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Short Answers to Difficult Questions (Chuck Israels Guest Blog)

Chuck Israels

I was asked three questions by an interviewer. Each one prompted further questions and suggested that listeners to my music may be experiencing it substantially differently than I intend as I am creating it. Perhaps my answer to question 3 might have been, "Get my message.”

I’ll certainly try to answer your questions as best I can with the understanding that my responses today may be different tomorrow. Moods and musical circumstances can change. 
1) Pick a “dream band."
How might I pick an ideal drummer? Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Larry Bunker (surely among my favorites) or the less well known and perhaps the most wildly inventive, Donald Bailey. Then I would have omitted Billy Higgins and who knows who else I should include. There is no easy answer. If I must pick one, then my choice is Donald, but oh how I’d miss the others.
Favorite pianist is easy, but Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan are not far behind, and Miles Black (in Vancouver, BC) would be my choice for a band of living musicians I could form now. Maybe Kenny Washington would be a good drummer for that band. Aaron Diehl would be another good pianist, and Cécile Salvant would be my choice as a singer, though Joe Williams would be there too, were he alive to join.
This gets a little crazy — picking favorites among the hundreds of people who have contributed to the richness of my musical life. Nobody outplayed Charlie Parker, but Phil Woods was superb. Lucky Thompson, Paul Gonsalves, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Sal Nistico and Hank Mobley, are some favorites, in no particular order. Baritone sax is easier — Joe Temperley, unless you need a more chromatic player, then it’s Ronnie Cuber. Do you prefer JJ Johnson or Jimmy Knepper, Miles Davis or Clifford Brown? Charlie Porter satisfies my trumpet needs in my bands today, and I never think about anyone else when Charlie is playing. That’s the litmus test: is there room during one performance to compare it with another? If the performance of the moment fills the attention space, it’s the momentary ideal.
The question of creating a personnel list for an ideal band is most often asked by people who don’t play in bands. All-star teams don't beat a good working team. Art is created by working around limitations as well as abilities. My ideal band is the band I work with at any given moment, assuming everyone is sufficiently experienced and applying his or her full attention to realizing a consensual musical goal. Of course, some musicians are more closely attuned to my musical goals than others, and some exceed them.  But my deepest musical pleasures come from teamwork and the sense that, for the moment, my life is connected with others — not a lonely experience.
Ellington’s band was less an ideal band than he was an ideal composer/arranger/leader.
In some ways, this question makes me feel lonely in that it demonstrates that people who appreciate my music may also be misunderstanding some of its fundamental values. 
2) Pick one memorable musical event.
I find this also not easy to answer. There’s a list of several, for sure:  a number of performances with Bill Evans — the Town Hall Concert; the recording with Monica Zetterlund; almost any night at the Gyllene Cirklen in Stockholm when the entire cast of the Gula Hund review (wonderful Swedish actors/singer/musicians) would show up for the last set, night after night, for two or three weeks in a row; the concert at the ORTF Hall in Paris with Bill; working with the Metropole Orchestra conducting my compositions and arrangements; many performances with the National Jazz Ensemble. It’s a long list, and I would not choose to omit any of these nor a number of others I am simply not remembering at the moment.
3) Make a wish for the 21st Century.
Make America (and those in the rest of the world who seem to be following our political lead) sane again.
I have hopes for musical changes as well, but I am not in control of much of any of this, so I am more concerned with making good choices in circumstances I can control rather than hoping for others to make the choices I’d prefer.
I grew up in a most unusual era during which popular music was written by and supported by educated people. I thought this was normal. History proves otherwise.

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  • Freda Payne on
    Chuck , being a great musician yourself I appreciate your eloquence and good taste in naming your favorite musicians. Where are you teaching now it’s really been a long time since we work together .
  • Steven Ross on
    Three’s second sentence says it all – words to live and be hopeful by.
    Thanks for these.
  • Steven Ross on
    Three’s second sentence says it all – words to live and be hopeful by.
    Thanks for these.
  • Marilyn Harris on

    Wonderful answers to challenging questions, indeed! To appreciate and “love the one(s) you’re with” – to recall the many inspiring and memorable musical events – and to envision a future brighter than the current circumstances we find ourselves in… have to agree wholeheartedly with all of your answers, Dave! 🎶 ♥ 🎶 XOXO – M

  • Bob Schwartz on

    Eloquent & elegant as always.

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