© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Since its inception in 2008, the editorial staff of JazzProfiles has been fortunate to have some notable Jazz musicians, authors and critics participate in interviews for these pages.
The messages in the following quotations from the author William Zinsser and the musician Lee Konitz underscore how each of these Jazz conversations were conducted.
“Get people talking. Learn to ask questions that will elicit answers about what is most interesting or vivid in their lives. Nothing so animates writing as someone telling what he thinks or what he does — in his own words.
His own words will always be better than your words, even if you are the most elegant stylist in the land. They carry the inflection of his speaking voice and the idiosyncrasies of how he puts a sentence together. They contain the regionalisms of his conversation and the lingo of his trade. They convey his enthusiasms. This is a person talking to the reader directly, not through the filter of a writer. As soon as a writer steps in, everyone else's experience becomes secondhand.
Therefore, learn how to conduct an interview.”
- From “Writing About People: The Interview” in William Zinsser's On Writing Well
“I keep thinking that it doesn't matter what tunes you play. The process is the same, and if it works then it's like a new piece, you know. And it is a fact that the better you know the song the more chances you might dare take. And so that's why Bird played a dozen tunes all his life, basically, and most of the people that were improvising — Tristano played the same dozen tunes all his life. And you know, it's amazing what depth he got. He wouldn't have gotten that otherwise, I don't think, in that particular way.
I think it's something similar to Monet painting the lily pond at all times of the day, catching the reflection of the light. I just feel with each situation I'm in, different rhythm sections or whatever, that "I'll Remember April" becomes just something else. And it is a very preferable point — that's the main thing. Everybody who knows that material knows that material pretty well—the listeners and the musicians. So they know, you can just nakedly reveal if anything's happening or not; there's no subterfuge. And that aspect of it is appealing to me, I think.”
- Lee Konitz, alto saxophone
Reasoning by analogy can be perilous, but to expand a bit on the points made by Messrs Zinsser and Konitz and perhaps better connect them to the following piece, I have more or less used the same mix of questions in my previous interviews with Jazz musicians and writers including Mike Abene, John Altman, Mike Barone, Colin Bailey, Howard Mandel, Doug Ramsey, Ted Gioia, Bill Kirchner and Gary Giddins.
This is primarily because I think the most important thing is the interview with the Jazz musician and/or writer itself.
To put it another way, “it doesn’t matter what tunes you play,” what is important is that the questions asked become a vehicle for the Jazz musician and/or author to share their special vision about the music and its makers.
Metaphorically, the interview questions become the theme and chords over which the Jazz interviewee improvises in the form of the musings, reflections and explanations.
In a sense, interview questions become a point of departure to help them express “what is most interesting or vivid in their lives” on the subject of Jazz.
Between now and the end of the year, JazzProfiles will be reposting a number of these the Jazz conversations.
This will afford you the opportunity to read them again or for the first time and the editorial staff with a break to take some time off at the holidays.
Best wishes to one and all for an enjoyable and safe holiday season filled with love, peace and good health and thank you for your continuing support of our efforts on behalf of Jazz and its makers.