Q&A with Ethan Iverson: Addition through Subtraction

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In April, Iverson announced that he will leave The Bad Plus, the band he helped found in 2000. (Photo: Courtesy Criss Cross Jazz)

So what are your plans post-Bad Plus?
 
At some point, I’m going to have a new trio with younger cats and be writing new music. That’s definitely coming down the pike. I just still need a little space around my head. I guess I can announce this, too: there’s going to be at least one European trio tour with Joe Sanders and Jorge Rossy next year. That should be interesting. If anything, I think the composition element is going to really increase. See, The Bad Plus is three composers, and I actually think my style of composition is least suited to The Bad Plus of the three of us. I’m running a piano concerto for the American Composers Orchestra. I’ve written a whole book of music for me and Mark Turner. I also have lots of ideas for trio pieces that aren’t right for The Bad Plus that I’m looking forward to playing with a new trio sometime.
 
What do you make of the new addition to the band, Orrin Evans?
 
I’ve known Orrin for a long time, and he’s a great musician and a great guy. He and Reid go way back. He’s also a very individual stylist. We don’t play alike, and he’s not going to start playing like me in The Bad Plus. So, actually, I think it’s a great choice. It’s a great choice for me, too, because I suppose if they had gotten a 24-year-old kid to learn all the Ethan Iverson licks, I’d be a little jealous, but with Orrin it’s totally cool.
 
Do you feel The Bad Plus has muted your ambition, or that it’s forced too many sacrifices?
 
No, no, no. The Bad Plus is a great group, and I’ve grown so much in it. I’ve also managed to really keep growing. If anything, having a steady, good job in The Bad Plus has given me the ability to just go talk to Cedar Walton or whoever. All three of us sacrificed stuff that we wanted to do to make a band in the middle. That’s the great thing about three leaders—it’s three guys with a lot of ideas and a lot of power. So I don’t think I sacrificed more than those guys in terms of making the music; I mean, we’ve all had to put up with each other, is another way of putting. They’ve have to put up with me, for Christ’s sake. I feel that if I want to make a statement that’s just my opinion about how this stuff goes, I need to make the move now rather than waiting another decade.
 
Do you think you’ll ever achieve the sort of pure democratic state you had in The Bad Plus?
 
No, I think that’s probably done. But I learned a lot about not jumping in with an opinion. It’s very important, I think, to not jump in with an opinion, and see how things unfold for another five or 10 minutes in the process.
 
Were there ever any moments where your opinion misled you?
 
I remember when Reid wanted me to learn Aphex Twin’s “Flim,” which is like a signature piece of The Bad Plus. I wasn’t psyched about that, and then it went on to be one of our most important pieces—maybe the most important. That piece also is sort of like, if I never did anything but The Bad Plus, and I was only known for playing the piano part to Aphex Twin’s “Flim,” my ego wouldn’t allow that. That would be bad, like, I didn’t do enough if that’s what the record shows. There’s more in me than the piano part to “Flim.” DB

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