Taylor Ho Bynum
Taylor Ho Bynum first came to the attention of The Dixon Society with his post Dixon on his thought provoking and delightfully well written blog SpiderMonkey Stories. Taylor will be performing with Bill Dixon at this year's Vision Festival. Before that, he is going on tour, performing in a number of different configurations and settings. He has also recently released a new recording on the Firehouse 12 label.
In the midst of all this, Taylor kindly took some time out to talk with the Dixon society.
+ + +
Taylor Ho Bynum: I think I first heard
A couple of my more sympathetic teachers at the
Also at this time, Ben Young was still doing his Dixonia radio show on WKCR (once a week he played a couple hours of
On a side note, that was also the time where I finally really got into Louis Armstrong, of all people. Obviously I had heard his music before, but it was around this period that I finally got it, if you know what I mean, really hearing the brilliance of it rather than just thinking it was old-timey stuff. In some ways, it's interesting this was happening around the same time I was digging into
Q: What prompted you to go to the new school and what was it about that curriculum and experience that turned you off?
THB: I went to Wesleyan from 1993-94, then dropped out and biked from
I had an inspiring musical experience my freshman year at Wesleyan, but wasn't really happy there for other reasons, and needed some time out of school. I didn't play that much that next year; I took a long bike trip down the West Coast and lived in San Francisco for a couple of months, then moved to New York. After a year off, I wanted to rededicate myself to music, and after the very open musical environment of Wesleyan, I thought it would be good to get a stronger traditional technical background, and went to the
Q: Can you tell us how study with Braxton at Wesleyan was structured? How many classes did you take with Braxton and/or within the area of this music? Were there any other professors at Wesleyan dealing with the music?’ Did Braxton have an ensemble? If so, what was the instrumentation and what were those rehearsals like? Was there written music? Specific pieces or did the class 'just' improvise?
THB: At Wesleyan, Braxton teaches an ensemble class (that focuses on his composed large ensemble music, as well as his principles of language improvisation, ghost trance music, etc), music history classes (such as "The music of Coleman, Coltrane, and Mingus" or "Sun Ra and Stockhausen"), and composition seminars for graduate students. His ensemble class met twice weekly, and probably was my most important entree into his music. The instrumentation and size of the ensemble varied from semester to semester, from balanced fifteen piece groups with reeds, brass, and strings, to 50 piece orchestras with multiple guitarists, melodica players, and singers. I think between the six semesters I spent at Wesleyan as an undergraduate, and the four semesters as a graduate student, I took this ensemble class 10 times. (Even more, really...I would swing though
Q: After hearing November 1981 were you 'sold' on
THB: As far as November 1981, I was "sold" on
Q: Another question about the Wesleyan experience:
"The instrumentation and size of the ensemble varied from semester to semester, from balanced fifteen piece groups with reeds, brass, and strings, to 50 piece orchestras with multiple guitarists, melodica players, and singers."
From your reply, it would appear that there was a significant a degree of organization dedicated to and interest in this music at Wesleyan. How was this music received by the Wesleyan community at large? Did Braxton enjoy support or did he endure skepticism and derision (or both?)
THB: Like any small community in the bubble of academia, the level of interest and support, on both the institutional and student level, for 'this music' waxed and waned at Wesleyan, but there was a general appreciation and open-mindedness there, if not complete understanding or a consistent audience. In the larger argument/discussion about jazz and academia, I do think it interesting that I find more vibrant creative artists around today that came out of the 'liberal arts' environments of Wesleyan or Bennington, even with a much smaller pool of musicians, than came out of the 'conservatory' environments of Berklee or Julliard or wherever. Again, that's a gross generalization, I know some brilliant folks who attended Berklee and some total hacks that went to Wesleyan, but there is a larger pattern there. (Basically, studying things other than music is good for your music. And having musical geniuses around is helpful too.)
Q: Getting back to
After November 1981, do you remember the next recording you heard? Do you hear a different
THB: I'd say two things were most immediately impacted me from November 1981. First of all, just the incredible expansion of the trumpet's possibilities in terms of timbre, digging in extremes in both the upper and lower registers, breaths, half valves, etc etc. (Particularly interesting since Dixon almost never uses any mutes, the usual means for brass timbral manipulation.) Yet still connected to a powerful sense of melody and line. The other 'avant' trumpet players I'd listened to at that point (Don Cherry, Lester Bowie, etc) still stayed closer the 'jazz conventions' of harmony and form.
Second, his sense of phrasing and timing.
I honestly don't remember the next
Q: Can you talk a little about
THB: Their basic approaches are very different...Anthony will present a large body of composed or conceived materials, and specific rules of engagement to those materials, but the players have full freedom in implementing those rules and dealing with those materials in practice and performance. Bill will bring in less pre-composed materials, sometimes as simple as a melodic line or a single voicing, but in practice will actively and specifically shape those materials into something more. It's interesting, both composers present systems that allow (and demand) input from the performers, and trust the performers to bring their own sensibilities and aesthetics into the music, but almost on opposite sides of the equation as to when that input happens.
Q: What's coming up in your future?
THB: I would prefer to answer on a more conceptual level of where I'd like to go next, particularly as they relate to a discussion of