Issue # 137, INTERVIEW with Brooke Sofferman
This INTERVIEW was originally published in issue # 40 of my magazine, based on the CD (cover) shown below – Brooke’s playing was high-energy & it immediately struck a note with me – needless to say, I touched bases with him right away to get a few words from him about his playing, projects, etc.
Zzaj: Brooke, many of your compositions/arrangements seem (to me) to hearken back to the early years of bop, while harmonically and rhythmically, you encompass futuristic elements … who are your “heroes” in jazz (or is/should there be such a thing)?
BROOKE: Thanks….there are definitely “jazz heroes” and I think that there should be. These icons are what drive musicians and composers like myself to strive to attain “greatness.” Whether or not we attain it, is less important, it’s the journey which is invaluable. Players such as Miles, Trane, Parker, Gillespie, Powell, Monk and the list could go on and on, influence us all, and drive us to be at the top of our game. Drummer-wise, I started with Jimmy Cobb, Philly Joe Jones, Ed Thigpen and Art Taylor, then moved on to Elvin, Roy Haynes, and then onto Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette . Two composers that greatly influence my writing are Dave Holland, for his bass lines, rhythmic excursions and singable melodies, and Wayne Shorter, for his haunting melodies and harmonic genius.
Zzaj: This magazine (Improvijazzation Nation) has had an interest in poetry/spoken word since it started in 1988. Who wrote the poetry on your CD, “Modesty’s Odyssey”? What’s your take on the mixing of words & music?
BROOKE: Very cool….I actually wrote everything on the CD, including the compositions, arrangements and lyrics. Writing has always been another love of mine, and I used to write a lot of poetry and lyrics for various rock bands I’ve been in over the years. This was my first poetic outlet in a few years, and I was glad I got the chance to write a couple of vocal tunes for the CD. Mixing words with music in jazz, can be a touchy subject for some. Personally, I think of it just as I do with instrumental music; it’s either good, or bad. Some believe that jazz is, and should remain, a language void of actual speech, a language that is understood world-wide. I disagree. The birth of jazz was spawned by work songs and chants, both of which were vocal, so how can we deny the element of words in jazz?
Zzaj: .mp3 and web-based music seems to be really catching on these days. Where do you think that trend will/should take us?
BROOKE: MP3 seems to be a link to the future of music, whether I like it or not. I like LP jackets as much as the next person, but web-based music distribution seems to be where things are headed. My CD is available at dozens of online outlets like CDNow and Amazon, (check http://www.iuma.com/IUMA/Bands/Sofferman,_Brooke/for a complete list) and the sales online, outweigh the retail national sales. Also, all of the promotion and reviews I’ve received have been accomplished via email. The web is here to stay.
Zzaj: Your relationship with the members of the “Abby & Norm Group” must be pretty solid (since many of them were on the album)… how/where/when did that all come about?
BROOKE: I met Abby and Norm at the New England Conservatory of Music, when they were doing their Masters and I was finishing my Bachelors degree. (I stayed at NEC for my Masters degree as well) We met while in Bob Moses’ ensemble. (A drummer/composer genius) Abby & Norm were looking for a new drummer for their group, and we really hit it off immediately. The following year, we recorded their CD “The Book of Norman, ” and continued to play consistently. We now play a few times a month at the historic “Wally’s Jazz Club.” When I was thinking of my own CD, they both were the first on my mind, and I knew they would be perfect for Modesty’s Odyssey. We are recording their new CD at the end of March, so keep your eyes peeled.
Zzaj: A focus of this magazine is clearly on independent, home-produced music. I have produced a lot of music myself, some of it quite good, some of it (the really early stuff) perhaps not quite so… what advice would you offer our readers who produce their own music?
BROOKE: Record yourself as much as humanly possible. Listening to your playing, especially live recordings, is the best learning tool imaginable. Hearing yourself on tape, will give you a great perspective of the groups total sound, and your place in it. It teaches you to hear things as an ensemble when your playing, and to be more sensitive to the overall sound.
Zzaj: What are your aspirations for your music? B-I-G label? Indie production? Somewhere in between? Tours?
BROOKE: Obviously, if Warner Bros. comes knocking, I wouldn’t say no, but there are great benefits to having your own label. No overhead costs, so BS, just the artists working hard, to promote their own music. Modesty’s Odyssey is distributed nationally by NorthCountry Distributors and online by the Orchard. The internet is making it possible to compete with all the big boys and gals, as we mentioned earlier. I’ve already done some touring, and plan to tour some with my group to support the release of the CD. That info will be posted on my website.
Zzaj: What would you say to those who (sometimes) say that “jazz is dead”?
BROOKE: I stepped on it this morning, and it kicked me in the ass so hard, I’d have trouble believing that was rigor mortis setting in. Seriously, the only thing dead about jazz, is the name. Jerry Bergonzi and I chatted about this very subject at a coffee house a couple of weeks ago. He said, “Jazz is a dead term, it doesn’t accurately describe the music you and I play……we mind as well call it “ZAP Music.” He’s right, when someone says jazz, a heckler in the back almost invariably groans. The music I write is greatly influenced by jazz and improvised music, but calling it jazz, seems to confuse people. The word jazz has been attached to so many different kinds of music, that the term seems ridiculously vague.
Zzaj: Do you play other types of music (besides jazz)? What about free-form improvised music? What are your thoughts on that?
BROOKE: Most of the freelancing I do, are jazz gigs, but I love playing it all. I’ve played in a dozen rock bands, a hip-hop group, a latin big-band, Broadway musicals, klezmer, North Indian, etc. I used to play in a group in Boston called “Wet Street” which was a free-improv based group. I love creating on a blank palette, or with little outlines or guidelines. That’s where a musician can draw from all of his/her experiences, and create music without a life-preserver. Speaking of heroes, the Boston-based group “the Fringe” is an unbelievable group in that genre. (George Garzone, Bob Gullotti and John Lockwood) I’ve been fortunate enough to play with Lockwood and Garzone in and around Boston, and realized this: It doesn’t matter if you are playing burning free-jazz at some smokey dive, or improvising polkas at a Presidential Benefit, when you are on that level of playing, everything sounds good, and everything swings.
Zzaj: Your own drum playing seems really focussed, & (somehow) “crisper” than many jazz drummers I’ve listened to. Where does all that energy come from? I mean, in the sense of a “universal music”… or do you believe the “source” is totally on the inside of a musician?
BROOKE: Thanks again. I like being called “crispy!” Aside from physically controlling the placement of my notes, using certain drums and cymbals to propel the music, while laying back on others to create a deeper groove, there are other elements involved. I’m not religious at all, but I do believe there is some sort of plane, that we as musicians, can tap into. I imagine it as a level of the atmosphere, that some people rise up into, for inspiration. I’ve experienced it many times, where the music feels so good, you are actually transported outside your body in a way, and you are just on auto-pilot. Partially it can be the inspiration of the other musicians you are playing with, but it also can seem outer-worldly. Sometimes my compositions will take off and practically write themselves, finishing them in 10-15 minutes. The inspiration seems to come from a collective greatness, that I’m sure applies to all fields of life. I’m sure you’ve been writing some music or a feature or review, and the words just flowed out, without any thought, as if you were but a bystander. It’s the same plane of consciousness.
Zzaj: My own belief is that music should be “fun”, or it isn’t really music. Of course, I can get away with that, because I’m not a “fully trained” musician… give us your insights on how important musical training is to success as a musician (please), & any other advice you might have for aspiring musicians?
BROOKE: If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it. Teaching kids has taught me that. If music is all exercises, scales, and etudes, the spirit of music is smothered. It would be like kicking a ball into a wall all day, and never actually getting out there on the field with other kids to play a game. That brings up another thought. Playing with other musicians is the best learning experience you’ll ever have. Sure, it’s important to practice by yourself, to learn the musical language and concepts, but even more importantly, use the skills and musical language in conversations with other musicians. Playing with people of a higher level, will kick your butt, (in a good way) and you will learn from their expertise. Playing with people of a lower level can be equally beneficial. In helping them, you will better understand. Education never hurt anyone, who was armed with staff paper.