This interview with speculative improviser Kidd Jordan, best known internationally for his white-heat inventions on the tenor saxophone (and also the father of master musicians Kent Jordan [flute], Marlon Jordan [trumpet], and Stephanie Jordan [singer]) was taken for a short piece in DownBeat about him and drummer Alvin Fielder, his long-time friend and musical partner. Both interviews were published in their entirety in 2004 Cadence (the transcript of my conversation with Alvin will follow soon). The addendum at the bottom is the transcription of a separate conversation with Jordan for a commissioned Studio 360 piece on the nature of the avant-garde in the 21st century framed around that year’s edition of the Vision Fest.
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Kidd Jordan (7-08-02):
TP: I’d like to get some basic facts and figures. Were you born in New Orleans?
JORDAN: I was born in Crowley, Louisiana. That’s in southwest Louisiana.
TP: In what year?
JORDAN: 1935. I usually don’t tell people my age. I played music in elementary school and high school, in regular school bands, marching bands, and then I went to Southern University in Baton Rouge. I played there in the stage band and the dance band, which did all the dances in the area. I started gigging around Baton Rouge. A guy there named George Reed had a band, and all the cats who could play a little bit played in his band, a gig or two on Saturday night and Friday night.
TP: What was your first instrument?
JORDAN: C-melody saxophone, then alto saxophone.
TP: Were you listening to records? Were you checking people out?
JORDAN: In my early days, yeah, I checked out people. Illinois Jacquet was from Broussard, which is near my home town. In fact, he used to come visit us riding a horse, because he was out… That was like the country, maybe 15 or 20 miles from where I was.
TP: Can you tell me what kind of country it was where you grew up? I gather one of your sidelines is raising thoroughbred horses.
JORDAN: I’ve had horses since I was a kid. My daddy used to deal with horses. But it wasn’t thoroughbreds. Some of them were quarterhorses, and they had little races. But it wasn’t like what I’m doing now.
TP: What is it like in that part of Louisiana?
JORDAN: It’s closer to Texas than it is to New Orleans. That part of the country is where zydeco music comes from; Clifton Chenier is from that area. It’s strictly Zydeco and Blues from way around, and that’s what I came up listening to.
TP: What did people do there for a living?
JORDAN: During that time, it was the rice capital of the world. They had about 15 rice fields when I was a kid. Rice was a big thing; they’d have a big rice festival and so forth. All that is dried up now. But there were always musicians, with cats playing blues and also bands with cats playing horns. When I was in high school, I was playing with some older men who had a band. They played stock arrangements for three or four saxophones, and I would play with them at Christmas and Easter when they had some of their gigs.
TP: If you were born in 1935, Charlie Parker was already well-established by the time you came of age.
JORDAN: I heard Charlie Parker when I was in high school, after the fellows came back from the war — they were talking about Charlie Parker. I was fascinated with it. That was the new music. I started listening to Bird and everything else I could.
TP: In high school, did you have a band teacher who gave you enough tools to start breaking down what he was doing?
JORDAN: No, I was playing by ear. I could read music, but I was playing the licks I got from Bird by ear. In the early Downbeats they would transcribe some of his solos, and I started reading some of them, and listening to the records. I listened to Sonny Stitt also, and everybody else I could listen to. But Illinois Jacquet is the cat who gave me the first idea of playing free when he was with Lionel Hampton. The honking tenor players with Hamp. That gave me an idea that music could be done another way. That was the first glimpse, the first conscious attempt I had of that.
But I played alto a long time, and then when I heard Ornette Coleman, I liked him better than anybody, so then I started sounding… Well, ordinarily by the way I was playing, I was into something else. I was trying to sound like something else. But when I heard Ornette, that convinced me that I wanted to go another direction.
TP: When did you hear Ornette?
JORDAN: I guess the first record Ornette made.
TP: I know Ornette came through Louisiana for a quick minute.
JORDAN: Yeah, Ornette was down here with Melvin Lastie. But they would come through them towns in them blues bands. Ornette used to play with Clarence Samuels, who was a blues singer, who died in May. He played with Clarence Samuels and Roy Brown and a lot of them blues singers around here, and they would be touring around here. I wasn’t paying no attention to them. I was just paying attention to the grooves. I had developed by the time I heard him on record, and then I knew there was another way, and I liked that and started dealing with that.
TP: So you were 23-24 when you heard those records.
TP: Well, Ornette’s first record was in ’58. But you’re probably talking about “The Shape of Jazz To Come” or something like that.
JORDAN: He made a record with a piano player.
TP: With Walter Norris.
JORDAN: Yeah, that’s the record.
TP: That was on Contemporary. It was recorded in ’58.
JORDAN: All right. This wasn’t “The Shape of Things To Come.” It was another one. He played a standard tune on there, “Out of Nowhere.” And the way he played that was practically all he ever did with what Bird and everybody else had been doing.
TP: So by that time you’re 23…
JORDAN: Yeah, I had finished college. I could wail on my instrument. I could play my horn then.
TP: At Southern did you major in Music Education?
JORDAN: Yeah, Music Education.
TP: So you got your teaching thing and your pedagogy out of your education at Southern.
TP: You’re a little younger than Alvin Batiste.
JORDAN: Right, about three years younger.
TP: Were you at all linked up with him and some of the New Orleans modernists?
JORDAN: We were in college together. He was a year ahead of me. In fact, we finished college together, because I caught up. They had been in before me and were older me, but I caught up with them by going to summer school all the time.
TP: So you were in a hurry.
JORDAN: Well, I was just trying to play my instrument. I was just dealing with it. Alvin and I were together in college, and we’ve been together all our life since the college days. He’s my brother-in-law. We married two sisters. We’ve been in the deal all along! But he was in a lot of jazz things. I was playing rhythm-and-blues.
TP: Was that just because there weren’t other types of gigs you could do? Was it a practical matter?
JORDAN: Well, it was a money-making issue, but also I was trying to work on something else. I was trying to separate myself from all them tunes that they was doing, to arrive at something of my own and not just play what everybody else was doing. When I understood how “Cherokee” went, when I understood how “Giant Steps” and all them tunes went, it wasn’t interesting any more. I’m not a cat that just plays tunes. I’m trying to get at me. And I can’t get at me doing what everybody else is doing. Not that I’m trying to reinvent the wheel, but I’m trying to play my convictions and what I think about it.
TP: So that’s just something that was innate, part of your personality.
JORDAN: Exactly. You hit it right on the head. I’m one of them that can’t tolerate a whole lot of stuff. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. Now, playing in them rhythm-and-blues bands, a lot of times I played baritone. I didn’t have to learn the tunes; all I had to do was solo. I still play baritone a lot in bands, for shows and so on. Very seldom do I play tenor. Every now and then I play alto. But in the Rock-and-Roll bands they always needed a baritone player, somebody who could play the notes on the bottom. I’d just hear what they were doing, and follow the bass player or whatever, so it went easily. A lot of times, with everything going on and since the microphone isn’t put up to me, I could practice on my horn without being so noticeable
TP: So you heard Ornette Coleman. Were you ever at any point in the ’50s or early ’60s playing jazz?
JORDAN: Well, see, when you say “jazz” around here… Yeah, we had little jazz bands out here, but they wasn’t makin’ no money. I mean, we had bands where we’d play Charlie Parker’s music and our own music. Every now and then we’d get a gig, but no steady gigs playing that. I learned the chart, but I was trying to solo in a different kind of way. When I was college, they used to call me weird. I was at a reunion the other day, and they said, “Man, in college, man, we didn’t understand what you were doing; we still don’t understand.” I don’t have no problem with that.
TP: As long as you understood it.
JORDAN: I hope I understand it. But my main thing is that I just wanted to be a good saxophone player. And the majority of the cats who play jazz are not good saxophone players. That’s the first thing. I mean, technical-wise. I mean, they play jazz, but to play a saxophone the way I want to play it, I’ve got to practice and deal with it on another level. I’ve played a lot of the classical repertoire. I’m trying to play the instrument correctly, and I’ve put a lot of time into doing that.
TP: In other words, you can get a so-called “legitimate” sound… You can make the saxophone sound pretty much any way you want it to sound.
JORDAN: Yeah, I’ve played solos with orchestras, with swing orchestras, and all of that.
TP: Do you have a favorite among the saxophone family? One you feel most at home with.
JORDAN: Probably alto, but I don’t play it too much. I’ve played the alto longer than I’ve played anything. But I couldn’t express what I wanted to express on alto. I’ve played alto, soprano, sopranino… I used to practice all of them. The whole gamut.
TP: So given a certain set of circumstances, if you were in practice, you could express yourself on an orchestra of instruments like Roscoe Mitchell does. Have you ever played all of your stuff on one particular set?
TP: Who were some of the people you were playing jazz gigs with? Was that always around Baton Rouge, or were you going back and forth to New Orleans in the ’50s.
JORDAN: Oh, in Baton Rouge we’d be playing with Alvin Batiste and all the dudes that was in school. And in New Orleans, anybody who was on the scene, like Johnny Fernandez, Alvin Batiste, and the drummer…who was that boy…Blackwell. Blackwell used to practice with a trumpet player named Billy White. I’d go there almost every day and practice with them. Then there was Eddie Williams, and a trumpet player named Samuel Alcorn.
TP: He was Alvin Alcorn’s son?
JORDAN: Yes. Samuel died. But he was a good trumpet player.
TP: Did you know Nat Perrillat there?
JORDAN: Yeah. I used to play with Nat. Nat used to play with us around there.
TP: And Ellis Marsalis, too?
JORDAN: Yes. I mean, all the cats was on the scene. But Alvin and Ellis and them had a regular, organized band together. But when we’d go jam, I’d go play with everybody. We had a band with Samuel Alcorn and Eddie Williams, a tenor player around here named James Rivers, an alto player named George Davis, who was also a fantastic guitar player. George played in “Chorus Line” for about twenty years.
TP: So you were going back and forth between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
JORDAN: When I was in school. But I moved to New Orleans in 1955.
TP: So you’ve been living in New Orleans since ’55.
JORDAN: Since ’55, right.
TP: When you say you did rhythm-and-blues gigs, does that mean the type of thing that became famous as New Orleans rhythm-and-blues, Dave Bartholomew and so on?
JORDAN: I used to go out on the road with people like Guitar Slim and whoever needed somebody. See, Ray Charles used to make bands up around here. Big Maybelle. Anybody who came to town. Sometimes they’d come to town by themselves, and then put a rhythm section together and get some horn players. Big Joe Turner, anybody who needed a band. I remember one time me and George Adams went out with somebody named Chuck Willis, who was a blues singer. George was playing tenor and I was playing baritone.
TP: The George Adams who played with Mingus.
JORDAN: Yes. George was a bad cat. He was terrible.
There was a cat named Lloyd Lambert who had a good band. He used to back up different singers and what-have-you. A dude named Choker Campbell out of Memphis or somewhere, would come through and need horn players. Anybody who was on the scene and needed some horn players, some of us would go out with them and deal with them.
TP: Were those gigs satisfying for you in any way?
JORDAN: Yes, they were satisfying for me, because there was a feeling that you’d get from dealing with that. I’ve played with some of the great female vocalists, from Gladys Knight to Aretha Franklin, or Big Maybelle, Little Esther, Lena Horne, and there’s an aesthetic in dealing with those people that a whole lot of people don’t get to. And the aesthetic from the blues is a part of the thing that I want to have in my playing. I don’t care how out it gets
TP: Can you describe that aesthetic?
JORDAN: You can’t describe an aesthetic. I know when it’s there, and I can tell when a whole lot of… I’ll give you an idea. The difference between what the Rock, like what David Bowie and them were doing…what do they call those new Rockers? Acid Rockers or whatever. That music is devoid of that aesthetic; I mean, the aesthetic that’s supposed to go along with that music. And if you don’t know, you don’t know. But those who know, know. And there’s a certain aesthetic that Trane, had, a certain aesthetic that Bird had, and it’s not what they’re doing, but the aesthetic part of it. That’s missing in a lot of the music people do now. So many people can’t feel the aesthetic and don’t know what it is, and when they hear it, they don’t know where it’s at.
TP: So that aesthetic comes out of playing dance music…
JORDAN: Not necessarily. The aesthetic comes from listening to somebody and hearing somebody like Muddy Waters or Big Maybelle or Dinah Washington, as opposed to somebody who don’t have any feeling in what they’re talking about. Like, when you go to a church and hear one of them Baptist preachers who really get out and say what he’s got to say. It may not be grammatically correct, but I mean, there’s a feeling.
TP: Was that part of your early experience, too, the church thing?
JORDAN: Not really. I went to all churches when I was young. I went to Catholic church as well as Baptist church. But there’s an aesthetic that I knew was coming from the Baptist church that wasn’t in the Catholic Church. It’s the way Gregorian Chant sounds in relationship to somebody who is really doing one of them “Precious Lord” kinds of things. When you hear Aretha Franklin do “Precious Lord” or Martin Luther King talking about he went to the mountaintop and saw the Promised Land, that’s the same kind of thing. I told a dude the other day who asked me about playing jazz, “go listen to Martin Luther King’s speech, and then come back and we can talk.” If you have none of that, then there ain’t no sense in us talking about that.
TP: So that’s the sound you’re looking to get on your saxophone or when you play yourself.
JORDAN: To a certain extent. But that’s the kind of aesthetic that I would like to get. I don’t get it all the time. Because when I’m really out, I’m trying to do it.
TP: When did you start to try to take it out? After you heard Ornette?
JORDAN: Not really. I always had that idea. When I first heard Illinois Jacquet, that gave me the idea. I started flirting with that.
TP: Or Arnett Cobb later. People like that.
JORDAN: Yeah, all them Texas tenor players. I mean, them honking tenors. I could hear something in there that I could deal with on a conscious level, not just learning what they was doing. See, that’s why I couldn’t deal with solos that’s all dressed-up, like practicing solos and getting them down and what-have-you. I’ve got to come up with a feeling. I’ve got to come at it like it’s new all the time. I just can’t come up with something that I’m playing over and over. If I practice like that, I might as well be practicing classical music. I’ve played concertos and all of that, and I don’t play them no more.
TP: What was the impact Ornette Coleman had on you when you heard those records?
JORDAN: Well, I knew that it was somebody serious and the music was serious and it was going another way. So that’s the main thing. Like, right now, when I start listening to Ornette, and start feeling good and pick my alto up, sometimes… Maybe Ornette is the reason why I’m playing tenor, because I gravitate to not wanting to sound like that. It feels good, though. But there ain’t gonna NEVER be no more Ornettes. You can forget that. I hear some people playing like Ornette, but Jack, they will never play like that.
TP: Why is that?
JORDAN: [LAUGHS] Because he has a way of playing! That’s another thing. You can copy somebody note-for-note, and can be so far off as far as the phrases and aesthetics are concerned, it’s not even funny. So deep down with him… To me, he plays like Bird. But it’s so amazing that he can play all that Bird stuff, and when you hear him play… Ornette told me one time, that’s the difference between a player and somebody who can improvise. Players learn whatever anybody plays. But you can give improvisers three notes and they’ll come up with something. And if you’re really serious about improvising, you’ll improvise on the material you get to deal with. That’s why I don’t deal with a whole lot of tunes no more. I just want to get out and play on what I hear. If I hear something to play, I play it. In fact, I’m at the mercy of the rhythm section or the people I’m dealing with. If they give me something to play on, then I can play. And if they don’t give me nothin’ to play on, then I’ll just try to hear what the drums are doing and play off the drums — or play off anything. Other than just playing something for the sake of playing it.
TP: So you need a dialogue.
JORDAN: That’s the way. When people play bebop, they dialogue. They play off of changes. So when I’m dealing with somebody else, I’ve got to play off of what they’re giving me to play off of. Then you’ve got to react to that very quick. If they go into the different keys or timbres or whatever they do, you’ve got to react to it.
TP: So you’re in New Orleans from ’55 and going out with these bands and making some money, but then at a certain point you start teaching.
JORDAN: I always taught. I’d go out on the weekends and in the summertime. But there was a whole lot of rhythm-and-blues records, a whole lot of rock-and-roll being made, and when the first line cats who was in the studio would get tired, we’d do it at night sometimes and on the weekends.
TP: So if Lee Allen or Red Tyler were tired, you’d go in the studio.
JORDAN: Right. A lot of us would make some of that stuff. And I was with one of them little hot bands down there that they called the Hawkettes, that went into the Neville Brothers. So we always had some good grooves. Idris Muhammad was the drummer in that band with us, and a drummer around here named Smokey Johnson. John Boudreaux was the drummer before Idris, and he was a helluva drummer. We always had good drummers in the Hawkettes Band.
TP: Where were you teaching?
JORDAN: I was teaching in a town called Norco, about 20 miles out of New Orleans in St. Charles Parish, at Bethune High School. And then I came to Southern University in New Orleans. I taught out there for maybe eight or nine years, and I’ve been at Southern now for 25 or 30 years, something like that. I don’t know how long.
TP: I’d like to talk about the relationship you developed with Alvin Fielder. The story I think you told me once is that Billy Higgins and Clifford Jordan were in town and played with you, and Clifford told Alvin he should go down and meet you because you were just about to burst with frustration.
JORDAN: Well, at the time I wasn’t playing with nobody. I was playing with myself. I was dealing with a lot of students, and they hadn’t gotten to the point where we could play together. I mean, there were people I could play with, but I was into what I was doing. I was making gigs, playing dance music, playing whatever somebody had to play, but I wasn’t playing what I play with no bands. They wasn’t playing what I was playing. They wasn’t playing free music.
TP: It’s the difference between doing a gig and being a creative musician.
JORDAN: Exactly. There was no creative outlet for me. I was playing by myself, and I was just starting with my students, so they weren’t to the point where I could get them together to play it.
TP: How did you keep your inner strength to keep developing on your own?
JORDAN: I’ll tell you, I could stop and play concertos. I played every concerto there is on the saxophone. People think that I have to play jazz. But sometimes I play classical music, and I can go in and play clarinet and flute and stuff. My main thing is to play music. It doesn’t have to be jazz. It never was like that. I was playing a long time before I heard any jazz that I really liked. When I was in junior high school, I wouldn’t listen to no jazz. I heard jazz later on. But I was trying to be a musician, and trying to be a musician is one thing, and playing jazz is another. I’ve had a lot of difficulties with jazz musicians, because a lot of them can play jazz, but they don’t play their instrument very well. And I always would try to play my instrument as well as people in symphonies can do. I mean, being able to do on my instrument what any of those can do. If you get that frame of mind, you can practice on fundamental stuff. I was practicing on fundamental things today, like tonguing and scales and all of that. In fact, I believe you’re no better than your fundamentals. Trane was practicing fundamentals when he died.
I’m one of them that don’t care one way or the other. I don’t care if somebody likes the way I play, if they like it or don’t like it. You still be playing what you got to be playing. If somebody listens or nobody listens, I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do. A lot of cats used to say, “Man, you ain’t never gonna hear Kidd play until you go to his house,” and when I’m really screaming and really playing, they say, “Man, don’t you do that on a gig?” Because I don’t want to. I play in my house. A lot of times I just play in my house, and think, “Man, if I was on the stage, they would really dig this,” and a lot of times it don’t ever come on the stage. I mean, that’s just the way it is.
TP: That’s just you.
JORDAN: It will always be me. I’m going to meet it on my terms. If it’s not on my terms, then I’m not going to deal with it. If I would never play another note, I could go out to the barn in the morning and feel just as good with the horses, dealing with them.
TP: But still, Billy Higgins and Cliford Jordan were telling Alvin Fielder that he’d better go down and see you because you were so frustrated.
JORDAN: Right. When I was playing with Billy he found out I was frustrated. He told Alvin and Clifford Jordan and all of them, and Alvin came down and found me, and immediately we hooked up and started dealing. That’s probably one of the best things that happened to me.
TP: Why are you and Alvin so simpatico?
JORDAN: I don’t know. We’ve been playing so long, it looks like we can almost read one another’s minds. I can anticipate some things; he can anticipate what I play. We lock in.
TP: You both have a scientific attitude towards your instrument. He speaks about the drums in the same manner, like compiling almost an inner rolodex of rhythms and patterns that he might access at any particular time.
JORDAN: Mmm-hmm. And I’ll react to the patterns. Whatever he lays down, then I’m going to react to it. He can collect them all and then lay them down, and then I’ll play over them.
TP: So you meet around ’73.
JORDAN: I’m not good with dates. I can’t remember nothing about dates.
TP: And you were teaching all this time. Did you develop a particular pedagogy that’s yours, that’s individual to you?
JORDAN: Well, I’ve got some things that I run my students through. We used to have bands, big bands that were completely free, and they would be writing some stuff. Some of my older students now, we can get on a bandstand and just start playing. Elton Heron still plays with me. He’s one of the bass players that I use — an electric bass player. Every time William Parker comes down, I use Elton and William together, and they work very well together. Some of those students I can call on right now. We can play a gig in the morning, and won’t even have to say a word. Back then, they were all playing free, writing songs and so on. But after the music went conservative, then we started playing big band charts. I teach them anything they want to deal with. I don’t tell nobody how they got to play. If they want to play Dixieland, we can get together a Dixieland group. Whatever they want to do. All I want to do is teach them. But when we start playing creative music, some of them latch onto it and start writing tunes and doing all kinds of stuff. We had some things that we’d go through every day, and right now I’ve got some students going through this.
TP: What sort of things do you go through every day?
JORDAN: It’s the system of what we do. I mean, hearing things. If you talk about being a jazz musician, the number-one thing you need is to be able to hear. Not playing the same tunes every day, but setting up different sounds, hearing them and playing off of them. Setting up different scales and making scales up. Setting up different timbres and playing off of them. Hear the sound of that. With guitars and pianos and synthesizers, you can get all kinds of sounds. I’m playing with the strings of a piano now; no keyboard at all, just the strings of a piano. They just run some metal objects over it like a hawk. I’ve got a band where we use that, and I’m crazy about that instrument. We can do fantastic things. I’m definitely dealing with that now.
TP: How isolated were you, exactly, in the ’60s and ’70s? Were you in touch with other similar-minded musicians?
JORDAN: I was in touch with everybody in the city. I was playing with different cats with the entertaining music. But when I did what I was dealing with, I was doing it myself.
TP: Where that question is leading: In ’76, you put together the first World Sax Quartet concert. I’m presuming you knew those guys.
JORDAN: Well, I was in New York for about two months during the summer that year, which was the year of the Bicentennial. I was going to Ornette’s house every day and playing in the loft. Ornette was getting the electric band together. They was coming in there from Philadelphia, the bass player [Jamaladeen Tacuma], and I was playing in the lofts with them, and with David Murray and Hamiet Bluiett and others where David stayed at, over the Tin Palace. I was playing every day with them.
TP: So at the end of the 1975-76 school year you visited Ornette, spent the summer, and then organized that concert in the Fall?
JORDAN: Actually, it was the last day of the semester. School was out in December. Because that was the only thing going on in the school, and I got that together.
TP: Were you in touch with what the AACM was doing in the ’60s and early ’70s?
JORDAN: Yeah, I was in touch with them, but they wouldn’t let me join, because I wasn’t in Chicago. Muhal told me I had to be in Chicago to join. [LAUGHS]
TP: Who did you know who was involved in that in the ’60s?
JORDAN: I knew Muhal. I knew a lot of cats around Chicago. I was trying to catch Fred Anderson and Billy Brimfield, but I could never deal with them. I knew the drummer, the cat who was in Air — Steve McCall. One time I was in Chicago, and Steve was trying to get Muhal to let me play, and Muhal said, “Man, anybody who comes from the country can’t play this kind of music.” [LAUGHS] He wouldn’t let me play. I always tell him about that. But they had so many cats on the stand, I could understand why.
TP: You knew them from your travels in bands?
JORDAN: Yes. I’d go into Chicago every now and then.
TP: So you’d go with bands that weren’t just local in the South, but traveled around the country.
JORDAN: In the summertime or Christmastime, I’d travel with anybody.
TP: So you’d travel the country with these bands, and that’s how you met musicians everywhere, like a lot of people have.
JORDAN: I met a lot of them in bands. But every now and then, I’d go to Chicago or New York or somewhere where somebody was doing something. Very seldom on the West Coast.
TP: Describe the evolution of your band with Alvin Fielder.
JORDAN: We used to write tunes. I had a lot of tunes I used to write. We had three horns on the front line at one time. I was playing alto, we had a guy named Alvin Thomas playing tenor, and Clyde Kerr was playing trumpet. So we used to write tunes: we’d play a head, and then we’d play off the head. Then after a while, Alvin said, “Man, let’s stop. We ain’t gonna play no more tunes. We’re just gonna go on the bandstand and start playing.” That’s stopped me from writing tunes. Every now and then, we play some of the old tunes that we’ve produced. But the majority of the time, we just go out and hit. Whatever comes, comes.
TP: Do you think there’s something in the music that you and Alvin and the people who play with you make that’s distinct from people who are playing out music in other parts of the country or the world? Is there a distinctive sound or approach that other people aren’t doing?
JORDAN: I don’t believe so.
TP: When did you start going to Europe? When did the European audience and musicians start to embrace you?
JORDAN: Alvin Fielder would probably know better. The first trip we did was the Moers Festival. I don’t remember the year. It was over 20 years ago.
TP: How is it for you playing with the European musicians?
JORDAN: Well, I react to whatever anybody does. You stand there and deal with it. You don’t want to be a drag. But that’s my thing;I adapt to what people are doing. I just fall in line. Their aesthetic thing isn’ t there on a lot of it, but I can do what I do and feel good about it, and don’t be bitching about it.
TP: Is there anyone you particularly like playing with there, like Peter Kowald or…
JORDAN: Yeah, I like to play with Peter. I like to play with Louis Moholo on drums. I like to play with an electric bass player there named Frank Wollen(?). When I go to France, Sunny Murray and the piano player Bobby Few are there, and Alan Silva is around a lot. If I’m in Germany, I can always find good musicians. There’s a piano player named Fred Van Hove who’s good, and Schlippenbach is good. Basically, it’s just a different thing to me. I don’t worry about it.
TP: So there’s a community around the world of people you can function with.
TP: Most of those people are older musicians. Not so many of them are younger. Why do you think that is?
JORDAN: Because the young cats, they started looking back. They started playing bebop again and traditional music.
TP: Why do you think they did that?
JORDAN: I don’t have the slightest idea.
TP: Well, you’re a teacher. You know some of these musicians well. Some of them are really good musicians, too.
JORDAN: That’s right. I don’t know. My thing is that people have to play what they feel comfortable in playing. I think they feel comfortable with that. And probably a lot of musicians now are playing music to make a living, and you can’t make a living playing the kind of music that we play, so I guess they choose to play music that they can probably make a living from. I’ve always been a schoolteacher, so I didn’t have to make a living playing music. That’s why I play like I play.
TP: Well, it seems to me that most of the people born after 1955 didn’t come up living bebop, and felt that if they didn’t learn it they were missing something. They didn’t have Charlie Parker right there, didn’t have Illinois Jacquet right there, didn’t have the rhythm-and-blues right there. It wasn’t part of their life, and they felt they were missing something, and they had to go back and learn it. I think they felt they’d be incomplete musicians if they didn’t do it.
JORDAN: I’ve got a thing in my case now where Charlie Parker is saying he wasn’t a child of the Swing Era. They’ve got that in one of them old Downbeats. I’ve got it in my case now.
TP: That may be, but he learned every one of Lester Young’s solos at 16 and 17. He took them apart and learned them all and played in those bands.
JORDAN: Well, I’ve got my doubts about that. People say that.
TP: He said it.
JORDAN: Well, he said he wasn’t a child of the Swing Era. I’ve got that in a Downbeat right now.
TP: I don’t think the two statements are mutually contradictory. But everybody comes out of a time and a place. Everybody starts from a first principle.
JORDAN: I don’t know. Bird could have did that without going through Lester.
TP: Maybe so.
JORDAN: Ain’t no maybe about that. Bird had stuff that ain’t nobody else had! Number one, Bird could outplay everybody on the saxophone. That’s the first thing. Lester couldn’t play the saxophone like Bird played. This is another thing that I firmly believe. Technique determines how you’re going to play. Lester played a certain way because he had a certain technique. But Bird couldn’t play like Lester, because Bird’s technique dictated that he had to play another way. See, once you start dealing with the instruments… This is why, when you keep on shedding, if you’ve got a concept, it’s going to have to evolve, because the more technique you get on your instrument, the more you can do, the more you’re going to stretch it to another end. If what you’re saying about going back and learning was the case, we’d have to go back to Scott Joplin and all of them old Dixieland players. You’d have to go learn all of that. See, this is why I deal in principles. Once you understand how something goes, you don’t have to worry about it. If you want to do it, you can do it. But if you don’t understand the principle, then you’ve got a problem. See, once you learn “Cherokee,” “I Got Rhythm” and the Blues, you can play anything. There ain’t nothing in none of them repertoires that’s different. The only different thing was Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” After that, you could play all night and all day, and just play on “I Got Rhythm” and the blues and “Cherokee.”
One of the things that turned me off with bebop is it’s so repetitive. Cats didn’t play but three or four different phrases — after you sit down and listen to it. Sometimes I hear people play all night and all day, and they’ve played only ten different phrases. They keep playing the same the same thing in a different place in a different time. I’ve got to do something else. And if I do something repetitive, it ain’t because I’m putting it in the same spot. It’s that I’m hearing something at a certain time, and it’s coming out. It ain’t like just taking this phrase and turning it around and doing this or doing that.
A lot of people don’t sit down and analyze. I can sit down and listen to a whole lot of people’s playing, and it sounds good to a certain extent. But it’s just like eating red beans and rice or gumbo. They got some GOOD gumbo down here. But I can’t eat gumbo every day. I’m sorry. I can’t eat red beans and rice every day. I’ve got to have something different.
TP: How are the students you have now?
JORDAN: Not too good.
TP: In what sense?
JORDAN: Well, they’re not really trying to be good musicians. Some of them are dealing with Pop music, some of them are dealing with Rap music, some of them are dealing with jazz. I mean, they’ve got little studios that they’re dealing with, hooking up electronic stuff. And they’re basically trying to do the kind of music that’s currently popular. I wouldn’t want to tie them down with nothin’ that I’m doing, because I mean, they’ll never make a living doing this. All I can do is give somebody the fundamentals and techniques in order that hopefully they can continue to thrive and do what they want to do.
TP: What do you teach, by the way?
JORDAN: I teach Band, Saxophone, Ear Training and Music Appreciation.
TP: What’s your title? Are you head of the department?
JORDAN: Associate Professor of Music at Southern University in New Orleans.
TP: Is there an educational philosophy that differentiates Southern from other institutions?
JORDAN: We just try to give the students what we think they can do. Well, Alvin Batiste has a Jazz Institute at his place in Baton Rouge. He’s at the main campus of Southern University and I’m at a branch in New Orleans. I don’t have a Jazz Institute. Mine is music education. I teach jazz bands, but at my school they don’t get credit for jazz. They just do it because they want to. They get credit in Alvin’s Institute.
TP: So basically, you’re now able to take your horn around the world and play with different people by having stuck it out as a schoolteacher. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to sustain yourself and your family.
TP: You have two sons, Kent and Marlon, who are strong players. Were you very proactive in their education?
JORDAN: No. I got them good music teachers, and they started playing. Both of them, truthfully, could be symphonic players now as well as play jazz. My thing is to be the best instrumentalist you can, and then do whatever you want. They saw me playing classical music all my life, and jazz, and playing with concert bands, and playing solos with orchestras and bands. I just wanted them to be musicians. And when you’re a musician, you can play a whole lot of stuff. I’ve played a lot of Broadway shows. I’ve played every Broadway show that came through town.
TP: You played all the pits.
JORDAN: Yeah, all the pits. And I played at the Fairmont, in a band over there. The contractor is a dude named Herb Tassin. I’ve been playing with him for about 25 years. He gets every big show that comes to town
TP: You’re still doing that?
JORDAN: We do it, but not as much as we used to. Herb Tassin was the main contractor in New Orleans, and I’ve been playing with him for thirty years on shows and whatever.
TP: Were you involved in NOCCA?
JORDAN: In the early days I used to teach some kids saxophone. But I don’t have time for that now.
TP: Is that when you instructed Donald Harrison and Branford Marsalis?
JORDAN: When I had them, NOCCA wasn’t even started. Ellis was out on the road with Al Hirt. I just had workshops in school, and young kids would come around and play in the band, and I’d deal with them, and then they would play with the college students. But I was giving Donald and Branford private lessons when they were young kids, in junior high school and high school. My son Kent was in the first class at NOCCA.
TP: In a previous conversation we had, I was expecting you to agree with me about the benefits of the street music that people can do in New Orleans, and you stated that isn’t the case.
JORDAN: Well, you get a good groove out of doing that, but you can be doing it all your life. After a groove there’s some other things supposed to happen. I mean, you don’t live and die with grooves. For instance, I like the groove Max Roach plays, but shouldn’t I love Elvin Jones’ groove also? If you can understand what I’m saying. It’s good to get a feeling like that, but I mean, I’ve seen some kids live and die with that same thing. Some of them are 35 years old and they’re playing like they did were when they were 15 in the street.
TP: Do you see some kids who were on the street who went on to do something else?
JORDAN: Some of them go on to do something else. I guess it’s a personal thing. After you learn about a groove and see where it’s at, then maybe you’re supposed to develop it and bring it somewhere else. There’s a groove they call “Two-Way Pockaway.” I figure I’ve been hearing Two-Way Pockaway all my life. There ain’t too much you can do with that. Or that groove that Professor Longhair and them played. I played with Fess. I would be a damn fool to be playing that same groove now! [LAUGHS] I loved Fess, don’t get me wrong. But man. Shit.
TP: Well, there are a lot of young musicians who would kill just to be able to get that groove. It’s a fact.
JORDAN: Well, they just don’t know. They’ve got to try to listen to what somebody else is doing.
TP: How many horses do you have?
JORDAN: Between me and my nephews, we have 10 or 12. We have about 7 of them running.
TP: Do you raise these horses?
JORDAN: No, we buy them. We go to Kentucky and buy some as 2-year-olds, or maybe a yearling, and then we put them in training to run them. We’ve also got some Louisiana Reds. We don’t have them raised in here at all. I’m thinking about raising one for my grandson.
TP: Any horses that have done well?
JORDAN: Oh, yeah. They’ve won some races. We win races all the time.
TP: What are the names of the horses that win the races?
JORDAN: Dirty Red is a very good horse. That’s one of them catchalls! [LAUGHS] We’ve got so many nicknames. We had one name, Redbone. That’s Dirty Red’s little brother. We’ve got one named Mississippi Sound. Got one, a young horse, we’re going to call him Kidd Stuff. He’s never ran. He hasn’t been tested yet. So he’s going out at Kidd Stuff.
TP: Are there any parallels between training horses and being a musician?
JORDAN: Horse racing is like improvising. You don’t ever know what they’re going to do. I go look at a horse race and see more improvisation than when I hear somebody play. When you bring the horses out there to the racetrack, they can be prepared, they can be the best out there, and depending on how the jockey gets them out of the gate, what the jockeys do, depending on how they feel, all of those… You say they’re going to do what they did the last time, and they do something altogether different. So that’s some serious improvisation! [LAUGHS] You see? Because sometimes when I hear people play, they play the same shit all the time. They don’t improvise. They’ll be playing everything they know.
TP: They play patterns and whatnot.
JORDAN: Exactly. I mean, they’ve got everything down. They’re not improvising.
TP: Well, there are some people who play bebop who sound pretty free with it.
JORDAN: I’m not talking about bebop. I’m talking about music, any kind of music. They’ve got everything down that they’re playing. Which is good, in a way. I don’t have no problem with that. But I want it to be just like when I go to a race, where you don’t know what’s going to happen. How they’re going to get out, how they’re going to get in the stretch…It’s just improvising.
TP: What happens when you’re not feeling the spirit? Do you have cliches? Do you repeat yourself ever?
JORDAN: I always feel the spirit. Yeah, I repeat myself if something comes to me. I mean, there are some things that you will play, sometimes consciously or sometimes subconsciously. But you don’t try to do it. And there are certain stimuli. I mean, you react to certain things the same way. But you don’t do it as a conscious thing. It’s subconscious. Because you’re trying to hear.
TP: But it’s always with the intent of trying to play something new.
JORDAN: Going for broke, that’s what I call it. Always trying to do something off the top of your head. That’s the definition of improvisation. Taking it off the top of your head and trying to do what you do, and listen to what somebody’s doing and react to it.
TP: How long does it take a student to get to the point where they can do that and not be bullshitting?
JORDAN: I don’t know about that. You’ve got to develop an ear to do that. See, the majority of the people who play have learned by some hook or crook, but they don’t have a certain ear to develop in order to deal with that.
TP: Can anybody improvise?
JORDAN: I think anybody can improvise, myself. It ain’t gonna sound like what you want to sound like, but you can improvise. You know, Beethoven improvised. And I’m sure Bach was a helluva improviser. And Mozart. They improvised, but it was just a different way. They didn’t have the snap in it, and it was a different kind of groove, but it was improvised. I had a little girl in a class one time. You know the little pre-school instruments? Man, I turned her loose; she played some stuff that was frightening. I never will forget that. Donald Harrison used to play some frightening stuff when he didn’t know what he was doing. Sometimes, when they learn what they’re doing, it gets so sophisticated, it don’t come out. It’s another thing. I want mine to always be like it’s on the edge! [LAUGHS]
TP: Is there more of a local audience for you now in New Orleans?
JORDAN: Oh yeah. Every time I play, they got cats coming out.
TP: When did that start happening?
JORDAN: Over the years it started building up.
TP: Do you have disciples in New Orleans? Are younger players coming up under you?
JORDAN: We’ve got a few cats around here who can play. Some of them are playing rhythm-and-blues. There’s a saxophone player here named Gary Brown that I put a saxophone in his hand about 35 or 40 years ago. He’s playing in a club on Bourbon Street. He’s one of the baddest saxophone players I know. You can catch him at a club now, probably walking the bar, but Jack, look, sit down and let him open up on you and see what happens. [LAUGHS] Fred Anderson couldn’t believe his ears when he heard Gary play! Lord have mercy, that boy can play. I’m serious. He’s terrible!
[7:34] TP: Let’s just cut right to the chase since that’s what you do in a musical situation. What does the word “avant-garde” mean to you, first of all?
KIDD JORDAN: I don’t usually like that word, “avant-garde.” I usually talk about “creative music.” Instead of saying avant-garde, I’d rather say “creative music.” You’re creating the music on the spot like we did tonight. I didn’t have any idea what’s going on, but you take all your skills and listening and practicing and developing it, and then listen to what people do and play on it. I’ve heard some avant-garde people who play music that they just make a lot of noise. I mean, they play a lot of stuff, but it’s not like music. This music is a continuation of playing changes. And I played changes for a long time, and used to study changes, and now we study timbres and sounds that people make from the drums to the bass. Like, tonight I was conscious of the tones that he was playing on the bass and I was conscious of the things that William set up, and when he [Milford] started singing I was conscious of the key that he was dealing with and conscious of the mood that he was dealing with. So you’ve got to listen sometimes a little bit more carefully in this kind of music than when you’re playing music with changes. Because when I used to play music with changes, I knew where they were, and a lot of times I’d practice a lot of the things, and they’d fall right where they were supposed to fall. But with this music, you don’t know what’s coming. So you’ve got to use your ear and deal with it, so you’ve got to create instead of “avant-garde.” I’d rather think about creative music, music of the time.
TP: What do you think the term “avant-garde” means?
[9:18] JORDAN: Well, the term “avant garde” started out years ago. It started as a military term, the advance party. The people who went before and covered the beaches…or the Marines were avant-garde, so they could get everything out of the way so the other people could come. And it developed through every… In every age somebody has been avant-garde. Beethoven was avant-garde in the Classical period. Everybody who was doing something different, they say they were avant-garde. Each musical period, from the Renaissance we could somebody like…one of them church composers… Palestrini was avant-garde. Beethoven was avant-garde. In all those periods, you had somebody who was doing something different, and they put that “avant-garde,” being advanced, being an advance party. It was a little bit more advanced in what they were doing than the other people.
TP: Do you think that would apply to the area of music that you purvey?
[10:14] JORDAN: Yeah, you can say it applies to it. But I just don’t like… The reason why I don’t like “avant-garde”… See, I’ve been around a long time. When this music first started here in New York, people would get up and just do anything, play any kind of stuff. “We’re avant-garde.” And that kind of turned me around. And I prefer to think… The term “avant-garde” is cool, but for it to apply to music… Music is so close to my heart, I don’t want to apply anything to music I think that doesn’t really fit it.
TP: Do you think that the concept of the “avant-garde” is something that means something at this time, not just in music, but all cultural forms?
[10:56] JORDAN: Yeah. It means something. It just means people that’s on the cutting edge, people that’s a little more advanced. And they apply the term to the things… Because the people in… The warmongers, they’re avant-garde. Look at all them sophisticated missiles and things. I read the other day where they tested a plane that made its rounds, and it can go in and do much more damage than the old planes. I don’t know what they call them.
TP: They call them drones. They used them in Afghanistan already, unmanned planes.
JORDAN: But they got something a little more sophisticated. They made the test run last week. They said it was more sophisticated than what they did in Afghanistan. So still, we can use that term in any situation.
TP: A lot of people in the ’60s identified the term “avant-garde” with a political attitude or an attitude toward the social order of the world. Is that operative for you?
[11:52] JORDAN: Yeah, that’s operative for me. Because always people had to do things to open… You know, I lived in the South, and I’ve been through almost apartheid down there. Some people don’t know, and they’re beginning to know. But I went through a whole lot. And if it wasn’t for the political activists, things wouldn’t have changed as soon as they’ve changed. So it’s relative as far as society is concerned and everything else.
TP: So do you feel that the way your expression evolved, from someone conversant with changes and the tradition and the continuum of the music to playing with no preconception at all has anything to do with that, or is it more of an organic development of the way you came to hear things.
[12:37] JORDAN: It’s more of an organic way that I came to hear things. I’ve always wanted to express. And you know, by my playing all kinds of music… I’ve played rhythm-and-blues, rock-and-roll, bebop, and with all of those, I couldn’t express myself. I was looking for an expression, and I found out that this as the best way for me to express myself. Because when I was playing those other kinds of music, I was trying to play like other people, I was trying to play other people’s expression and trying to sound like somebody, and then I wasn’t sounding… I could sound like other people who were very famous, but I wouldn’t feel good about it. I’d have to practice to do it. But now I practice over my ear. I practice things to hear, and when I get to a situation where if somebody presents something, then I’ll be able to hear it on the spot. Like tonight, somebody talked about Albert Ayler. I wasn’t thinking about it. I hadn’t thought about Albert in a long time. But I started playing that kind of expression that Albert would play. Not trying to… I haven’t thought about Albert in a long time. But I’ve heard the music, but I’ve been through it… But I expressed me through the way Albert sounded — for a minute. And God knows, there will never be another Albert. And this is why you’ve got to try to express yourself. Because if you’re trying to express somebody else and somebody who really did it… I mean, there’s a lot of people out there that think they sound like Charlie Parker. But I heard Charlie Parker. And once you’ve heard somebody and you know how they sound, you know nobody else… See, Sonny Stitt didn’t sound like Charlie Parker. So… [LAUGHS] That’s something that people have…musicians have to come to grips with. And some people don’t ever play their expression. They’re always playing somebody else’s expression or trying to sound like somebody. You never will get to your soul if you;’re trying to find somebody else’s soul.
TP: Do you think the ability of being able to express your soul through music and being able to come to that is in itself being ahead of the curve, what might be referred to as avant-garde?
[14:44] JORDAN: Well, I’d have to agree with you on that. But it’s a term… It’s something that you have to work on, and it’s something you have to take a lot of abuse with. Because I’ve been abused with this music. People say “shut up, so-and-so-and-so.” The thing about it is that people don’t understand what you’re working for, what you’re working towards. And they base what you do on their expression of what they’re trying to do. And they don’t know that if you’re working on something, sooner or later you may hit it — but you may never hit it. And when you hit it, you feel good about it, but you’re still reaching for something else.
TP: Can someone attain that level of expression dealing with the continuum, and not something akin to what we just heard you and William Parker and Milford Graves do?
[15:33] JORDAN: Well, it comes out of the continuum. See, once you understand the continuum… And we were swinging, we could swing, we could do all of this, and when he started playing, I would jump on it. The continuum is listening and playing.
TP: So it’s dialogue.
[15:46] JORDAN: That’s right. It’s dialogue. Listening and playing. And it comes out of a development. But, now, if you don’t practice that development, you’ve got a problem. Like, for instance, the day before yesterday, I was waiting on some kids to come to school, and I was in the band-room just practicing, and they said, “Man, that doesn’t make sense; what’chu doin’?” Well, people who know me said, “Man, you know,” and they was listening… Then finally, it all came together, and they said, “Oh, man, I hear where that’s coming from; I hear the scale and I hear this and I hear…” I said, “Oh, I’m glad you hear that, because this is what I’ve been setting up.” And I was wishing I could hear that tonight. But what they played tonight didn’t suggest that. But one of these days, somebody will suggest what I was dealing with the other day. Not directly, but the sound, the timbre, all of that will fall together, and it will mean something. It’s like stored in a computer. And you start recalling the sound. When somebody gives something, then you jump onto it, and add something to it, and take it and take it and stretch it on out.
TP: Are there aspects of the vernacular culture of New Orleans, which I’m presuming you played when you were young, that contain the seeds of avant-garde music within them?
[16:58] JORDAN: No. I have to say no. Because the majority of the people around New Orleans are content with playing… New Orleans is a town where people come to be entertained. And you’ve got to play entertaining music. This is one reason why I say New Orleans is good in a way and it’s bad in a way. It’s good because the kids play a lot of music. You hear music in the streets. You hear music everywhere. But now… When we were coming up… I talk for the generation of Alvin Batiste and Ellis Marsalis. When we were coming up, we didn’t play the traditional music. We were playing bebop. And then rock-and-roll came on the scene. Well, we were playing rhythm-and-blues. Rhythm-and-blues is the basis for everything. But in the middle of rhythm-and-blues, here comes rock-and-roll. But we were playing bebop at the time. You know, the learning stages. They were more advanced than I. I was a couple of years younger than them. But I was following them, I was hanging, trying to learn how to play bebop. So here comes Rock-and-Roll out of rhythm-and-blues. Now the kids in New Orleans, they don’t play bebop. They’ll play some fusion music or they’ll play traditional music. And they’ve got a lot of little Dixieland bands (we call it Dixieland) playing fusion, Dixie and what-have-you, but they’re not really trying to stretch. New Orleans hasn’t been a town that encouraged people to step out. Because I took a lot of abuse, people would look at me and say, “Oh, man, what you doin’? You ought to stop.” But they didn’t have an idea of what I was working on. And it took a time for it to develop, because for a while I was just around there playing with myself. And Clifford Jordan came to town, he and Billy Higgins, maybe about 35 years ago, and told Alvin Fielder (Alvin was playing in Mississippi; he’d just come down from Chicago), “Go down and play with Kidd, man, because Kidd’s about to lose his mind. Ain’t nobody down there playing with him.” [LAUGHS] They came to town, they came to give a concert at the school, and we jammed in the band room all day long! [LAUGHS] I was hungry to play. So it isn’t a town that encourages that. But because of people playing music to entertain people.
TP: Well, the reason I asked is because there are some people who cite the polyphonic aspects of the older music, and the marching band music, and particularly the rhythmic aspects of second-line beats as seeds for what people then did that might be construed as avant-garde. I wondered what your perspective was on that?
[19:37] JORDAN: Well, the music was hipper. The old men who did it, some of the older men had a hip conception of what they did. But the youngsters came back, and they didn’t develop that. They went backwards instead of coming… Because some of them things they did in them second-line things… I remember old man Paul Barbarin… I mean, nobody…none of them youngsters could do it like that. And some of them beats they had, I mean, they REALLY were hip. But the youngsters behind them, some of them wasn’t good musicians; they only wanted to go out on the streets and play music and go out in the Quarter and have people throw money at them and go hustle with it. It wasn’t a real thing of them really studying the music. They were using it as a hustle. And the study aspect of the thing got lost in it.
[20:29] They talk about the Young Lions. When John Fernandez, he taught at Xavier, and Alvin Batiste and myself, when we started teaching around there and really putting the stick on some of them fellas, then this is where the young lions started coming from. The age of Wynton Marsalis and Branford, and Donald [Harrison] and [Nicholas] Payton and all of them, I mean, we put another vibe on them, you know, that they had to learn their instruments well. I have two sons… My son, Kent, Wynton and them used to come listen to Kent practice. He’s a little bit older than them. Because he was playing in the clubs with Ellis Marsalis when he was 12 years old, and Wynton and them would come to listen to them. They were playing rock-and-roll when he was playing “Giant Steps.” So it’s a matter of that whole generation. Then they started a school that they called the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and Ellis started teaching, Alvin Batiste was teaching… So some people think it was an accident, but it wasn’t no accident. They were studying with cats who had mastered their instruments, and would point them in a direction to play jazz.
There’s one thing about me. All my students that I teach, I don’t tell them what to play or how to play. I give them the tools and tell them the things they’ve got to work on, if they want to play Dixieland, if they want to play bebop, or if they want to play… Because I know that you’ve got to find your own means of expression, and if you can’t… Because I couldn’t express myself in any of those modes other than what I’m doing now. And I feel good about it. And I played them gigs, and I say, “Man, I’ve got to go back and practice.” Because when I was up here, I missed some of those notes, this wasn’t the right change, and so on and so on. Now I get on the stage and just listen.
TP: There are people who think that these days the term avant-garde is almost an outdated term. For one thing, so much has been played, so much development has occurred that you have a couple of generations trying to catch up with everything! How do you see the state of the music today in general? You get to see a wide spectrum of it as an educator, performing around the world.
[22:38] JORDAN: Well, in America, this is the first generation that looked back. All the other generations were looking forward. The movement we talked about, they were looking forward.
TP: Where do you think this generation starts? Would you give a point of demarcation for it?
[22:53] JORDAN: This generation? I would say with the groups around Wynton Marsalis’ age.
TP: So we’re talking really two generations.
JORDAN: Yeah, two generations. I think this is the generation that started looking back. And not because they wanted to, but the recording companies, they found out that they could make money… Like, all those old LPs, they couldn’t sell that, they started reissuing them, and a lot of those kids hadn’t heard that music before, and they thought this was something new. And the people who run the recording companies knew that if the young kids would develop, they could continue to sell that kind of music. I still believe there isn’t a trumpet player here who can outplay Miles and that can express on a trumpet what Miles did, and all of them came up after Miles, and Miles kept going on… People used to bad-mouth Miles about his fusion, about whatever he was doing. But Miles was keeping… All the old people…Trane…they kept going on. But this generation has sort of stopped, and settled for what they’ve done. And hopefully, they’ll get out of it, but as long as they’re making money and making gigs…
[23:48] There’s not too many people going to hire a band every night to play what we play. In the old days, Trane and them got away with it, which was good. But I don’t think we could get away with that. I would love to play in a club a five nights a week. Any club that would hire me for five nights, that would be a delight in my life; you know, going and play what I do five nights a week. That would be beautiful. But that won’t happen on more. So they’ve got them playing the music that people would probably… Well, I’m not going to say they didn’t enjoy this, but music that they could feel better with.
TP: Do you think one reason why what we’re going to call for lack of a better word the avant-garde flourished in the ’60s is because people were able to work five nights a week? Because they did, even around New York at different places. The AACM was able to make their own work. Do you think that had something to do with it?
JORDAN: That’s a good point. I think so. And maybe the economy can’t afford it. The people that they got, they’ve got to have some people there that’s going to ring some people into the club and make some money, and sell some liquor, I guess. I don’t go to clubs. I don’t know what’s happening there. But you’re probably right. That’s probably what’s happening.
TP: One other question, then I’ll let you go. In formulating your concept, not just of music but of art, you’ve presumably drawn on other areas besides just music. Can you talk about what you’ve incorporated and how it inflects what you do?
[25:30] JORDAN: Well, I played with some Germans over in Germany. A.R. Penck. You ever heard of Penck. He’s a helluva German artist. Butch Morris played on one of those concerts together. Ask Butch about that session, that time we did some real hip stuff in Germany with Penck. [26:10] And Markus Lupus(?) and Frank Wahlman(?) and all that kind of stuff, really. That has influenced some of the things that I do. And this cat just told me tonight, a cat from Germany, he’s in the audience tonight, and he said the TTT, the triple something…he said they’re putting out a record with us that we did with me and Alan Silva and some others over there. He said, “You know, you’re an official member of the TTT.” Because I’ve been playing with them since Frank Wright died.
TP: How do you think the American notion of the avant-garde differs from the European notion of the avant-garde?
[26:43] JORDAN: Well, the Europeans have more…other kinds of things that’s dealing with avant-garde. The visual artists and different kinds of things. The kids come up seeing more..for lack of a better term…a more out kind of thing. The way they dress, some of them. I used to see those kids over there 20 years ago with the earrings and their nose and different kinds of hair and stuff, and then maybe later, maybe about five years later, I started seeing it in the United States. But the whole environment, it gives them more of an outlook of something. People don’t frown on some of the things that they do here. It’s a more advanced kind of thing. And with art, I think… I know, as far as art is concerned. they can… I’ve played in museums with Penck and some of them, and boy, some of that art that people be buying, I’d look at it and say, “Boy, I know I’m missing something; I need a course in art appreciation.” And they would be into it. And as it went, I started to say, “Yeah, well, I’m seeing some of the things and how some of this is put together.” So it has an impact on my subconscious, I would say. And conscious mind also.