Articles & Press

"I just want to invoke the meaningful sounds to give acoustical pleasure to people who listen."
-- Roswell Rudd

-- Pythagoreas of Samos
The Artist Formerly Known as Avant-Garde!

Back in the 1960�s, avant-garde was one of the terms used to categorize the new music. Because I was coming from Dixieland Jazz into this new music, the term struck me as strange and a little inappropriate. My understanding in those days was that the term was used particularly with those of us involved with free improvisation.

Most recently my patience was piqued by a reference to my playing at The Village Vanguard with Dave Douglas and his band WORD, where I read �avant-garde trombonist Roswell Rudd�. And so, it suddenly struck me that after plus or minus forty five years holding out as a creative performer that I am still today considered avant-garde in the minds of some writers .

I decided to look up avant-garde and was pleasantly surprised to find that it refers to innovative and progressive people in any field of endeavor. I can relate to that. So far, so good.

To have associations persisting for forty years or more is, in a way, gratifying and encouraging because I�ve always been devoted to our great classical American music, jazz, and continue to develop improvisations and compositions in the indigenous style.

But considering how I have performed in so many different musical situations and configurations since the 1960�s, and steadily evolved through the �70�s, �80s� and �90�s to the present (listen to Roswell Rudd�s MALIcool, Universal/Sunnyside), won a Guggenheim Fellowship for Composition, received awards for performing and arranging, am considered a Monk and Nichols scholar, and have recorded their compositions extensively, why would the label avant-garde -------
which has become a commercial stigma for Festivals and clubs, and it is the kiss of death to book anything called avant-garde ! -----------why am I stuck with this one hundred and forty year old label at the age of 68?

Born in nineteenth century France, the term designated artists who wanted to cut ties with whatever had been done before them. I, on the other hand, felt and feel very close to Dixieland, which I consider my musical roots, and that I was and am just evolving out of the tradition, with no desire to rupture with past aesthetics, but only to build upon and extend them. So in terms certainly of 19th century France and common usage at that time, I would not have been considered avant-garde. However, 20th century common usage of the term to include innovative and progressive would include me. Common perception, which is still more like the 19th century, makes this a distasteful term to most people, if not ambiguous.

I acknowledge that the writers who describe me in this way today may be using it as an accolade.

Somehow avant-garde has come to mean offensive, abrasive, and have negative connotations: what most people don�t want to hear. Some hard-core adventurous listeners did and still do seek out the avant-garde. Thankfully. But the more popular usage, which determines perception and overrides actual meaning could keep people away rather than bring them in.

So call me fun; call me Dixieland; call me innovative; call me lyrical; call me for the gig; call me an improviser, because after all, I am a jazz musician. But don�t call me late for dinner, and certainly not avant-garde!

P.S. � What is avant-jazz??

November 29, 2003
Roswell Rudd
Kerhonkson, NY


In my world, Jazz is the cornerstone of American classical music and I consider the great lives and many hands that have shaped it as the American Classical Masters.

My personal fascination with jazz is the way that it connects with other classical systems in the world through the universally shared compositional and performance techniques of IMPROVISATION.

For 35 years I have had the opportunity to participate in workshops , seminars, and clinics in jazz education both as faculty at two universities and as an invited Artist-in-Residence in a variety of situations.
1 - Workshop - This is for a mixed group of instrumentalists and singers of varying degrees of proficiency with a quest for information both
conceptually as well as performance-wise about jazz. At times dancers, poets and other people in the performance arts can be involved. I consider
it my challenge to build a performance piece taking into consideration the range of ability of the participants and in the process of building this piece exploit existing skills as well as taking them further. This will
help them to discover through performance the information they seek.
Through utilization of the techniques of improvisational theory it is possible to create an organic ensemble piece. I will provide lead-sheets, scores and other conventional mnemonic/ written materials as a resource to further illustrate the conceptual side. By and large the emphasis is on utilization of spontaneous expression into performance. Jazz is both written and improvised. Improvisation is the heart of jazz.

Workshops can be from one meeting to several.

2 - Clinics - Focus on specific aspects of jazz improvisation, composition, and performance . The "HOW TO" of Playing Changes - Rhythmic Development - The notation/preservation of spontaneous ideas - Deep Listening and Getting Inside the Sound - How to Personalize your Interpretation - For intermediate through advanced instrumentalists and singers. Large or small ensembles. Clinics can be on a one-to-one as well as group basis. It is about the fine points.

3 - Master Classes - Trombone or other brass . Performance oriented which necessarily includes ensemble playing and elements of composition and
improvisation. For brass soloists, small groups and larger ensembles.

4 - Seminars - The History of Jazz Format - Lecture and live solo trombone demonstrations and recorded
1 - New Orleans and Dixieland Jazz - Some of the great innovators and stylists of early jazz -
2 - Herbie Nichols - His music and teachings - A gifted pianist and composer, he was an unique, prolific and important force in the history of the music. He was, as well, a pivotal side-man for many important band
leaders , an accompanist to great singers, and a skilled keyboard conductor/ arranger for a variety of cabaret , and Catskill Stage acts . He was one
of the first great orchestrators of piano trio music. His compositions reflect his wide and varied experiences as a performer in New Orleans bands from the mid '30's up through the swing and be bop bands into the early 60's. Learning his music showed me the connections between these various eras . We often performed his compositions as a duo or trio and he took the time to show me how I could interpret his compositions and improvise on them.
3 - An Acoustic History of the Jazz Trombone - Through live demonstration of some of the classical trombone styles of different eras such as Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, Vic Dickenson , Bill Harris, J.J. Johnson .
4 - Improvisation in the 1960's - Where I Come In - What is different in the 1960's is the commitment to improvisation as the main musical ingredient and sometimes the only ingredient. I will discuss my own
involvement and participation with such seminal groups and musicians as Herbie Nichols, the New York Art Quartet, Steve Lacy, Archie Shepp, as
well as my own Primordial group which was my name for whatever I did during those years.

Artist-in- Residence - From three days to a week. To include any and/or all of the above as well as a joint performance at the end with Roswell Rudd with the students and a concert by Roswell Rudd and his musicians.

Roswell received Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000 for composition
great quote from friend/bassist Ken Filiano: "I am not going to work for no psychotic mother fuckers no more!"

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