Bio: Hailed the founding father of new age music, Paul Horn is a versatile and widely popular recording artist with a number of albums to his credit, including Inside the Taj Mahal, which has sold more than three-quarters of a million copies. For over three decades, Horn has maintained a high public profile, increasing his audience even as he has changed creative directions - classical music, jazz, fusion, pop, new age music, world music.
Q: Paul, did music come naturally to you?
P: Well yeah it did, my mother was a professional…. she was a pop singer in the late 20’s, she made recordings, in fact she has a website which is really interesting that I never knew about. Someone that looks into those things and is a fan of the early nineteen twenties jazz singers came across my mother whose maiden name was Frances Sper developed a website and put on some of her old recordings which some I had never even heard. I mean, that’s quite amazing. Anyways, when she got married she stopped her career and then I was born, but she loved to play music and sing around the house. She played the piano and sang, and that was my early influence. I heard that and loved it.
Q: How did your extensive music education contribute to your later music of the 1960’s?
P: Well, it helped a lot. Conservatory was very challenging, I didn’t have a lot of classical training before I went to Conservatory, but I had a good teacher. Piano was my first instrument as you mentioned earlier, I took up clarinet when I was twelve, and then saxophone follows the clarinet, I love those instruments. But my teacher was a jazz player, a very good player, around Washington D.C. where I grew up. However I didn’t have any classical background, so it was very difficult for me. When you go to Conservatory it’s all classical music, so I had a lot of catching up to do. But I’m pretty tenacious, so I thought well; I’m going to do it. And those years were hard work, but I really developed my playing and my musical knowledge, and I’m thankful that I had a chance to do that because it served me and my professional career, definitely.
Q: How did you end up playing the flute primarily from the many horns you played?
P: Well yeah, I’ll have to back up just a little bit—the clarinet was my major instrument in the Conservatory, the classical instrument, and my second year at Conservatory at Oberlin you could pick a minor along with your major—in my case clarinet. The secondary instrument is always piano to begin with, and if you have enough training in piano, then you can pick another instrument should you want to. And I just decided that I loved the flute, so I didn’t start playing the flute until I was 19. But the knowledge you have of a woodwind instrument is transferrable to a great extent, so it wasn’t like I started from scratch, but still it has its own particular challenges, as all instruments do. But I loved the flute, it was easy, it was natural, you seemed to get a good sound out of it even in the very beginning, whereas if you’re playing the violin or the clarinet, in the very beginning you don’t sound good at all. (Laughs) The flute didn’t start with a bad sound; it’s not grating to the ears. But that served me well when I did studio work, I always wanted to someday come out to LA and Hollywood and be a recording musician in the studios, and that dream was fulfilled and I did wind up out there so all the training I had the flute being a—I’m a good flute player, that’s just who I am. That instrument came up to the level of my other instruments. So by the time I hit Hollywood, I was very good on the flute, the saxophone, the clarinet and none of them were secondary, and they were all primary instruments for me.
Q: Paul, your sound on the flute is immediately recognizable as being your own. How did you develop your unique sound on the flute?
P: That’s a good question and I would say that because it applies to all instruments and the most noticeable of course are with fingers. Now, in pop music, young people that want to be pop stars, they are going to imitate the singers that they are influenced by and want to sound like. So I don’t hear a great difference in individuality, but in the jazz world, in the year that I grew up, during the 50’s and the 60’s, you had Sara Vaughn and you had Ella Fitzgerald, among my favorite singers. Or Sinatra, or Tony Bennett in the male category—they each had a distinct voice, so you’re using your individuality as you’re sound. And everyone’s an individual so if you just let yourself be who you are, you’re going to sound different, but if you try to sound like who your idol is, and develop your sound to be like that person, then I think you lose your individuality. So for me, I don’t know, that’s just me. The vibrato, the wavering of the voice, or the tone on a musical instrument, is really the color. It’s like a painter that would use different shades in his painting, different shades of blue or different shades of green. The shading is the coloring, so the vibrato is the coloring of the sound. And again, that’s just a person thing.
So when I started playing the flute, my natural vibrato was slow. And my teacher would comment and say, ‘Well, you know, I like it, it’s on the slow side’, of course he was viewing it from the classical point of view. And people in the symphony orchestras don’t use a vibrato like that. But, he liked it, he said, ‘I like it,’ so you know, he didn’t try to change me. He didn’t say, ‘Well, you know, you have to speed it up a bit because that’s not acceptable in the classical world.’ So he let me be, and I wasn’t aiming on being a classical flute player, anyway. Although I wound up playing with symphony orchestras, but I could still play as a soloist and be who I am. So I don’t know, that’s just me, I didn’t try to be different, that’s just the way I feel when I play the flute, that’s my personality. So I think in general as a listener, you listen to anyone you like, you listen to the sound, because it’s not the technique as much as it’s the sound that you like, the quality of that person’s voice, or the instrument that they’re playing.
Q: Your use of space between played notes, as Miles Davis practiced, is present in your playing. Is this approach something you developed?
P: Exactly. Well he was my main teacher, good fortune for me, I had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with Miles, and we became close friends. And every time he came out to Los Angeles and played with his band, whatever band that was at the time, his great band with John Coltrane and Miles, we’d hang out a lot and I was very influenced by him. In many ways, as a person and as a musician, and he would always talk about space. Anytime we’d go into some other club to listen for some other player, that I was impressed with, I’d say, “What do you think of that, Miles?” because the guy had a great technique and he was executing his ideas well and Miles was not impressed, he said, “He’s playing too many notes. “ That’s all he’d say. “Too many notes, too many notes.” Then it got me to think that, most musicians think that way. You know if you have a lot of technique and you work years and years and years to develop your technique, it’s pretty hard not to use it. So the challenge is- less is more. And that’s a sign of maturity.
I don’t think that when you’re very young that you’re ready for that yet because you’ve got too much energy. You’re like an athlete, you can’t tell an athlete to run slow. But when you’re playing an instrument, a musical instrument, it definitely is muscular as well as other factors, so it’s hard when you want to slow down, you want to move fast. You’ve worked hard on your technique to play a lot of notes, but all you’re doing is playing a lot of notes. The challenge is to play the right note, in the right place, in the right sequence of notes and leave space around it so it can breathe. And the day came when that really sunk in, and I think it’s very important. And if you had that, if you had that in mind, when you listen to records now or any live performance, you become very aware of the person that is performing and if that person is using space at all, and if so, is it used well? It’s a very important part of the music I think.
Q: Knowing Miles Davis as you did, could you share your impressions of him today?
P: Well, the word I would use is “innovator". Not all musicians or artists in any field are really innovators. And that’s okay! But if you are an innovator, if you’re always looking for new things and new challenges, which I guess is a basic personality—are you or aren’t you? Then there are periods of suffering where you’re looking for something new and you’re stuck, because you can’t come up with tomorrow, always with something new, something new. So you hit a certain—now Miles, in his career, his style’s changed quite a bit, but in those gaps in between those changes, he’s like disappeared from the music scene, sometimes for up to five years. Where he said, “That’s it; I have nothing more to say.” Just to play another record, play “My Funny Valentine”, which was one of his favorite ballads, and he played ballads so beautifully, “I can’t keep doing that.” When people would start to complain that he was doing other things well then he’d say, “If you like that just listen to my records, and then you can hear me playing that, but I don’t play that anymore.” You have to give up what you love, if you are an innovator, and allow that in between, if you will, which is uncomfortable to do---just waiting for something to happen where you get a jump start again, let’s say, into something new that’s creative.
So Miles was constantly changing his style from the bebop into the modal thing, like Your Kind of Blue album, which changed everything, the albums he did with Gill Evans, which is just beautiful, and Miles Ahead and it was just wonderful. And then he got into sort of a rock thing, he was influenced by the young players and wanted to change the rhythm section so he didn’t use a traditional rhythm jazz section anymore, but combined it with rock, and then percussion became a part of it, too. He added a percussionist to his group, just looking…. And then young players, using electronic instruments—his diehard fans were upset by this, (laughs) but Miles didn’t exist to please his diehard fans, innovators keep moving ahead. And I think I have that same thing running through my veins, because I’ve changed a lot over the years, and I don’t try to change, but I just get bored doing the same thing. And then after a while, I just assume to not play if I’m going to play the same thing. It’s boring. And so I stop and wait, and I don’t know what’s going to come next, but something always comes next.
You just have to allow that space and go through the hard times of waiting then in between. Miles is a very interesting person, he was private, he was very honest to the point of being brutal—he was….he just didn’t tolerate b.s. He could size someone up in a minute, if he was introduced to someone he could feel whether or not he was going to be comfortable being with you, if you were a pretty straight-ahead person, or if you were b.s.ing, and you know he…if he sensed that he wouldn’t even take the time to say hi back to you, he’d just walk away. Which is pretty rude, I guess, but that’s the way he was. He was very bright, very, very alert and very smart. And very friendly, if he liked you he was a friend right from the get-go. And if he didn’t feel that you were a sincere person, and that you were shacking and jiving, well then he just wouldn’t have the time of day for you, that’s all.
Q: Do you feel musicians should include the practice of improvisation in their daily routine?
P: I do, but I wouldn’t use the word “practice”, because improvisation implies being spontaneous in the moment. You can’t practice being in the moment, you just are in the moment. But what I feel that we’re both saying here, and your question implies, at say the end of your practice period, you’re going over your lesson and your technique, and whatever your assignment is, it teaches you to grow as a musician and that’s fine, but at the end ---I would recommend when I was teaching or doing workshops, finish off your practice time just by closing the books and play whatever comes into your head. Just be yourself, improvise; don’t worry where you start from. You start from wherever you start from wherever you start.
Don’t worry about what key you’re in or what note you’re in, just follow your ear, you’ve got some sounds inside your head that’s leading you along, when another person hums or whistles, I mean it’s not anything preconceived---one sound leads to the next, another little idea leads to another idea, and there’s no right or wrong when you’re just doing it by yourself, and it just frees you up. And when you get used to that and the nice feeling that it gives you, I think that spills over in the formal music where you just are more expressive and free in your phrasing if you do play and use improvisation as part of your daily routine, your practice routine. If you’re a jazz musician, that’s another thing—there’s a lot of knowledge that goes into improvising into a written section where you have to follow harmonies with a rhythm section and chord changes and things, there’s a lot of knowledge.
But again, the thing is to be spontaneous with the knowledge that you have. Like right now, we’re just talking! We’re not rehearsing this, and if I see it on a written page, probably grammatically I could change the way I said this sentence or maybe I should have stopped here and put a period instead of going on and on, however, it’s more honest when you just come from your heart and you’re just expressing yourself. It’s a nice freedom to just do that. And I don’t understand, it’s always been an enigma to me, where musicians will spend years and years and thousands of hours of practice, but when you’re asked the classical musician, “Well, just play me something,” they freeze up. Everybody gets afraid, not afraid to play some complicated Bach senada, but to just play me something out of your head; they don’t know where to start. There’s a reality of balance, there.
Q: Which is interesting because Mozart and many of the other great composers were also great improvisers.P: Well you see, that was an art that was lost. You’re right, Mozart, and the period of musicians, the classical period there that was just part of it, they didn’t improvise, somehow it just dried up, and it got very formal. To me, jazz, is the art of improvisation revived from the twentieth century under the heading of ‘jazz’. It’s not the style of jazz, it’s just the art and the proposition came back through jazz. Now that’s pretty much, or has been in the last couple of decades, very much a part of that classical music, where the composer leaves room for the soloist to improvise. And it’s coming more and more into a formal way to present it, in schools, although you’ve got to be careful of that because if you get too formal with it, then it becomes….formal! And then the spontaneity goes out of it, so you have to walk a fine line.
Q: How do you feel history will look upon the musical legacy of who contributed to the West Coast Jazz sound?
P: Well I think they will and have, in some of the books I’ve seen, honoring West Coast Jazz in the 40’s and the 50’s and the 60’s and on. We had some prominent players, Dexter Gordon being one of them. Charlie Minguez 22:25 being another one. Or Ed Coleman, being another one, he came from the West Coast. That was a magazine, a Downbeat Magazine thing, stirring up controversy with East Coast versus West Coast jazz. You know, environment and climate is a big part of how a culture develops, and certainly its musical culture, too. The West Coast is always more laid back…the weather is nicer, the ocean is out there and the sunshine, the beach and the palm trees. It’s different than New York City, or Boston. Places that are different temperatures, colder and the energies are different, so the art is going to reflect that. I think that’s why the style is quite a bit different, not that one was better that then other, they were just different. But, again, it stirred up a nice little battle between East Coast and West Coast and sold a lot of magazines maybe, but I think there were some wonderful players Johnny Mandel, as a writer, and Bill Holm and Stan Kenton’s band…Louis Herman, a lot of his band was made up of West Coast players. So, talent is talent and it was a different approach to jazz, the “cool school” if you will, it was less energetic. Yeah, it had energy, but a different kind of energy than was coming out of New York City.
Q: The Inside series of recordings are some of the most unique and beautiful records available. Was there any planning for the recording of solo flute in the pyramids, or was it a totally spontaneous happening?
P: Totally spontaneous happening. Music reflects life, and if you’re the type of person that’s changing all the time, then your music’s going to reflect that. I was at a point in my life where I needed a big change, not just with music, but everything. I was achieving all of my goals and aims, and I was in my early thirties, so one day I was looking in the mirror and asked myself, “Well why am I not smiling from ear to ear 24 hours a day, because things are really going well in my career…..but I’m not happy, why am I not happy? I had better look into this….” That’s the beginning I think of what we could call, ‘your spiritual search’, which means other values in life other than being successful in your career, making money.
I mean, if you’re not happy in your career and you are making money, and you really notice that you’re inwardly, really not that happy, it would be good to look into that. And if you don’t, somewhere you’re going to hit the dead end street; the wall….it’s a wall. It’s not going to lead to a happy life. So there’s nothing wrong with materialism, but it’s not the end all of your success and your career. I’ve just known so many people that are big stars, and very quote successful, and aren’t basically happy. But those that are have found other things in life that support their life and give them more depth and more meaning and therefore to carry on with your profession it takes it to another place. So that’s where I was at that time, and I then met Maharishi Matiogi who was just going around the world, teaching the simple system of meditation, and that attracted me.
To make a long story short I met him, I began meditating because I read books about it---I’ve always been interested in philosophy, especially Eastern Philosophy, and it always mentioned mediation. But I didn’t know how to meditate, the books didn’t tell you how to meditate, and I was sitting down trying to meditate and it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t comfortable, and I would say, “Well this isn’t for me, I can’t sit still.” Well then I met this man, who had a reproach that it was simple. So I said I’d like to hear about that and learn it, which I did, and it was simple and it is simple, and I did begin to feel a change in my life, an inner change starting to happen. I was lighter, less angry, less frustrated, and less unhappy. So I started to notice things in my daily life that reflected my meditating and I wound up going to India, and being on a teacher-training course about a year after I started meditating, and that was the year before the Beatles came on the scene. I became a teacher of TM, or transcendental meditation, and my whole life changed.
I just felt entirely different, I was happy, I wasn’t involved in my career, in fact I hardly played my flute! I brought it to India with me, but I hardly touched it. I really didn’t feel like playing music too much anymore. And I rather not worry about that, I was just happy to be happy. And then the next year, well it was a little bit later that year, I went back to Los Angeles and the Beatles happened to come on the scene and that whole world knew about Maharishi and meditating, and the Beatles were going to India. I had already put into motion a documentary idea I had about filming Maharishi and doing a documentary on meditation, and his presentation and going back to India, I had a film crew and everything going over there, and it just happened to coincide with when the Beatles were there.
So that’s when everything changed, and during that filming, I went to the Taj Mahal to film, that was part of the documentary, some background shots of India, and obviously the Taj Mahal was going to be one of those places that’s the most famous. Of all the wonderful places in India, that’s one of the known wonders of the world. So I went in there and it was an unbelievable reverberation in there—I had a sound-man with me, he was part of the crew and I was the producer of this film. And we went in there one night just to see if we could play some notes and the guard at first wasn’t very receptive and didn’t want me to play in there, but it was getting late at night and he didn’t stop me, so I started to play a couple notes and stopped and the sound went up in there and just hung there forever, in what seemed to be that big marble dome, which is 90 feet high and 60 feet wide, and all solid marble and so the sound is unbelievable.
I found when you play a whole series of notes, like a run of notes and stopped, all those notes come back as a chord. Well I had never heard that before in the recording studio, it’s impossible. So everyone was sort of transfixed with what was going on, and the tourists were done for the night, and there was no one in there but me, and the guard said, “You can stay.” So I stayed until about midnight, and playing my flute in there was never intended to be a recording, a commercial recording. Just record it, which we did, and to come back and play it as a memento just for friends back in Los Angeles. But when I came back, record companies were interested in it, and one company said, “Alright, let’s release it.” And pretty soon it just took off, and everyone was surprised, the record company and including me, and who would of thought that something that quiet and simple was going to get airplay? People actually wanted to buy this and sit down and listen to it, but it didn’t have a beat to it---it’s not jazz, it’s not rock, it’s just…I mean what is it? Just someone playing a solo flute with some wonderful echoes that are just hanging there in space. So it seemed to start a whole new direction for me, and for a lot of musicians who had that same feeling around that time, but they didn’t think those recordings had a change, not being commercial, George Winston being one of them. “Counter play” was very popular with records, sold a ton of records, and people were coming from all areas—harp players, mostly it’s instrumental music. And then it got a new title called, “New Age Music” which confused the hell out of everybody, but whatever you want to call it, record companies started to get commercial with it, and it started to get commercial and it changed a lot…. but I changed a lot.
When I started to do concerts, people didn’t know that my early roots were jazz, in fact, this was my 14th album, I had 15 straight ahead jazz albums, which had a lot of changes and shapes to that, too, but this was just a solo flute and they started wanting to hear more of that. And then I started to say to myself, “Well how am I going to play solo flute on a concert stage? The Taj Mahal isn’t here. So there were a few electronic devices I became aware of, called an echo-plex, it’s a digital delay of the chords you play. Not the same as the Taj Mahal, but the effect was sort of the same. And I would play them, one or two, to three times a night, in amongst the jazz pieces, little solo pieces like that, and little by little it sort of took over and my total concerts were solo flute. Making other solo recordings in other places around the world…. you know I just…you never know what life is going to hand you, but the thing is, if you just follow where you’re being led, rather than trying to make it other than what it is, then I think wonderful things and doors open up for a person, and they certainly did for me.
Q: Your record Inside the Great Pyramids is a milestone recording. What was that like experience recording in the ancient tombs of the Queen’s, King’s Chamber?
P: Well that’s something else that I really became aware of, if you’re lucky enough to get a good acoustic or something; it’s special, which the Taj Mahal was. And there’s a history to the place, and a mystery to it, and that all becomes a part of the music. The pyramid didn’t have the length of reverberation that the Tahj Mahal did, it was different, the rooms weren’t as big inside for one thing, all the chambers. But still, there’s a mystery to it, a history to it, and an ambiance to it, and it has its own unique sound, and it was wonderful to be in there. It was difficult to get permission to do it alone, it took me about four or five days alone in Cairo, and I was there about a week and after a week I still hadn’t been able to get permission to be in there afterhours so that no one would be coming in and out of there making noise as tourists would come in and out of different chambers. So I finally got permission to do that, and I spent those three hours inside alone, very different and very quiet and I have a good recording engineer that came with me that came over from Toronto named David Green and we were in there, and again, just rolled the tape and just played, all totally improvised as was the Taj Mahal. But it’s a special feeling, it’s hard to describe, I think everyone has their own experience when they go into places like that.
Some people I’d read about, for instance, in the King’s Chamber had some ‘frightening experiences’, some people didn’t feel anything, some people feel a great peace, which I did, and I sort of heard voices, which was kind of strange, when I sat quietly and meditated while no one was there and there was no one walking around. It seemed like things from the past, it seemed like a place of initiation, it seemed—I think mainly in the King’s Chamber, where initiations took place of the secret schools where people were, well, the esoteric approach things, the philosophies and experiences. They were ready for that, so this was their ceremony or their initiation if you will, to be let into all that, the higher order of these things, and they must have had personal experiences with these things. They must have been chanting in there, and what I felt in there and what I was hearing was the sound of these chants still hanging around in the walls in there, when you were quiet enough that they could be heard. So I heard them, and my recording engineer heard the same thing if we sat quiet enough. I don’t know what he heard, but he heard voices, and when I heard voices, he did, too. That was sort of my only mystical experience in there, other than it was a powerful place.
Q: All of the Inside recordings of solo flute stand as pillars in history recorded music; there is really nothing else quiet like them.
P: Well I guess it’s my dharma, if you will, I was supposed to be there, and there I was. You know, a good friend of mine is Tony Bennett, he’s a wonderful man, a great singer and a great jazz guy, and one of his favorite things is, we’d have discussions and he’d say, “You know Paul, I just show up.” And that’s a good one. You know, you just show up. You never know what’s going to happen in life, and who does know what’s going to happen from day to day? The whole thing is, when you get out of bed in the morning, you know, show up for life. Show up. Be open to the moment, be open to new things happening to you, rather than expect it to be a certain way, or want it to be a certain way, which we all do, but the more you can free yourself and just show up, whatever your day is, and just show up to work, if you have a nine to five job just show up, but be open to conversations you might have to have today, or different people you might meet. An unexpected phone call, a conversation, who knows? Just be open to what may present itself to you that day, and life takes on a little different meaning, and sometimes, it can be very profound and life changing---you could have an experience that changes your whole life. So, a key word, I like that expression, is “Just show up.”
Q: In an era saturated with technology how do you feel jazz music is changing?
P: Well, I would not be a good judge of that, but I can answer that in a way that I really feel, and that’s...Bach really has nothing to do with music of the times, and that’s why we can still listen to music by Bach and Mozart, people from the classic period that’s 250, almost 300 years old now and still enjoy it. It really has nothing to do with the viewer, really, it’s just art. And other types of music really reflect the country and the times in which we live, but you ask me how I feel about it and I can’t relate to a lot of it, but I don’t’ want to judge it because who am I to say? Music is a personal experience.
I’ve gotten to use electronics for myself to some extent, and the bands I’ve had, the quintets, over the decades have certainly had electric bass and guitar, and I used the digital delay thing which is electronic, and certainly my keyboard player with the synthesizer and effects, but I choose to use it in my own way. Which in my view would be more musical rather than effects. And it can, you can use those effects in a very personal way—and music is so personal, so personal and it reflects the times so the younger generation, the young people today, they live in a world which is pretty chaotic, pretty hectic, and I don’t find much peace around. And so society is reflecting that…. so do I like it? I mean, it’s not how I feel personally about it, with a lot of things, but that’s the way it is, that’s what I see, and I see that it is a reflection of the younger generation in general. And every younger generation is going to come up and have their own feeling individually and collectively, and the arts will reflect that. I would not attempt to, nor would I want to, judge it other than to say what I just said.
Q: Recently you performed for the David Lynch Foundation to support bringing greater awareness of transcendental meditation. What are your thoughts on their mission?
P: It is very important. That was a wonderful concert that you’re referring to that happened about a month ago, at the Radio City Music Hall, to raise money for the David Lynch Foundation whose vein was to teach a million children throughout the world to meditate. Of course that was important to me because I go back almost 40 years now that was important to me, and has been a basis in my life over those years. As a foundation, it has certainly served me well. And also in the beginning when I first came back from India I was part of what was starting as a student movement at the UCLA in LA, and the students were interested in meditating and its grown because it’s such a tool to serve a person in their lives, their daily lives, that’s all it is. And finally people are understanding that it’s not a religion, and it’s not a philosophy, and it’s not in any way telling you how to live your life, what to do or not to do. However, it is giving them a technique to get rid of stress, in fact get rid of a lot of stress, so you’re going to be healthier. You’re going to have a clearer mind, which opens up the creative flow which is in all of us.
We’re humans, we were creative, we’re created in the image of God if you want to interpret that, but we are imagined, we can imagine, we can imagine in our minds and then bring forth what we image. And so we’re all creative, in any way that we choose to be. So this is a tool that will open that up, that creative flow, so we can have a happier life, it’s a tool, a creative tool. And David Lynch, it’s amazing in the inner cities, down in Brazil, there are these video clips on You Tube about these kids talking about how they’re feeling. They’re not angry, they’re feeling better about themselves, at home and in school, with their fellow kids, you know playmates. So really it’s a useful tool, and if everything lies in the young—the youth really is what’s happening, the future generation is going to control this world for a couple generations and then the next one comes along. So it’s always the youth, always the young, and I don’t think anything could be more valuable than to have a young person start meditating. Which is to open up your potential, your inner potential, and make life happier and easier, and that’s what these kids are finding out. So I’m very excited about that, it was a very successful concert, it raised a lot of money, and it brought together some musicians like I’ve never seen---Paul McCartney, Ringo and Donovan, and here we are, all again on the same stage, playing music individually and together with a lot of younger players, Sheryl Crow and Moby. And some that I was not familiar with myself, but anyways, it was a great show.
Q: Quincy Jones has advocated for our President to appoint a Minister of Arts and Culture to promote and preserve the arts in this country. Do you feel this is something we should address to provide greater support to the arts?
P: I would support that, and I’d like to hear Quincy Jones’ name mentioned again because he’s been a powerful force in music for so long, I’ve known him for so long, when he was strictly a jazz musician, long before he came to Hollywood and became a writer and then producer and so on. He’s a wonderful, creative guy, he’s just amazing. And that he’d still be active and recommend something like that is wonderful and appropriate, now Kennedy started that at the Kennedy Performing Arts Center in Washington D.C., so during his era he wanted it and Quincy was a part of that. I think that that idea is valid, and if anyone is going to be receptive and bring it about, it would be Obama, so I am very thrilled that this is being presented to him and we have an administration now that would be receptive to that, understand the value of that and put it forth and give it a good start. I mean, we do well enough in the United States now that we have a culture, and we have a heritage, we’re still really young…300 years old, but that’s really young, in the world and in societies. And the culture is what keeps, and will keep, a society going. If it doesn’t have a cultural base, it’s not going to last very long, and we have enough in America in all music, in all categories, certainly in jazz and the Great American Songbook that get better every year that Tony Bennett represents, and the classical feel, too. We have our own thing to say now, which reflects who we are, our culture and how we think over here, so it’s a wonderful idea. I hope it goes.
Q: Presently parts of the recording industry are going through a state of transition with record stores and independent radio stations in decline. What are your thoughts on this seminal moment in the music business?
P: Well, in a way, I’m sitting here watching it, it’s so much different than when I was young, the opportunities are different. There are no more record companies, but things change, and that’s life, and sometimes changes come quick and dramatically and everyone gets tossed around and everyone says, “Well, what’s happening now?” But it has opened up to new entrepreneur things, there are things like CD Baby, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, where people can present their own product and this website and this entity will show you how to promote it and put it out there so you can do your own thing. The recording technical devices today, anyone can have a good recording unit in their garage, I mean not GarageBand where you do it through the internet, but literally in your house you can have some good equipment for $5,000 or $10,000 now, when it used to be half a million dollars for good recording equipment in a big studio. So it’s all changed very quickly, but many people were excluded when I was around who didn’t have recording contracts and couldn’t record who had a lot of talent. So that opens up that possibility up for those people to record, than people recording who have no talent, who can put out a CD or something and sell it and pass it off as music, but they haven’t really spent 20 years learning their musical instrument and being well grounded in music. So I don’t think it really carries a weight or a charge that would really affect people equally and in a positive way. But with that being said, so what? It just opens up the field of people being more creative. It’s just all changing, I don’t know where it’s going to go, but it’s going to be going in the direction that it’s all headed, it’s the internet.
It’s just a new power, and it depends on how they use it. We can use it in constructive way and a destructive way; television shows us that, the Internet shows us that. There’s stuff on there that shouldn’t be on, that’s not helping society or the world, but then there are things on there that make you go, with the information on there should you choose to use it. It’s a very, very, very powerful tool. Hopefully it’s the consciousness, which we haven’t talked about, but we have in a roundabout way. That’s the main thing is developing one’s consciousness and awareness of what’s really important in life, and how it’s going to give us a better life individually and collectively as the human race, as a species. Because our consciousness is still pretty low, the fact that we’re still having wars and still going around killing each other and you don’t even know why---it’s crazy, it’s total insanity. I fear that the world is not going to be able to tolerate it that much longer. So the most we can do is develop a higher conscious to see what’s important in life, and change our own lives. If we see that as important, then individually we should go for making our lives more worthy to appreciate the gift of life, the value of life, which is not to kill each other. You know, kindness, the Dalai Lama is all of a sudden on the scene now, when 50 years ago in the West—the Dalai Lama? What is this all about? But now Buddhism in the West and the concept of kindness and respect, and value—valuing all things, creatures and beings, all life has value. It begins on an individual basis, and we can and will change the world individually.
I’ve seen it in the last 45 years, teaching and meditating and looking to evolve, if you will, a higher consciousness and growth, and I’ve seen a big change. I mean just the fact that 6,000 people showed up at the Radio City Music Hall and the tickets sold out in ten minutes and we raised 3 million dollars and we’re teaching about kids around the world learning to meditate, I mean that’s a big thing. And it begins with what I’ve just been saying, it begins with the individual. You can’t talk about peace and people and not be peaceful. You can’t talk about happiness and not be happy, it doesn’t work that way. You have to walk your talk. If you’re happy you can talk about happy, if you’re peaceful you can talk about peaceful. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time and it doesn’t have any sense and it has no value. So consciousness to me is the keyword, and that’s the main thing for me is updating your value system, which to me would be raising your consciousness. What’s important in life, you’ve got a find a way to go there, whatever the technique, but you’ve gotta do something. You’ve gotta do the work, no one’s going to do it for you. Everyone’s got the comfortable point in their own lives where you see this as being valuable and you see the worth and you want to go for it. And it takes work just like anything else to change, to be other than the world is, you have to change. You know, if you’re, and I was for many years—a very angry person, well that doesn’t serve me anymore. There’s a point where you say, “You know what? It’s not helping me. My anger is actually getting in the way. So I had better change that.” Well that’s not easy; it’s not easy to change basic patterns that have been with you a long, long time. It takes work, and no one wants to do the work. But the answer is, no one is going to do it for you. So that would be my summation, we should all look at this as valuable, we should all go for it in raising our level of consciousness in doing the work that is necessary to evolve.
Q: An interesting comment as many people are reflecting on their own values from the effects of the economic downturn.
P: Yeah, well, if we don’t want to change, and we don’t do the work, then Nature will come along and force us to change. That’s all there is to it, and it’s a big direction like the stock markets’, who will supposedly and hopefully still will, correct itself. So when humanity gets too far off course, something is going to come and force a change. If we don’t do it voluntarily, we’re going to have to do it one way or another. It’s a difficult thing that we’re going through, at least that part that you just mentioned financially. It’s just part of the change. It’s just part of a lot of things that have been going along for a long time, sooner or later the pendulum swings back the other way and the correction takes place the other way and that’s what we’re involved in now, is a big correction on many levels, affecting everyone in the world, because it is a world problem. And so the positive thing is, it’s necessary, in the past, we might assume it’ll be that way in the future. It’ll come out of this, and it’ll be better, but it’s going to be work and there’s going to be some rough times ahead, that’s the way it is.
Q: Your partner Ann Mortifee is also a musician. Could you share a bit about her work?
P: She’s a wonderful, wonderful-world class singer. She’s an icon in Canada; she’s toured all over the world. Toured with Henry Belafonte, she’s been on stage in NY and written her own musicals; she’s got a lot of CDs out from the years gone by. But one of the most amazing voices, and we’ve known each other for a long time…forty years. But then we finally got together a few years ago when both of us were free and we just fell into—and just got married. It’s just been wonderful, she’s a brilliant musician and an unbelievable voice, she’s got a four-octave range and writes incredible songs, and her main thing is theater. She writes musicals, writes the music, writes the book, the story…. and she’s still got six or seven of them still sitting on the table almost complete but not finished yet, so we are starting to explore the possibilities of just the two of us, with me on my flute. And we are now thinking very seriously, and we’ve talked about it for a couple of years, to do a nice recording project and we work with some wonderful musicians in Vancouver, wonderful arranger, and writer, who helps us on this and who is a great musician and helps us on it.
So yeah, hopefully this year we’ll get in the studio and do something’s. In the meantime, there are little events that come up from time to time where we perform, and we’ll see where it leads. We’re both not looking to resurrect careers, because we’ve done that. But if something new does come along and it’s musically valid and we’re having fun with it, then we’ll proceed. We’ll have a different style and an eye for what they’re doing, but of course that’s the way it should be. She comes from a different musical tradition than I, so how do we---how do we come together? We’re pretty interesting because we have found ways to do it together, but I have to think differently to do it, so does she a little bit. The arranger that we’ve worked with for years, he’s sort of our musical director is Eddie Henderson in Vancouver, and Miles Black is a wonderful pianist who’s worked with both of us, and so these are key musicians that will be developing us and supporting us as we go along. I hope that we can have a physical product within a year that would be nice.
Q: Do you feel that music can act as a tool for people to better understand each other in our connected world today?
P: Absolutely. That’s why there’s a category out there, and I fall into, finally a category I’m happy with, and that’s called “world music”. Because if people can come together musically, that’s a metaphor for how people can come together on all levels. It’s been my experience because I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a lot, and I’ve been to the Soviet Union four times with my band during the transition from strict Communism to a much more open and free society, and music has always been something that people relate to, as different as a political system can be, and your religious beliefs and just everything. But with music, whatever the differences are, or the grievances may be, that all falls away and people are just automatically just friendly and enjoying each other and communicating in a nonverbal way through the music.
So it’s happening again with this thing called world music—you know you take Indian van Tablas and you put it together with a Brazilian beat, and maybe with a Cuban rhythm along with it somewhere and some jazz on top of it, and anything works. I’ve played with musicians from all over the world and found it easy when you don’t try to be other than who you are. So if I’m playing with an East Indian musician, let him be who he is, and I’ll be who I am, but they key common denominator here is rhythm, and in this case improvisation. Which are usually two elements found in any culture and it works.
You can get together with musicians that are so different, and yet sit down and play and the music makes sense and people enjoy, then obviously we can do this in our daily lives as human beings. That’s the whole thing, that’s really music. And you’re talking about Quincy Jones, and it’s very important. And viewed in this light, what we’re talking about now is his proposal to President Obama as being more important. Because we’ve got to change the way things are being done as of right now music should be in the forefront.