Below is our interview with the amazing Paul Hanson.
This interview was conducted on Sunday, December 6 at 11AM in Paul’s home.
Interview Audio (Podcast)
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Anthony: Hi, this is Anthony from MakeWeirdMusic.com. I’m here with Paul Hanson. Paul, part of the mission of the site is to help musicians discover other great musicians who are doing new and different things. So, you’re a perfect candidate. Why don’t you tell us about yourself, a little of your musical history, and how you ended up where you are today.
Paul: Okay, well, to make it short… Yes, I guess I’m best known as a bassoon player (this instrument right here). Outside of classical music, I’d say jazz, fusion, funk, world music, contemporary classical music… I started at Berkeley as a high school student playing saxophone in jazz groups and bassoon in classical.
Somehow Jimi Hendrix turned my head around and I started to think, “What is this great instrument that has all these great possibilities and different things it can do? Why can’t I go on stage and play with the band?” So, that’s kind of led to this. I have a career doing unusual music and I’d say unusual for the instrument.
A: Tell us about that. What about your music is unusual for the bassoon?
P: Well, usually bassoonists don’t improvise and they don’t amplify. It’s a classical instrument and a very classical in the sense that you’re very complementary in most performances. You are a supportive in a kind of mesh of an orchestra. You’re right between the high instruments and the low instruments. You’re kind of in the middle. You’re very homogenized as an orchestral bassoonist. As a chamber music instrument, usually you hear them in Vivaldi or something like concerto grosso . You hear the soloist. In the bass part, you’ll hear basses, bassoons, harpsichords playing continuo.
What I do that’s unusual is playing contemporary music. I play jazz, I’m pretty accomplished as a musician on this instrument in that style of music. So, you memorize tunes. Most bassoon players don’t do that. What you’re doing is you play in an orchestra, you play in a chamber ensemble, that kind of thing, and you certainly don’t play with drummers or guitar players. That’s usually what I’d call the unique thing that I do.
A: Can you tell us how you ended up bridging the gap from playing bassoon in a chamber or orchestra ensemble …
P: Yeah, well, this is the thing that’s where you’re young, you’re headstrong, you have all these ideas, and sometimes later in life you wonder: “Hmm… Did I really have to get that stubborn?” People have said, “You couldn’t do it [Play jazz on bassoon]. You’re not supposed to do that.” My teacher in conservatory was a fantastic teacher, I used to look up to him. I still look up to him today. When I had some lessons with him, I would be improvising in the lesson. He’d pop his head out when he was getting his coffee or something and say, “What’s that you’re playing?” I’d say, “Well, I just made it up.” And this happened all the time.
Every [jazz] instrument you play, you have an improvising tradition. I grew up in Berkeley, went to Berkeley High, was in the jazz band there. It was a very well-known jazz program in the 1970s. I thought everybody improvised. You make up things, you play with people, it’s part of making music. So, when I found out that that’s not at all what the tradition’s about [on bassoon]…
And also at the time, I hadn’t gotten some of the things I was looking for in classical music as a young person. I was very into Beethoven string quartets and very Romantic amazing music. Cellos were playing and at that time I didn’t see much music like that on the bassoon, although there was and it wasn’t hitting me yet.
So, I thought, “You know, I just want to go out there and play with somebody.” It was something like, “Wow, no one’s ever done that.” I felt that this was something I could do and I enjoyed doing it. It wasn’t that hard to me, to a certain extent. I realized there was a lot of work involved, of course, but it was just a challenge to say, “Wow, this could be something that I love. It’s fun because nobody’s done this.”
Also, I had a friend who was playing in the band who could play just about every instrument and the one instrument I knew he was never going to play was bassoon, so I said, “You know what? I’ll do the thing he can’t do.” It’s just the challenge that “something hasn’t happened on this instrument.” That’s kind of what I did.
A: What led to it becoming something you could do to make money?
P: Well, you start playing with people. Some of those very friends–they were young musicians, we had a band, people started hearing about me and networking when I was younger (I was probably a better networker then)–I was playing saxophone in many other bands, too. I also play tenor and alto saxophones. “You should hear this guy on bassoon.” And I’d say, “Oh sure, I’ll bring it down and hook it up.” Then, “Oh, it sounds good!” once I started playing the parts.
I started playing in Latin bands, salsa bands, Latin jazz. People enjoyed the sound of the instrument, not just as a soloist instrument, but also in a section in how it blends. That kept leading to different things. I played with a group called Peter Apfelbaum ’s Hieroglyphics Ensemble. We made a few records for Island Records back in the early 1990s. They were a pretty big band in the Bay Area at the time. I had a forum to play with them.
I made a transition–a conscious decision–to go after it. It sometimes would involve going to jam sessions or going to a place where people would invite you to play and I’d bring my bassoon and they’d say, “What the hell is that thing?” And just the weirdest faces and you’re hoping that you sound right and they’re going to hear the instrument. I had a few forums when I was younger to get better, including a steady jazz gig where I played bassoon as well as sax. I alternated on the point of being a saxophone player who also plays bassoon versus a bassoon player who also plays sax. So, I just put myself in that position. Things had to work.
Back 25 years ago, I guess fusion music was more prevalent. You could play in local clubs doing it more often. Now it’s a long local level. It’s musician music, so it’s never been something that the numbers are too big, unless you’re playing the smooth jazz stuff, which is a different kind of feel. So, we’re playing at Yoshi’s , in a band with some friends twice a month, I think. Nowadays, you wouldn’t be able to play as a local group that often. It was more of a local club at the time. Getting better, listening to people. I was getting paid there.
I was also getting paid as part of a group called the Paul Dresher Ensemble. Paul Dresher is a musician who went to San Diego State or University of San Diego… He’s kind of more of a contemporary person, like John Adams , Steve Reich , kind of that style. Minimalist , but really good stuff. It wasn’t minimalist to the point of 15 minutes of the same thing over and over again. It was a modified minimalism.
I was in the Paul Dresher Ensemble group from 1991 to 2002 and during that time, that’s what I did. Each one of us in that group had a lot of things to pull from. I was an electric bassoonist, so I had effects on the floor and the rack, and a mixer, and we had someone conducting, we had a MIDI clock. We had the whole thing worked out and we did a bunch of touring and we went to Japan. We went all over the United States. There was a great production called Ravenshead, which is a single person opera, which won the best new opera of 1998, I think, by USA Today. So, it was a really great group for a long time. That was something that was making money.
That also helped me at the time to continue to focus on playing with other people. As I played saxophone for many years in an acid jazz group in the 1990s playing tenor, I also had this bassoon thing going. I got signed to a record contract with a Japanese jazz label called Moo Records out of Winnetka, California, I think. Sold a bunch of records. Did a record with Peter Erskine , Brian Bromberg , David Garibaldi .
I had a band here and we started playing Bulgarian music , believe it or not. I was playing clarinet in a group called the Klezmorim . We were touring Europe all the time and we were really fascinated by the crazy wedding band music that you saw on the David Sanborn show. The Bulgarian crazy stuff. It was three clarinetists, a tuba player, and David Garibaldi.
A: The drummer from Tower of Power ?
P: Yeah. I know him very well. He’s on at least two or three of my records. We used to have a band together. David and I, Norbert Stachel (a fantastic session player who lives in New York now), I think Peter Horvath was in it. A bunch of people. This was kind of the fusion period here.
We had really great gigs and somebody approached me after one of our gigs and said, “I think I can get you a recording contract.” It was Otmaro Ruiz , the great pianist who used to play with Arturo Sandoval , Dianne Reeves and all kinds of people. He’s a fantastic musician and he was the one who got me signed. So, I had a four or five record deal with him, or something like that, back when record deals happened. They were released in Japan and we got to be released over here.
I entered a competition and was chosen to be part of this international jazz competition. I won the grand prize of a woodwinds competition playing the best woodwind jazz of 1995 or something like that. It was my record and it was really nice. I was playing locally, doing all kinds of different things. To kind of give you the whole story as it goes, there was always money involved. Nowadays you have to pay to do records, but back then, they had budgets. So, I got budgets, I got royalties and all that kind of stuff. It got played and I got paid to do those albums.
So, between that and local gigs, playing with the Paul Dresher Ensemble, occasional classical gigs, which I hardly ever did and I still don’t do very much, saxophone work, that’s how I got through. Long answer, huh?
A: You kind of just inserted the fact that you were doing acid jazz stuff with the amplified bassoon…
P: I did a little bit. I was more of a saxophone player because I was always in a band called What It Is. I played with Charlie Hunter a little bit. It was a big scene around here at that time. A lot of things going on in the Bay Area. There was a group called James T… What was it called? I can’t remember the name of it. [NOTE: It was called T.J. Kirk ] A band that combined James Brown and Thelonius Monk together. Will Bernard , Charlie Hunter, and I still play with John Schott . He was actually involved in the gig on the small poster [points behind himself]. A Jewish music event. So, I did a little of that back then.
Basically, I’d just show up with my gear. I had a little more gear than I have now. And I wiped out the audience, I guess, by playing bassoon with a harmonizer , effects, and stuff like that. It’s just like, “What the hell is that?” Often it was good. Earlier story… I was in the New England Conservatory . I had a little Wollensak reel to reel tape recorder that had the greatest preamp in the world. It was like, “Whoa, this sounds so great.” You know… Tubes.
I had an old Roland Jazz Chorus amp, which I still have. I put the microphone down my bassoon, completely down in here [points to the basson about 16 inches from the top soundhole], which you’re not supposed to do. I put it in the Wollensak and put it in the amp and just shredded in the practice rooms. They said later on that people used to line up three deep trying to figure out what the hell was going on in there. Of course I didn’t have any real ability on it. I was just flailing, but it was fun. Some things were good, but that was back in 1980 or 1981.
In the mid 1990s, it was kind of when the fusion thing kind of stopped happening. It wasn’t as poppy. It had this kind of new acid jazz thing, so there had to be some authenticness, like it had to sound like older school kind of guys. So, all that bassoon stuff… Acid jazz was more saxophone stuff and I would say the more contemporary–I don’t know, it was kind of a combination of things. For bands I never played bassoon in, some bands I just played sax. But, it was kind of a mix.
A: Were you influenced by anyone in particular? Or was this kind of your own trailblazing thing?
P: Oh yeah. A lot of people influenced me. As a horn player, there’s all kinds of great jazz soloists like Charlie Parker , John Coltrane , Dexter Gordon , Miles Davis , many people who made beautiful phrases. The bassoon is a beautiful phrasing instrument, actually. It’s not a noodling shredding instrument. I do some of that kind of stuff, but it’s really about making a phrase and singing.
The bassoon is really about singing voice. Coming up with phrases that stick. So, those were influences to me. I say Bach is a big influence, of course. He is for a lot of people.
Hendrix was a huge influence because, when I say Hendrix, it’s because there’s things that a bassoon–you’re playing in one kind of key that sounds very much like–you can bend notes because it’s got things like… You have holes and you can partially cover them and you can do things with multiphonics that are kind of mistakes. You can hit more than one note at once and they sound mellow on this instrument as opposed to grating. You can kind of slide them down, you can do things that sound like whammy pedal stuff. Also, you can play bass lines and you can play high up, to a certain degree. That’s what kind of got me going.
It just sounds like a really bizarre marriage there, but it works out that way for some reason. E is a fantastic key to play on bassoon. E minor just is great. It’s the guitar player key. So, it was funny because I play a lot of guitar player keys. “You’re a horn player. I thought you play Bb and Eb.” “No no. That’s fine I can do everything. Go for your guitar keys. Fine.”
All kinds of things are musically interesting to me. I just had a drive to continue to work and play and certain people heard me and they wanted me to play. Like Paul McCandless had me play on a record in the early 1990s, I think. He had heard me on Steve Cardenas . Steve Cardenas is a great guitar player from New York. Great jazz player. Fantastic. He plays with tons of people. I’m not sure who exactly at the moment. He was recording my first album for the Japanese jazz record label.
He was playing his tape, because back then there were cassettes, on a tour with Paul McCandless and Paul McCandless heard it and said, “Who is that?” And Paul McCandless is, you know, a great oboist. So, he had invited me not only to get to the connection with the International Double Reed Society , which is a society that puts on conventions. I was able to go in 1995 to play in Holland and play jazz with the rhythm section there and play for bassoonists and oboists and that was a real big event because people hadn’t really heard anything like that.
I’ve always had a relationship with them since then. I do workshops and master classes and I know a lot of bassoon teachers and stuff. That world has gotten me involved. And, like anybody, when someone hears you, they can help you, you owe a lot to them. Paul introduced me to the Flecktones .
After playing a casual one day, I went to the Warfield here or something like that. I sat in with the Flecktones, I think, in 1998 and then 1999. Then I also ended up working with the drummer, Future Man . He had a little orchestra playing bizarre, microtonal music . It was funky, but it was microtonal and I had to come up with new fingerings and stuff like that. He’s something else. He’s a fantastic musician, but he’s on a different plane of reality.
I was in Nashville quite a bit, playing with people there. There’s a lot of great musicians down there. It’s a very different feel, in some ways, than here in California because the cost of living is nowhere near. Through hook and by crook, I think I was playing at the NAMM show in 1999. Things developed and then they asked me to play in the band. So, I played for a few years off and on with Paul, me, Andy Narell , and a Tuvan throat singer, Kongar-Ol . There’s videos of that, there’s all kinds of stuff from that. That was a big moment. I’m talking so much.
A: That’s the point! I want to hear you! No one wants to hear me. You’ve worked with a lot of amazing artists. Jonas Hellborg , Béla Fleck , and I love how you’re kind of casual about, “Well, this led to another thing.” Are people attracted to when they hear the bassoon? They say, “I’ve never heard anything like this before,” and they reach out to you?
P: Yeah. It happens a lot. It doesn’t happen quite as much anymore because I’m not as young and I’m not as active going out to play with people. And I was gone a long time with Cirque du Soleil . I was in a show of theirs. So, the period after the Flecktones… One of the things that I say to any musician is, “Do you ever feel like you’ve ever made it?” Because you never do. You’ve always got to keep making it.
Playing with the Flecktones was always kind of a dream I never imagined. I kind of hoped, but I never thought it would get to that point. But, it actually did. So, when it happens, the reward is not the fact that you got there. The reward is the fact that you get a chance to continue to do that. So, I had some different projects after that point. There’s a band called Zenith Patrol I was in, made a couple of records. One’s on Bandcamp, I think, called VU. The drummer from Mars Volta ’s on it, Thomas Pridgen . He’s a fantastic drummer.
So, there’s a period there where I found the right thing to capitalize on that. And we had kids at that point. A good friend of mine who’s in Nashville , from here but in Nashville, had gotten an audition with a really unique company at the time. This was 10 years ago. He told me about it and he said, “You should probably audition for them. You might find yourself.”
So I went to Los Angeles. This was after playing with Jonas Hellborg. We’d played together with Jeff Sipe . Jonas had a thing with Shawn Lane , the great guitar player. I wasn’t supposed to–there’s no way you can replace someone like that. Nobody can replace him. But, they wanted something new, something different.
We tried for a little while. We didn’t go on for too long. We made one record, but it was very organic working with Jonas. Improvisation-based. I had all my effects going. And Jeff, I did a few things with Jeff Sipe. I think Jeff Coffin was involved with one of the things. We had a little trio. There’s a record out there, a few YouTube clips. That happened for a little while, 2003-2004, I guess.
I was also playing with a band called Davka , which a lot of people don’t know about, which is a sort of Middle Eastern, Jewish-but-yet-Palestinian music kind of thing. Beautiful music from the Middle East. A cellist named Moses Sedler who lives here and went to Ali Akbar Khan School of Music . Daniel Hoffman , a fantastic violinist, a guy who lives in Israel. Kevin Mummey , who’s our dumbek player. Now he teaches history in Minnesota. And me.
So, we had kind of thing going on here, where this is a great area to be part of creating music at the time. It still is, even though it’s not like it used to be. There’s a bunch of different things I was playing bassoon in. I also taught music down at Ithaca School of Music for a year. I was a bassoon professor. They needed somebody to take over for a colleague of mine, so I did. It was great fun.
I was thinking of going more into education, too. When you have a family, it changes a lot of things in a good way and also makes it so you have to make more money. Sometimes things could be really great for a while when you’re a unique instrumentalist, but it’s not like everyone’s looking for one of these in a band. If there was! That’s not the way it is. You have to create all your stuff. YouTube’s starting, Facebook, all this stuff. You have to figure out how you’re going to market yourself and you’re getting older and stuff.
So, about 2004, I auditioned for Cirque, went down to LA did some blowout, I don’t know what I did… Improvised with loops and effects and crazy playing. I also had my tenor. So, I did a combination of things and then I got cast for a show about 10 years ago. It was a great experience. Both shows were great. The first show was called Saltimbanco , where I played tenor, alto, soprano, EWI , keyboards, percussion, and bassoon.
And they never had a bassoon in there. They had a horrible MIDI bassoon part. So I played it. There’s a picture on one of my Facebook pages of all of my instruments. It was crazy. It was a fantastic show. We’d play on the side when we had time. We were playing 380 shows a year, just an amazing amount of shows.
It was great because you have benefits. If you’re a reesponsible adult and you have kids, you have to have healthcare for the whole family and everything like that. You’d get massages every week as part of the deal. They treat you really well. The show they had me in mind for was on bassoon primarily in a show called Zed , which was in Tokyo.
A beautiful story. No one even knows about it. There’s a DVD or something out about it. It’s a fantastic show that should have really had more of a chance out here. It was supposed to be in Disneyland in California, but they balked. Land owners in Tokyo, that Disney, wanted it. Called Oriental Land Company , it’s a 400 year old land company with oodles of money. So, they bought the show and made a theater. The theater cost $100 million and so here I am moving to Japan, my daughter’s 6, my son’s 3.
My wife, she has an orchestral career as well as working at the place she works. She left that, it’s incredible. It was tough for her to do that, but she did and we lived in Japan for four years. It was an amazing experience. I played on the side.
We had a group called Mean Green . It was me, Ableton –our friend Ableton–and a guitarist, Patrick Kelly, our drummer, Ron Wagner . There’s a few videos. We never made any albums, but we had some fun. We had no time to record. We were just working 5 or 6 days a week. That kind of put a dent in my career. I’d been signed, I had a record on Abstract Logix records called Frolic in the Land of Plenty .
A: I love that album.
P: Me too. They had a whole promotional campaign made, just like what you’d want from a record label. It doesn’t trump a really big job, so I took the job. I wouldn’t say I regret it because it was a great experience being over there and a great country to live in, an incredible cultural experience, doing good for the family…
It was great, but it was an interesting time. People who were just all about the music said, “How could you have gone to work for a circus?” Well, you know, a lot of money and great treatment really go a long way, and at the same time there were some really great musicians. We got to play on the side and do other things. I played with a great painter who does things with Vinnie Colaiuta … Tom Reyes . He’s a fantastic freeform painter. There’s a few video clips of us on YouTube and we’re throwing down doing some great stuff.
A: That’s great.
P: Long answers. Sorry.
A: Please make them as long as necessary. You also write original music. How did that start?
P: I always wrote my own music. I always liked the idea of being a composer, but for the jazz records I did, it was important that I wrote music because they wanted original stuff. I don’t have much piano skills, but I hear the kind of things I wanted to play.
I worked with other musicians and there’s something that develops over time from hearing things that you like that kind of come into ideas of your own. You see where things go. Sometimes things’ll be written on an instrument, sometimes things’ll just be written in your head without any drum machine or loop or tempo or something like that. I don’t even know how it starts. Creativity is so hard to figure out how. Something that can be sung…
I always like melodies that can be sung. I like intricacy and stuff, but melodies that can be sung are the best for me. I don’t even know how, in terms of the composition. I just listen to people, study a few things.
When I was in school I studied Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and how they were put together. The form is amazing! These forms were not improvising, but it’s kind of like a tuning session where everyone’s playing and jamming together and then break off for a few bars. Nothing’s 8, 8, 8, 8. Everything’s 5, 2, 3, and then 1. Different ways of getting around things. It’s really fascinating how that basically grew bass music because Bach has a groove to it. It’s consistent. It’s not romantic music where you stop and hold. It’s, of course, not a judgment, but the truth of the matter.
[Noise heard in the background.]
Every time we do something down here, I can always tell my son’s there because there’s always sound coming down. Something dropping down the stairs…
A: My kids are 4, 6, and 8.
P: Oh how fun! They’re a barrel of monkeys .
P: It’s great. It’s cool. He used to play drums. Hopefully he’ll play more at some point. There’s a video of us playing Unchained by Van Halen . He’s playing drums and I’m on guitar. That was my first instrument, actually, it was the guitar. I have a Strat over there. So, I’d pick up the guitar, put things together, and think “Oh, this sounds cool.” I’d work out a guitar part. I had a duo with a guitarist who tried to figure out things and I’m trying to figure out…
It helps to have it in your hands to figure out how you can cover as much as you can so you know what you’re giving the person to play. “Don’t just strum something.” I guess with composition it’s hard to determine. It’s just part of creativity and part of–I think less something you want to play over as much as something you just feel should be written down because it feels nice to play.
There’s some new things we’re working on. I did some solo albums last year for Blue Coast Records and there’s a few things on there that are based on little loops I set up on bassoon and looped myself on top of it and then I play something over it. Actually, Oon , we’re going to be doing a version of one of those tunes at least. Some new things coming out. Working on a bunch of different things.
I don’t know. It’s so hard to describe the creative process, but it’s different than improvising. It’s more permanent. It feels more like you’re chipping away at the marble until you see the sculpture there.
A: And you use Ableton?
P: I have. I use mainly Logic . I’m mainly into Logic. I use Ableton a little bit. Ableton is just so dense. It’s incredible. The guys out there that are great loopers make great use of it. It’s just like, “My God!”
One of my favorite bands is Knower . You know Knower? Oh, you gotta hear these guys. The drummer is fantastic. He does everything and I guess his girlfriend or wife sings. They’re fantastic. Tim LeFebvre ’s played with them some. I’m just horrible at remembering things at the time, but I’m sure you’ve heard them. They do amazing covers, people on YouTube.
A: Like Dirty Loops ?
P: A little bit like Dirty Loops in the harmonic sense, but more techno because there’s only two people. They did a really good one of Get Happy. I can’t remember if that’s the name of the tune. Not Happy, not the big hit. Not Pharrell, but something earlier that he did. Get Lucky !
They did a great job of that. Some other Elaine Goulding stuff. Is that her name? Elena Goulding? Something like that. I can find them and you should check them out. Just ridiculous. They’re based in LA. He plays that “push” thing. The grid and he is just ridiculous and fantastic. Making great music, pop, very harmonically–oh my God, just incredible.
Dirty Loops is just another fantastic group. Just incredible. So, I don’t get to that level with the stuff yet. I’ve thought about it when I did things with my friend in Ableton, but it was very simple. We have some parts to play along with our song that we don’t want a whole band for. We just use it for parts of the tune.
We never got in as much as you could. But since Ableton is so in use in a lot of the shows these days, like Cirque, it came natural to use it as a tool for us. We put some crazy sounds in there once in a while when we’d get to a section where a drummer hits a trigger and there goes a crazy sound. Something where you use technology to your advantage. Similar to using pedals to create chords or something like that.
A: What is your process like? You used Logic, but what does that mean to you?
P: I use Logic basically in composing. Like, if I want to use, for example, something I’m writing–I’ve been commissioned (of all things, someone asked for this) on SoundCloud. Basically, it’s got a drum loop or some kind of drum percussion kind of a thing, effected bassoons, and some kind of bass line. A lot of my stuff is techno-oriented or influenced, I’d say. So, I would never call myself anywhere near the league of people who are doing that stuff these days. They’ve really got their stuff down.
But, it’s all a tool. It’s in my mind that even if I put these crude little–to me, the quality is okay, it’s just some laptop right there, I just spit it out, and it’s entertaining to people because I play the bassoon and I play with effects, sometimes in Logic or something like that…
You know, little tunes that have melodies, me playing over it, things that I can do in there. It’s a process that I use. So, we had something in Japan where I played a tune that was on Frolic in the Land of Plenty. I had to put bassoon loops into Ableton. I was playing the keyboard part on the bassoon, looping this really crazy part and there’s no way to play it at the same time with the melody on the bassoon, so I had multiple bassoons in Ableton at certain times to come in for certain parts of the tune. It was just a great tool like that.
I guess you could have put it on the floor in some kind of device, too, but Ableton is king of all that stuff. In Logic, it’s just stuff for writing. Sometimes I take advantage of the processing that’s there. I take advantage of it just to get some ideas out and some things as well as a person like a do-it-yourself-er can engineer that will just sort of work.
But someone asked me to commission a piece for bassoon and electronic. So, electronic-based driven music with loops. What I’m hoping to do is take somebody–once I’m done with the piece–to remix the sounds and spruce it up so it’s really–I know some people who are very good with sound quality ideas. They can help with that stuff.
A: Do you lay down tracks without using structure? Like, do you set tempo, do you set the key, do you compose…
P: I don’t just improvise, but I think in my idea, “Oh, this’d be really cool.” I get the nugget and I know where I can kind of go after that. Like right now, this guy was asking for a particular tune that had some things he liked about aspects of my music. So, I came up with something similar to what he’s thinking, I think, and he digs it.
I had kind of a very academic thought, “Oh, it’s this kind of piece. I’ll put a very academic-sounding 12-tone thing in the beginning.” And he didn’t like it, which is totally cool. I didn’t like it either. So, it doesn’t have to be “academic,” it just has to be music. Just thinking of the things I like to hear, really cool stuff out there, like the Knowers of the world.
When I say “Knower,” it sounds like I’m saying “nowhere,” but I mean Knower and Dirty Loops and these people with really advanced harmonic senses with very singable melody and they take advantage of all the advanced harmonic trainings out there. Plus all the different sounds that are out there with the techno stuff, which is really incredible. Drum and bass , all the different styles. My son likes a lot of video game music.
A: Oh, yeah. Like the 8-bit techno music?
P: All kinds of different stuff. I’m doing an approximation because I don’t have the world’s most incredible studio. It’s kind of embarrassing there’s this amazing sound out there and I’m just using this laptop. It’s amazing how many things in this world, that’s what it is. It’s kinda scary. Might as well get in there too and share.
A: As a person who plays a very unique instrument like the bassoon, is there a part of your identity that says, “I want to be that guy that’s different?” Has there always been a spirit in there…
P: Yes, for sure. I could have made it a lot easier on myself in some ways by just following the rules. I was very talented as a classical bassoon player. I could definitely see it all coming where I’d be in a section playing the parts of people that I know, doing what they’re doing…
I should have taken advantage of that stuff at the time as it was happening, but when you’re young and you’re about the music, for some reason, there’s just something in you wanting to do something different. I was also playing back in the mid-80s. I was playing a lot of saxophone. I still do, but not nearly as much as I did back then. I played with Eddie Money . Take Me Home Tonight , there’s a big solo in that. That’s me. So, last year, I started to get, “Where’d these royalties come from?” Then I thought, “Oh, that’s right! Yeah.” Because they didn’t used to report these types of performances as anything you could get a royalty for, but I got something for some kind of subsect of a guild or something.
But, yeah, I played with him, I played with Boz Scaggs , I did a whole bunch of things as a professional horn player. It’s just the kind of thing where I thought, “Well, let’s see what kinds of things you can do with this instrument.” By the 1990s, I started making a decision, “You could be like everybody else or…. Why don’t I at least try this?” I enjoyed it. I enjoyed playing the bassoon in a different way. It just felt…
The thrill you get from the sound of an instrument you really like to play and playing with other people that inspire you and matching their intensity or being a part of it is a great feeling. When I say “match intention,” I mean in a co-mingling way that creates this huge, big thing that everybody’s getting something from.
It’s a great feeling, you know. Of course, I love being part of a team also. It’s not just about me, I don’t want it to be just me me me me me. I want to be part of a collaboration with other people. And in situations where we’re bringing something great together. That can happen all the time.
I was part of the SF Jazz here in the city as part of the Duke Ellington 50th Anniversary performance of his Sacred Music , which is amazing music. Back in the 1960s, jazz was not thought of academically at all. It was still “bastard music” kind of. It had gotten further, but when they tried to get art endowments to try fund it, they totally turned Ellington down. Duke Ellington! They turned him down!
Now, jazz is a totally different type of music. It’s very–I wouldn’t say well-endowed, but it’s become more like classical music where you have endowments and you have the whole funding apparatus going on. A lot of things happen.
So, this time we played, I guess this was September, a totally different situation. I was playing bassoon in that group. It was a group of fantastic musicians. Miguel Zenón and some other SF Jazz people in a really supportive role. I was just playing a section, but again when you’re part of something really big, you get that feeling, you get the chills in your back, you’re part of something.
That’s kind of where you want to be as a musician. Adding to, not subtracting from. Why not try to take the plunge and do something to the instrument that brings something else out? That’s kind of what happened.
Along the way I found that there were more people before me that were trying to do certain similar kind of things. Lindsay Cooper , some other bassoon players that I found out were jazz musicians. I know of a few right now. Like the woman in Moulettes of all things, you know. Awesome! Awesome to see them out there playing! I’m always hearing from people all over the place, like, “Whoa, I’m a really big fan of yours. Thank you for influencing me!” That’s surreal.
A: Did it ever go wrong? Did you bring the bassoon and people go, “What is he doing?”
P: I’ve had a couple of times where it went wrong where I just didn’t get the sound right or something like that. A couple times, you know. Sometimes it has gone wrong when you try to overthink it too much. If you don’t hear it loud enough, it’s like, “Well, nice but…” You gotta hear the bassoon loud enough over the group.
Sometimes you have to orchestrate it when you’re playing with a whole bunch of other instruments. You have to find that right volume level where you can be present, you can hear the whole instrument. Sometimes people think they hear you playing, but it’s just a background voice and they don’t really hear it. But, you know, it hasn’t gone wrong in quite a while. Any musician has good or bad days, I think.
A: So you’ve learned to evolve your voice and to adapt to musical contexts in a way that people probably go, “That’s great.” You’ve crossed several genres.
P: The biggest thing that happens, and it’s not really a reward, but it’s part of it… People just play with me because they play music a certain way. It’s not about, “Oh, it’s on a bassoon.” I guess part of it is that, but they don’t know that the instrument is not designed to do that at all. They just go, “Oh, that sounds really good!” It sounds like any horn player.
Many people will sometimes say, “Great sax playing!” If you’re just duplicating what a saxophone has done, maybe it’s not the job. That’s why I go for all the different sounds. I go for techno stuff, more acoustic things sometimes. I try to find something that reflects on this instrument in a way that “this is really what it is.”
As I get older, the biggest thing is… You know Oon, this musical group I have a CD of for you. It’s just bass and bassoon, so you’re really pretty naked. We had to cover a lot of area just the two of us. You show the uniqueness of our instruments and what we can really do. All the time, the thing that’s really rewarding is just playing really beautiful melody. Of course you improvise, but it’s about phrasing. If it wasn’t about phrasing, it’d be like…
I’m running long a lot with these long sentences I’m saying, but it’s like a really good conversation or poetry. It’s not just, [sings a bunch of notes quickly]. Like a guy at an art auction just blazing… It took me a while to realize that the stuff that really works well is just letting the instrument be itself and phrase beautifully within any kind of situation.
So, it’s not always about Flight of the Fly or choppy kind of stuff, which is great. It’s fun to show off and often I do, but it’s also about just being a beautiful phrase. If it’s going to be a note competition, I’m not going to win compared to…
When I was in the Flecktones, we’d play with Chris Thile . And here we are jamming outside on a really hot day and he’s just… WHOA, man what am I gonna do here? “Trade eighths with this guy!” going 210 miles an hour. And so he’d shred and I’m trying to do something here. It got me thinking that I can do what I can, but it’s never going to be something that’s going to be as fast as or speedy as some other instruments because, just technically, you have all these thumb keys to play and the combinations are crazy.
So, there’s other things you can do. You don’t always have to play that way. There’s other ways to be awesome. I’ve always loved the singing quality of the instrument. Phrasing is singing. Even when I was younger, sometimes that stuff left behind a little bit.
A: Can you tell us a little about this instrument?
P: Sure. I don’t have a reed to play it with. Basically, a lot of people don’t see it from this side, they see it from this side. Looks like some kind of wind instrument. You know, you’ve got your keys, but then you’ve got all these thumb keys you’re supposed to play.
It’s crazy fingerings. On the sax, when you move one finger to press a pad, the same kind of fingerings, you’d have to use all your fingers. It’s an older system. It’s based on some recorder, I would say. A dulcian recorder .
It comes apart in different places. There’s one at the bell joint, there’s another joint here and one there. People can get through security, luckily. Some people, in the days right after 9/11, people were always stopping me because I had a really horrible looking passport picture that got corrupt and made me look like Hezbollah Hanson. And of course I had my microphones in the case, really sensitive pickup microphones… I’ll show you that in a second.
But, basically this is where I screwed the pickup in right here. It goes there. And, “What the hell is that?” They’re looking at the reeds because they’re so weird. Some of the metal things in my preamps are unique. I had these preamps made by Gary Hull, who lives in Santa Cruz, did a lot of things for Michael Hedges . It’s a system called FRAP , which is a long time ago. I’m not sure if they were related, but anyway I think he has his own company.
But anyway, so there’s bizarre stuff going through airport security with this bassoon player. “No you don’t see many of that because not many people do that kind of stuff.” It all worked out. It never got confiscated. Sorry, I’m a little dry. So, anyway, it’s made out of Bosnian maple. Maple’s a very hard wood and they age the wood for about 12 years. 10 to 12 years. Then they carve it.
Moosmann is my bassoon maker. Moosmann is a great company from Germany. Herr Moosmann makes fantastic… They made this for me. A really beautiful instrument. So, this is called the bocal. The neck goes in there. And this is a gold-plated sterling silver and it makes a big deal. Everything in the reed. I play Legere reeds , which are synthetic reeds that are fantastic for me. Yeah, this is the bassoon and it’s a great, great sound. If you don’t pick it up right here [at the bocal]…
A great, really fantastic invention was made by a guy named Trent Jacobs. For many years I played something called FRAP. I don’t know if you guys know about FRAP. Flat Response Audio Pickup. You see old videos of Eddie Harris or James Galway … Um, who else used to play his stuff? There’s a few guitar players who still play his pickups. But, he had a really incredible wind instrument system.
So, when Emerson, Lake, & Palmer went on tour in the mid-70s, they contacted him to make all the brass and wind players’ pickups. So, they all had little pickup systems, little preamps. It’s a fantastic sounding orchestra. I heard it and it was just fantastic at the time. He’s really in the era of hi-fi where hi-fi is really celebrated. It’s not celebrated as much anymore because we’re in a totally different time in history. I saw this amazing band called Cartoon , which is the band… [to Bob] You’ve heard of these guys?
B: I have them on vinyl…
P: Awesome. Oh my gosh. Herb Diamant was one of the guys I saw playing bassoon with this band. He said it was this pickup. This was when I was in school and that gave me a kick in the pants. Here’s a guy playing with a band like that and I really liked that band. They were a little bit different from Henry Cow , but that kind of influence.
So, music school, these guys are there, these guys playing with this pickup on the bassoon… I’m sold, I’m in. So I got myself a pickup and played it for many years. I had to get myself another one in 1991 because it broke and I used that one in–I had two of them, I think. Those two have lasted me all the way until right about now. I don’t use them anymore because they’re very finnicky. You can’t get them fixed because they’re obsolete. There’s no need for them anymore. No one uses that kind of technology anymore. They do things different.
But, Trent Jacobs is a great bassoon player from Minneapolis. He’s calling and somebody wrote a dissertation on me, I guess, or something for his college. He invented a little pickup system and has a little preamp. It’s called The Little Jake and it works okay. It works pretty good. I wouldn’t say it’s quite as high quality as the FRAP was, but it’s different. What I’d do when I record is, obviously, use microphones.
I’m recording tomorrow, actually. We’re recording the music today, actually. We’re doing a record. And so these microphones in a recording situation, nothing beats the sound of that. But, obviously, when you’re playing with drummers and stuff like that, you go electric. So, I figured a way to dial it in and now I used–right behind that case–there’s the Avalon U5 and I use that. I’m looking for something smaller than that actually.
I want something that I can put on my pedalboard. And my pedalboard is right–I don’t have anything in it. Oh, I just have my looper in it. Somewhere around here is my T.C. Electronic VoiceLive 2 . I play everything through that. For what I do, I could go nuts.
If I had a roadie, I have this big old rack in the garage with a huge case that cost $300. I can have things like an envelope filter–I have an envelope filter up there. I have all kinds of things. An envelope filter is pretty fantastic. You can go really nuts, you just have to have the place to do it. I don’t do it unless someone’s asking for it.
But, for my basic electronics, I’m not sure–I’m answering questions that haven’t even been asked yet. I usually just use pretty straight sounds, maybe with a little delay or reverb and then I’ll double it. I have a doubler. Doubled bassoon sounds really good and the T.C.s are for voice, so it’s bass from voice, it’s similar to what you would do with a horn or bassoon or something like that.
A: Well, our site is called Make Weird Music. I would imagine you’ve considered your music to be “weird,” or other people have said…
P: What’s weird is that I’m using a bassoon to do it. I never think of myself as–Who knows what they think? I’m not trying to be obscure. I really like to reach out to people, but it’s like, “You’re playing this weird instrument. How do you do that?”
I just don’t know if I wanted to be different, but I wanted to take this instrument that’s really beautiful and lovely and do something different with it. I guess that’s it: be different and not try to make people sick or something like that. But, just do something unique and push the envelope a little bit. What can this instrument do? Why can’t it be part of a swinging jazz group or rockin’ out or funkin’ out or whatever? You know? I’ve been fortunate enough to have that opportunity.
A: That’s actually exactly what I’m going for in terms of “weird.” Just do something a little different. You don’t have to make people hate the music. It can be totally “normal” that anybody could like, but there’s a bassoon playing that. You don’t know that. The Eddie Money story!
P: Well, you know the bassoon often–the thing that gets me–it always gets back to the melodies because sometimes when I’m playing, people don’t know if it’s a guitar, some weird synth, because I’ve played a lot of note-y music in the past or something like that. “Wow, what is that thing?” And then I realized, “That’s not really what I want. I want them to know what the hell that is!”
Also as I get older, I realize–You know, you don’t want to get confused for something else. It’s nice to be chameleon, don’t get me wrong. It’s really nice to imitate different things and be a part of that. What you can do with the instrument is amazing, not only acoustically, but electronically. Then, actually getting back to what it’s really about is a really melodic phrasing approach where you’re singing from your soul and this instrument surely does that.
It really surely does. That’s the first thing we all hear. If someone’s talking to you or singing, that’s the first thing you hear–in rhythm. But, when it gets into mixolydian flat gemonist 5 whatever chords, mixophrygolydian… I don’t know. That’s the kind of stuff that’s like, “Hmm…” There has to be purpose for it. You know?
A: You’ve brought up bands from Emerson, Lake, & Palmer to Henry Cow to John Coltrane to Dirty Loops. Do you have a top set of influential bands or for eras you were really listen to a lot this…
P: Mike Brecker , of course. Brecker was there of course. There was an era where those guys who came out of that jazz rock thing. Different eras that just really set my alarm off. I think the first guy that killed me was hearing Hymn of the 7th Galaxy by Return to Forever in music camp. Just hearing this incredible music that crossed over wide jazz-rock thing, a fusion thing. It got me.
Just as a musician, for some reason, that just grabs you. They’re doing these incredible things. In some ways, it sounds like Mahler . At the same time, it sounds like funk. It’s just amazing! You know? What a great combination! Chocolate and peanut butter! It works great. That was fantastic.
And then The Police were a great group. It’s just all kinds of different things. Hendrix was huge. Coltrane was huge. Brecker was huge. The guys he played with. Some aspects of Return to Forever. I liked them a little bit before–Al Di Meola is a really great player. I like the Bill Connors side. That record was really more of a balance for me.
But, then later on… There’s all sorts of different things. There was an era where The Chemical Brothers were really amazing and some of the stuff that happened during that time period. Boy–Jamiroquai . I played in a band that’s very much like Jamiroquai for a while. Nowadays, I don’t know if I ever have any top favorites, but there’s all kinds of different things and people I’m missing and completely forgetting about.
There’s of course, John McLaughlin … We just did Dance of Maya last night and I’ve always wanted to do that tune because that beginning guitar part is totally a bassoon part. Totally. It’s very much like a cello, broken chords. That’s so idiomatic of this instrument particularly. Oh, it’s ridiculous. I played it with effects and it’s fantastic. So, that was a big influence.
I’d say, lately–really there’s some fantastic–Dirty Loops is great to see someone that popular with that incredible amount of music. They’ve got a ton of energy. Young. Man, ridiculous. And, of course, Knower is fantastic. I’m trying to think of who else that I really listen to a lot right now that will get me going. Meshuggah is another one. I love Meshuggah.
A: You love Meshuggah?
P: Oh yeah, definitely.
A: So you really would like Panzerballett.
P: Oh, hell yeah.
A: Their Some Skunk Funk is unbelievable.
P: I’ll check them out. I don’t know why I missed out on them for so long.
A: I’ll play it for you after.
P: I gotta hear it. I can’t wait.
A: It’s stunning.
P: The thing is, the older you get, being in a place where people can have the time and the wherewithall to spend time together gelling to make something happen–because that’s the hardest thing to do when all your stuff’s all over the place. Sometimes time and location–our period was 1980s and 90s when I was in the Bay Area, there was a lot of world beat stuff going on and African music and African bands.
I played a combination of different things that were happening. That was a time when things were percolating and rents were cheap, or at least for me at the time. I didn’t have as many things. It’s great to hear about these guys. When I say Meshuggah, I mean I love them.
I personally would love to hear a melody on top of that stuff. Even if it was simple. He could scream it a little bit. I mean, nothing against them. They’re a fantastic band. That’s their style. It’s fantastic. I’ll put up with it. The next development to me would be melodic on top of those amazing riffs. Thomas Haake is incredible.
In fact, I wish I could get a recording–if I ever get a grant and get around to it–I did a music night called “Homecoming” for the Berkeley Jewish Music Festival because I played a lot of Jewish music in my life. Technically, I’m Jewish. I played in the Klezmorim and in Davka. It’s kind of a combination of a lot of interesting things.
But, taking some of the old Yiddish melodies and interesting modes–the modes are flat 2nd, major third, flat 2nd. Putting those amazing time signature stuff that’s basically all in 4–But, Meshuggah’s stuff all underneath it. We did something like that, but we didn’t get enough time to really gel on some of that stuff, but we did some of that on the concert for that little poster over there.
Yeah, that would be great to do, if I have all these musical lifetimes to find a… Maybe Chever can help out with a few bucks and put it all together. We’ll see. I don’t know why they’d be interested.
A: Well, Bob… You’ve listened to Paul. You’ve seen him live for many years. Do you have any questions?
B: Something that was just in the back of my mind is it looks like a really finnicky instrument. I wonder if you’ve ever had problems showing up and it doesn’t work. Do you ever carry a backup?
P: I had a backup for a while. I was playing so much in Japan that I had to have one, but I didn’t really ever have a problem. We have a great technician. My wife works at Forrests Music , which is a fantastic double reed store in Berkeley, California. An excellent repair person. I was just there the other day because this is starting to fall off. And real quick he got it done.
No, I play my instruments hard, but I get them done every year. You just learn after a while not to drop it. You have this radar around you when you see an instrument like this. It sticks out everywhere. I remember playing a gig where the stage started to go up and down like this [dramatically waving up and down]. “Oh my God! Look out!” I stood there on the stage like this [holding the top of the bassoon]. I was playing another instrument and just thought, “Oh my God, I have to put this down.”
Look at it. You have a wire coming out of it, there was something added on here when I was with the Flecktones. I had a different pickup system. It’s very rare, so I had this thing put on because I had to have a cable go up here and get it anchored there because when you step on your cable, it comes right out of the pickup, right?
So, that’s why I have this thing here. Now, I don’t need it because it’s a shorter cable and I can put it in my pocket. It’s really hard to get something in the way of it. So, that’s the biggest element because you’re playing bassoon and then you’re stepping on a cable.
B: It’s not the bassoon, it’s the electronics.
P: Yeah, just that. The bassoon–you just have to be careful. You just have to have your radar up about things that are around your instrument. Once when I was in Japan, some kid came at my bassoon and I just grabbed it. I saw it out of the corner of my eye. It could happen. Anything could happen. I’m just very careful with it.
A: Like kids with the cup of milk on the table. You just learn.
P: Yeah, you just learn. I think you had some other questions about some other things, right? Like what people called this instrument?
B: Well, it does look like could be used to smoke things. I would guess the joke has been told to you constantly.
P: All the time because I played with the Flecktones and they had a lot of tapers, they had a lot of people where you could just smell the marijuana up front. People grooving out. It’s interesting because the music is kind of complex, right? But, yet people are jamming and having a great time and doing the “stuff.”
We played a lot of festivals. A lot of those jam bands were playing and a lot of that stuff goes on. I’d get, “Oh man… Dude… That’s the–baddest bong I ever saw.” But the best thing that ever happened, the most hilarious one–people never know what it’s called, right? “What is that thing?” So this guy comes up and he’s fried and he had his shirt off… “Maaannnn, is that–is that–is that–is that and ooba?” Is that an uzi? An uba? I don’t know. So funny. An ooba! I don’t know.
It’s funny. You learn a real sophisticated classical instrument that everyone knows in the classical world and you’re in an environment and you’re trying to get somewhere and you get, “Listen to THAT.” You know? So, it’s funny.
A: You mentioned another instrument you play called the EWI?
P: Yeah, I did.
A: What is that?
P: Electric wind instrument. You never heard of it??
A: Bob, have you heard of it?
B: Yeah, Brecker played it.
P: Oh yeah. It’s definitely a period instrument. I have something like that up there called a WX-5 from Yamaha . It’s behind the cups up there. The EWI is just static. If you touch this little pad, it means you bent the note, but it’s so touch-sensitive I don’t even like it.
B: Kind of like a SynthAxe in a way? It’s not a real instrument, but it plays like one.
P: I did a lot of it. I did some in Japan. I also played it in Cirque for certain flute parts or trumpet mutes or little things that I’d do. Cues and stuff like that. I played it a lot in my first Cirque show I was in, Saltimbanco. I played that going back and forth between five million different things.
A: Anything else, Bob?
B: What are you looking forward to for the future?
P: Well, I have the commission to finish. It’s something that I hope to release on my own. I think the name, the working title so far is Warlords of Irony is the name of the piece. It’s pretty heavy duty little thing. I’d like to get it mixed right and I’m not sure that the client–it’s a good friend of mine–I’m not sure what he wants it in, but they have to perform it first.
So when they perform it first, then I get a chance to release it on my own. I’ll do that. It’s a cool piece of music. Other bassoonists can play it and go along with it. I’ll probably improvise over it, but it can have sections. Either a solo will be written out or they’ll just have to go out on their own or have something written for them.
And then these couple bands I’ve been playing with. One is just a CD release thing coming up next month in the California Jazz Conservatory . I think it’s the last day of January. And the group I’m recording with tomorrow, Jeff Denson ’s group, probably going to Europe next year. And then Oon, we might also be in Europe next year also. So there’s things going on there. And then, teaching. I’ll do some master classes. Different kind of things like that.
B: It wasn’t like a professional concern, but just pure music… What would you be looking forward to? Like a situation, is there a band? What would inspire you without any outside considerations?
P: I get a lot on my plate in terms of the jazz situation. But something that’s more like, I don’t know, something that cross a little more to people, I suppose, some of the time. It depends on if it’s just the purity of music, it’s not about commerce, it would probably be something that I could see people dancing to. Certain people come and groove a little bit, not just staring and going like this [crosses arms and looks skeptical], looking at your chops and that sort of thing. And it’s hard to say. I’m doing a lot of great music right now.
I’m enjoying a lot of the music I’m doing. It’d be great to be able to put the things across that I’ve worked on, like they have the funding and the wherewithall to put across the project I worked on commission by the Berkeley Jewish Music Festival to write this piece. I’ve got a ton of music, I’d like to have that pulled off and be able to see a tour of that, for example. That’d be fantastic. But, that means I’d have to have the resources to be able to do it right.
It’s hard to get everything done and really have people have time to learn their parts and really gel. Anything that was a long-running thing that had a chance to go for a while because I think you really get a benefit out of playing music more than once or twice. Something you could tour with. That’s kind of a thing. That sounds kind of funny, but seriously, that’s what I’m always looking for.
If I was part of a band where I played Dirty Loops kind of stuff, or Knower. That’d be cool. You know, where it’s not necessarily about a jazz solo all the time. That’s just fine. It’s something that gives people a chance to work together for a while.
I think that’s a benefit for musicians is not just have one shot and that’s it. It’s different now than it was when you could play with the same musicians, you know, three or four nights in a row. Some people get to do that, but often, people are not incredibly well established. It’s hard to do that, so something that is ongoing a little bit more.
I don’t know. That’s kind of a weird question because musically, what are you looking for? I like all kinds of different things, but it’s just that the chance for the music to really develop is what I think I’m looking for.
B: Some kind of fairly long-term thing?
P: Yeah. Definitely. That’s kind of a funny answer, but I just know a lot of people or I hear about it on Facebook where they’ve got a gig and they hype it up and it happens and it’s gone. You want to do more. You want to be on tour. You want to find a way to bridge boundaries so that people really get what it’s about. When I played with the Flecktones, it wasn’t real last-minute. They’re playing really complex music. Somehow, they found a way to really get people.
B: Interesting because the Flecktones started as kind of a one-off for the PBS show and here they are.
P: I know. It’s incredible. It’s amazing. I know Bela does more now on his own sometimes, or with Chick Corea , or something like that. They totally deserve everything. They’re so damn good. Man, incredible. All those guys were ridiculous.
B: I’ve always enjoyed seeing the wrong instruments play the right music, which Bela on the banjo and Pat Cloud before him on the banjo. I don’t know if you know that name.
P: Pat Cloud?
B: Yeah. Same kind of thing with the bassoon. It just sounds a little more fresh and unique. You know, you just kind of mess it up a little. It’s like fusion when you mix some eastern music with western funk.
P: Yeah, the thing is to find a way to be musically enticing and at the same time, something that doesn’t just become an academic exercise and looking in too much. You want to look out because you are playing for people.
I love playing for people. I love seeing people really enjoying themselves. Of course, that being said, I’m not going to play a bunch of music that was really pandering or something…
B: No Brown Eyed Girl ?
P: Probably not at this point. I have nothing against certain covers, but it has to be done well. It’s just the musical treatment. I’m not going to do something like rap covers, do a Drake tune or something like that. I just don’t know enough about that genre to do something well. It has to be something that…
Some of the music I hear today, I’m not really up on all the pop music right now. Some of the stuff is very basic, simply. No lyrics and no melody. It’s like, “Well… nay nay na-na-na-nay nay.” I don’t know. It just sounds very–a 4-year-old could come up with it. I’m not going to do that for example.
It’s just this kind of thing that’s like… I admire people who have a long-standing relationship with their audience and they’re able to–I would say someone even like Rush is incredible because, my God, they almost didn’t make it. They were very close to stopping when they did–what was that record? Caress the Steel ? Something like that. Then 2112 came out and it was exactly the opposite of what the record company said was going to happen. “Hit singles!” and stuff.
They did the exact opposite. They said, “We’re gonna go out the way we feel.” And they stuck to their guns and they knew somewhere that people relate to that, and they did. That was great. And that’s one of my top groups, also, was that group in particular. As a bassoon player, I’m trying to figure out how I fit into that. You know? Sorry I’m going on and on…
A: No, it’s okay! I think we have to wrap up timewise. But, thank you so much for your time. This has been awesome. Thanks for welcoming us into your home.
P: Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.