I don't know if I've answered… I hope I'm not avoiding the question [laughs]. I guess you asked about being surprised about what they did, and part of that is that I want to be surprised and that's why I play with those guys is because they surprise me all the time. But I can't think of some specific instant of that.
Right, playing with that group comes with a built-in surprise. You've also been working on a score for the film The Great Flood -- that's a relatively new project, right?
Yeah, we just performed it for the first time in Illinois. I'm really excited about that. It's been a long time in the making… I don't even know when I first started talking with Bill Morrison about working on this, but it's been a really long process. So, to finally do it… yeah, it was literally a week ago that we did it for the first time. That's been another amazing learning experience. When this first came up, I didn't even know about this part of history about that flood. Music is always bringing me these opportunities -- that's how I learn about everything. It seems like it's always through music. These things just appear before me and I enter into them and it's this amazing chance to learn, you know?
Yeah, definitely. So what was your approach to writing a score like this?
First, I started to learn about what happened back then and I'm still doing that. I'm in midst of reading a book about it. Along the way, I saw little snippets of what Bill was pulling together for the film -- the whole time I was learning and writing, he was out gathering stuff together. But I was never sure about the structure of it. So mainly my approach was just learning about what happened back then. I guess the biggest thing that I was determined to do was make it more real for all of us. So last spring the band went… well, first we played some shows at the Village Vanguard in New York and I had little bits of music I was thinking about. We started playing some of those tunes that week in New York, and then after that we went to New Orleans. And then we played all along the river; we played in Memphis and New Orleans, and then went up to Mississippi, then Arkansas. I wanted to be with the band in the place where it all happened. I feel like that really added some weight to it, rather than me writing out charts and handing them to the band and saying read this about the event. By us being there we just got more of a sense of the reality. And then what was really amazing was that the river was flooding at that time, supposedly almost as bad as it was back then. And they were doing some of the same things. You know, like opening one-side of the river and flooding one-side and in the same way making decisions like, "Well, there's poor people on this side and there's rich people on this side -- who should we flood?" It's weird, especially lately, it just seems so relevant. As I find out more about what happened there in 1927, it's the same stuff that's happening now, you know? The politics. It's just really amazing to see that things don't really change all that much. The brutality now is more… subtle, I guess. Then, it was pretty rough.
This has been another incredible experience just to have the opportunity to do this. That also features Kenny [Wollesen] and Tony [Scherr] from the Lennon record, and then Ron Miles plays trumpet. I feel like right now it's at the very beginning of playing this live -- it's been born and now it's happening, so we'll be doing it more over the next year or so. I'm looking forward to having the thing develop more.
It will be interesting to see how it evolves. I talked with you years ago and remember you saying back then that writing for films is something that you were looking to pursue more.
Yeah, I've been lucky because it always pushes me further out of my zone. What I really love is sitting there writing music. But when I do things like this it corners me… not corners me, it pushes me to find things in the music that I normally wouldn't do if I was just following my whatever -- which I love. I love sitting there and writing down whatever comes out of my mind, it's the most amazing feeling. With these film things it will push me off into some other zone that I wasn't thinking about, which is really cool.
Yeah, it sounds really cool. It's a different form of discipline.
Yeah. And taking that trip was… it was just amazing.
What was it about those surroundings that informed you how to approach the writing?
It's really another world. I'm affected so much just by the air or the smell of a place. The humidity. The temperature. It's really almost impossible to describe what it feels like when you're in a particular place. I grew up in Colorado and haven't lived there since pretty soon after high school. Every time I go back there, the smells… just there's something in the air that triggers all of these memories. I realized how powerful that is. When it comes to New York City, you smell the garbage, the subway, the exhaust [laughs]… or whatever it is, and then the sound of the traffic. I'm not sure how to explain it, but put me in Mississippi and put me right next to the river, and to just hear the sound of that and to feel the weight of the air or how the temperature there is so different, that just had to have an effect on the way the music would come out. That was really important to me. I could have gone by myself, but what was amazing was to do it with the whole band together. When we did the piece live for the first time, for one thing we remembered playing the music down there -- there's that memory. And what we were seeing on the film is places that we've been and felt. That was really important to me and that's just going to make the piece stronger somehow.