I recently made a flying visit to New York to check out a number of guitar gigs and to take advantage of a ridiculous 䯠$ exchange rate.
My first port of call was to Bar 55 on
Christopher St in the Village. A tiny downstairs bar, and regular haunt of luminaries such as Mike Stern
and the man I had come to see tonight, Wayne Krantz. Before the gig I was pretty much unfamiliar with his work, other
than the fact he had played with one on my favourite bands Steely Dan. Wayne plays a regular Thursday
night at the 55 with his trio which seems to vary between two rhythm sections of Tim Lefebvre (b),
Keith Carlock (d) and Anthony Jackson (b), Cliff Almond (d). The latter were
performing on the night in question.
The gig was a jaw dropping introduction into the labyrinthine musical world of Wayne Krantz. Awesome players performing
right on the edge, most of the music improvised (See elsewhere on this site for a specific review of the gig).
It is impossible to describe the music using any kind of mainstream comparisons, simply because it is so
individual and unique. Making an attempt would be a great disservice to the man himself, who has spent
many years developing, in detail, his own highly personalized approach to composition and improvisation.
If you are unfamiliar with his music, I would advise you immediately to visit his site
to gain an insight into the story so far. But please return and read on.
As I investigated further, it became apparent that here, there was a far greater story to be told.
WK developed his own detailed and thorough musical language which he has notated and has made available
to all in his book "The Improvisers OS". A fascinating, if not daunting investigation of tonality.
It also provides an insight into Wayne's views on improvisation and playing in general. It is no
overnight study. It is a deep and detailed work, an essential for any serious improviser seeking
Not only that, like his music Wayne has taken a very personal approach to marketing his works.
He keeps all his works under his own control, selling only from the website. You can even buy recordings
of his Bar 55 gigs week by week.(I mean the entire gig, all of it), an ideal solution for any and all
musicians (if you can make it work).What makes the site of great interest to me is that Wayne is not reluctant
to share information or ideas.His site is full of interesting articles and materials which document his take
on jazz, music, the industry, and lots more.
Wayne very kindly took time out to answer of few questions.
What stuck me about the Bar 55 gig was that on paper, this gig should not work. The music is
virtually completely improvised, the tunes are unfamiliar, even the harmony is (apparently deliberately)
outside most peoples ability to perceive what is actually going on. Yet with all this, the audience was
totally with the band, excited by it and seemingly onboard. How do you explain this?
WK: I started using this approach with my bands in '97 or '98 because it was where the action was for me
at the time musically. I had been composing heavily for the band and wanted something more immediate
and less classical. It was always my goal to keep the audience engaged. Despite the sometimes
challenging nature of the music and the business model I use, I don't crave obscurity at all.
I develop the music and the bands using my aesthetic and the audience response as a guide.
As I go, I learn more and more about how to make this "Music Impossible" thing I'm into work better.
Your style is amongst the most unique I can think of. Was there a point in time, a "Damascus" moment
that inspired this direction? I am making the assumption that at some point in the past your playing was
heavily influenced by other players as we all are.
WK: It was. For a while I sounded like a cross between
and Jim Hall. I had a Mike Stern period, too. But when I moved to New York in '85
I purged myself of everything and everyone and started over. It was inevitable that
after the initial stages of learning by imitation I would try to establish my own
thing. I wouldn't have been satisfied sounding like somebody else, no matter how good
I got at it. But it's not necessary that everyone feel that way - there's nothing wrong
with being a stylist, if that's your aim. Lots of great players are like that.
Speaking as a professional, developing your style must have had serious consequences on your career?
Maybe I am wrong, but I doubt Britney Spears is knocking on your door!
WK: Depends who's producing. But yeah, it pulls you out of the mainstream and it takes a while - sometimes
quite a while - for the new thing to be recognized and for its potential to be understood by others. In
the meantime you starve. It's not for everyone.
Regarding you book "An improviser's OS". The book gives an insight into the detail in which you have
researched your particular musical philosophy. For someone who has spent a lifetime struggling with the
diatonic world, can you offer any solace to anyone starting this program on what would seem to require
yet another whole lifetime to accomplish?
WK: In contemporary language, diatonic means "of a tonality". So the book is really all about the
diatonic world - not just the sounds we're familiar with, but all of the sounds possible within
the chromatic scale, the Mother of All Scales here in the West. In terms of accomplishing things...well,
learning and using even 1 new sound in one's playing would be an accomplishment, and could take only
minutes or even seconds to achieve. On the other hand, one could spend a lifetime trying to get to the
bottom of the major scale, unsuccessfully. All this stuff is relative, there never is an end to what
can be done with music or any art, and that's what can be appealing and discouraging about taking part
Some of the formulas that you suggest have more than eight notes. When practicing these formulas,
I'm struggling with the fact that I can't actually hear this harmony in my head and so my fingers end up
do the talking. How much of the development in the book requires developing ones ear beforehand?
(I base this question on my assumption that most practiced guitarists can hear pentatonic harmony,
fewer can hear modal harmony, and fewer still can hear twelve-tone harmony!).
WK: It's a struggle in the beginning because the sounds are new. A valuable thing about theory,
about using one's head with the music, is that new sounds can be introduced to the ear and
eventually become familiar to it. Though that can take some time, this book outlines a pretty
effective way to maximize the process musically. As long as patterns aren't being used, the
ear is what's organizing those unfamiliar notes, making sense of them as best it can and
keeping it alive for the listener. It's an expansive approach, where consolidation isn't
the goal, but just one result.
It is terrific fun mucking around with some of the formulas, much more exciting than
learning numerous melodic minor modes and various altered scales (and certainly less tedious).
Getting the student to actively explore tonalities for themselves must be a better way forward
than learning a billion scales. It strikes me that you could explore the possibilities of
rhythm in a similar way?
WK: Maybe. Probably. I don't talk about rhythm much because it's my center, always has been,
and I don't want to take it apart yet to try to explain it. Someday I will, and then I'll
probably have to leave it behind. Maybe somebody else should write that book...
Your phrasing is fascinating. Do you have any particular thoughts
on resolving phrases that start outside/in or inside/out? Is it necessary to always
resolve a phrase? Indeed, is anything ever wrong? In this new exciting world
without rules how do you decide? (I often see players who delve to deep and lose an audience,
at what point does it become indulgent?)
Lots of questions there, lots of answers.
Is anything ever wrong? Sure, of course
Improvisers are constantly making decisions moment to moment
, lots of them, and there's every opportunity in the world for it to go wrong.
The more skilled the improviser, the less wrong it tends to go - depending on
the other improvisers and a hundred other things. And yes, the new world is
exciting, but there are always rules, no matter how new the music is. It always
comes down to some people in a room playing it, making aesthetic decisions - and
"aesthetics" means rules. It either sounds good or it doesn't. If it does, it's
because of the decisions the musicians made based on the rules they followed, or
intentionally didn't follow - which is a rule, too. You mention indulgence...I guess
that can happen if a musician becomes too self-involved and loses track of the music
and the audience. But that can happen at any depth.
Perhaps learning to develop a more dissonant style necessarily requires a gig like
Bar 55 for the player to regularly test on an audience what works and what doesn't? To
build a common language or bridge with which to communicate.
WK: There is no gig like the 55, unfortunately. That situation is unique, and if any kind
of music required that to exist, then it wouldn't. I can say that it's been very useful
for me to play there every week. Not as useful as playing on the road say, 200 nights
a year or even 100, as some do, but useful just the same. As for dissonance...I mean,
we take from jazz and classical sounds as much as the funk and rock sounds, but we
release all that tension/dissonance, all the time. That's what packs the place.
I often feel frustrated in the way guitar education has gone in recent times.
Inspired by the rock world, pattern based playing has seemingly taken over. Yet
this was never how most of the great players learned how to play or executed their
solos. It almost seems like the death of improvisation. Instead we have solos
constructed using a series of pre-learned patterns. I suppose I yearn for the days
of Steely Dan when improvised solos were frequently in the mainstream.
WK: The more I studied improvisation, the more I realized that a tremendous amount of what
I thought was being created spontaneously in fact wasn't. Lick playing abounds in the solos
of most of our favorite improvisers. So I just started calling that "composition"
instead, and focused on what it would take to become better at creating more spontaneously.
I'm not sure how many Steely Dan solos were improvised - I known some were cut up a lot - but
yeah, rock and pop used to be stronger, instrumentally. But let's face it, everything used to
be stronger, period. It had to be. That can make it hard to get inspired these days, but you
gotta dig deep.
Over the years you have been playing Bar 55, how has your playing developed/changed?
WK: It's gotten better, at least it sounds like it to me. And I've gone through a lot of phases and changes.
But it's kind of boring for me to talk about it, frankly.
It's very brave of you to release so many raw live recordings from the gig. Is it a difficult decision
to decide what makes the album and what does not? What makes a good gig or a bad gig?
WK: Lately I've escaped the process of judging what gets released and what doesn't by releasing everything I do on my website,
, as mp3 downloads. That's how I'll be doing the live stuff for a while. What makes a good gig? It's a
certain kind of power that gets accessed, and it's obvious to all when it happens. Bad gigs can seem
good to an audience, but good gigs rarely if ever seem bad to them.
Most of your material has a high percentage of improvised content. Does the performance
of particular tunes very much from week to week.
WK: Lots. That's what keeps people coming back. Otherwise it's a display, and that can get old, quick.
I cannot imagine what a Wayne Krantz score/chart would look like. The guys had parts on the gig,
what's written on them? (I'm specifically thinking of a track like "Two").
WK: I don't remember Two specifically, but whenever a guitar part is written, I write a bass part, too.
I don't write for drums but I tell them what I want, if I need to. Most of the composed parts of my recent
stuff can fit on one page; the rest of it is open.
Will you be making them available at any point?
WK: The tabbed guitar/bass scores for two older CDs, 2 Drink Minimum and Long To Be Loose ,
will be on my website as PDF downloads, soon.
Is it easy for new musicians to slot into the bands approach to performance? How does the dynamic
of the band change between Anthony and Tim.
WK: It's not easy, no. It takes a certain kind of rhythmic sensibility and a certain kind of creativity
for it to work, and even then it takes time and rehearsal. It's pretty directed stuff, believe it or not.
Anytime somebody different is involved it's really, really different. Three people and a lot of
improvising...everybody matters a lot.
As an independent professional musician you have an interesting business model.
It would seem that you are adamant that you keep will keep all your produced work,
be it recordings or printed material, "in house", using the web to market your materials.
Is this working for you?
WK: It must be - I'm still here, doing it. Since '99. It's an experiment that I've been
pretty consistent with: no labels, no publishers, no distributors, no consignment deals,
no promotion...just me, the website and the audience. It goes pretty well. It grows slowly.
Organic, you know? More like an elm than a weed, unfortunately, but I can't complain.
The hard part is touring - without the middlemen mentioned above to hype it and spend
their 2 cents, promoters usually need to be fans themselves to get excited. And I'm not
at the point yet where I can promote my own gigs. So I still have to crack that one.
The web is a great way for any musician to bring their music to the masses. However,
marketing any artist is still a hugely expensive undertaking. Is the guitar world/network
sufficiently large enough for such a business to be financially viable? Is it possible to
reach a global audience using this approach?
WK: Well, I reach a global audience from my website, albeit a modest one. The idea that
I can play a gig in New York and a day later somebody in Taiwan, or Chile, or Australia
is downloading it and listening to it...it's exciting to me. I don't know anything
about marketing; I'm not interested in trying to convince anybody to listen to me.
I let their friends take care of that. And that's as it should be. For now, anyway -
Who do you listen to? What are you listening to at the current time? Who's hot,
new and cool that we should know about?
WK: I don't listen to music. Haven't for a long time. Sometimes I go hear my friends
in New York play: Tim Berne, Dave Binney, Chris Potter. I have a little
baby girl now, and I bought her some records, some classical stuff. Maybe she'll get me
listening again. Though she seems more moved by live stuff than CDs, too.
Your website hints at a new project?
WK: Yeah. I want to make a studio record of some different music that's a little more composed.
We'll see how that goes. Thanks for asking.
Sorry, I must ask a sports question. What sport/team do you support? Do you play football
(that's "soccer" to you)?
WK: I sort of don't believe in professional sports, at least in what they've become.
I don't think there are any teams any more. I think I played soccer once, when I was twelve -
it wasn't too big in Corvallis, Oregon. I would like to work on my swimming, though...
To stagger off a plane and into a tiny bar in Manhattan and see musicians of this calibre doing
their thing, can only be described as one of those "pinch me am I dreaming" moments. Wayne Krantz
plays most Thursdays at Bar 55. If shopping isn't a good enough reason to visit NY NY, the city
that never sleeps, then this almost certainly is!