The Uri Caine Interview (for the North Coast Journal, conducted by Bob Doran)
You seem to have a lot of projects going.
I do. I have different things happening.
I've been listening to your Live at the Village Vanguard album, thinking what you do is basically straight-ahead jazz. Then I took a look at the discography on your website and realized that's just one aspect of what you do. You seem to be musically omnivorous.
No, it's just a sequence of things. Musicians who grew up with a lot of different kind of music — and also if you're a keyboard player — you get a chance to play a lot of different styles of music. That's what I did when I was younger, which was a good way to start thinking about different ways of playing.
Different like your more electronic band, Bedrock...
Exactly. And sometime it's taking classical music, using it as a basis for improvisation playing with an ensemble. A lot of that is based on some of the CDs I've made, using those [pieces] as a basis for improvisation. And I play with all different types of improvisers. I've been doing that pretty much since I started playing music. But as I said before, playing keyboards has a lot to do with that — it's versatile. Looking back on the strong musical experiences I've had, everything from playing with singers and playing with choirs to playing different styles of jazz, free music, more swinging stuff, I've tried to get in touch with all of it.
It's omnivorous in contrast to other musicians who might focus more on just one style.
That happens in all types of music and art. For me, it's not just eclecticism for its own sake; it's more just moving from one opportunity to another. Playing swinging music is a different challenge from playing with an orchestra, or learning how to record yourself on a computer. You work on all those things. I think it's good also to have a wide variety of composition styles. In some cases you need something quite specific, other times you need something loose and open.
When it's more or less spontaneous composition...
Exactly. Or you set certain guidelines, underlying things that happen in each piece to set a structure for improvisation.
So while you describe yourself as a composer, sometimes that only means providing a framework.
Depending on the situation, you might have a group of musicians where some are reading and others are improvising or everybody is improvising over a certain chord change. Sometimes you create different sections within a piece by setting who's playing and who is not. Again, that comes from my experience. When I was growing up I was playing more straight-ahead jazz, bebop influenced, but at the same time I was working with people who were more into freer compositions.
Weren't you also studying composition with established modern composers?
That's right. I was lucky. When I was a teenager, I was studying with a composer in Philadelphia, George Rochberg. He was teaching a parallel course where we would go through a lot of classical forms. We'd write in forms like a Mozart sonata or a Beethoven development form. He had been known more for serial atonal work, but he'd switched back to more tonal styles and doing collage music that had snippets of other people's music. In academic circles that was considered radical.
Do you think we've reached a point in music where you don't expect that sort of reaction, where pretty much anything goes?
There's certainly more tolerance, allowing different styles to coexist. Especially today there's this information overload: You can sit and listen to music from Bali, then Beethoven, then to what was once obscure contemporary music or obscure electronic music — you can find it all. That tends to even things out. Everything becomes everything. But I think back then in the academic world coming out of the '50s and '60s, there was this thinking that there had to be a strong theoretical influence from contemporary music to be taken seriously, Arnold Schoenberg etc. etc.
What does it take today to be considered seriously?
A YouTube page.
Or a MySpace page.
Right. That's what I mean. The context is changing. I think it's a good thing for musicians. The whole idea of ownership of music and making money from music that way has changed.
It's hard to say what the new music business model will be if everyone can get music for free.
One of the things it does for performers is, it makes the performance more of an avenue. That's not touched the same way. People still want to see live music.
What's your deal with your recordings? It seems like you have a lot of liberty.
I record a lot for a record company based in Munich. It was Jazz Music Today, then it became Winter & Winter. They've made about 19 of the 20 or so CDs I've done.
Is it safe to assume you have relationship where they let you record whatever you want, up to a point?
Some of the music I've wanted to do is harder because it's very expensive, especially the more classical things with orchestra. You have a lot of musicians to pay. But most of my stuff was done through him.
What do you have in the works?
I'm making a new Bedrock CD, so we are editing that now and also working on building computer grooves. We're trying to get a certain rhythmic sound in editing on the computer. We looking for a certain spaced out sound, so that involves either working on what we've done and playing over it, or going in the studio then deconstructing it.
And in the middle of that you're shifting gears to work with a trio playing straight-ahead. Does that require realigning your thought patterns in some way?
No. Especially with our group because we've been together so long. We're used to playing with each other, so it's just natural. In that group we're mostly playing standards and originals, but there's also an open aspect to it. Things can go into different fields or grooves — we try not to play things exactly the same way. After working for days trying to construct something like what we do with Bedrock, it's actually a relief to go out and just play. You're free. You're not second guessing. You're just going for it. It's also different from this other thing I'm trying to finish, a piece for string quartet. The goal there is to create a piece that has space for improvisation but also a structure. That's also hopefully to be recorded in spring. All these different things make you think in different ways.
I see on your website that your record The Othello Syndrome was nominated for a Grammy for "Classical Crossover." What is that? I'm not sure I know what it means.
I don't know what it means either. I'm not really trying to do that. You have no control over how people interpret what you're doing. You just do it and hope that it's OK.