McPherson Talks Mingus
Was it personal for you to be involved in a film about Charlie Parker, especially given the fact youíre both originally from Missouri?
That part of the country—Kansas City and Joplin—is right in the middle of the U.S. Itís an interesting area because itís almost a combination of East/West/North/South. Itís kind of its own little thing and the people have their own little personas. This area right in the heart is an interesting mixture, I think, of genetics and just cultural soup. Genetically, you have the interplay between African-Americans, Caucasians and Indians because a lot of thatís Indian territory. I think the mixture of all of those things, including the regional influences [from cities] like New Orleans, produces kind of an interesting group of folks on more than one level. And when it comes to making the music, which sounds self-serving since Iím from there, youíre also getting some influences from everywhere. When Charlie Parker came up, it was during Prohibition; a lot of the U.S. had no alcohol. But the area of Kansas City, that one town was nothing but alcohol. So you got all of these people who were drinking and itís legal, and all of these clubs. Itís producing all these venues in which to play and attracting musicians from all over the country. They all congregate in Kansas City because itís a wide-open town and thereís a lot of work.
That whole swing era was happening in that town, and Charlie Parker is a product of that, along with a lot of other great musicians like Count Basie. When I came along, it wasnít Kansas City. Joplin is south of that and much later, it was 20 years later. But still, thereís a little remnant of it. My mom and dad are people like Charlie Parker, they are from that generation. So I heard that kind of music and how people played it and their particular idiosyncratic way of dealing with music. I heard that when I was a kid. And Kansas City, that part of the country the people are into the blues—and so am I. I consider myself a blues player. I mean, I play jazz and all of that, but the blues is very important to me. Itís not always that important to all jazz musicians. They think of the blues as something over here on the side, but to me, itís a very important part of the equation of what jazz is. For me, I do have some precepts of what I think it is and the blues is definitely one of them. In my performance, whenever I play, I always make a point of playing the blues a couple times a night. Thatís the way I do it and itís deliberate.
What lies ahead for Charles McPhersonóany upcoming projects and tours?
Iím working on a new project and hope to have it ready maybe early next year. I havenít recorded, and I donít like saying it, in a few years. The recording industry has just changed a lot. But I am writing more now. I go back and forth to New York a lot and Iíve been involved with Lincoln Center, with Wynton Marsalisí mini-projects, Dizzyís Club Coca-Cola, Jazz Standard, Village Vanguard—just all of the New York clubs. Iíll be heading out to England and Spain in November, but in the U.S., Iíll be in Chicago in early August, Wisconsin and some things here in San Diego.
Will jazz always have a future?
I hear young saxophone players who are talented and interesting. Jazz music will always be a part of the global musical fabric. I donít know if itíll ever be pop; it might always be considered a little esoteric or alternative. But in every generation, thereís always going to be a few who are going to be enamored of it, enough so to play it and enough so to actually be a jazz fan, even if they donít play. And itís part of the academic situation now. Jazz is being taught in high schools and colleges, where they have a jazz division or a jazz department. Also, there are many jazz musicians who are adjunct [professors]. If it werenít for the academic situation, weíd have a harder time. Itís another way to generate a livelihood for jazz musicians. So thereís always going to be a future for jazz. But I donít think it will ever be like Lady Gaga [laughs]. Letís put it that way.
—Shannon J. Effinger
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