the piano in the rehearsals, and we would perform.
TP: Was that a deliberate aesthetic decision by Cherry, to incorporate all this material, or was it his nature to be a spontaneous improviser and bring forth what he was hearing? You were talking about the shortwave radio…
KB: He just was impressed by all kinds of music. Not only was he impressed; he wanted to use it. That was his decision. He was very naive, in the best sense of the word, about it. He would use any material that he heard, and start using it. Suddenly in the middle of the thing, you’d hear him play Charlie Parker’s solo and make a song out of that. I mean, anything could happen. It was amazing. So I think that was his nature. He was probably the first guy who completely disregarded all boundaries of music.
TP: Had you been thinking about that approach before, when you were leading groups?
TP: had I heard you leading a group in 1965, what would the tone of it have been?
KB: Well, there’s one from 1966 that you probably know—an ESP album.
IB: The world approach that Don had, including world music, it had something that’s in us, or in me, and it just needed Don to …(?—30:18)… It’s nothing… I believe that everybody is a singer and everybody is very musical. People just cover it up, and for some people it’s too late to dig it out, or too much work to dig it out. But everybody has it. That’s what the Creative Music Studio was about, to wake up the talents that are in people. Not to teach them something, but to wake up, to get it out. With Don, that was one of the first impressions about the music.
TP: So meeting him brought forth the overriding CMS concept.
IB: That we are a huge family—musical family.
TP: So for you, it was through his personality, and for Karl, more the different musical information…
IB: For me, both—music and personality.
TP: I guess your kids were born during these years, so I guess you were being a mom, but were you also working musically?
IB: Yes. While I was pregnant, I tried to do a gig with Steve Lacy, but that didn’t work out that night because of some circumstances with Steve Lacy. I don’t want to get into it, because I don’t want to put Steve down. It had to do with drugs. So, no, I just really…
KB: But to answer your question, my approach to music was more abstract. I wouldn’t think of styles, or I wouldn’t think of using raw materials from another culture or whatever, but I was interested in the phraseology of it all, and just use a tiny segment, and create tones that are very short and pregnant with ideas. So you wouldn’t need more than 4 bars or 5 bars to get going. So my first recordings were like that. There is one on Milestone. [SINGS OPENING THEME] That’s it, that’s the whole thing. That was enough for me to work for an hour. My idea was to have a concentrated focus on certain elements. I wasn’t thinking so much in terms of listening to other cultures or other ideas. But I’m sure that all came out of the experience of playing for 2 or 3 years like that.
TP: You impress as being a combination of an extreme idealist-utopian, but also very pragmatic about getting things done. I used to see a lot of German cinema, and I used to see a lot of Werner Herzog films, though I don’t think you approach his level of insanity—though I don’t know what you were like 40 years ago. But there’s the sense that you like to place yourself in extreme situations and make them work.
KB: Well, that’s true.
TP: I don’t know if there’s anything there for you to respond to. But I’m thinking of the way you described your activity once you moved to New York—going to the various lofts, getting involved with the most intensely political black musicians… Were you like that in Europe as well? Is that a component of your personality?
KB: I don’t know.
TP: I’ll ask your wife.
IB: I don’t understand the question. These craziness issues, is that part of his personality?
TP: No, that’s not the question. He came here fresh from Europe, and people seemed to immediately see him as an organizer, began to see his qualities. So he came and involved himself deeply in the radical New York scene, and then came back and set up Creative Music Studio. These things are not easy logistically to do, not easy psychologically to do, and it takes a certain sort of personality and certain venturesomeness…
TP: I’m wondering if those qualities had manifested in Europe.
IB: Yes. It’s part of Karl’s character, too.
KB: It’s actually fairly simple. I want to know… I like to play and I teach people to play with a more or less what I call music mind, which is basically not a fully conscious state of mind. It’s more like getting into the feel of things, and not having your mind interfere with that. But then at the same time, I like to know what it is that we’re doing. So the Creative Music Studio was a lot about that. One part of it was, we played all this music in the ‘60s, and then I was sitting back and said, “So what is it that we’re doing?” Now, the only way to find out what you’re doing is if you teach it to somebody else. If you have to explain what you’re doing to somebody else, then it will come out—or it won’t, of course. So that was a big part of it, that I wanted to really do some practical research in formal workshops.
TP: How are you different as teachers? It seems like the CMS is a…
IB: I don’t know how to answer that. Maybe Karl can. You didn’t ask me yet how I felt when I came over here.
TP: I was going to, but I got distracted. How did you feel when you came over here?
IB: Awful. It was the shock of my life. I looked so forward to get into the musicians here,. The shock of my life. I hated the food. I loved the people here. We met the most beautiful people here. But I hated the food, and I found out that coming from Europe, the musicians that you adore in Europe are superstars, but when you come here… The first person I approached on the Lower East Side was a famous saxophone player, whose name I don’t want to mention, who asked us for some money to buy a mouthpiece. The other one was Anita O’Day, who was the only white singer I really loved. She sang at Copacabana, and I looked forward to it, and I walked in, and she cried… She was sitting at the bar. I said to the waiter, “is she not singing more?” “She’s fired. She came late.” So I felt this disrespect, which is probably here not a disrespect, but for a European coming from over there it was a shock. Then we met Ornette right away…when it got really hard for us to stay, he talked us into staying. He said, “You’ll play some music that should be heard; don’t leave.”
TP: So you stayed for a couple of years, before you went back…
IB: Yes, because of pregnancy I went back there. Then we came back.
TP: At the time you returned the first time, did you feel at peace with being here?
IB: No. Only then, when we came the second time and we settled in Woodstock—because I didn’t want to be with the kids in New York. I think that was part of Karl’s idea—so his family is away from the city. So one little part of the journey is the studio in Woodstock…not the Creative Music Studio, but the studio in Woodstock so we could be in the countryside.
TP: Please ruin down for me again the gestation of CMS. Did you have the idea before you came to the States of something like that?
KB: What happened was, when I came here in ‘66, I started a gig with Reggie Workman and Horacee Arnold and Sam Rivers. We played in schools for young audiences. The experience with those kids really gave me the idea that people (it was sixth graders at the time; today it would probably be fourth-graders) are completely open, just like Don Cherry.
TP: You had small children then yourself.
KB: Well, they were only 2 years old, or 3… We’d just started to have kids. The way they were dealing with music, coming up with melodies or recognizing melodies, or the kinds of answers they gave us, it really showed me that there is this amazing potential in everybody to just go anywhere with music or other things—whatever it is. Then later, it gets closed off in these stylistic patterns, which are socialization, some other processes that are going on.
So one part was that I was curious about doing some research before I kept being on the road. It would have been easier for us to go back to Europe and just stay on the road. But over here, there was no road. So we created our own road by having the Creative Music Studio.
TP: By that do you mean that through CMS you were able to bring to yourselves the diversity of experience that you would have through being on the road in Europe?
KB: Exactly. But actually better.
TP: Very practical again.
KB: Better, because some of the best people in the world would come to us, come right to our house. Also, all these musicians who lived in the Woodstock area at the time, like Anthony and Dave Holland, Jack, Stu Martin, or Carla, all these people, they all were actually looking to do some work at home that was creative, and not have to be on the road all the time.
TP: Had you met Carla in Europe in the ‘60s?
KB: No, we met her here. She was the first one to move to the Woodstock area. The Creative Music Foundation, the actual founding of the foundation in 1971, happened actually at the Jazz Composers Orchestra office at 500 Broadway. We had a little room in the back there, and that’s where we started the foundation. Mike Mantler and Carla… They helped us write the first grants and to get things rolling. They told me all about the non-profit thing. The non-profit thing is something that’s European, in a way. There’s a lot more non-profit activity there than there is here. People don’t think like that here.
TP: Well, it started to be more au courant in the ‘70s.
KB: Then finally, I got very interested in the question of how can we play all this kind of music at the same time. Don’s way must be based on something that’s common to all music. So rather than emphasizing what’s different about different kinds of music is to emphasize what’s common to all the music. So what kinds of studies could we do dealing with the common ways of music. So dealing with basic ideas of time and basic ideas of space. We just started there. Then every day there would be exercises in these areas that did not deal with any style of music. That’s what really opened up all the people to find sort of their own ways of interpreting different styles of music. I didn’t expect everybody to just go and play a completely new music, but they needed to find out how they could open up within given styles.
TP: When I had Stephen and Peter on the air, one or the other of them said that gamalataki comes from a pattern in Pakistani tabla music…
KB: It doesn’t matter where it comes from.
TP: But one thing I asked you on the radio which I’d like to explore a bit more: In a certain sense, you set up a system for people to use the rhythms and scales and melodies of the world towards further elaborating their own ideas…
KB: Yes. First of all, we use the system of odd and even, regardless of any musical ideas. It’s just odd and it’s even. One melody is odd, the other one is even. We use language rhythm, so instead of “gamela” you could say something else. It doesn’t have to be those syllables… As a matter of fact, there was some old age home where some students were doing that, and people said, “Oh, we don’t want to do gamela taki, so they came up with some comic names. It doesn’t matter. The point is, what I’ve discovered was that in any music, you look at three levels of rhythm that are going on—in any piece. That’s pulse, that’s language rhythm, and that’s form. Any form. It’s rhythmically also. Form has repetitions and so on. Larger forms and so on. Language rhythm is always asymmetrical. Pulse is non-descriptive. You don’t count actually. It’s just 1-1-1-1-1. So basically, just out of that alone, we could study, first of all, openness of meter. Any kind of meter could come from there. Any additive rhythms could be realized that way. So you really did world musical studies in the broader sense of the world, because you coudl then go to a Turkish piece and say, “Oh, yes, this has this-and-this gamela taki element, and also on that…” But then also, I realized that, doing that, we could also not only go wider, but we could also go deeper—which means watch your mind of what you’re doing, beat-for-beat attention. So you’re really going into focus training—what I call music mind training now. So you did like both of those things at the same time. And if you do it every morning, it really changes people’s habits around their music after a few weeks.
TP: I have two questions. Did you specifically ever immerse yourself in any area of music from whatever part of Africa, or South Africa, or Turkey? Have you studied any of those musics systematically?
IB: I studied Indian music for two years. I studied with Pranath, the North Indian singer who died. [here] Then I took some lessons with …(?—50:47)…., who rented our house up at Woodstock. I had gone to the conservatory in Europe to study voice, and they wanted to turn me into an opera singer—and I love opera, but that’s not what I wanted to do. Then I took acting classes in France and in Germany, and I worked with voice much better because actors don’t work with microphones, so they have to project right, they have to breathe right. Then, finally, I found the Indian training, and I really liked that. Because I worked with the natural voice. I just worked with the voice the way it is, but make it clean and make it stronger.
TP: So like an instrument.
IB: Like an instrument.
TP: Superficially, when you read about it, it sounds like chanting, or perhaps a religious ritual sort of thing.
IB: Yes, it’s kind of chanting. But you’re singing the ragas and you’re singing… it can get very complex. It’s always about the purity, the cleanness, the tuning. The way you tune is the most important thing in Indian music. Your tuning, the wayyou hit the note and you stay with it, and then around this tuning you form your vibrato and the originality of your voice. It’s a very beautiful tuning.
TP: Were you teaching this way before CMS, or did you begin once…
IB: No. I never liked teaching. I wanted to sing, but I never liked teaching it. I always felt like rnette. Do I know enough to teach? We asked Ornette, “Come up and teach; it will be so fantastic,” and he said, “I can’t do that; if I go up there, then they think I know something.” But that’s Ornette, because he knows a lot more than I do. He’s kind of a guru for me, so I admire him a lot.
TP: So Ornette and Don are gurus for you.
TP: Maybe Karl, too. But once you marry him, not…
IB: No, he wasn’t before either. We were pretty compatible. I’m doing music longer than Karl.
TP: So you returned to Europe, came here to set up the foundation, went back to Europe, came back here, and you had a barn, and you set up the barn…
IB: Yes. That’s where we started the workshop. Anthony Braxton was the first teacher.
TP: What was his methodology?
IB: [MERRY LAUGH] Everything was good about it! [LAUGHS] Fantastic. His musical level is very high. The energy… You should not put that in the article, but I’ve not been at his workshop ever. I tried to get everything together. So I was very busy. I wish I could have gone. Braxton now…we met him in Switzerland. He came to our concert with the octet…
TP: I also saw him perform with the two of you.
IB: Yes. He came up and he said, “Ingrid, we’ve got to do something together. Where’s Karl?” That’s where we organized this. He felt like he never had time when he came to CMS to even hang out with us. So he really wanted…
TP: That concert was magnificent.
IB: We recorded together at the studio before the concert. That’s going to be a CD. He demanded that. He said, “We have to do a CD, then the concert.” After the concert, people walked up to me and said, “Where’s Braxton?” I said, “He’s leaving; he has four hours to go home.” they said, “No, get him back. We want you three to do this all night, what you just did.”
TP: So was the teaching more a thing that came out of you?
IB: Yeah, that’s because of Karl. His father was a teacher; my father was a teacher. He was a professor of Latin and English, but mainly Latin.
TP: so he comes from a family of professors.
IB: Yes. So he turned me on. The concept of the Creative Music Studio was unbelievable. It’s not like you go to a music school or conservatory and then you find these nasty, cranky teachers that have a job until they retire, but they don’t want to do it every day. CMS was the opposite. It was about performing musicians, that when they had time came up, and passed on the music to the students, but not only their music to the students but also their lifestyle. They showed the students, we are out there, we’re performing, we’re doing concerts. It was incredible.
TP: I know what the ‘70s were like, and I know what Woodstock was like, and I know how wild people were—it was a wild time.
IB: A very wild time.
TP: Very wild, in a lot of ways. It sounds like you may have been the person who centered it.
IB: I hope we did a little bit. We loved them.
TP: Talk a bit about establishing social order at CMS? Were there house rules? Were there things that were verboten?
IB: You mean not drinking, no smoking?
TP: That and going to classes. Keep a protocol so that people would…
IB: Oh, yeah. We had a regular schedule. In the morning we would always do the gamela taki sessions. That’s for everybody, non-musicians or musicians. Karl would do the gamela-taki, the rhythmical thing with them, and I would form melodies over all these numbers—sing a melody over 5, sing a melody over 7, over 9. Actually, I started out doing phrasing exercises with them. Since I have some dancing experience, I did some exercises with them. Then we did some holding notes and singing, and then Karl came, and then we combined that. Then there was lunch, and then in the afternoon it started again sometimes at 2. Then at 5 o’clock we had a Buddhist teacher come in, and there was a half-hour meditation. Nobody had to do Buddhism, but there was no talking, and people were just supposed to be quiet.
TP: Are you Buddhist?
IB: We came to Buddhism in America. Don Cherry took a refuge with Trungpa Rempeche. Don Cherry was deeply devoted to Buddhism.
TP: Are you sill practicing?
IB: Yes, we have a big monastery in… Because it relates totally to music. It’s about emptying out, taking in again, and being creative.
TP: I can see exactly how it works. Do you think CMS would have happened had you not started studying and practicing Buddhism?
IB: No. We started the studio, and pretty much at the same time it happened.
TP: So it’s part of your practice, in a sense.
IB: Yes. It happened in a funny way, because my father died. My mother said, “Don’t come back to Europe; by the time you come, he’s dead—save the airplane ticket.” I picked up a book, because I suffered so much and I loved my parents, and the book helped me get over this suffering, and it was by Trungpa Rempeche who had the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Naively, we did the Peace Church album with Dave Holland, Bobby Moses, all these people, and I used texts by Chögyam Trungpa Rempeche. I could have gotten in a lot of trouble. I had no idea who he was. I just loved his texts. You can get into a lot of trouble if the author is still living and you don’t ask permission. But the office of Naropa Institute called us and said, “We love the record (it had just come out then), and we’ll invite you out.” We did concerts out there (Dave Holland went with us) and workshops at Naropa Institute.
But the Studio was first. Then pretty soon after one year, two years, we got introduced to Buddhism.
TP: In a broad retrospective sense, I see the CMS has taking in and crystallizing a lot of streams of artistic thought, so I see a sort of prehistory of the politics…and I was wondering if you had gone into the personal…
IB: Yes, absolutely.
TP: You know, the transmutation of the collective attitude of political radicalism into self-actualization that happened a lot in the ‘70s.
IB: Oh, absolutely. I remember the first concert I did with Don in Paris. He laid down before, and he just meditated. He was actually the first one that introduced me to it, but I didn’t take it more serious for myself until we came to the States. He had the same teacher like we did, Chögyam Trungpa Rempeche, and we had other teachers.
TP: Jumping to the present: what do you see as the impact of CMS? I don’t know how much you’re able to stay current with what’s going on in creative music and jazz, among musicians who are 40, 35…
IB: Well, it happens once you’ve chosen a music you love, you don’t listen so much to other things.
TP: How do you see the nature of the impact of CMS on the course of music since 1984, when you closed? Some things that were core principles of the pedagogy have come to pass. Rhythms of the world are part of the jazz mainstream now. For example, Dafnis Prieto is playing on the concert tonight…
IB: first of all, the musicians who taught at the Creative Music Studio, most of them that we spoke to loved it and really wanted us to do it again. One was Don and Nana Vasconelos, of course. Many students stayed in Woodstock, and went on going in this direction of opening up to this world music thing, taking in from everywhere. But that’s a question for Karl.
KB: [BACK FROM FEEDING THE METER] Yes?
TP: The impact of the pedagogy of CMS on the sound of today’s music, the way creative music has evolved in the 24 years since it closed.
KB: Every comment that we get from students…we’re getting some every week actually, still. They’re really talking about something like it really changed their attitude towards music. A lot of them will not be able to explain to you what happened. But really what that process did, not just our basic practice, music mind training, but having to deal with 5-6-8 different artists of completely different directions, and it really sort of blew their minds in a lot of ways. Which means that the mindset that they came with was not the mindset with which they left. That’s really all I can say. How do you want to define it? It’s basically a sense of openness, that you understand that it’s not about the notes, it’s not about the material. We kept explaining to them something that Don Cherry and Ornette explained to me at first, which is there’s no such thing as notes. There’s no such thing as a C. There’s no such thing as an A. You have to put it all in context. Everything is in a context. In a harmonic context, for example, or in a rhythmic context. Once you see that it’s all interrelated, then all of a sudden you begin to see the uniqueness of each note. There is no note that you can’t even repeat, really. There is no repetition, really. So once you start to get into the freshness of the sound, the experience of the sound, then something happens to your music, regardless what you do, whether you end up being a rock-and-roll player or anything. You’ll just be different.
TP: Would it be a mistake, then, to say that there is a school that comes out of CMS, or schools that come out of it, or streams of musical thinking that come from the people who experienced it?
IB: I would say that there is.
TP: Can you describe what that school is?
TP: Can you try?
IB: No, I think Karl is better at it.
TP: I think you’re pretty good.
IB: Well, the main philosophy is really an open mind. Openness. Openness to the world. But study music. Doing your training and doing your music, but open. Well, if you have that approach, then I would say the same thing that Ornette says. It saves you a psychiatrist. Because you express yourself. Ornette said once to me, and I agreed totally with him, because I always felt like that. He said to me, “You would understand what I say, because you sing.” He said it’s a self-expression, and if you combine that with the family of the world and with an open mind, you will find… Through opening up to the world, you find your own style.
TP: It’s more about process than vocabulary.
IB Kind of.
KB: Your question aims at how could something like that be defined on a material plane.
TP: I’m not sure. That’s why I’m asking the question.
KB: Exactly. The whole point was that all music education is hampered by the fact that it has to do deal with musical material, and it has to evaluate that, and in the process of evaluation in schools, where you get a certain amount of points and all that, keeps you from considering what’s really important in music, aside from the material. The material is very important. But once you get stuck there, and your whole evaluation process goes around the material, then you cannot have that kind of thinking. So I’ve been in the traditional school situation, the university system, for almost ten years. I was chair of the U-Mass-Dartmouth; I was Dean of the Music Department in jazz in Frankfurt Conservatory. I was like ten years in the system. And I could see how little I could do to incorporate the music-mind thinking in their curriculum.
TP: What years were you in the system?
KB: From ‘90 to 2000.
TP: Did you feel that the aspirations of the students you were encountering during those years were different than when you were that age, or of young musicians of the ‘60s? If so, what was the nature of that difference?
KB: The difference was that the kids of the ‘90s particularly were very goal-oriented in the sense of having a profession, being music teachers, getting a diploma so that they could teach, that they would have a job. so there was a lot of thinking of that nature. Then you found a bunch of people in there that I couldn’t reach with any of the ideas that I would have to teach them. I would introduce… In all these situations, I introduced a new…one loop out of the curriculum, which was voluntary, and I called it “conceptual studies.” That could mean anything from them wanting to play with me in duets, or bringing compositions, or bringing arrangements, or bringing their own trio, or playing some solo, or asking theoretical questions, or anything. Somebody would come in and sit down and want to be served. I would say, “so what do you want to know?” If they said, “I don’t know,” then I’d say, “So come back next week.” I would give them the initiative. They were not used to that. There is very little initiative among the students in the universities, because the universities are set up to run you through a mill, and yo sort of reluctantly do it. So it’s not set up for you to raise questions. So there is a real problem there. I thought when we ended CMS in ‘84…or ‘86 actually…I thought there is now 600-700 people who came through here who will go into the schools and they will be taking care of that information. But it didn’t happen.
TP: Well, some did. Braxton did. Leo Smith did…
KB: No, I mean the students. I mean, Leo Smith is a very good example, because he really did something inside the schools. But he did it by way of political power. He just pushed politically until he had his own free space. Very few people can do something like that.
TP: It’s very interesting how so many people from the AACM have developed these institutional positions. A question on the digitization project. You’ve now listened back to most of these concerts.
KB: A lot of them.
TP: You’ve probably listened to 300 or so concerts from the ‘70s. Now, I’ve noticed that you have a systematic mind. You established a teaching curriculum, you studied philosophy in a German university, your father was a teacher of Latin—there’s a component of this in your personality. So could you describe your overall, macro impression of that body of music, where it’s positioned in regard to the music of its time, to the music it evolved from, to the music it foreshadows.
KB: Well, when you listen to it, a lot of it, there’s very different things going on. First of all, the audience were in an exuberant state by having these orchestras and working with them. So there’s a lot of overflowing energy in these tapes, something you hardly hear on recordings from then or now. So this is going to be very new for a lot of listeners to hear. Also, soloists playing together who usually wouldn’t play together, and also playing in a way that they would not play otherwise. It’s mindboggling to hear all of that.
IB: Plus material that wasn’t made anywhere else. Like Cecil Taylor. He put the band together up there, and did music he did nowhere else at that time.
KB: Then in the later part, you have all these world musical concerts that start out with Brazilian or Turkish ideas, or Indian, whatever, and then all this improvising takes place. It’s very interesting, what happened with all of that. But it’s very raw, and there’s a lot of…
IB: Yes, very raw.
TP: Does that come through in a non-three-dimensional context, just listening to it without the visual?
KB: Oh, absolutely. We have a great engineer. He really brings out the stuff. We really didn’t have the greatest of equipment at the time.
IB: That has to do with the concept of the studio, was the openness that people all of a sudden… I wouldn’t say spontaneous, but they opened up. So it was a very open approach to freedom, a kind of freedom of what they wanted to do.
TP: It’s interesting how diverse the streams of musical thinking were that were representing. You had the Art Ensemble of Chicago guys and Braxton, and people like Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette who were mainstream stars, and older experimentalists like Konitz and Jimmy Giuffre…
IB: Yes. David Holland did a beautiful workshop over there.
TP: Then Blackwell, of course, and all the drummers. It seemed drummers just gravitated to this place.
IB: We had the people from Africa. We had Amadou, who is Neneh Cherry’s father… Neneh Cherry is the adopted daughter of Don Cherry. Then Foday Musa, who worked with Mandingos and Adam Rudolph. We had people from India… Karl probably talked about Ismet, the guy from Turkey.
[END OF CONVERSATION]