On Friday, April 27, Parma Music Festival will present Chris Klaxton’s OURBIGBAND which, this time around, features decorated composer/bassist, Ben Allison. Allison, who, along with his playing and teaching responsibilities, is also president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science. He’s a busy man about to make a rare appearance in New Hampshire collaborating with one of the most innovative and exciting big bands going today. We’re so fortunate to have these collective experiences here on our own home turf.
EDGE caught up with Allison to discuss jazz, travel, and humanity.
EDGE: In today’s world, Jazz sometimes comes with the connotation that it’s a bit of a “high-brow” brand of music. Which is interesting considering that the genre – especially big band (which you’re about to partake in here in New Hampshire) – was once the premier form of entertainment. It literally was the pop music of a generation. I’d like to get your commentary on that, and how you play with your own compositions/music a bit, perhaps as a means of attempting to bridge genre-esque gaps.
Allison: One of the most exciting things about playing improvised music is the element of risk. With pop music, there’s rarely a time when the musicians don’t know what’s coming next. Improvised music is inherently risky because the musicians in a group have to listen carefully to what the other musicians are doing, and react quickly in real time. With my group, “Think Free,” we play a lot for younger people. When they start to understand that we’re out there on a limb (musically speaking), and we’re going for it, without fear, they can relate to that. It’s all about individuality within a group and they can relate to that too.
EDGE: What’s the importance of variety in a musicians diet? You’ve worked with myriad artists throughout your career. Is variety necessary and something you’ve actively sought, or is it just a merely a means of you being in the right place at the right time?
Allison: Music is social - it’s about connecting. And people tend to naturally associate with other people who think and act like they do. But I think it’s important to reach outside of whatever circles you’re in and try to broaden those connections. For me, music has been a way to do that. Through music, I’ve gotten to know an extremely wide and diverse group of people from all over the world. I feel lucky to be a musician.
EDGE: Okay, let’s trace the roots for a minute. Was there a moment or experience in particular that led you to pick up the bass (double or otherwise...), and, further, chasing it down as a means of making a living?
Allison: When I was very young I played guitar and drums. But, in high school I came to the realization that if I was going to get serious about my playing, I would have to choose one or the other. The bass — especially the acoustic bass — felt like a combination of the drums and the guitar. I could drive the rhythm and drive the harmony. Discovering that was a revelation.
EDGE: If you weren’t “doing” music for a living, what would you be doing?
Allison: I love science. My problem would have been that I love so many different kinds of science that it would have been impossible for me to pick a specialty.
EDGE: What do you appreciate about being able to travel and share your music with audiences all around the world? How do these experiences inspire and/or inform your music/art (if at all)?
Allison: In January we were in Cuba. Last week we were in Kansas — two pretty different places. And yet, Cubans and Kansans (as well as most people I’ve met) have a lot in common. The more I travel the world, the more I’ve come to know with certainty that “people are people.” There are cultural differences, for sure. But, everyone pretty much wants the same things — to feel safe, to feel respected, to love and be loved. Music is a sonic expression of these ideals. As improvisers, we have musical conversations where listening to each other is as important as having something to say.
EDGE: You’re heading to New Hampshire for a gig at 3S where we will see you joining forces with Chris Klaxton’s “OURBIGBAND.” What excites you about the show? What can folks expect?
Allison: I’m very excited to play with Chris and OURBIGBAND. We’ll be playing tunes from a few of my recent albums, with a few arrangements by me and a few by members of the band. This will be my first time meeting and playing with these musicians and it promises to be a ball.
CHRIS HISLOP , EDGE MAGAZINE / PORTSMOUTH HERALD