Jazzed: A Tradition Of Experimentation

An Interview With Jeff Kaiser

August March
4 min read
Jeff Kaiser
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Last week Alibi interwebz administrator first class John Millington appeared in front of my desk and asked me to describe—for the purposes of brief exposition on the web—the kind of music being promoted and performed at the Roost Musical Series. I told him that it was essentially a part of the avant-garde. It’s postmodernism informed by pluralistic propensities that draw on musical traditions as diverse as jazz and heavy metal. But just to be sure, I asked experimental trumpeter Jeff Kaiser—who will be performing at the Roost on August 16—what it was all about. This is what he said.

Alibi: What would you say if someone asked, “What are you doing, musically?”

Jeff Kaiser: I consider what I’m doing part of a lineage of experimentalists that’s come down from the jazz tradition and from the Western European art tradition. I don’t consider what I’m doing to be all that new, though I do incorporate technology into my work. I am part of a fairly long tradition.

In particular, how has jazz informed your music-making?

Jazz is a lot bigger than a lot of people think it is. As a genre, it’s very broad. Some people might say it (my music) doesn’t have changes, or the same relation with time and the rhythm section as traditional jazz forms, but there’s a lot of musicians who have different relationships with those things. That’s where I tend to come from. I have a different perspective on time and rhythm than others, but it’s still a relationship with time, rhythm, melody and harmony.

How was this unique perspective evolved?

There’s always so many forces at work in the development of a musician. Cultural forces, individual forces, the forces of personality and experience…the force of exposure to great artists. All played a part in my evolution as a musician. In a realm of improvisation, these are the aspects that are important to me.

What in particular has influenced you musically and artistically?

When I was younger, I was playing in a punk band at the same time I was gigging with a big band. So, at one point, I’d be doing a show of Count Basie with the big band at my community college, then later that evening playing electric guitar. I love playing but I could never play like those great musicians, like Basie. I discovered I had a different relationship to time than they did.

Besides working as a member of the avant-garde, you’ve also worked as an ethnomusicologist, writing about how technology influences musical culture and identity. What are your thoughts on that?

Technology has always been important to musicians and is a big part of defining one’s musical identity – when you think about the identity of individual musicians, there’s always an element I call the genre/technology pairing. “I’m a rock guitarist” or “I’m a jazz pianist” one might hear from others. These pairings help form the identities of musicians as they participate in culture.

Why are such identifiers important? Are they more than just rituals seeking affiliation with a certain subculture?

I think such rituals are an important part of discovering one’s identity as an artist and musician. Technology has become a very important part of the way musicians identify themselves and others.

How does your trumpet function technologically?

I feel like my instrument, the trumpet, ends at the speakers. It doesn’t end at the bell of the horn. I view the whole system as an instrument.

What does your system currently consist of?

Although I do play the trumpet alone for some performances, I will be playing it (in Albuquerque) as a technological extension; that’s key. I process the output through software on my laptop; I capture sound, make changes to it and send it to the speakers. It’s a lot of fun. I dig it.
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