One must learn lots of technical things in order to enter into that “Zen” place
An interview with Tony Malaby for Jazz Australia.
Since moving to New York more than two decades ago, post-bop saxophonist Tony Malaby’s distinct timbre has become a downtown mainstay.
His versatility on tenor and soprano compliments his diverse and wide-ranging musical interests. He leads groups Paloma Recio, Tamarindo and will travel to Australia this June with improvising pianist Kris Davis whom he collaborates with in his nonet, Novela. Phil Slater talks with Tony ahead of his Australian tour.
PS: You are joined in Australia by the impressively inventive pianist Kris Davis. How long have the two of you been playing together? Can you tell us something about Kris’ playing, and how it affects your musical choices?
TM: I met Kris at the Banff Jazz Workshop in Canada where I was teaching in 2000. After the workshop we remained in touch and I became a member of her first quartet in NYC. There, we began to develop a group language along with the other members. Recently I toured with the bassist and drummer from that group ( the trio Tone Collector with Eivind Opsvik and Jeff Davis ) and in a workshop they described me as a mentor that guided them into collective playing and got them to function different as a rhythm section – this is a very important part of my history that Kris is very much responsible for because she allowed me to present ideas that I was experiencing from playing with Tim Berne, Michael Formanek, Mark Helias , Mark Dresser and Marty Ehrlich . Kris’ quartet gave me a platform to develop my own voice, one that Kris knows inside and out. She is always a few beats ahead of me – almost telepathically. We are able to play and toy with this connection and it gets us into very interesting territory. She possesses energy and power while still playing a very smart and compositional game that is crucial for the music I want to make.
PS: You are known for your incredible inventive abilities and musical flow. How do you maintain those powerful, inventive streams of musical thought? Are you a moment to moment, reactive, intuitive type player or are you thinking more long-game, planning things out, or conscious of the overall arc of the musical line?
TM: I talk about this a lot with students. I work on both aspects of the game. I train hard (long tones for dynamic and timbral control, rhythmic/metric studies with metronome, intervallic studies for new melodic possibilities, these along with playing home sessions with other like-minded improvisers that are into the long arcs, this is where the mind control and letting go comes into the game) so that when I am in that creative-collective stream I do not trip or make the others trip by getting in the way of their ideas.
PS: Can you talk about some things outside of music that inform, influence or inspire your music making?
TM: Fly Fishing is very important to me. One must learn lots of technical things in order to enter into that “Zen” place that gets you into fish, then more fish, then bigger fish – then you become a part of the river and are connected with that “flow” – just like question #2.
PS: Australian audiences will fondly remember your playing on the final musical recordings of the late saxophonist Dave Ades. Can you tell us something about the origins of that connection, and the perhaps your feelings about international collaborations in general? You seem to be an incredibly open musician who is willing to explore and participate on equal grounding with people from other places around the world. What does this bring to your music making?
TM: In 2000 I went to Australia for the first time with bassist Mark Helias. Part of the tour was augmented by the three Australian musicians Scott Tinkler, James Greening and David. I was immediately connected with David’s energy and sound . We became very good friends and continued to play regularly. I play his soprano saxophone.
The music that interests me is a collective art with a very small community. Students and Faculty who I meet at my clinic/workshops seem to be who I end up playing with the most. I like these relationships very much. Recently in France I recorded with two fantastic musicians from Belgium (I met the drummer at a workshop I gave in a basement in Brussels three ago). They are really influenced by the cut and paste editing of the film director Goddard and also heavily influenced by the French composer Olivier Messiaen. I stepped into another world where I was challenged and had to quickly adapt to their game. In Argentina the players play rhythm in a very relaxed manner and it is very hard for me to let go of my NY tendencies. When I manage to let go I enter into their game and there the dream state is wonderful. It is all practice and training for the “Long Game” which is my favorite. Recently I have connected with Australian Marc Hannaford, a pianist here in NY who loves that kind of stretch.
I look forward to playing with Simon Barker and Kris. Simon is a very special musician who I met in 2000 on that first trip to Australia. He has his own unique way of playing which is what I am always looking for.