It seems like Kevin Calabro and Andy Hurwitz [of Ropeadope Records] have been running into these same issues‚ because they're champions of these acts that don't have a ready market‚ and so it's almost as big of a headache for them to figure out what to do with this thing in the world of music at large‚ where it's all square pegs and round holes.
Yeah. Brian and I have asked ourselves that question every day for 15 years. "OK‚ we know this shit's cool‚ but what do we do with it?" We just continue to believe in it‚ be real‚ continue to be sensitive to the changing environment‚ and respond accordingly.
Can this conflict also be a catalyst for more creative music‚ to not be pinned down by expectations?
Totally. It's happened lots of times. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie stopped playing in big bands and started playing with five dudes‚ there was a lot of talk. When Chuck Berry plugged in his guitar‚ people were saying it wasn't blues‚ but it was. What Bird was playing was jazz. Same thing with Ornette [Coleman] and [Thelonious] Monk. Or with Bitch's Brew. It's a part of the cycle of creativity. There's uncertainty but that's a necessary step in the creative process. I am glad that I'm on the playing end of the equation‚ though‚ and not the marketing end.

It seems like such a tired question‚ the "what is jazz?" question‚ but every few years it becomes relevant again when jazz picks up a couple new elements and the whole music world shifts. There are all these creative jazz musicians who are soaking it all in. For you‚ what does it all come back to?
As for the question of what jazz is‚ the clearest answer I got was when I read a book about the history of New Orleans music and it talked about the world of music in the 20 years before jazz. New Orleans had‚ like‚ 80 opera houses. The fancy ones‚ for whitey‚ had a full orchestra‚ and the ones for poor black people had a pianist. One pianist. Usually the pianist's other gig was at a brothel. So these guys would go play Verdi in the evening and then stride piano at midnight in the brothel. Then pianists and brass bands hooked up almost by accident‚ like peanut butter and chocolate. Then the drummers showed up‚ too. Crazy. That kind of chaos stems from a total accident in culture. Nobody proposed that they should put those elements together. That's what jazz is: any combination culture creates‚ of its own accord. Nobody chooses it‚ like‚ "you know what would be cool -- if Bird and Diz started playing weird notes with five dudes." It just happens.
That's my sense‚ too‚ that jazz is kind of a catch-all name for something that isn't so much a style as it is an approach.
An approach that you can lend to almost any style of music. Kevin [Calabro] kept talking about trying to turn on the indie rock world to stuff like Invisible Baby because it has this really accessible‚ catchy‚ kitschy quality -- the tune "Atari" comes to mind -- and I'm hearing the indie rock‚ but underneath it all‚ it all boils down to jazz for me. You can give an indie rock band that tune but they're not going to play it the same way that you guys do.
Right. The vernacular comes and goes‚ but the approach is the vibe. The problem with so-called mainstream jazz is that it's a costume. For a lot of guys‚ it's just a costume they put on‚ as easy as they can put on a blues costume‚ or rock‚ or jamband. That's what's wrong with it‚ though.
You've got to speak in your real voice. Everyone's had a friend who‚ over the years‚ is kind of acting and won't get off it‚ or‚ like‚ acts weird around girls -- that's what those jazz musicians are like‚ or any musicians who have a self-image problem. I think you should just play whatever you are. Marco's got a lot of indie rock in him. He is that‚ but he uses the jazz equation and speaks its native tongue. And that's jazz. If it's Victor Wooten playing slap bass‚ then that's his native tongue. If it's Skerik playing saxophone through eight distortion pedals and a Marshall stack‚ then that's his native tongue.
Marco Benevento - "Atari"

One of my favorite stories Kevin Haas told me was about a Northeast tour you were doing a couple years back. One night you were opening for Al di Meola and the next for Sound Tribe Sector 9. It was both ends of the spectrum distilled. And somehow you guys were able to move between them‚ still speaking that common tongue.
Man‚ I'd see Sound Tribe any day of the week over di Meola. That show was so square. Oh my God. If that's getting old‚ I don't know if I want to. Holy shit. It was actually my thirtieth birthday‚ too.
Oh‚ no. Well‚ thanks for all this. I really feel like you're hitting the nail on the head here. This is all the stuff I've been trying to bounce off of people.
It's an important conversation‚ I think. A lot of people are asking these questions right now. The industry's in serious flux for the first time in a long time‚ and the music is mutating as usual. Almost all my friends talk about this shit every day with one another.
Yeah. It's one thing for people to talk about it and another for someone to speak to it from the inside. I'm getting a sense that people are feeling this change and people are sensing this new scene developing without knowing how to approach it or what to call it. And it's really exciting‚ honestly.