Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jeff Coffin Interview

Jeff Coffin

Last week I did a phone interview with saxophonist Jeff Coffin, who plays notably in Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and the Dave Matthews Band, along with his own group, the Jeff Coffin Mu'tet.  He was driving out to Saint Louis for some saxophone workshops and had a lot of time to talk.  

How do I know Jeff?  Well, I don't really, which is what makes him a special person.  I twice saw him play with the Flecktones in high school, but I first talked to him this summer.  I was taking a course in the master's program in jazz history and research at Rutgers Newark (read here for more details), studying with Lewis Porter, a brilliant jazz historian and pianist.  

I decided to write my final paper on the album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, recorded in 1963.  Lewis, who is Jeff's friend, told me that Jeff knew a lot about the album and that I should interview him about it.  So I did.  It was that easy.  (I'm often amazed at how easy some things turn out to be.)

He was very knowledgeable, and I enjoyed talking to him.  We sort of kept in touch and finally talked again.  This time I recorded the interview.  Below is the transcription.  It's quite long, but worth reading.  Jeff makes good points about himself and his music and his life that might inform your way of thinking.  He poignantly retells how Michael Brecker saved his career and changed his life.  (MK is me, Matt Kassel; JC is Jeff Coffin.)  I hope you enjoy it:


MK:  Are you going to a show right now?

JC:  No, I’m going out to do some clinics there [St. Louis] actually.  When I’m not on the road, I do a lot of music clinics.  So I’m doing something at University of Missouri and Springfield.  I’m doing something at a high school and also a place in St. Louis called Saxquest.  It’s a big saxophone shop.

MK:  That’s good…umm…you just finished your tour with Dave Matthews, right?

JC:  Yeah, just finished the tour with Dave, I’m heading back out again on Monday with Dave for three weeks, mostly East Coast stuff, playing up in Buffalo actually.  Just did some recording also with my group the Mu’tet. 

MK:  Where will you be going for the tour?  Are you going to be in Montreal?  That’s where I live.

JC:  Uhh…I don’t think so.  I think the closest we’re getting to Canada is probably Buffalo.  And I think maybe we’re in Albany also, I can’t remember, but we’re kind of going through the North East and down into the south, ending up in Charlottesville at the end of the tour in November, I think around the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth or around that area.

MK:  Sounds good.

JC:  I wish we were going to Montreal.  I love that city.  Montreal and Toronto, I love those two cities a lot. 

MK:  Yeah, Montreal is a…I really love it here.  I’m glad to be going to school here.

JC:  Yup, I’ve played the jazz festival there a couple of times with the Flecktones.  And every time I’ve been up there, man, it’s just been spectacular. 

MK:  Are you playing with them anytime soon?

JC:  I’m playing with Bela [Fleck] in December for about three weeks. 

MK:  Oh, OK, do you keep in touch with them?  I saw Bela Fleck with Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain in Pennsylvania this summer and that was a good show. 

JC:  Oh, yeah, nice, yeah, I talk to Bela fairly often actually.  Just talked to Future Man a few minutes ago, and you know, I talk to Vic [Wooten] when I’m home usually.  So yeah, we all stay in touch. 

MK:  That’s good.  Which group would you say you’re most comfortable with now, if that makes any sense?

JC:  Umm…they’re both really different, you know.  It’s like with the Flecktones my role is different because there’s only four of us, so my role isn’t as a supporting role, it’s as primary-role as you can get in an ensemble.  So the parts that I’m playing with the Flecktones are much more complicated and much more woven into the fabric of the music, whereas with Dave, it’s more of a supporting role cause obviously, he’s the vocalist, and it’s more centered around what he does.  But within both of those ensembles I get a lot of solo space and I have a lot of responsibility.  It’s just a different sort of responsibility.  I play a different role in each of the groups.  The difference with my group also, with the Mu’tet, because my role in that group is as, you know, the front guy, and the person who sort of directs traffic in a way that kind of focuses the direction of the group. 

MK:  Mhm.

JC:  But at the same time also, I’ve learned a lot from being around two great leaders:  being around Bela and also being around Dave.  And they both lead by sort of not leading, which is an interesting way to do things, and very effective obviously, by trusting the musicians and allowing the musicians to be creative and feel like they’re an enormous part of what’s going on, because they are. 

MK:  Yeah.  So do you…does he give you parts, or do you write your own parts?

JC:  In which ensemble? 

MK:  I guess both of them. 

JC:  Well, it’s a combination of things, you know, with the Flecktones there’s a very collaborative writing process.  We all sort of work out different things together.  Now with Dave’s, it’s a little different, I usually defer to Rashawn [Ross] a lot because he’s the ranking member of the horn section, and for him having come directly out of LeRoi’s [Moore] tutelage, you know, I think that he has a really great understanding of what that music is looking for.  And so again, it’s still a collaborative effort, but it’s a little more like, “OK, what does this song need that still sounds like the group but that we can still put our stamp on it?”  You know, especially with the newer material, then of course that will change over time also as we develop newer material. 


MK:  How did you get involved with the Dave Matthews group?

JC:  Well, originally it was through the Flecktones.  We had done some opening dates, so we knew them, and then when LeRoi had his accident in very late June of two thousand eight, I got a call on July first that he was incapacitated and it would be two or three months before he’d be able to be back on the road, and was I available to come out to sub for him for a couple of months.  So basically I had to, you know, change all my plans for that summer to be able to do it.  And I was certainly willing to do it, you know, I knew those guys, and obviously when somebody has something like that occur, you want to try to do everything you can to help them out and get them back playing as quickly as they can.  So I agreed to do it, and tragically a month and a half later, he passed.  And at the end of the year they asked me to stay on with them, which I did, and obviously I talked to the Flecktones about that.  And you know, it was an emotional decision for me because I had been playing with Bela for… thirteen years at that point.  But everyone agreed that it seemed like the right thing, and you know, those relationships continue, of course. 

MK:  Well, it sounds like you fit in well with them.  When I think of whom you play with, and all the different groups, it sort of reminds me of Michael Brecker a little bit, because he just sort of played everywhere I think.  Like I know he played with Paul Simon, and he just would play straight-up jazz.  So I was wondering if you ever knew him, and if so, if you were influenced by him. 


JC:  Yeah, Michael was a huge influence for me.  One of the reasons that I use effects on my instrument is directly related to a record that he did with his brother Randy called Heavy Metal Bebop.  I remember hearing him using a wah-wah, which ended up being an envelope filter on saxophone, and at the time he was using what’s called a Mu-Tron, which is made by Electro-Harmonix, and for a long time that was discontinued and they have a Q-Tron envelope filter that I use now, which I absolutely love.  And so from a very early time, you know, I was really attracted to his sound and to his agility on the instrument.  You know, to me it felt like he was so nimble that he could basically play anything on the instrument.  The way that he would come up from the low end of the instrument.  The shape of his phrases.  I love his sounds, and I’ve always been attracted to a very vibrant sound on the saxophone.  And I felt like I could really hear the history of the instrument, but I also felt like he had an incredibly contemporary thing going, and he was very much a chameleon on the instrument, meaning, like you were saying, he played with a lot of different people and played in a lot of different situations.  And the challenge was to retain who he was in those situations, to bring energy, professionalism and style to those different situations, and try to, very successfully so I think, try to serve the music in a way that he still retained who he was. 

MK:  Yeah.

JC:  Does that make sense?

MK:  Yeah, I feel like he was always him wherever he played. 

JC:  He was a brilliant musician, a brilliant composer also, you know, I love his compositions.  I think he was a very thoughtful player as well, and I remember meeting him a couple of different times and talking with him and he was kind of a gadget guru also.  But very disciplined, I remember he was, as I said, you know, he was very thoughtful, too.  I remember he sent Victor, Vic Wooten, an e-mail that he had read Vic’s book, “The Music Lesson,” and you know, how much it had meant to him.  And this was when Michael was in the hospital actually, and I think there’s a quote on Vic’s book from Mike Brecker, it’s like, “The best book on music I’ve ever read,” or something along those lines.  And for him to reach out, I just thought it was really wonderful, and I remember one of the times that I saw Michael in New York:  we had just played in a television show with the Flecktones, it was early, and we were loading out at about eight thirty, nine o’clock in the morning, and he’s walking down the street on his way to a session.  So we hang out for a few minutes and talk, and as he’s walking away, he leans over his shoulder and yells, “Don’t forget your long tones!”  You know, and we just both cracked up, and he was a funny cat also.  I could sure go on and on about him but there’s this one story in particular.  He basically saved my career. 

MK:  Really?

JC:  And I don’t mean that in like, you know, “Oh, he was so influential,” or something like that, but literally, when I moved to Nashville I had been going through a lot of neck problems, a lot of throat problems where I was sort of bull frogging under my jaw, like Dizzy Gillespie in his cheeks.  I was having that happen under my jaw, because there was so much back pressure that it felt like the muscle group that goes around my throat was tearing, and I was going through all these issues.  So I got his address through the New York union because I didn’t know anybody else who was going through this type of thing.  And I wrote him a letter, and about a month later I get this phone call and caller asks for me and he says, “Hey, this is Mike Brecker.”  And I’m thinking, “Oh, right, yeah, ha ha ha.”  Because you know, guys always would call each other at school and pretend they were Miles Davis, you know, or whatever.  And he says, “I got your letter and wanted to call to see how your neck problems were going.”  And I knew at that moment it was him because I hadn’t told anybody I had sent this letter out. 

And so we talked for about twenty minutes and you know, we were talking about how I play, what my setup was, what situations I was in, et cetera, et cetera, and he said, “Look, I’m going to send you this literature because most people don’t really know about this condition.”  And he explained to me what he had gone through and what he was dealing with at the time.  So he sent me this whole packet of literature from his doctors and he said, “I’m also going to give you my home phone number.”  He said, “Call me any time with any questions you have because this is really not something that’s very well known but there’s a lot of people that are dealing with it.”  And I saw a video and he was wearing some kind of wrap.  So I called him back about two or three weeks later after I saw this video and I said, “I don’t know if you remember me but we talked a few weeks ago.”  And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, how’s it going, how’s your neck?” et cetera.  And so we talked for a while, I asked him what the wrap was and he said, “It’s an ace bandage that I put around my neck every time I play to sort of hold in the muscles.”  And he said it allows the neck to heal, it keeps it warm. 

And at that time I went back to the fundamentals also, of doing long tones, working on my breathing, I changed setup. I changed reed strength.  All these things were things he recommended that I do.  So I basically went with the knowledge that I had of a professional musician, back to the fundamentals and back to the basic building blocks of the instrument.  And I used the ace wrap, I kid you not, man, every single time I played for a year.  Every gig, every practice session, every long tone I played, every note that I produced on the saxophone or clarinet, I’d have this ace wrap on.  And after a year, I decided that it was so cumbersome and so bulky, I just decided:  it’s either healed or I’m done.  I had decided that I was in that place.  And I stopped wearing it and I’ve been fine ever since.

MK:  That’s great.

JC:  So I had a couple of different opportunities to thank him in person, and that’s something, for me, that I’ll never forget.  You know, that I’ve been able to do what I’ve been able to do, literally, because of him.  So you talk about an influence?  Not only musically, but, but fundamentally in the way that I play, and that I’m able to play, but also that someone of his stature, not even knowing me.  I had just gotten out of college; I was like six months out of college.  And for him to take that time with me, I mean, for me, it meant more than I can possibly put into words.  And it influences how, obviously how I play, but how I teach, how I spend time with students, how I spend time with other musicians.  Those things are huge.  That ripple is enormous. 

MK:  It seems like it changed your way of life. 

JC:  It changed everything for me, man.  It changed everything.  Yeah, it changed everything. 

MK:  I was reading your blog, your latest post about relationships, and who was that written by?  Where’d you get the…

JC:  Oh, an Indian writer named Krishnamurti.

MK:  Do you read a lot of, sort of Eastern thought? 

JC:  I have actually, yeah, it’s very interesting to me…umm…the connectivity of that way of thought:  that we’re all connected up.  You know, even my record says…the titles of my records have sort of harkened to that.  You know, when I first moved to Nashville I really felt like a duck out of water, the first record was called Outside the Lines cause that’s really sort of where I felt like I was and my next record was called Commonality which has really a lot to do with, you know, the realizations that we are connected, that everything’s connected, and sometimes you can’t see it, even.  I remember learning music theory and thinking, OK, how is this stuff related to anything else?  You know, how are these scales related to improvisation?  How are these chords related to scales, or to this piece of music? You know, it’s like we’re dissecting it in a way that it seems like it’s completely disconnected.  And I just kept thinking, well, it’s all connected, though, in some way or other.  And it took me a number of years to sort of put all that together.  Then the record after Commonality was called Go-Round.  The one after that was called Bloom, which has a lot to do with my photography and what I was into at the time, but also the idea that we continue to grow as people and that as an artist also, as a human being, as a parent, you know, we have these opportunities at every moment to grow and to expand. 

And it’s part of who we are.  It’s part of what a flower does.  You know, all through our lives, there’s many opportunities to grow and to bloom and expand.  And so that’s kind of where that came from.  And the next one was called Mutopia, the most recent one.  And that has a lot to do with, you know, the idea of utopia, which never works.  It’s a beautiful concept but it never works because it’s a lot of times very rigid.  And so the idea of Mutopia—the word Mu’tet, which is the name of my group, comes from the word mutation, which has a lot to do with the kind of music I’m into and the style that I write in—but that everything is in constant change, and that really true utopia is one that changes; that our lives are constantly in change and that we have to accept that.  And that’s part of the beauty of it, that’s part of the struggle, so the idea of utopia has to do with the idea that change comes in mutations, that we’re constantly mutating, and that that is the utopia, this is…the moment that we’re in is the greatest possible moment that there can be. 

And uh, but that it’s always changing, the next moment is different.  So to me, you asked if I’m into Eastern philosophy.  And I would say yes because of those things, because of the connectivity of things, because of the relationships that we have through music.  It all seems to make a lot of sense to me when I think about it.  And I think about it quite often.  Somebody asked me one time, and I think I put that in the blog, if you have two notes, is it a relationship or is it a chord?  And I think that’s a really interesting question to ask.  And that got me thinking about a whole lot of different areas. 

MK:  Yeah, it was thought-provoking.  Along the lines of…when you took the wrap off, and you sort of gave yourself an ultimatum, what were you thinking you would do if it didn’t heal? 

JC:  That’s a good question. [Laughs]  I don’t know, man, because this is all I really know how to do, quite honestly.  I really don’t know.  I don’t have any idea…

MK:  I mean, it’s an abstract question.

JC:  It’s so hard for me to think hypothetically cause again, there’s not a lot of things that…there’s nothing that moves me like this.  And you know, I love that I’m able to roll in education.  I love teaching, I love working with younger players, students.  So that might have been part of it, had I not been able to play.  I don’t know, man, because even my love for photography didn’t come in until a number of years after that.  So yeah, I have no idea.  I’m just so grateful and so thankful that I’m able to play.

MK:  Yeah, I didn’t expect an answer, but just figured I’d ask.  So how do you know Lewis Porter, how did you guys meet?

JC:  How did I meet Lew?  Umm…I’m trying to think of how we met.  I can’t remember if he came to a gig with the Flecktones…I feel that we’ve known each other for a long time, man.  I know we have.  I can’t remember how we initially met.  Maybe it was in Princeton, or Rutgers—maybe the Flecktones were playing there or it was just through e-mailing.  We’ve done some gigs together, and you know, we’ve kept in touch.  I’ve actually been bad about keeping in touch with him over the last year or so I’ve just been so crazy busy.  But he’s one of those guys, man, that is just so open and so great to be around, even if it’s six months or a year, two years, you kind of just fall back into it with him, and you know we have a lot of common area as far as what we enjoy musically also and he’s just a great guy, man.  And he’s so knowledgeable and so highly regarded professionally and artistically.  He’s a really sweet human being. 

MK:  Yeah, I sort of have a similar story related to your Michael Brecker story, because I e-mailed him last year—I was a junior last year in college—asking him just if he knew of anything I could do relating to jazz, and he said that I could take the course with him in the master’s program [at Rutgers in Newark] for the summer.  And I told him that I liked Ben Ratliff, the jazz critic, and he told me that he knew him and he connected me with him.  And it was just that easy.  I had never even met him and he just set me up with everyone, which was very nice.  He didn’t have to do that.

JC:  Yeah, and that’s the beauty of people like that, you know.  I think one of the most amazing things about being a musician is that we have an opportunity to share the things that we love.  And the greatest musicians I’ve ever known are probably the most altruistic musicians and altruistic people I’ve ever known in the sense that they recognize that this information we have is supposed to be shared.  You know, I called Ornette Coleman out of the blue about two and a half years ago, and I’ve been over to his place three or four times now and he’s always been incredibly gracious and humble.  And the first two times I was there, I was there for about six hours at a time. 

MK:  That’s great, yeah, I think of John Coltrane as a very open person, I’ve read. 

JC: Yeah, to think about that kind of thing, man, to spend time with that caliber of artist…Joe Lovano’s the same way.  You know, Joe is the salt of the earth man, and you know, people just want to talk about and share the things they love.  And Lew Porter’s like that also. 

MK:  Have you had any situations like that?  People have, you know, called you or…

JC:  Oh sure, absolutely.  I have situations like that a lot, man.  You know, people who have heard me play with Bela, or with Dave, and young horn players that are interested in taking a lesson or spending some time.  You know, if they’re really interested, I’m into it.  And I always tell people:  Don’t take a lesson with me, or don’t study with me, because of who I’ve played with.  Study with me because you want to learn.  I know that a lot of times that’s sort of an in for people: they hear me playing with somebody, and they go, “Oh, he’s playing with them, so he must be good.”  And that’s not how I look at it all.  I have to be on top of my game at every moment.  So I’m working and working and working, trying to get better, all the time. 

And that’s what I encourage with young players also, is that you have to work on the fundamentals.  And when you think about going to a basketball game or a baseball game, you go early and what are they working on?  They’ve been working on fundamentals.  If LeBron James isn’t executing, then what isn’t he executing?  OK, he’s not executing the fundamentals.  So those are things that I talk to players about, those things that allow me to do what I do, those things that allow people like Carter Beauford, Jack Dejohnette, and Mike Clark…and you know, all of the great players on every instrument.  The things that they’re doing come back to the fundamentals, come back to the ability to execute when you’re in the heat of the moment.  And those are the things that I think are so important I think to every player.  Those are the things that are going to get you through it.  If you’re comfortable there, you’re going to be comfortable in most situations. 

So yeah, I have those situations a lot.  When I go out and do clinics, like I’m doing tonight, and tomorrow and Friday and Saturday, those are things I talk about with young players.  I love spending time, man.  I love being able to take questions and sort of put those questions back to somebody, you know, and ask them what their answers are.  Because my answers work for me, and that’s great, but I want to hear what they think also, I want them to sort of crack open the proverbial nut and see what’s inside and have them realize that their answers are as valid as mine are—and a lot of times more so because they’re answering their own questions. 

MK:  They just don’t realize it? 

JC:  I don’t think they knew that they could.  I think that a lot of times, especially in academia, we are encouraged to listen to what somebody else has to say.  Most people don’t even know what the word education even means.  It comes from the latin root of educato, which, literally translated, means “to draw out.”  And so the idea that we’re being told certain things is important to sort of begin that process, but the idea of drawing out to me is like discovering something.  And when you discover something it becomes part of who you are, and you own it.  And when you start discovering art and music and your own ideas and your own philosophies, they start to become who you are.  And you own that part of it.  And it doesn’t mean that it’s etched in stone.  Again, it’s mutatable, it’s changeable, and it’s supposed to change as you gain different perspectives on things. 

MK:  So, would you say that…yeah, that seems very important to realize in music because there’s just so many different kinds of it and it’s hard to see where people are coming from if you don’t think too hard about it.  I don’t know how to express it, but…especially, I guess after, to give a concrete example, when Coltrane died, it was like “Where do we go now?” and like “What do we do?” and “How can you be true to yourself but develop more?” 

JC:  Right, and what I would say to that also is, you know, if you asked that question to John Coltrane.  If you said, “Look man, you know, after you’re gone, what next, what do we do?”  And I think what he would say is “Be yourself.”  You know, there’s no way you can be the next John Coltrane.  You know, even Ravi Coltrane doesn’t sound like his dad.  I’ve been playing with Felix Pastorius for the last almost ten years, and where they’re influenced by their dads is very apparent.  But they still have their own thing, you know, and you know, so many people try to sound like Coltrane or Sonny [Rollins] and it’s like, “Look, man, that’s a dead end street.”  An absolute one hundred percent dead end street.  The influence, certainly the influence, and be inspired, certainly be inspired, but what draws us to those players, to those sounds, to that depth of expression, is that they didn’t sound like anyone else. 

Coltrane wasn’t trying to sound like Dexter Gordon, he wasn’t trying to sound like Sonny Rollins.  And that strong individualism is what draws us to those players.  We’re always going to sound like ourselves, no matter what.  You know, it’s a matter of developing and discovering how we hear music.  And I think that one of the keys to that is composition.  Obviously you have to have the fundamentals down, you have to be able to play the instrument.  But how is it that you hear music?  How is it that I hear music?  And that’s one of the things that composition has really broken open for me, and that allows me to, again, sort of play a chameleon role in a lot of ways of being able to insert myself into a lot of different situations and feel comfortable in those situations based on the diversity of music that I listen to and that I write and that I play. 

MK:  That’s a good point about the composition. I hadn’t considered that. 

JC:  I think also the other thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that they don’t need permission.  They don’t need permission to express themselves.  They don’t need permission for composition.  I’ve never taken a composition lesson in my life.  And I have five or six albums filled with my compositions.  And I’ve written over two hundred tunes, you know, my tunes have been nominated for Grammy awards, have been on other people’s records.  And all I’m saying is I don’t need someone else’s permission for that.  I don’t need a jazz studies degree to say that I can play my instrument.  That’s why I originally went into my ed. degree:  first of all, because I like teaching.  But secondly, I thought, “Well, I don’t need a piece of paper, I don’t need someone else’s recognition that tells me I can play this instrument.”

You know, and that was probably a bit na├»ve and ignorant on my part, but it was something that I truly believed, and I truly believe that today.  There’s going to be people who like my playing and there’s going to be people who dislike my playing.  And I have to be OK with that.  There’s a beautiful quote by Ornette Coleman that says, “All listeners are equal in their opinions,” and I carry that with me every single day.  I hope that everybody enjoys what I do, man, but I have to realize, too, that not everybody is going to.  And that’s all right.  I remember there was a…I think one of my favorite critiques, or criticisms, you might say, or reviews of my playing came early on with the Flecktones.  And they said, “The saxophone with the Flecktones is like a jackhammer in church.”  [Laughs] 

MK:  That’s rough.  [Laughs]

JC:  Well, man, I really gotta give it to you, I mean this guy really hated the saxophone. [Laughs]  And I thought, it’s sheer poetry, man.  And I just thought, “Wow, how can I possibly be offended by someone’s opinion?”  You know?  It’s like, “Wow, I wish you’d dug it, but OK, man,” you know?  “Fine.”  So the idea that all listeners are equal in their opinions on one end validates and on the other end invalidates at the same time.  You know, Ornette told me a story about one time he was soloing somebody came and literally took the instrument from his hands and put it in a trashcan.  And I’ve never been through anything like that. 

MK:  Well, that’s rude. 

JC:  And I’m thinking, “How do you keep going after something like that,” man? 

MK:  I don’t know.  That’s a good question.  Well, he’s a special person. 

JC:  There’s a great friend of mine, who you should interview, named Bert Wilson.  And Bert is a master of the saxophone.  He is one of the few masters of the instrument on the planet, and since the age of four, he’s been in a wheelchair from polio. 

MK:  Really?

JC:  And this guy has overcome adversity like you would not believe, man.  He literally plays to live.  And he’s so inspiring.  If you e-mail me, Matt, I’ll send you over a track that’ll knock your head off. 

MK:  Yeah, I would appreciate that. 

JC:  And Bert would send you a bunch of stuff, and he’d be very open to an interview.  I’m telling you, man, this cat is full of knowledge.  So you know, when people overcome stuff like that, you know, how can you not develop your own thing?  I think that’s the whole point of it, man.  It’s like I don’t want to see someone painting like Picasso, I want to see Picasso.  Why would I want to see an imitation?  Why wouldn’t I want to see the real thing?  When I hear somebody play, why wouldn’t I want to hear them play?  I don’t want to hear somebody sound like Joe Lovano, I want to hear Joe.  I want to hear people influenced by that of course, man.  You know, I want to hear people influenced by Joe Henderson, but I don’t want to hear somebody playing like Joe Henderson, or Wayne [Shorter].  I want those influences, but I don’t want that imitation. 

MK:  No, it’s useless.  [Laughs]

JC:  So I think that through imitation comes individuality.  And I think that it has to be that way when you hear any of the greats talk about their influences, when you hear Sonny talk about Coleman Hawkins, and you even hear that record they did together [Sonny Meets Hawk!], Sonny doesn’t sound a thing like Coleman Hawkins.  You know, Ornette Coleman came out on Sonny’s eightieth birthday gig…

MK:  Oh yeah, I read about that…

JC:  …in New York, and you know, they were just bouncing off each other, two of the great improvisers of the twentieth and twenty-first century, and you know, they sound nothing like each other.  But they’re influenced by one another.  They don’t need each other’s permission to sound like themselves, that’s who they sound like.  And in my opinion, that’s the way it should be. 

MK:  I think that’s a good opinion. 

JC:  And it’s through composition, I believe, that that happens.

MK:  I guess it’s the best way to see how you hear music, as you said. 

JC:  I think so, I think so, yeah.  And I find that with Wayne Shorter also, as a perfect example.  Coltrane also, the way that he developed his style was through working on his compositions.   


MK:  Well, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. 

JC:  Sure, man, my pleasure.  Thank you for taking the time as well to reach out. 


  1. Will do. I can't believe how fast I'm responding.

  2. did you ever get that song??

  3. Unfortunately I didn't get it. Though Jeff recently gave me Bert's telephone number. I plan to call him soon and do an interview. So, with hope, that'll be up soon. Thanks for your interest!