Dec 10, 2013
Anyone who loves jazz has undergone an awakening to the power of the music as it is performed in before them at some point in their lives. For Radhika Philip it came about a decade ago, when she followed a yen for live music into the West Village club Smalls to see pianist Jason Lindner's trio. While she had a handful of jazz records at home, scattered classics by the usual suspects - Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker - the experience of seeing contemporary creative music in an intimate setting proved to be transformative.
"It was the music, of course, but it was also the intensity of the interaction on stage," Ms. Philip recalls of that night. "The expression on people's faces as they made music together - the bliss in the discovery, and the intimate and focused ways in which they communicated with each other - I'd never seen anything like that before. It completely blew my mind."
Born in Bombay, India, Radhika moved to the United States to study anthropology, first at Smith College and later at Columbia University. She has brought this education to her examination of New York City's intricately interwoven jazz community, adding a layer of insight beyond that which even the most ardent club devotee could offer. "The questions I asked were anthropologically informed," she explains. "What meaning do people give to what they do? What do they value? What are their practices? All of that speaks to what culture is."
Ten years of interviews later, Ms. Philip’s book, Being Here, compiles 25 of those interviews, featuring candid, insightful conversations with such modern jazz greats as varied in their approaches and music as can be. They range from singer Andy Bey to drummer/band leader Brian Blade; from downtown legend Steve Coleman to MacArthur Grant winner Vijay Iyer. The focus of her inquiry is the relationship between form and freedom - the parameters, musical and relational that frames their improvisations.
The title, Being Here, is in part recognition of New York City's role in linking artists. But it also reaches a more meaningful truth about their creative process - not to mention the lively and enlightening conversations to be found within its pages.
Podcast 395 is my conversation with Ms. Philip, featuring musical selections from some of her interviewees including:
Robert Glasper -"Move Love" (featuring King) from Black Radio. The controversial keybaord player gave an exceptional interview to Ms. Philip. This track shows his hip-hop touches, and features Derrick Hodge on bass, Chris Dave on drums, and Casey Benjamin on reeds. Jahi Sundance is on hand to lend turntable effects.
Jason Moran - "Milestone" from Artist in Residence. Moran is a talented leader but also is in demand as a sideman, and he routinely plays with others, an occurrence Ms. Philip finds unique in jazz performers.
Henry Threadgill - "Black Blues" from Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket. Avant-garde flutist/saxophonist Henry Threadgill is one of the more interesting interviews in the book. This track comes from a 1983 release featuring Craig Harris on trombone, Olu Dara on trumpet, Fred Hopkins on bass, Deidre Murray on cello, and John Betsch and Pheeroan Aklaif on percussion.
As a bonus, you can listen to some of the interviews as Ms. Philip recorded them, including