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Mat Maneri Interview

Taken and Transcribed by Walter Horn

Cadence: You were born in New York, right? Mat Maneri: Right, in Brooklyn, in 1969. But we moved up to the Boston area soon after, when my father [saxophonist Joe Maneri] got an appointment with the New England Conservatory. CAD: When did you take up violin? M.M.: I was five. CAD: Did you also play the viola? M.M.: Briefly, with Robert Koff, who I was studying violin with. He got me into a few string quartets and his thing was you had to learn how to double the viola and the violin so you could do the first and second violin and the viola part. You had to do all three. CAD: Ive read that you studied with Dave Holland and Miroslav Vituous. Were you ever a bass player? M.M.: No, I studied just jazz with them. With great success with Miroslav, because of his extraordinary bowing techniques. He gave me a lot of insight. He actually started on violin before he grew into a bass. I dont know if youve ever seen him, but hes nine feet tall. [Laughs] A literal.growth into bass. His bowing techniques were amazing for jazz. I really learned a lot from him. CAD: How old were you at that time? M.M.: About sixteen. This was at the New England Conservatory. CAD: You dont sound to me like a product of a jazz program. M.M.: Well I studied with Miroslav and Dave and did some ensemble stuff with Bob Moses, but I was only there about a year. CAD: I guess by now everyone knows about your father. Is your mother also a musician? M.M.: Shes a pianist, but shes primarily a visual artist. CAD: Was the stuff you were listening to growing up mostly classical? M.M.: It was everything. Actually, not everything. [Laughs] Everything unconventional. It was a mixture of avant-garde, hard-core classical, straightahead jazz. I even have a grandmother whos a big opera buff. People would be coming over to the house all the time. Everybody. Wed have soirees once a week. The idea was to bring not just jazz musicians but classical musicians together and do new pieces, new ideas, in different peoples homes. This would give students a chance both to learn how to play in front of an audience and to develop their music. It was insane, actually. [Laughs] CAD: You started playing professionally at 14? M.M.: Yeah, 14 or 15. CAD: What kind of stuff? M.M.: Jazz. I had studied classical really seriously until I was 13, but then I suddenly became very interested in jazz and played in as many groups and as many situations as I possibly could. Actually, I think the first group I was in was Shirim, which is still around. Its a klezmer band with Glen Dixon. That got me playing G.B. stuff. I did anything I could do just to play out. CAD: Tell me about your non-traditional fiddles. You have a six and a ten string, right?

M.M.: I dont have the ten-string anymore. That was actually a double violin, two fivestrings, and we just cut in half. But I have a six string electric violin, and I have a new instrument which is really fun. Its a baritone violin. Its like the five string, but its an octave lower so it goes down to a cello range. CAD: The six string is just a traditional violin with two additional strings, each one a fifth lower? M.M.: Yes, so it goes down to a low F, a fifth below viola. CAD: Youve cited Elliott Carter as an influence, and your playing reminds me more of the viola part from his piece, Penthode than of Leroy Jenkins or Jerry Goodman. Did you actually play any Carter? M.M.: I bought a few scores, but I never actually played them with a group. I mean its incredibly hard. But Ive trudged through it myself for my own personal edification. [Laughs] CAD: You know Carter himself doesnt have much use for improvisation. Not enough premeditation for his taste. He figures improvisers cant really be creative since theyre bound to fall into these grooves theyve learned, unlike a real composer who can just, you know, think. M.M.: I can agree with him to a certain extent, but on the other hand, why not develop a way to express yourself creatively through improvisations without repeating yourself? Why not work on that and see if you cant? I mean even composers fall back on their own riffs, no matter how many years they spend on a piece. Ive never been a big fan of, like, the classical composition with improv mixed in, though. That hasnt interested me. I enjoy the idea of composition where the composer is responsible for every aspect of what he wants to be performed and for the musicians to interpret it. I love that. But I also think its great for composers to learn how to improvise and understand what thats all about as well. CAD: Have there been many strictly jazz influences on our style or your technique? M.M.: Well, sure, but its hard to single them out, since there are so many of them. Ive been influenced by too many things. Theres Miles and Coltrane. Theres Duke Ellington. But Ive also been influenced by James Brown and Public Enemy. Everythings an influence. What you take from it is personal though. I mean, it could be just a moment of an idea that you say, Yeah, I like that. You might think about it over and over and develop it in your own way. I just love any music that has a certain soul to it and a kind of swing to it, or a melody, or a love in it. But it could be Patsy Cline as well as Elliott Carter. Although I dont really mean to compare them either. There are just so many influences of so many different kinds. CAD: Its interesting that you mention people like James Brown or Patsy Cline, since there seems to me, at least from your recorded work, to be a kind of high art seriousness to your music. M.M.: Im not sure I know what you mean by that. CAD: Well, for example, theres not a lot of quotations from themes from Sixties sitcoms or other Zorn-style downtown stuff. And youre not, you know, bowing your instrument with a carrot or something. Is this a conscious approach? M.M.: Not really. What I like to do just happens not to be bowing my violin with a carrot. Although that might be an interesting sound, I can probably do it with a bow. [Laughs] Whether or not my music is high art is another question. I dont really know what that means. I just try to use what I know and what I want to express. I mean its

different when I play with Matt Shipp than when I play with Joe Maneri or whoever. Different aspects come into play. Im a sideman for both groups. So, in a way, I have to follow both leaders equally, although theres always me in there, and I take both groups very seriously. I take every group very seriously. When Im a leader, then its a whole other issue of, like, whos backing me up and how do they influence me. Of course, leading a group today is not like in the old days, when leaders were more autocratic. Today, people find musicians that can bring them to a new place; its a collaboration now. Ive been very fortunate to work with a lot of wonderful people. CAD: You also seem to avoid literal repetitions and regular bar lines. Are these conscious rules or is this just what happens to come when youre playing? M.M.: Its how I want to develop a motive, I think. I feel a very strong pulse every time I play. The people I work with, like Randy Peterson, the drummer, weve worked out a way to culminate this groove or melody in such a subtle way, I think, that it doesnt sound repetitive, yet its always grooving. And thats a great idea. I dont apply that to every group I play with, though. Like tonight, there will be more repetition in the way I approach the melodies. In the melodies I wrote tonight for this group [Maneri, William Parker, Roy Campbell and John McLellan], I want to have these repetitions that are thrown off kilter. Personally, when I do my usual groups, though, its probably true that I make a conscious effort to have a kind of groove thats not repetitive, yet its there, so theres like a culmination of forces. CAD: I havent heard your playing with Mat Shipp, or with William Parker (though I will tonight), but from what I have heard, there havent been many pieces with a hard driving, Cecil Taylor type approach. Theres been more of a chamber delicacy, a poignancy, and maybe even a little sadness. But I take it youve also been getting into some fiercer stuff? M.M.: Youre right, on most of the records those chamber things were the ideas we were going for, and were still working on ideas like that and throwing new elements in. But I wouldnt limit myself to that because Ive enjoyed working with these other people now and thats opening up a whole new thing as well. Its brought out a more hard-hitting jazz, and in my own work lately Ive been adding layers of constantly shifting quintuplets and half-time rhythms against what are almost swing tunes. This is basically what I was doing before in a more subtle manner. Now Im making it obvious, with a harder hitting rhythm section. And it releases a different kind of thing. Ive enjoyed that. CAD: How detailed are the charts on the tunes that youre credited with on your recordings? Are they completely written out or are there just general directions given? M.M.: Well, on my recording with Pandelis [Karayorgis], we wrote the heads, like a traditional jazz tune, and we just took it from there. What I usually do with my trio for bass and drums is work out the groove and write it out. I write out the bass line too. So everything is pretty much planned for the first 16 bars. I like to use 12-tone rows in my compositions and just set up a rhythmic clave that shifts subtly. I like the bass line to be a pure counterpoint but also feel like a regular jazz groove that has a melody of its own. This gives the stuff a chamber music effect. Thats what Im interested in. CAD: How did you hook up with Pandelis? M.M.: He was at the conservatory and I met him at a session, I think. We started playing together and then he had to go into the Greek army suddenly. When he finally came back, we hooked up and did our first record.

CAD: You two seem to have perfectly meshing concepts. The albums like a long sonata in several movements. Did you play a long time together before making In Time? M.M.: We had played off and on for a while and then I appeared on Pandelis record Duets. I did about a third of that recording. At that time we hadnt played together much, but we both felt there was something there. Then we were approached by Paul Bley to do a record, which he would produce, for Soul Note, and he said, Record it. Soon. We didnt even feel quite prepared yet, but Paul said, Get it to me within a month. So, for three weeks we rehearsed and we brought in tunes, we brought in ideas and we almost worked it to death. But that was a great month for me, working with someone like Pandelis five days a week. In the last week we spent some time recording it and just had a great time. CAD: Tell me about your interest in Eastern musics. M.M.: I love listening to a lot of Eastern stuff. Of course my father played Greek stuff, and I played with this group, Natraj, which incorporated Indian music and West African music. I feel that Indian music, when they blow on a raga, and it starts here, and they develop it this way, then they add that, and layer in something else, that thats just a very natural way to develop something. I like to incorporate 12-tone rows as well as ragas, though. CAD: Youve been playing in Europe lately. How have those audiences responded to your music? M.M.: Very nicely. In fact, we were almost saddened in a way, because wed love to tour America and feel as comfortable here as we do in Europe. They make you feel so at home. They know your records, theyre interested in the ideas and concepts. Here, its a little harder. Theres an interest, but people havent maybe coordinated enough yet so theres really a national circuit. Actually, I think there might be now. Maybe Im just not in it. [Laughs] But were trying to work on that. CAD: Have you had the opportunity to gig or record with any European musicians? M.M.: Were going to record with Barre Phillips in May for ECM. CAD: What else is coming up for you on the recording front? M.M.: I just finished a new trio record with Randy Peterson and Ed Schuller, and I have to say Im very happy with it. Pandelis and I are putting out a new duet record, which should be out very soon. Its acoustic violin this time, and its a little different, because this time we went with all free instead of all tunes which is what we had on the first recording. The concept is similar, though. I also have a quintet record thats just coming out called Acceptance on Hat Hut. CAD: Whos on that? M.M.: Thats with Randy and Ed again, but Gary Valente on trombone and John Dirac on guitar are added. My fathers group, the Joe Maneri quartet just put out two new records, In Full Cry and Coming Down The Mountain. Mat Shipp and I are doing a duet record that should be coming out this spring, and Im doing a record with Guillermo Gregorio and Pandelis in March, which Im looking forward to, because we did one gig in Vancouver that went very well. Guillermo is a nice addition to our duet. CAD: What have you been listening to lately? M.M.: Well, I happened to catch some Palestrina this morning, but thats pretty rare. The cassette players broken in my car and the radio only gets one station, so its been mostly rap. Ive really been enjoying it.

February 15, 1998 - Boston, Massachusetts.