On Saturday, Oct. 28, Chris Klaxton’s OURBIGBAND project returns to the stage at the Kittery Dance Hall – this time to call in the centennial celebration of Thelonius Monk’s life (born Oct. 10, 1917). To help, OURBIGBAND has tapped the services of Finnish (by way of New York City) pianist and composer Frank Carlberg who, along with the aforementioned big band, will play songs from Carlberg’s mesmerizingly brilliant release, “Monk Dreams, Hallucinations and Nightmares,” a record he wrote specifically for the big band format.
EDGE caught up with Carlberg to chat about this installment of OURBIGBAND’s collaborative series.
EDGE: What excites you about visiting Portsmouth and collaborating with OURBIGBAND?
Carlberg: My history with this part of New England goes back quite a few years. I used to come up here fairly regularly for various gigs and through that made many friends in this region. I have also been associated with Maine Jazz Camp for many years so New England feels very familiar and dear to me. OURBIGBAND is a group of fantastic musicians that I am looking forward to performing with.
EDGE: How’d you meet Chris Klaxton? How and when did this idea for collaboration present itself?
Carlberg: I first met Chris while working on a project led by the late great Maine-based drummer/composer Steve Grover. We got talking and I had this music and he had this band. ... Next thing you know, we’re in Portsmouth.
EDGE: You’ve been writing, producing, and performing some pretty cerebral (happenin’!) jazz for quite some time. How’d you get into it? What keeps you actively engaging the itch?
Carlberg: I started writing and playing music at an early age. It really is just a way of life. There is so much in this world to be inspired by and to engage the itch. Also music might possibly be the only thing I know anything about ... well, and soccer!
EDGE: You’re also an educator. I love chatting with musicians who are not only active recording artists and performers, but also tie educating into a working piece of their living. What’s the importance of educating the next wave of musicians? How does this experience (or experiences) inform your own music?
Carlberg: Being a teacher in some form or another can serve many purposes. Some are practical, but I think the most satisfying part is the exchange you have with students. I am very lucky to be teaching at a fabulous school (New England Conservatory) where the students are curious, talented, committed and forward thinking. They constantly challenge me and inspire me! The older I get the more I need that. Hopefully I can also introduce them to thoughts and ideas, which will help them in their explorations and in their search for their own musical (and non-musical) identity. I think this kind of cross-generational interaction can be very fruitful and important. My world might not be their world and their world might not be mine, but we can learn so much from each other as long as we stay open.
EDGE: Let’s talk about your latest album, “Monk Dreams, Hallucinations And Nightmares.” What were the goals behind the release when you set out to make it?
Carlberg: The album was originally really not planned to coincide with the Monk centennial. My love for Monk’s music goes way back and I’m quite willing to celebrate his centennial every year ... or every day, for that matter. It was simply a matter of exploring his music and trying to find a way to re-imagine it rather than to recreate the perfect originals. I’m working with Monk’s art purely out of love.
EDGE: How much of your artistic expression is a product of dreams, hallucinations, or nightmares?
Carlberg: Works of art come out of an individual’s personal history and experiences. This includes things at the borders of being awake and asleep. My fascination starting early on with things such as amusement parks, fairgrounds, the circus, magic shows and movies are also part of the region where reality and fantasy intersect. Sometimes we might not know the difference, but do we care?
EDGE: What kind of freedoms does OURBIGBAND have when you guys recreate these tunes at the Dance Hall on Saturday, Oct. 28? Or perhaps it’s a strict charted occasion?
Carlberg: In this music, the players have responsibilities to the written material while also having space for improvisational contribution. It is a balance between structure and freedom.
EDGE: What does Thelonius Monk mean to you? What was your first introduction to his music? What led you to decide to create music directly influenced by his contributions to music?
Carlberg: Thelonious Monk is one of the greatest American artists of all time. No question. Consequently he is central to many of the developments in jazz. While I was still a youngster hearing Monk for the first time on a recording (Solo Monk-Columbia) was a revelation. Here is music by a musician clearly informed by his predecessors (James P. and Duke ... as I was to realize later) yet with a distinctly personal expression. His music can be light and playful (Dinah), majestic (Ruby My Dear), humorous (These Foolish Things), dark and deep (I Should Care), while retaining the unmistakable sound that is Monk. Monk’s uncompromising dedication to his own art also serves as a great model for a life in music well spent. THANK YOU, THELONIOUS MONK! That said, the record is constructed more of original material than anything else.
EDGE: Do you enjoy writing your own compositions? Is it easy or difficult to navigate?
Carlberg: As I mentioned earlier, writing is a way of life. Why do I compose? I really don’t know. I do know that when I don’t have a chance to write I do get restless....
EDGE: What can folks expect when they check out the show?
Carlberg: A great band of top-notch individuals that is OURBIGBAND playing music in celebration of Monk, one of the seminal American artists.
EDGE: Will there be a cake with 100 candles on it to celebrate Monk’s Centennial?
Carlberg: Well, you never know... you’ll have to stop by to know for sure!
CHRIS HISLOP, EDGE MAGAZINE / PORTSMOUTH HERALD