Interview Barney Kessel May 1, 1991, Hamburg-Harburg, Germany
The following - a strange mixture of official interview and private conversation among people already known to each other - took place in the pub which is part of the "Rieckhof" at Harburg, a southern district of the northern German city of Hamburg just across the Elbe river. A rather "jumpy" part of the meeting took place during the short time which remained to talk before Barney, bassist Dave Lynane and drummer Tony Man got on stage to play. The part recorded after their concert, about two and a half hours of intense talking, however, would come to be a stunning tour d'horizon through the mental landscapes of Barney Kessel, then 68.
This meeting, one of many within 18 years, was especially impressive because of this artist's openness and open-mindedness, unbiased views and kindness, natural cosmopolitism and liberalism, not to forget an unwavering optimism, love for life and people, and, of course, his widely known and very special kind of unfailing humour.
Moreover the copying of these tapes after almost exactly six years was a moving, if not at times heart-rending experience, as quite a number of things voiced in this conversation by now read almost like clairvoyance - unexplainable presentiments and/or forebodings, touching on topics which, as irony of fate seemed to will it, appear to be outdated, obsolete. I did as little editing as possible, thus trying to keep as close to this master's original rhetoric, leaving untouched most of the repetitions of phrases and whole topics.
I cherish these tapes from, I admit, a European and distinctly pro-American perspective: as a master class in American Pragmatism offering exemplary insights into the portrait of the artist as a philosopher - an admirable believer in the principles of tolerance, intellectual maturity, and individual autonomy.
It all starts with BK and me discussing my old obsession: the writing of his biography
[Before the gig]
AS:... but I want this for 17 or 18 years now...
BK: Yeah, I know... I haven't written. But I can't say to anybody that they can't write a book. I can't... I can't keep anybody from writing a book.
AS: Because I have written books by now. But I don't know who the situation would be in legal terms. If you say: Don't do it, because I'll do it myself
BK: No... no... no. For instance, Frank Sinatra has a book out on him, and he's not one whom he gave permission. But you don't need permission to write a book.
AS: But I'd never write on Barney Kessel without one. I would have to talk with you and tape things you tell me about your life.
BK: Well, I would give you permission to write, as we are friends, and you like me. But the thing is, though: I can't put certain things in a book that I am going to write myself. That's the only thing. therwise it's a duplication. Sorry that I have not written the book that I always wanted to write . but now I'm really ready, and I'm doing it... I'm doing it... I'm doing it.
AS: And the computer makes it much easier. I have mine since a year now, and it's really
BK: Oh yeah, the word processor. I just got a Macintosh two weeks ago. Sure, it's good for
AS: It saves you about fifty percent energy, if not more.
BK: You think so? But first of all you must know, ou can't keep someone from writing a book.
AS: The problem with me is that, you know, there are certain "heroes" in my life. Maybe it's a psychological thing because I had lost my parent too early or something
BK: Really, you did?
AS: Yes, both within a year, back in '69. And so there's one in literature, there one in jazz, which is of course Barney Kessel, and so on, and so on. It's like an obsession. And I think there has to be an output, you know. And I'm not satisfied with writing articles about you or reviewing all the records. I did so. But
BK: There is a man in England who has been for many years
AS: - Summerfield. Summerfield.
BK: - working on a discography. Have you written with him or talked with him?
AS: I know him, though not personally, but through some correspondence, because he did this "Jazz Guitar" book
BK: - Yes, of course. And he did one on Django.
AS: I too.
BK: Well, no, he didn't write it. He reworked it and made it into a I mean there was a book out about Django, but he changed the [cover?] and the whole presentation.
AS: I see. I think I know that book.
BK: Yeah, but he put it out in a different way and got some other pictures and kind of made it fresh.
AS: By the way now: Who is Norman Mongan? I got his book, and it's terrific. It's really good.
BK: Oh yeah, yeah. But I know Norman Mongan very well. And he's a guitar player, and a good one. And did you see Maurice Summerfield's book?
AS. There are two, one on the classical guitar and one on jazz guitar.
BK: The jazz guitar... He is also the editor of a classical guitar magazine.
AS: Who, Summerfield?... But yes, yes.
BK: That's the magazine "Classical Guitar".
AS: Oh yes, I know. I've seen a couple of copies.
BK: Then you got this "Jazz Guitar", which is in paperback, and he is updating it now, to include new people and many more. And he said in it, and it's true: When you write a book like this and you say e are going to write about all the tenor-saxophone players or all the guitar, there will always be somebody saying: >You didn't put in this man<, and then you say: >You're right, you're right.<
[Dinner is served].
BK: I've known Alexander for a long time.
AS: - Seventeen years
BK: Yeah. But I haven't seen you in many years now.
AS: I have even met you in Bonn when you played this club there.
BK [to his British sidemen Tony Man, dr, and Dave Lynane, b]: Hope you're wearing tidy socks tonight. Joe Pass is here tonight and he'll be looking at your feet because he'll be sitting at a level here he [laughter].
AS: You know, in '81 or so you wrote to me giving me permission to quote something in my book . And that seemed to be from an office... on the East coast somewhere.
BK: Yeah, I lived in - when was it, in '81? Was it '81?
AS: Yes, I think so.
BK: Maybe Annapolis, Maryland.
AS: Ah yes, Maryland. It was Maryland.
BK: Yes. I was going through what we would call a wilderness experience [is interrupted by Dave and Tony]
AS: OK. Bon appιtit, messieurs.
[The trio is making fun of the the pop music in the background. Tony says: "Seems to be a Sioux Indian!"]
BK: I know this isn't the LSO, I tell you that. I have a ten year... - Sounds like, like a tobacco auctioneer. They sell tobacco like "Oh, make it houghbddledddle-bddle-doughbddlebubblediddle it's AAWWL AMERICAN!"
AS: Oh, yes, the last time we met was in Hamburg when you played this Benny Goodman memorial thing, you know, a couple of minutes, you know
BK: Oh yeah, it was very quick, very quick.
AS: And I couldn't meet you then because right after that I had an own gig in a nearby club run by gypsies.
BK: Really? Really? You played? You play? I mean, you are playing?
AS: Oh, yes, I do. Jazz guitar.
BK: I mean, you are more - writing?
AS: Yes, writing is my profession.
BK: Yes, yes.
AS: I never had the courage to make this important step to go professional as a musician, especially not with jazz. I started playing when I was thirteen and then four years later overnight it was your "Working Out"-LP that made me drop all the Duane Eddys and Shadows and Link Wrays and decide for jazz. It all started with only the cover-photograph, the sleeve of "Working Out"...
BK: Oh yeah.
[BK seems to having mentioned Merle Travis]
AS: I see, Merle Travis. Aha... and the famous "Travis picking"...
BK: He would play this Chet Atkins style before him. He didn't play it as smooth as Chet Atkins but he played it with more intensity.
BK: To me one unusual thing about writing a book... in my life is, that... One thing is: There are many, many musicians, and they've had interesting stories, interesting lives... But there is almost no one who could say that they have played with Elvis Presley and also with Charlie Parker and also play with Art Tatum and also play with Chico Marx of the Marx Brothers. You know, what I mean is, it's such a wide, wide
AS: - Yes, the range is enormous... It's so funny, you know, because my first guitar idol was Duane Eddy.
BK: I made records with him.
AS: You did?
BK: Yeah, I recorded with him.
AS: I know that Howard Roberts did the fingersnapping on Peggy Lee's "Fever". Could it be that you played with him on "Because They're Young"?
BK: I don't know.
AS: Seems to having been a soundtrack.
BK: I don't know.
AS: At least rumour had it that Barney Kessel played guitar on that record.
BK: I made several records with him, I mean: several records. For an album for RCA Victor.
AS: He was my first guitar hero, you see
BK: Sure. Sure.
AS: There wasn't anything else there for a beginner, you know.
BK: He had a Gretsch guitar with a twang bar... I made many recordings with him. Because he would ask for me.
AS: That must have been during your Hollywood years?
BK [chewing]: Mh, mh.
AS: And the decision to go to Hollywood was more or less an economic one, because there was no market for jazz anymore?
BK: No. It was to go and see where there was a chance to work and also a chance to learn. I went because I thought I would make older guitar players [unintelligible]. In those days there were people
who could show me something, but in those days they were afraid to show. They didn't make videos, they didn't write books, they didn't show. They were afraid, it's like they had a secret.
AS: I've got the first of your three videos. It was an almost dramatic affair to get these Canadians into our European video system, you know. Rumark. I sent them $75 and it took them three years to
BK: Oh, Jeesus! Have you got the one with the bass player or me just alone?
AS: No, alone. The very first... It's a very good idea. And I think what younger people can build on today is so much more than what we have.
AS [re: his name]: Are there any German roots? Or rather European, what's likely.
BK: No. Oh yeah, European, of course. No, it was Russian: Kesselmananov, m-a-n-a-n-o-v. When my father came to America the man there
AS: Ellis Island.
BK: Yeah, but he didn't come through Ellis Island. He came through another port, in Texas. He didn't ever talk about. I didn't know for years. But it seems... My father and mother were both Russians, but he was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was part of Austria-Hungary at the time, and now it's part of Jugoslavia, of Serbia.
AS: Yes, it is.
[After the gig]
BK: ... of the tape?
AS: Yeah, sure. Not right now of course, but I'm gonna send you [a copy].
BK: No, no, OK. Great. Wonderful. Wonderful.
AS: There have been Barney Kessel strings around for some time. Was it LaBella or was it ghs or
BK: Wasn't any of those. It was, ahm...
AS: Do you play them?
BK: No, I don't anymore. But I don't endorse the strings either. I can't tell you what they were, but there's actually only three or four string companies that make strings, and then they make up packages for other people. So it's quite possible - I don't remember now what the string was, but there was the chance to do business by making packages of Barney Kessel strings. And so I did this for a while, but then I found better strings to use.
AS: What brand do you play?
BK: Mostly now they are ghs, and they are made... the packages put together for me in the string measurements I use. But I try to find anything I can use with "hand-polished", they are polished strings, but made altogether as a set, not one string from Abessynia, another one from Turkey... Many packages now, they come this way: The strings on the guitar are from six different countries.
AS: Aha. Let's stay a bit more "popular". In a recent article in "Guitar Player" about a young colored guitar player by name of Mark Whitfield it was said: Whitfield would be back in the "Golden Age of Guitar". Now I would like to have Barney Kessel give us the picture of what he thinks this "Golden Age of Jazz Guitar" was. Was it your time when you came up with the Poll Winners? Was it Al Casey's time? Was it Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow, all these people? The Fifties, Sixties. What might they have meant using that term?
BK: I wouldn't know what they meant, I don't know. But they were several "Golden Ages" really, in a way, if you want to think about it. Fist, there is a golden age when there is a particular school of thought. And then there is a golden age when certain player can play in this certain way. And then there is another golden age when somebody steps out from this and has something very personal to say. Now, before Charlie Christian there was the acoustic guitar
AS: Eddie Lang, Lonnie Johnson...
BK: Yeah, Eddie Lang and Carl Kress and George Van Eps and Allan Reuss and Dick McDonough. And these people were very artistic. They were very artistic. First of all, they had a great sound, and they played with a great assurance, and they played they played mostly chord style. And their background is that they came from the banjo to the guitar. They were banjo-oriented. Most of them did not play single notes. They played in a chord way, and some of them achieved great sophistication. As far as I'm concerned, in the 1930's the two people who had the greatest harmonic concept in music were Art Tatum and George Van Eps.
BK: Did he play seven-string then?
BK: Not ten, no. But - So that was a Golden Age, the golden age that produced people like Eddie Lang - and I wouldn't put Lonnie Johnson in the same class -, but George Van Eps, Dick McDonough, a student of George Van Eps, Allan Reuss, who was in the great, great band of Benny Goodman when he had Gene Krupa. There was another great guitarist
AS: Bus Etri?
BK: No, he came later, came way later. I'm talking about the Twenties, the 'twenties an the Thirties. Bus Etri came in the Fourties. So, it's different period, and he was playing electric guitar. But then, after these people, who came from the banjo, then you have a kind of a man-in-between, in between all of those men and Charlie Christian. You have Django Reinhardt. Django Reinhardt to me was not a jazz player. He was a gypsy improviser; and it doesn't matter what you call him, he could play the guitar wonderfully, he played the guitar fantastically. But he played more like what he was. His was a gypsy background, and he played in his own way, very much an individual, I mean in a world where there are very few people who are very individual, when you think of individuals like Sarah Vaughn and Erroll Garner, people who are very different - Django Reinhardt stands out as very different. He is one of a kind, like, when you think of Charlie Chaplin or Shakespeare. They are all one of a kind. And he was in between, and he was an improviser. But these are all just words. Then came Charlie Christian. Charlie Christian brought to the guitar a different thing, entirely. And he originally wanted to play a blowing instrument. He wanted to play tenor saxophone.
AS: "To sound like a horn". But that was - yeah.
BK: Yeah. And he had respiratory problems, so it was a good idea to do that. But his approach opened the way. Now, he wasn't the first electric guitar player
AS: Eddie Durham
BK: Eddie Durham, yeah. Eddie Durham taught him. Or showed him. But Charlie Christian synthesized these things, put them together, and he opened up a way. He was a way-shower. And that was a Golden Age. That's a Golden Age of Guitar... I think also, in his own way, although not as a soloist, I think Oscar Moore with the Nat King Cole Trio had his own way. He did something different than Charlie Christian. But his contribution was not so much the solo, but as a very harmonic part of Nat King Cole.
AS: But now, what concerns yourself, I think Barney Kessel was the very first guitarist who introduced his instrument into a trio context, like you did in the Poll Winners. That was so.
BK: Well - I was interested in doing that, yes, yes. And playing instead on a piano - playing the guitar. And make it work, make it work. And to do that it calls for more than just playing single notes or just chords. It calls for a way of working in a
AS: combining them.
BK: Yes... But another Golden Age was at the time when Tal Falow played with the Red Norvo Trio. And what he did with that trio - it opened a way. So there have been several.
AS: That leads to another question here. The Great Guitars occasionally played with other people sitting in like I think even the young Bireli Lagrene came in for a couple of sets. You know this young Django Reinhardt follower, child prodigy starting out at only twelve years of age?
BK: Well, I know who he is. Played with who?
AS: The Great Guitars. Like Emily Remler did, didn't she?
BK: Well, Bireli never played with Great Guitars, but Emily Remler worked in place of Herb Ellis one time.
AS: How was it with Tal Farlow sitting in. I have that on video. It was broadcast here in Germany.
BK: Well, I tell you something. When it comes to guitar players I'm not a very good subject, because I don't discuss guitar players very much. It's too close to what I do. It's like asking one doctor, what do you think of this other doctor? I really have to pass on that. [At this point I come to refer to the following incident. Some way half through the concert a strange but surely human whistling sound from up the audience's area of the place which didn't stop for quite a while and started to intrigue BK, who even interrupted the trio's playing mid-song to ask the anonymous to put an end to it. Joe Pass, who was in the audience, must have been sitting quite close to the unidentified whistler. I refer to this accident, saying: "And your bass player laughed when I said: >And I know who the whistler was. It was Joe Pass." - "Was it, really?", was BK's reaction with a distinct and fully understandable note of disappointment and/or displeasure, rhyming a relieved "No-hoo!" with my "Of course not!" Then a guest joins in, a relatively greenhornish radio journalist the name of whom I forget].
Guest: But I think you have your favorites, and
BK: Yes, but it's not for me to talk about. It's not for me to talk about. It's personal. It's really personal. I think if anybody listens to my playing they kow what I like and what I don't like. For instance, they can hear the tone and the sound and the songs I play... I mean, they would know.
AS: That's style. That's personal style.
BK: You know, if I went up to someone of the Rolling Stones, and I said, do you like this or - I would pretty much know what they would like, because of the way they are. But I don't think it ethical, for me, to talk about other guitar players. I know what I think, but I talk about anything else, string quartets, opera, ballet, whatever you want.
AS: Another thing that bothers me is your change back from Concord to Contemporary. When I met you the night you played this Benny Goodman memorial I asked you about that, and I think you said, they didn't do enough for you. Now, what really was the reason to go back, or: Why did you ever leave Contemporary in order to go to Concord?
BK: Well, I'm not with Concord now, and I'm not with anybody, and I made some more records for Contemporary. But... the situation in today's world is that everything is a corporation. They only look at
how many records you sell, they don't really care about anything else, it's very unemotional. So for me -
AS: - quantity, not quality.
BK: So for me, I look to see several things in a recording situation, because all of the record companies have the same microphones, they have the same kind of studios, maybe one has a better engineer than the other. But as far as to equipment, they all have the same. I look to see the best situation for me. The best situation has to involve how much money am I going to get, it involves whether they are going to pay me or whether I have to go look for them and find them, it has to do with how big the distribution is; do they get the records out into the world, and can they collect the money on the records? Many record companies sell a product, but they cannot collect the money.
BK: So, I look for those things, as well as - as well as: How much cooperation do I get from them? But sometimes, you know, the companies will pay you money, but they want you to do something which you don't think is right, like they say: Can you do The Beatles Songbook or can you do - you play your way but use the songs Elvis Presley... "Jailhouse Rock"... And so each person has to decide for themselves what they want to do. And everybody I know wants to be popular, they want to make money, they want to be known all over the world. But each person must decide what they will do. But as far as a record company, the reason, if I change around or if I don't make records - I don't make the records because I don't have the right situation. And my ego doesn't demand that I make a record every six months. I don't have to do it.
AS: When you became sixty you had your first and up to now only solo album released. Are there any plans to make another solo?
BK: No, there are no plans for another solo album, but there are also no plans to not make another solo album. It just depends on the situation. There is also a solo album made in Japan. I don't have it, I don't own it, but it's on a label
AS: I know one Japanese record with a singer, a female singer
BK: Yeah, for the same company. But there is a solo album, yeah, there is.
AS: Oh?! And you haven't got it?
BK: No, I haven't got it.
AS: When was that done?
BK: Well, at the same time that the other one was done, but I can't remember when. In the Seventies.
AS: That was when you was sixty.
BK: In the Seventies, yeah.
AS: '73 I think... And your most recent album is with Monty Alexander...
BK. No, no. There is one after that, on Contemporary, and it's the last one I did. Contemporary is owned by Fantasy Records now. The last one I made is "Red, Hot, and Blues".
AS: Are you sure, excuse me, 'cause I've got that, too, of course.
BK: Yeah, Kenny Barron on piano, Bobby Hutcherson, vibraphone, Rufus Reid, bass, and Ben Riley on drums.
AS: Yes, that's your second album with Bobby Hutcherson. How was... now... what did the title mean: "Feeling Free"? My impression was: Barney Kessel tries to go into, well, let's say more modern areas, with a little free jazz fringes and things in it, and I honestly say that my impression is that you didn't succeed.
BK: Uh huh?! OK. Well, I wasn't trying to play Fusion, I wasn't trying to be in a Fusion situation, like that. "Feeling Free" had more to do with - and it wasn't my title, it was the record company's, but I think they named it "Feeling Free" because Elvin Jones is on drums... And I think it was to play songs in a freer way than what it's been in the past for me. I mean not the Benny Goodman way, not just even Bebop, but not quite so rhythmically structured, but certainly not Fusion.
AS: It was, so to say, the most "intellectual" album - that was my impression - you ever did.
BK. Yeah. Aha... But there was no attempt on my part to try to be Fusion or anything, but - but there was the attempt to play in a way that it isn't just 32- measure-songs or that everything is rhythmically clear. It more inferred, and I think - you know, I never minded if somebody says to me that they don't think I succeeded or anything. I think we have to look at what is the intention. For example, for example: If a man makes a records and he plays only ballads and he plays very few notes, and then somebody writes and says: He doesn't have much technique - but he didn't try to have technique, he didn't try to play these things... So I think you have to look at what is the purpose. Anyway, as far as that album "Feeling Free", it was freer than other things had been before. And it also had to do with a little more free in my life at the time. But I didn't name it, I didn't name it.
AS: And then the Monty Alexander thing was, compared to one of my favorite albums, the "Working Out" one - 'cause it was the very first album I ever had that brought those radical changes literally overnight Christmas '63-
BK. Aha, I see
AS: - the "Working out" quartet was much more modern than the Monty Alexander quartet.
AS: - at least that's my impression.
BK: Well... I don't know... I have nothing to respond to that, I don't know what to say.
AS: Some names, and then my - there's a certain purpose behind that. Lorne Lofsky, Peter Sprague, Peter Leitch, Howard Alden, all these younger people, Ritchie Hart who is playing proper Wes Montgomery style - I detect something like a going back into mainstream jazz guitar, away from too much of electronics, away from much; would you agree that many of them - even the more "grown-ups", the better among those guitarists known for a longer time already - return to it like pianists such as Keith Jarrett for example, who have done the free jazz thing and now come back to Bop. It has to do with my impression of what a "Golden Age" is - that there will always be a certain "main stream" in jazz and that for me you stand for that. And almost all of these Concord people mentioned play more or less straight Bop. So there seems to be turning away from too much fuzzing around with "Avantgarde" and experiments. Do you agree?
BK: Well, certainly with those people that you mentioned, with those people - certainly. I don't know if all of those people that you've mentioned, if they all ever did play the synthesizers or electronics. So maybe some of 'em did and are doing other things now, and others never did.
AS: What I'm up to is that for jazz fans such as we are there is a certain trend back from Jazzrock, away from Fusion back into real jazz. Is it nostalgia, or what is it? Or has it to do with a re-discovery of the original values, of what is beautiful, of what is swinging.
BK: It's probaby a little of everything. One thing you can be sure of is, no matter what is here, it's going to change. Things change. They change because people get tired. Another thing is: What is old for one person is new for another. What one person throws away is discovered by the next person for the first time. So that is that. There is also people who only play in a way that they look what's selling. If what's selling is a synthesizer, they get a synthesizer. If they now stop using he synthesizer, they stop using it. They don't express their own personal values. They're always playing what seems to be the way, and not only in terms of equipment but in terms of playing. If the thing to do is to play like George Benson, they copy George Benson; if the next thing is to copy somebody else, they copy him.
AS: Like, everybody tries to play like Pat Metheny or John Scofield.
BK: Yeah. There are those people, too, who always follow the leader. Others follow the equipment. And then there are people who don't know what they want, but they're always searching. So this year they're playing with this kind of thing, next year with that, because they're looking to see two things. They're looking to see what they feel and also maybe they can do many things, but the public only accepts them in one way, the public wouldn't accept them in another way.
[The guest radio man talks about strange crossings of jazz and hiphop music from London and describes for an obviously not informed BK, what it is all about].
BK: Well, I didn't hear it. There was not any idea of speaking badly about it, 'cause I didn't hear it. Ah, something cannot be jazz and non-jazz at the same time, just like you cannot be Jewish and Catholic at the same, or you cannot be an atheist and a believer in God at the same time. So, these things like "Jazzrock" or "Fusion" for me don't exist. Somebody was to put a name on it. You can call it anything. You can call it "Pizza" or "A Bowl of Chilli", if you want to call it that. But the fact is that when I think of jazz and the embodiment of jazz I think of people like Lester Young and Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker and Phil Woods and Bill Evans and many, many, many. And when I think of those people I don't think about these people who in today's world are called jazz, because there not all the same thing.
AS: That comes close to the observation that Americans very often say: As long as it's good music I don't care about the name or label you put on it, while Europeans always tend to store away thing in different drawers.
BK: I don't like they use names. I don't even like to think about it being Jazz or being Bop or Swing. I don't like it.
AS: In the Mongan book you re quoted as saying: "In a strict sense I wouldn't call myself a jazz guitarist. I could sit down and improvise for twelve hours without repeating myself." But I think it sounds like one sentence, as I believe that impovisation is one of the cardinal virtues of jazz.
BK: Yes, but I can improvise on a polka [hums a definitely non-jazz theme]. No, improvising is not jazz, is not synonymous. It's possible to improvise in jazz, but it's also possible to improvise in a polka or a march or anything else. And also, when you get really close to it: The more I live, the more I find that words are inadequate to express music. It's just names that people give something. We call something "the moon". It isn't the moon at all. It's whatever it is. But we give it a name because it's easier to say than "there is a ball of light, that's up there only at night, and it changes its shape".
AS: It's a code, a means for communication.
BK: Yeah, there is no such thing as a guitar, but we call this piece of wood that has some strings on it and a pickup, because we don't want to say: "I saw you hold this piece of wood in your hand..." So, the names - this is Post-Bop, this is Pre-Bop
AS: What is post-modernism?
BK: Yeah. Take myself, for instance, if I'd say I'm a blues man or a jazz blues man or a bossa nova man, King of Bossa Nova when this style dies I'm kind of die with it. But I don't want to have a name attached to a certain part. I'm a musician. I've been a musician all my life. I've made my living in many, many things in music. I've done dog-food commercials, I've done shampoo commercials, I've played behind religious people. So... so it's not just to say it's only this little way. But... But I don't want to put a name to it. To me music is music, it stands for itself, and the words, they only come near to say what it is.
AS: But Barney, would you have played those jingles if at that time you would be well off enough with playing jazz then? Was it an existential necessity then?
BK: Yeah, but it was more than that. It was necessary for me to earn a lot of money and to stay in one place, because I had young children. And I wanted to be there for them. And there was no way to play jazz and do that.
AS: When I watched you playing
BK: Tonight you mean?
AS: Yeah, I again thought of Julian Bream's book "A Life on the Road". OK, he's a classical player, but he is one among the many who managed to keep body and soul together although he spends eighty percent of his life on the road. How is that - to spend a life on the road? Have you now and then grown tired of it and throw it all away in favor of a home-base?
BK: No... I enjoy being on the road. It's good to be on the road, and it's also good to go home. It's good for both. I think if I were on the road all the time or if when I'm off the road, when I go home all I have is just a little room living by myself, then I don't think it would be very nice to either be on the road or at home in a little room all by myself. But it also would not be good to stay home all the time and only play locally and just play a few times and play in a way when you're not really trying to do something. But there is also another part. Travelling for me is fun, I enjoy it, I love people, it's a chance to meet people, it's a chance to travel to many countries. People save their money all their life just for a chance to go to Europe from America. Last year I went to Europe six times. People go on time in their life, and they save their money all their life to go. It's fun, it's educational, I've learned many things only from travelling, not from books, but from travelling and meeting people. But there is another thing, too. If you have someone in your life, if you have someone you love, then you have to find a way to work so that they are with you und you are with them. Because then, if you are away, it makes no sense to live so much of your life away from the person that means something. But if you don't have anybody, it doesn't matter so much. If you want to be with the person and you want them to be with you, then you'll have to find out a way. So you might say, you're on the road together, you're on the road because there're on the road with you. But still it's one way to have your home away from home is to have the one you love with you.
G: It seems that you're lucky with your wife.
BK: Well, I don't have a wife right now [BK married Phyllis on January 24, 1992]. I'm in the middle of it. But I have someone that means very much to me, very much in my life right now, very much. And I did not know I could be so happy. I did not know it's possible.
AS: Same with me.
BK: First of all, I didn't know anybody really was that happy. I read about it, but I never did see it.
AS: It's exactly the same with me. It took me 43 years to at last meet happiness.
BK: But I think part of it is to meet the right woman, and part of it is to be the right man, to be he right man for the woman, to want to make something happen to think of the other person. But anyway, I am fortunate. The reason I am fortunate is because some people look for this all their life and they never find it. And I've just about given up, I mean I didn't think - I did even think not only did it exist or me; I thought it was not true, it didn't exist for anybody, but that they pretend that it's OK.
AS: Many people do.
BK: But it is good, it is fine. And right now I'm in the process this job that I did just now... I have been away five weeks...As far as I know this is the last time in my life that I intend to be going from the
woman that I love, for five weeks. Somehow either I will not be going so long, or she will meet me somewhere in he time, or I will go to her or she will come to me, or we meet halfway. But there's
no reason for me to spend five weeks of my life or more away from the person that means something to me. So it's up to me to find a way to do it. And I will. I will.
AS: You had a flat or something in Stockholm you once told me
BK: - many years ago, yes.
AS: And then you said: One of the reasons was that it was good to have an "operation base" in Europe because European jazz audiences were better than American ones. Is that still true?
BK: More appreciative. Yeah. Not that they understand it any more. It's not that they understand it any more; and a lot of people like jazz without understanding it. Just like, for example, many of us, for instance... we fly in an airplane, and many of us don't understand how it flies. And we drive a car, but we don't know what makes the car go. And also, we talk on a telephone and don't understand how we can talk through a wire. So, we are just to enjoying certain things we don't understand. But I would say that the Eurpean audiences are more appreciative, because they recognize that this music is not a part of their culture, in the beginning. But in America they take it for granted. It's just like... If someone in Germany makes good Sauerkraut it's not so special, because many many people can; but in America not everybody can make good Sauerkraut. So it's kind of exceptional. It's this way, you see.
AS: The problem is that there are very many people who are, for example, being taken into an art gallery by their wives or husbands or friends. And later those people's very frequent commentary is: "I
don't like it - I didn't understand it." And my similarly frequent answer is: "You don't need to understand it. Just trust you very personal emotional reaction." Nothing else. That's it. It doesn't need any academic pre-information or something of that sort. What counts are the spontaneous reactions to it; either you do or you don't like it.
BK: Sure, that's it.
AS: Another thing in this connection is that decades ago people say - and many even now say - only blacks can play the blues. Might be so. What about jazz. Could man put it into the formula that Europeans couldn't really play jazz?
BK: No, we've passed that point, we've passed that point a long time ago. First of all, I'll tell you a story. I used to go to a little Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. And the man and the wife were from
[I interrupt him reminding him of the wonderful story he once told me about a barber who opens up shop in a street in New York putting a sign up reading: "The best barber in America." Half a year later a second barber opens up shop in that street, a couple in front of the first one. He also puts up a sign which reads: "The best barber in the world". Another half year later a third one opens up shop in that same street, installing his shop right at the very beginning of that street. And he also puts up a sign, and it simply reads: "The best barber in the street."]
BK: - and this Italian restaurant was always very good; this time it was much better. So I told the man, I said: "The food is always good, this time it's better. Is it my imagination, or is it better?" - "No, it is better."- "Why is it?" - "Well", he says, "we have a new cook, a new chef. You can see him in there." So I looked in there, and it's a 19 year old Japanese boy cooking Italian food. But he is a cook, he is a cook, that's what he is. What he didn't know was how to cook Italian food. They showed him how to cook Italian food. And then he had his own ideas. Oh, you're trying to do this. Aha. Now his own personality comes in. We can do this and this and this, and now - so, here is a young boy going to school. He is Japanese. But he is a cook, of any kind of cook. But he didn't cook Italian. So now he sees Italian food and he learns it. OK, so, first of all I don't believe that men have to play jazz better than women, I don't believe that blacks have to play better than whites, I don't believe that people from New Orleans have to play better than people from Chicago, and I don't believe that Americans have to play better than Europeans. But - but there is such a thing as intimidation. And here is what happens: For many, many[ years the Europeans felt like they are copying the records. They like it, they like the music, but they feel: >Yes, I can play the clarinet or the drums, but I can never be like an American, because that's - I heard them on the record.< And so for many years they made themselves small. And the Americans didn't help them. The Americans said: >You are right. You can't play. We are the ones.< And they said: >Yeah, I know, you are the ones.< And we said: >We are the ones, and don't forget it.< - >No, I won't forget it, because I'm European. I try, I'm not Gene Krupa, but I try to play the drums.< Now, what happened is: Over the years they tried to copy the Americans. And of course, as long as they copied they are always second, because they're not the real thing. Look, this is German beer. In America they try to make German beer, it's not German beer. They try. That's all: They try... But this is 1991, we're living in a different world now What happened is that somewhere some of the Europeans said: >My gawd, I don't think I have to copy Americans. I think I have something to say. And they begin to play. And now, listen: Niels Henning Ψrsted-Pedersen, he doesn't have to sit and be small in front of anybody. Toots Thielemans doesn't have to be small. There was a saxophone player, Tubby Hayes, from London, there was a drummer, Neil Seimons [?] in London, any number of
people. I'm sorry I don't know many Germans, but I'm sure there are here.
AS: Tony played with Tubby Hayes, didn't he?
BK: Yeah. Yeah. And so the point is: These people finally come out. There are women in music that are coming out. Yes, there have been many black musicians that have played; but what about Stan Getz, what about Zoot Sims, what about Bill Evans Bill Evans, one of the freshest voices that did ever happen. What about Chet Baker...[says goodbye to a small group of admirers leaving]... Ja. Sehr gut. So... as men become more friendly to women, the women feel more free to play music. As whites and blacks don't think so much about being black and white, they make music. Some of the greatest music's been made by blacks and whites together. The Benny Goodman Sextet is black and white people playing music. The Oscar Peterson Trio, whether it was with me or Herb Ellis or Joe Pass, is white and black together. Whether Oscar Peterson has Niels Pedersen or Ray Brown, it's white and black, and it's been good collaboration. So, as people have tried to be more open, then the other people feel free. The whites feel more free with the blacks, the women feel more free with the men, and the Europeans feel more free with the Americans. And now what we have is, there are people all over the world. Toots Thielemans on harmonica is one of a kind; there's nobody in America that plays like that. Stephane Grappelli, there's nobody that plays like him. You know what I mean is, that they are different... No, no, Stuff Smith was wonderful. And so is Stephane. That's what I mean with >one of a kind<. As Jean-Luc Ponty. There one of a kind. So, in today's world it has nothing to with whether you're European or American or Japanese or whether it's man or woman playing or whether it is black or white. It's music. It's music.
AS: It sounds very optimistic towards some kind of world citizenship
BK: - but it is, it is.
AS: But that affords a good deal of maturity and getting away with prejudices and things like that. You have to tear down borders, like between the sexes, between races... I also think that we are on a
good way, heading towards something we haven't reached yet
BK: - no, we haven't
AS: - maybe in jazz, maybe.
BK: But I tell you something. You'd be surprised, for instance, if I told you that if you go to Japan, there are cooking schools that teach French cooking and that the people there make fantastic French food. There's maybe people that are doing paintings in some part of the world that are the kind of paintings that you would think come from France, but they're not from France.
AS: I think art is always a hundred miles ahead of politics.
BK: Yeah, yeah. And as the world becomes more free as they is more technological - all the technology makes the whole world together. Just think about what we're doing right now. Here's an American talking to some German. We're speaking about something in a very free way. Und ich kann ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen, mφchte sprechen. Du kannst sprechen Englisch, und wir sprechen zusammen, und... and the thing is, as the time goes on and we have more and more technology, it becomes one world in a way. And I hope in one way it does become one world; but the other way is: I hope that I can always know that I'm in each country, that it's not just any country with McDonald's, hamburgers and Holiday Inns. I hope that there is a feeling that stays in Germany: It's Germany, and it's not any place in the world. This is France, and this is Italy
AS: - a cultural identity
BK: - and I want to hold on to this difference. But there's also the World Monetary Council. They want the world to have one kind of money, they want to have one kind of culture, and everybody sort of we're all cattle together. But there's part of it that would be good if everything is together. Like you're now becoming the United States of Europe, this thing... yeah, I hope it works, yeah.
AS: The problem is that, I think, the more the modern media develop and making the world smaller, the more the countries tend to loose their specific folkloristic traits.
BK: Well, I hope they don't loose that. I hope they come together in the ways that's a benefit to the planet, but not loose the cultural things. You know, I hope they still have Oktoberfest, and I hope that they still have the first Beaujolais in France, and I hope that they have the Italians stay Italian, because they are very friendly and very warm. But if we become a big world of McDonald's hamburger stands and Holiday Inns it's gonna be very sad, very sad.
G: But what shall we do with the so-called "Third" world, with countries like Brazil, like China, like Irak
BK: - and Africa
G: - like Africa, like India. They are poor, they are suppressed
BK: - what we have to do is for the rest of the world, the rest of the world and not the Third World, to really unite, really unite, and help these countries to come out of this, but to police the actions. Because what's happened is, when Italy had the earthquake with Mt. Aetna; when the African, the Ethiopian people are starving, the rest of the world did give. They did help, but the people didn't get it. Too much bureaucracy, too many finger in, it takes too long, takes too much time, so they didn't get it. Somebody sends a thousand Marks. By the time they get it, they get sixty Marks, because they take this out here, this out there... and even when they get the sixty Marks, it's too late. They may have died, they didn't have food.
AS: I heard a speech at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year, and Japanese and American and German economists said that twenty percent of the world population hold eighty percent of the world's wealth.
BK: Well, that's true.
G: And in a recent report on TV it was stated that out of 1.000 people 250 will be starving tomorrow.
BK: Oh yeah...
AS: Do you believe, or do you think it in any way possible that the arts can help?
BK: Not only the arts can help
AS: - to further the communication among peoples and cultures?
BK: - yeah, but when the arts have stopped, when the governments have not subsidized the arts, when arts are no part of culture, from the beginning of history you can trace it that the countries have fallen. It happened in Greece, it happened in the Roman Empire. When they cut out culture, cultural awareness, then the people become just like cattle and the counties fall down
AS: Like in fascism or especially under the Nazis in Germany and in socialism.
BK: - yeah, yeah. Right now in the United States there is no place to call the Department of Culture or the Ministry of Culture. Now, in England there's a place called the Ministry of Culture, but it's only one room in one office... One room. But we don't even have that room. It's about the size of three telephone booths. If you go to London you say: >Can I see the Ministry of Culture?< - >Yes, it's right over here, right next to the toilet.< [laughter].
G: I think you can go to any country in the world, and wherever you are it looks as if we all really don't need any culture.
BK: But we do, sure we do. You know why we need culture? We need culture to make us realize that we are doing something more than just to exist. Because the dogs exist and the cats exist and the birds exist, but we are more, we have more of a choice. We are human beings, and human beings have choices, and they know it, they know it. Birds and all the animals operate by instinct, we have choices, and we know it.
AS: Well, we have lost our instincts. And have to replace them by something.
BK: Of course, many people believe that they don't have choices, but they do. You have - We don't have to be sitting here, we don't have to be in Germany, I don't have to have this cap on, I can take it off, I can take this off, I can speak to you in German, I don't have to speak in English. We have many choices; I don't have to drink beer, I can drink wine or drink tea - we have lots of choices. But we act like we don't have choices, see. We can change our profession, we can change our marriage, we can change our sports activities, we can change the color of our hair, cut the beard off, put it on, make half of it purple or orange - anything you want.
AS: This is, again, very American, because Americans are more flexible in many respects than Europeans -
BK: - but Americans represent Europeans who had the courage to make a change. That's all they are. Americans are Europeans who moved.
AS: That was long ago.
G: Yeah, it was long ago. And they had reasons to move.
BK: Yeah... but tradition is not all bad, tradition is not all bad. You find out after you've grown that many things your father and mother told you are not such bad things to do. But... It's a combination of tradition and having the courage to move forward. It's balanced. If all you do is stay in one place, you don't move nothing, you don't grow. If all you do is to keep moving and never make a root, then you don't build on a foundation. So it's always a balance, it's a balance.
AS: Years ago some music magazine, I forget which one, put you into the category "Traditional Jazz". Would you agree [laughter].
BK: Not at all! Not at all, no.
AS: Are you a "traditionalist"? You are not - ?
BK: No. But I'm not avantgarde either.
AS: No, but I think you have been avantgarde with the Poll Winners albums. And then you kept faithful to your own style and developed that further and further...
BK: It's good to always be looking for something, but it's always good that after you looked, if you found it, if it's good - keep it. I mean, I've got a woman now; I've been looking, I've found the woman; I'm not looking, I've found a woman. Why do I need to look? I've got a guitar, I'm happy with this guitar. I've had it since 1946. If I would find a better one, I'd have it.
AS: That was to be my last question, a question I've always tried to ask you
BK: - well
AS: - and you never answered it precisely. It concerns the instrument. It seems you've got a whole group of similarly looking guitar, but they are all a mixture of several others Gibsons. Now I want to know which ones. Is the basic... the body the old 150 plus a round cutaway.
BK: No. This guitar that I've got, that I'm using, it's called ES-350. ES means "Electric Spanish"
AS: - I know
BK: - and it's the same body as the L7. It's an L7 body, but the factory made it into an electric. I took the pickup out and put in one that was 1939
AS: - the Christian
BK: - That pickup is 1939. You can't find it in the world today [sic]; you can't get it, you can't get it. 1939. I took off the knobs, the fancy knobs, and I put on two knobs from an old record player [laughter], because it works better, it works better.
AS: So then it is a unique instrument?
BK: Oh yeah, oh yeah! Sure!
AS: But then I misunderstood you the other time we talked.
BK: No, no. Because this is
AS: I thought I saw you with another guitar that looked like this one.
BK: Yeah. But again, the question is - people come up and say: "What guitar do you play?" That's not the question, that's not important. No, the question is: >Why do you play the guitar you play?<
AS: Yes, of course, of course. But that is another level of asking questions.
BK: If I were in the home of Andrθs Segovia and I see a guitar, I don't say: >What is that guitar?< I'd say: >Why do you play this one?< Because there is the lesson, there is the lesson.
AS: I mean, that's true. If you look into all those rock-oriented magazines today, they are fetishists of guitar types and equipment and string gauges and output rates et cetera et cetera.
BK: Yeah, but I never talk about equipment. There's no music in the guitar. There's only music in the person. Young boys come up and say: "What kind of guitar is this? Can I get it in green? Because I've got a green suit?" How long is it, I don't know
AS: But no, Barney, there must be a certain reason for your playing just this guitar and not, for example, the endorsed instruments such as the double cutaway.
AS: And that's the reason why I'm asking.
BK: Alright. The reason why I play this guitar is because when I play this guitar it sounds like the way it feels in my head and in my heart. It sounds that way. If I make a record and I say [sings the first bars of "Night and Day" with a soft, melodious voice] and it comes out of the record [sings the same with one hand closing his nostrils], then it's no good. I want it to come out the way I sent it. And when I use this guitar it comes out that way.
AS: So that was the reason I was asking.
[As the "official part" of the interview is over - bits and pieces were published in a Hamburg paper two days later - BK returns to a topic discussed before and then lets himself willingly be led into a "free floating" rag-bag of diverse topics].
BK: But we need culture. If we'd lose the culture - and all the governments now, when they make cuts, they cut on culture, because they think: >This is one thing we can lose<. We have to have this, we have to have this, but they don't look at history, they don't look at history. Every country that's cut on culture, has fallen. It has, it has.
AS: It's true - also the Greek and Roman empires collapsed because of a lack or decline of cultural values.
BK: The only secretary of culture I know is in France.
AS: Jack Lang.
BK: Aha... Well, the French are extremely artistic. They are very developed and sensitive to fashion, they are sensitive to design, they are sensitive to aesthetics; it's part of their culture, of their background. It's part of what they are, their sense of color, their sense of seasoning, of taste, of food, fashion, design, perfume, you know, and so I would say if any place in the world is going to have an office of culture, they would have it... Sure.
AS: How is it possible that you haven't got you own Japanese solo album?
BK: Well, but when you think of this, there are many albums I don't have. Because I have spent most of my life playing he guitar and working. And I have not been at peace in a life in a happy marriage. And I haven't been organized that well. I've been organized on guitar, but I'm not organized to get all these things. And now I'm in the process of collecting all of these things.
AS: So you haven't collected your own work?!
BK: No. No.
AS: Maybe I've got more records by Barney Kessel than
BK: - I bet you do. I know Maurice Summerfield has. He plays me things all the time I've never heard. [laughter]. Yeah.
AS: There is quite an old one now offered through Japanese channels, this old "Shiny Stockings" album, with this blue cover
BK: "Shiny Stockings"?!
AS: It's the name of the album.
BK: It is?!
AS: Yeah. It's a fantastic Barney Kessel alum. Never heard? [laughter].
BK: No. No. No.
AS: Mh, you should listen to Barney Kessel! [laughter].
BK: No. No. I don't have it.
BK: No... I know what it is. Also many of these things have been packaged in different variations.
AS: A pretty foolish question would be (I know the answer): Is there any favorite album?
BK: No, no. No. Every album I make, it seems like the right thing at that time. Now, for instance, I don't look back and say: >Oh, I shouldn't have done that.< Let me tell you. When you look at today's newspaper it's the right newspaper for today. If ten years later you look at this thing, you say: >Oh, that's such a stupid newspaper< -
AS: - but it's fascinating to read old newspapers!
BK: - >It's such a stupid newspaper.< But it was the right one or that day. When I look at it and then listen to the record, I say: >Now I can do better. But I couldn't do better then.< If I could have done better then, I would have done better.
AS: Obviously that's the difference between the one who makes the records and the one who buys it, because the one who buys it listens to it for a thousand times or even more. But the artist does not. But he say: >Well, that's over...< -
BK: Well, everybody listens to music in a different way. The way I listen to my own records is... When I make a new record, maybe - it may surprise you -, maybe I play that records thirty times, over and over and over and over and then I never play it for the rest of my life. Because now it's here [points to head or heart]. I don't have to put it down and listen to it.
AS: Has there ever been something like, well, an experience listening to an own record, which made you say: >Oh, I should have done this or that better.<
BK: No, I couldn't have done it better then, but I see now. I used to play certain things, I would play certain things and I'd say: >Oh, that's very smooth, that's really very smooth.< Ten years later I listen and I say: >It's very rough, it's very crude.< Your concept is different.
AS: If you are listening to music, what do you like to listen to?
BK: Mostly I listen to classical music. I listen to Ravel, Debussy... I've just recently discovered Brahms. And I like to listen to lots of piano music. I like Chopin very much. I'm sorry, but I like Mozart
AS: Sorry??? We've got a European Mozart craze right now: He died 200 years ago [laughter].
BK: I was just in Salzburg, in Christmas time, yeah.
G: And do you like Wagner? No?
BK: Wagner? Wagner? Yes, yes. I like Wagner. But... mostly I listen to classical works. When I listen to jazz... most of what I hear, I can't stand it, I can't stand it. Last night I played in a place... I played in a place, and right above where we're playing it says "Jazz". What was going on was not jazz. This is the problem for me. I've given my whole life to jazz, and what people are playing - they are not bad people, and they are not bad musicians, but that has nothing to do with jazz. It's like somebody calls this coffee. It's not coffee, it's not coffee. [BK mocks a blown free jazz phrase with mouth and lips - laughter]. It's not jazz.
[Another guest, Roland Prakken, joins in, himself an excellent guitar player in his own right and, as it were, a friend of Joe Pass]
RP: You like to listen to other guitarists?
AS: No, he does not.
BK: No, no. It has nothing to do with guitar. I like to listen to good music. If it's on guitar, fine. If it's on trombone, on washboard, it doesn't matter. I don't think about guitar, I think about music.
RP: Well, it's different. I was asking because a friend of mine, for example, he listens to guitar and he listens to jazz and jazz guitar s well.
BK: But, but... It's not, it's not... When I was very young I would only go see an orchestra if they had a guitar player.
AS: So, the reason you are not talking about guitarists has nothing to do with being afraid of judging people, well...
BK: Well, I don't want to judge people. Let me tell you, I don't want to judge people, but we all have our preferences. First of all, you have to realize, in art there is no best. In sports there is a best. If you put your hand out - give me your hand
AS: There is a measure for physical strength...
BK: ... If somebody fires a gun, and two people jump in the water, the one who wins the race is the best. In music there is no best. You can say there is one more popular, one makes more money, one is more on TV, but you can't say there's a best. It's the same as going into a place to get ice cream. They have 31 flavors of ice cream. You order strawberry, you order chocolate, you order vanilla, you can't say one is the best. You say: >I prefer<. Here I have a Pils; I can't say the Pils is better than Dortmunder Alt. It's not better. It's just that
G: You're right. But I've got problems
BK: With what?
G: With what you just said.
G: I give you an example... George Benson has made a record, let's say "White Rabbit". Then he made a record that was called "Abbey Road" or something. He re-did all the Beatles tracks from their "Abbey Road" album. Then he gets a contract with Yamaha, I think, and instead of playing jazz he takes to typical Top Forty music. Now, what I mean is that I have the freedom to criticize this turn to commercial stuff.
BK: It all depends on what his objective is. First of all, whatever he's doing, he has the right to do it, he has the right to do it. And it's not for me to judge what it is. Now, if his object is to make a lot of money, he's doing the right thing. If his object is to express himself artistically, he's not doing it. If he can do something but he doesn't do it - you don't look at something as what they can do; you look at what they do. If I tell you: >I can do many things<, it doesn't mean anything. You have to look and see what I do. You never look at what somebody says they're going to do; you look and see what they do. What they do tells you what they are.
AS: But, Barney, at the university I was told to make differences between good literature and bad literature, English and American literature, for example. No I am among other things a critic for music and literature... Everything what you said means that nobody ever has a right to criticize any other individual's work.
BK: Well, as a critic you have the right to criticize the evening. You know, you have a right to say: >I went to a concert -<. No, you have a right to say... to criticize
[end of first tape].
BK: When I am up there playing I don't think about being a guitar player. I don't think about the guitar at all. I don't think about it at all. I think more about being a musician, not a guitar player. I'm making music. I don't think: >Is it good guitar?<, >Am I playing the guitar well?<, >Do I play the guitar well?< No, I think more about the music. And the other thing is: I think more about being a human being. I think, first of all, I am so lucky to be alive and to be able to be in good health and not in a wheelchair and not in a hospital and not sick and to be able to play music that I like. I'm also very happy [that] other people like it. And isn't it wonderful that I can play this music and that I haven't to got out and work some job I don't like and I can make enough to live. I can make enough to buy clothes and eat and food, just from the thing I like to do. That's stronger to me. Then comes the music. And then comes the guitar. The guitar is way down. First it's life, just to live! And then it's people. And then it's music and then the guitar. So... but somebody else might be thinking: >I've got to play the guitar<, you know. >Here's the guitar! I got a guitar, I got a... hoohooohoooh...<!" Everybody is different.
AS: The guitar is just a means of expression.
BK: Yeah. It's a tool, it's a tool. A writer uses a typewriter. A painter uses a paintbrush. I use the guitar. There is no music in the guitar. There's only music in the person. And it's two ways. It's in here and in here [again points to head and heart].
AS: Was it the same when you heard Charlie Christian for the first time?
BK: Oh yeah, very emotional, very emotional.
AS: Wasn't it the sound of the guitar, too?
BK: It's what he was playing, what he was playing. You see, you have to get - when you see something you have to get past the lights, the make-up, you have to get past all of these things; it's what's going on. What are they saying? I mean: What is really at the bottom? In America we call it - like if you have a meal and you have many little small things, but there must be "some meat and potatoes", that's got to be the main thing. If that's not there, all these little things don't mean so much.
AS: Here the substance, there the embroidery.
BK: Yeah, yeah. So, there's got to be a basis. And also it's very important for an artist to know where to put money. Money is number two. Money is a very big number two, it's very big number two to me. But it's number two, it's not number one. I don't play music I don't like. I don't care how much money they give me I don't play the music I don't like. I don't stand there and do this and do this [imitates rock players]. I don't make a video and I put it behind my back and play for the money. I don't do it. Because I don't believe it. And so... You can only sleep in one bed at a time, you can only drink one beer at a time, you can only wear one coat... I have this, I have a beer, here's the coat, I have a bed in
my hotel. It's all I need. So, when you put money first, it cannot ever be art. It can't be art. If you put art first - maybe. Maybe you can sell it for money... Because the minute you put money first
AS: That's corruption
BK: - the minute you put money first and you pick up the guitar to play, you don't say: >What do I want to do?< You say: >What's hot? What are they buying? What's fashionable? What is the thing to do out there?< It's like the fashion magazine says: >There color this fall is blue.< It doesn't mean a thing to me. >This is in, this is out<. I don't want to follow trends, I want to set trends. I've been in music for 56 years. I have never missed a meal, I've never been out of work. Whatever I'm doing it's right for me. And so... it must be the good way, must be the right way. I don't worry about style trends - anything that's popular today has got to die. Everything that's... The most popular will die the quickest.
AS: And a bit of luck seems to be part of it, because usually it's pretty hard to keep faithful to oneself.
BK: Sure, sure. But... the minute you sign with the record company, you say: >I wanna make a record, and I want so much money and I want this and this and this and I want you to give me this and this, and then they say: >Fine, we'll give you the money, but we want a chance to sell records. So, how about doing the "Beatles Song Book", how about doing "I Love Rod Stewart", and how about giving the group - don't call it Barney Kessel Quartet<, because that's very dull. How about calling it 'Cosmic Brotherhood'? And our first album is 'Apollo is my Father'. And how about holding the guitar behind your back... OK. You know, the point is: When you wake up in the morning and you look in the mirror... All of this is not bad, if you believe it. If you say: >I want to be a pop star. I want to make a lot of money. That's what I wanna do<, and you do it and you believe it, it's OK. The thing is: When you don't believe what you're doing, you're living a lie. That's all.
AS: In 1979/80 I worked a press manager in a German record company. And my experience was that they handle music just like an article which has to be sold, nothing else.
BK: Sure, sure.
AS: They don't care for whether it's good or not.
BK: No, no. It doesn't interest them.
AS: No criteria except the one: This has to be sold.
BK: Sure. Well, in business profit is the bottom lie. In business - and it doesn't matter what the business is - you look and see: Is there a profit? If it's not, you got to get out. In art you don't look at profit first. So, there're two different worlds, two different worlds. But I think musicians could spend a little more time to try to find out what the public wants, and I think that businessmen can try to find a way not always to look just for profit. Certain things are very important that they show it, you know. Like for instance a certain TV show will come, and it's a very important TV show. They make a test and they find out: Not very many people are watching they cut it out.
AS: Profit oriented means looking out for majorities, not minorities.
BK: Yeah... But there's no answer... It's really not for me to to criticize another artist as to what they're doing. They may be after something else. I don't know, you know.
AS: Would you feel freer to talk about a piano player or a sax player?
BK: Oh, sure, sure, sure. Almost anything but guitar players...
NG: The other thing is, for example, Volker Kriegel, a German guitar player. Have you ever heard of him?
RP: He had a regular radio program here in a northern German station. And he had a lot of guitar music in there and talked a lot about guitar players. And he once said: >It's not that I criticize other guitar players because I might think I could do better, but it's the one thing I know best. So it's quite natural for me to talk about other guitar players as I know what they are doing and I -<
BK: - yeah, but how can you criticize someone when they had a certain idea they wanted to do and they did it? Somebody comes out an they play an album, and everything is slow on it, just pawpaw
dee-dee dee-dee and that's what they wanted to do, and they did it. Now, a man comes and says: >This man, he doesn't play very fast. He doesn't have any technique.< Is it correct to do this?
AS: Everybody wants to play like John McLaughlin or like Larry Coryell did in order to be a top guitarist.
RP: I think there are too many guitarists, especially young guitarists...
BK: But they're young and immature.
AS: They don't anything about personal expression.
RP: Yes, but some of them don't ever learn. They just try to do things, speed and other things...
BK: Well, there is a big distance between being a guitar player and a musician.
RP: Yeah, that's it.
BK: That's a different world.
RP: And I think you are perfectly right with what you said before - that first there has to be the music and then the guitar... You don't have to be as fast as John McLaughlin to express yourself - that's the point: to express yourself... Excuse me... Let me just tell you that I turned into a jazz player through Charlie Parker and Bebop and all, and in the beginning I used to play fat runs and a lot of this and that until at one point I discovered that this was nothing but technique - and a copy. And this friend of mine who also is a guitar player, he is still talking about wanting to be a real Bebop player, he really believes in this, and when I asked him why he said, well, that's the fastest in swinging music. But he never wanted to play just swing; it must be much more complicated stuff...Today I'd rather play really swinging stuff, no matter if there comes a Bop phrase in or not, some Django Reinhardt inspired things or what ever. That's OK for me, I think.
AS: I think that most of us started pretty much the same. We started copying people
BK: Sure, I did, too.
AS: - first, as I said, Duane Eddy, doom-doom doom-doom doomdoom da da doom-doom doom-doom doom-doom da da, "Peter Gunn"...
BK: Did he do that one?
AS: Yes, Duane Eddy. That was the very guitar version of this Mancini... But the danger with me was that getting used to copying grew into a kind of second identity or ersatz identity. So you have to be aware of the point of departure towards yourself, towards an own identity. It later remained a problem with my trying to play Barney Kessel style. It's still there, after 32 years of playing.
BK [sound of astonishment].
[Just for the record it might be noted that in the booklet to his own 2-CD "Twang Thang - The Duane Eddy Anthology" of 1993, Duane, referring to the recording of his "Because They're Young" of 1960, wrote the following: "I already knew Howard Roberts, he said, 'Hey, I want you to meet a friend of mine.' There's this guy sitting there, tuning up, wearing thick glasses. Howard said, 'Duane , this is Barney Kessel.' I stuck my hand out before his words had penetrated my brain. Then I stopped and went, 'What did you say? My god, what are you doing here?' That was the band I had, with Shelly Manne on drums and Red Callender on bass. I felt so puny compared to those guys, I played with my back turned to them. But they were so supportive. I never ran into any jazz or studio heavyweights who were condescending about rock'n'roll. The lightweights, yes, but not the heavier cats. "At the end of the session, Howard was showing Barney a new acoustic guitar he'd bought. Barney was trying it out while Shelly was packing up his dums. Howard started playing rhythm for him, Shelly quit packing up and grabbed some brushes, Red picked up his bass, and they started playing 'Witchcraft'. For about 12 minutes I had my own personal concert."]
RP: Think of playing unaccompanied, "orchestral" solo jazz guitar. I was out on that and certainly I was listening to Joe Pass, whom else
RP: - but I always kept finding something he did not play. But he was so good - I didn't find anything.
BK: Because he covered so much, see?
AS: But about fifteen or so years ago I was proud when people came up and said: >Hey, you sound like Barney Kessel!< It was like winning some prize or so, to even be recognized like that. It's very hard to find your own way, to use all the influences
BK: - you see, but that's... We call them influences, but they're not influences. We're copying. See, we call them influences, but we don't use them as influences. The influence is when you use it to awaken something in you. But somebody says: >I was influences by so and so< - for instance a woman dress and she says: >I was influenced by Vogue magazine.< But everything she's wearing is on the cover of Vogue. So there's no influence; it's copy.
AS: Exactly, that's copying.
BK: And copy is imitation.
RP: That's the same as with this English guy, Diz Disley, who tries to play exactly like Django Reinhardt.
AS: That's mostly rhythm. Ike Isaacs is the other one.
RP: Just using two fingers [laughter] to do it exactly like Django.
BK: Needs to wear a glove on this hand, yeah.
RP: Just cut'em off.
BK: But you know, there are people that come along, maybe a Joe Pass, maybe a Shakespeare... Somebody comes along, a Fellini, somebody comes along and they put in so much that
AS: Landmark people
BK: - yes... that people say... it sounds like that, because they have contributed so much. Louis Armstrong contributed so much to the trumpet, he put so much into the trumpet that people that follow, they are sort of... the product of his. But if you take that as an influence... the musicians call it... they say... Somebody says, he says: >I was influenced by Charlie Parker.< But he wasn't. What he did was he took a record and he played it over and over at half speed and wrote it [out?] and copied it. There is no influence there. It's copy. The long word is being used.
AS: There is the funny story about this Parker fan who knew Parker note for note. And Charlie Parker is on stage, dead drunk and obviously not able to play the way he usually would. Comes this guy into the club, hears Parker and storms forward to the stage shouting: >You aren't you, I am you!"
[First guest refers to "the guitarist" whom BK had said to having copied when very young - of course Christian.]
BK: But I had the pleasure to meet him and play with him, and it was during that time, and I'm writing it in my book and I have written it in a magazine ["Guitar Player"] , I've written it already. It was in meeting him when I was 16 and he was 23 and we were going to play together - we played together for three days... When I met him that's when I realized, I'm going to play with him, we're going to jam together, I take the guitar out of the case and I say: >I'm going to play with this man whose records I've been copying.< And I say: >What am I going to play? We're both going to be Charlie Christian! [laughter] What am I going to play?< And this all came very quick, 'cause he's waiting and I'm gonna play, and I said: >No, I won't do that, I'll be myself.< And then I thought: >There is no self, there is no self, because you never spent any time to be yourself< You don't just walk out and turn a corner and find yourself. Let me explain about how you find yourself. May I do that? May I do that a minute? [handles my beer glass on his side of the table] This is your mind, this is your mind... And inside your mind is many things, many things your father and mother told you, many things you learned as a little child, many things that your teachers have told you, people who played with when you were children, they've told you all these things, many things. And most of these things are ideas that have come to you from other people, other books... And when somebody ask you: >What do you think about this, what do you think about that? Is this good, is this bad?< And you tell everybody what you think - what you tell them is what you have heard from others, but you've never found it for yourself. Now, when you come to the moment of self-realization, you have to take all of this out, put it down here [he turns the upside down!] - without the beer -, put it all out here... and you have to examine each part and you say: >The difference is, before I'm putting this or that in here I'm gonna think about it: Is this right: >My mother told me that all people in America are pretty bad people<. Is that true. >No, some of them are bad and some of them are good<. So, and now I'm gonna use that. >Now, they told me that if you drink too much beer you get drunk.< Yeah, that's true, so I keep this. What about this one: >Such and such is true about women, but it's not true about men.< - >No, it's not true about anybody. I don't keep this.< What about this one: >Only Americans can play jazz.< - >No, it's not true. I don't keep it.< What about this one, and so on. So... And you begin to build... You say: Now, what you have here now is what you have found for yourself.< And you begin to build. But before that everything you say is just what other people have said. So, now, here I am, I'm going to be myself. There is no self. You have to start finding it. So you have to find out: <What do I believe?< So you have to say: >Charlie Christian played this song in Db. I like it better in D, so I'm going to play it in D. But I think he's great. He's great... Fellini made this movie, he made this and this, and the guy is wearing a tie like this; I think he is a great type, I wanna wear it like this. It's OK. So, we'd say >influence<, but we're using it as >copy<.
AS: Like a sponge..
BK: Yeah, yeah... Let me tell you... I made four motion pictures with Elvis Presley. I played guitar in an orchestra for Paramount Pictures. Elvis Presley did not do anything original. He did black peoples' music, but he did it as a white man who was nice looking, and he had an energy, and he was sold as a package, and he could sing in this way, he could sing. He always... When we made a picture he always had his material ready. He was always ready. A very nice man. But nothing he did was original. But the white public could accept from him what they couldn't accept from
AS: That was this Sun Records man who wanted a white guy doing black music.
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So... so... If you go back... When Benny Goodman's orchestra came out people started dancing in the theater, they started jitterbugging and dancing. Benny Goodman played Fletcher Henderson's music. Fletcher Henderson wrote arrangements. He was a black man, he had a black orchestra. They couldn't work. They didn't do anything. Benny Goodman played the same music, he played the same music - big success. So... But we talk about influences. We need to know the difference between influence and copy. Let me give you an example of influence and copy. A woman looks at a magazine, and she sees Elizabeth Taylor with a comb in her hair. And she goes out and finds the same comb and she puts in her hair just like she did. Now, that's copy. Another woman says: >Hey, that's a good idea to put something in your hair. But I'm not gonna put a comb, I'm gonna put something else, a pin, something else. And I'm not gonna put it here, I'm gonna put it over here, and I'm not gonna make it silver, I'm gonna make it gold... But this became an influence to say: >Maybe I can put something in my hair.< But if she does the same thing, that's copy. If she says: >No, I use the idea - this is a good idea to put something in your hair. It looks nice. Maybe it's a flower, maybe it's a pin <, then it's influence.
AS: What then is phrasing like Barney Kessel or chordal work like Barney Kessel - is that already influence or is it still copy?
AS: - I never did play a song like you simply because I couldn't. But my rhythm feeling and my phrasing is
BK: Well, let me tell you what it is for me. When I sit down and play the guitar and I play chords, I'm thinking of big bands, I'm thinking of Count Basie, I'm thinking of Duke Ellington, and... So, in a way I'm just playing the guitar in a way that a big band plays. So... There's very little to me that's original. There's very little original. I didn't invent music, I didn't invent jazz, I didn't invent the guitar [laughter], I didn't invent electricity, I didn't invent strings - there's very little, very little. Really! That's why I'm glad I can make a living...
AS: So, why am I here, why are we talking...
BK: But really, you know, you take these things and you put them together in your own way. I sit and play an arrangement or something. If you really listen, sometimes, sometimes it's not that different from Count Basie. It's not that different from... It's the way... If I... If somebody said: <Would you write an arrangement for Count Basie, Barney?< I'd write it out, and that's the way I would write it [mouths a Basiean phrase]. Bada-bah ugh ugh ugh OUGH ba-doo-reddy-ba-doo. So I'm doing it on the guitar instead of giving it to them and writing it out.
AS: The brass...
BK: Yeah. And so, once again, I'm not thinking about the guitar. I'm thinking about music. People come up and say: >Do use this finger? D'you -?< If I have to think about what is the scale, what's the fingering, is it upstroke or down - there's no time or ideas. Ideas is the life. Ideas are the life of music. Ideas.
AS: I like what the Hi-Lo's did, just four guys and each singing a part of the brass section, one the trumpets' part, one the trombones' part and so on. I like these chords. It was the idea of the big band transplanted into a four part vocal group.
BK: Yeah, yeah... But another thing is that people, when they see music... they don't realize it, but the thing that keeps them from being bored is that there's constant changes in the music. When you hear music and it's all one volume, and you hear a guitar player only playing single notes and you hear the same kind of thing on every song, there comes a time when it gets boring. You have to keep hanging it. AS: On the very first Great Guitars LP your announcement was so funny: that the piano player had "missed the plane."
BK: Oh yeah!
AS: And you and Herb played... "It needs to guitarists to replace one piano player."
BK: I think I even said: "It takes two good guitar players to replace one very ordinary piano player" [laughter].
AS: Well... [with funny voice:] thank you very much, Mr Kessel.
BK: OK, OK, alright. Pleasure... Do you have any more, any more thoughts or.. No. OK.
RP: Thank you very much...
AS: ... Mr Kessel [laughter].
[some minutes later]
BK: ... within you and you can let it come out to express yourself, not to impress. When you begin to impress it's because you want other people to like you and love you, and it's because you don't like yourself enough. I want people to like me, but if they don't like me it's OK. I like myself, I like myself. But I don't mind if others like me, too, it's OK. But I like myself. But if I don't like myself then I have to - what can I do, can I play the guitar behind me, is that OK? I play this [imitates a distorted run], and then would you like me, see. But is this what I really feel? No. But I play whatever you want. >We give you so much money, you make a record. Here's what we want you to play [imitates disco rhythm machine]. >But I don't wanna do that.< - >But we give you some money.< - >OK, I'll do it.< No! No, no. The money doesn't mean anything. It's not that important. It's second. Of course we have to eat, we have to live, everything. But to get up in the morning, for me to get up in the morning, and I'm shaving, and you say: >Oh, you are the man who made the record [repeats imitating disco rhythm machine].< Yeah, I say, that's no kind of a life. And you walk down the street. >Mummy! That's the man who made [once again imitating disco rhythm machine]!!< You see...>Yeah, but I made a lot of money.< - >But you didn't play anything. You just played boom-a-chackaboom. You didn't make it.< This is not a life. You only live a short time, what have you got to say? Do it! Do it! Be yourself. Like yourself. And even like yourself if you can't do anything.
AS: That sounds all very simple, but for many people it isn't.
BK: You don't have to be great at something to like yourself. Not everybody is Michelangelo, not everybody is Debussy, Ravel. Like yourself even if you don't do something, as a person. Because I like to feel that I like myself whether I can play the guitar or not. I don't like myself because I'm a guitar player. Because if I walk out of here and all of a sudden there's an accident, I lose my hands, I cannot say to myself I am nothing. I can't say that. I am something, before the guitar, after the guitar. It has nothing to do with it. If I buy a Mercedes Benz I am not a bigger person. If I lose it I'm not a smaller person.
RP: But a faster person.
BK: If I had it, yes [laughter], yes, yes...
AS: Tell us something about Tony and Dave. Tony told me that he now and again played with you for about fifteen years.
BK: Oh, we played together about fifteen years. I'm gonna keep him until he gets the music correct.
AS: I told him the funny story I have retold in my first book about your once having played with a pretty unbearable bassist
RP: - a bass player who used to only play the high notes
AS: - that during an intermission he [BK] said to the guy: >C'mon, let's sit down here. You know what both of us need?< - >?< - >A new bass player< [laughter].
BK: Yeah, yeah... Where did you hear that?
AS: I think I read it in "Guitar Player".
BK: Oh yeah.
AS: Or there was this other one when this young aspiring guitarist asked you: >Mr Kessel, please tell me what I need in the first place to become a studio player< and you said: >A parking lot.< [laughter].
BK: No, the thing is, a man asked me once, he said... he says: "I want to be like you. You are working in the Hollywood film studios." He says: "What's the most difficult thing for you that you have to do?" I said: "To find a parking space." [laughter]. I told him, I said: "Many people can play the guitar, but not many can find a parking space."
AS: Typical piece of Barney Kessel humour.
AS: I can't remember what you told the audience the night you played this Benny Goodman Memorial in the Hamburg Congress Center. And it was so funny. You said something like four times he hired you as guitar player
BK: Oh - about Benny Goodman?
BK: I said - oh... Each... [explaining to Roland Prakken] When I played here last time it was part of a Benny Goodman Memorial or something like that. And they asked each man who was playing to remember something about Benny Goodman, you know. And I said: "Benny Goodman fired me two times. And he never remembered that I had worked for him before. So he hired me each time. And so... so, ah, I asked him once, I said: >What do you think about Charlie Christian? What did you think about him?< He said: >Well, he was OK, he was OK. But<, he says, >I had many good guitarists.< And I said: >I remember<, and I thought to myself: >Yes, and I have been three of them.<" laughter]. Because he never remembered. You know, even after I worked for Benny Goodman, and I didn't see him for two or three years, if I see him and I go up to him I said: "Hello, Benny, it's Barney Kessel, guitarist." I say "Barney Kessel, guitarist", 'cause he doesn't know, he doesn't know. He didn't remember. He didn't remember he fired me, he didn't remember he hired me. And I tell you something else. No, he is absent-minded. He puts the cat into the refrigerator and he puts the milk outside at night. No, he doesn't remember. You know, he was naming the musicians that were playing for him. And he couldn't think... He had Terry Gibbs, you know who Terry Gibbs is?
AS: A vibist.
BK: A white vibist. And he's naming all these people, and he came to him, the vibraphone player; he couldn't think of the name. He's calling this name and this name. [raises voice] "And on vibraphone we have - Lionel Hampton!" [laughter]. Yeah, he said it. But one of the funny stories about Benny Goodman is: They... One day they were rehearsing in his house, and it's getting cold, the airconditioning. And the woman who is singing, she had short sleeves on. And they are practising, and they're playing, and the musicians and the singer, they sing: "Benny, it's kinda getting cold a little bit." - "Oh, oh, it is. Oh, well, we just play a little more, just a little more [hums an improvised melody]. And so they play a little more... [shakes himself] "Ah, it's getting cold." - "OK, we just finish this song, we try to do this... OK." And finally they said: "We can't stand it anymore. It's so cold", they said. So he says: "Is it so cold really?!" They say: "Yah, it's really cold!" He goes away, and he comes back, and he has on a big sweater!" [laughter].... Yeah... But...
AS: Is there anything like a special Oklahoma brand of humour or something?
BK: Oh, yeah... Well, you know, there is Oklahoma humour. But most of the people in Oklahoma, they're not Country & Western. There is many different categories like there's Country & Western, there's cowboy, hillbilly, mountain people, they're all different. Where I come from, they are cowboys. They tawk in de nose lawk this. Goin' back to Texis - that's the way they talk.
AS: I think you told Norman Mongan about Muskogee having been a small town with much jazz in it. BK: Yeah, very much so. I come from a small town, 32.000 people, and there are about twelve people from these 32.000, and if you look in the national books. international books on jazz, they're in the book. It's kind of like maybe some small city in Germany that has only a few people, but there are six scientists that are the leaders of the world, maybe. Kind of fantastic... But... but Oklahoma has its own kind of humour. Oklahoma is very good, for the people are very friendly, and they have good barbecue, you know. I know how to cook barbecue outside, too... to cook the meat and corn and chicken and different things outside, make it good with the sauce... Ah, it's very good this way. But Oklahoma... everybody makes their living from the oil in the ground. And when the world doesn't want oil, Oklahoma is very small, they're not making money.
RP: You know that song "Ogey from Muskogee"...
BK: Yes, I'm from Muskogee. But the song is not true, it's just a nice fairytale. But when I grew up, jazz was a big thing in my city. Very big.
AS: And Charlie Christian came from Oklahoma City.
BK: And I lived in Oklahoma City for... eight years.
AS: Was it he or Charlie Parker who said: "Barney, you're playin' too loud", and then you said: "Well, I need a certain loudness for -"?
BK: Oh no, no, no. That story is... no, no. I was playing with Charlie Christian, I was playing with Charlie Christian, and I heard him play, we were playing, and I said: "It sounds like you are playing loud". But it wasn't, it wasn't rock'n'roll-loud, it was just louder, louder, and so I said, I asked him: "Why do you play this loud?" He says: "I like to hear it. I like to hear what I do." But it wasn't as loud as - he was just... not so loud, just more sure, more sure. Yeah, that's it. But anyway, most musicians that are young, have problems, because they don't have the order of priorities straight. Everything they do they do to look - when you do something and you look to see to somebody else: >Do you like it? Is it OK?<, then it means you don't like yourself. You're wasting a lot of time. You're wasting a lot of energy. Everything you do - >You like my jacket? Is it OK?<, >Am I OK? Is it alright? Do you give me permission to be OK?< It's, see, but if you like yourself you say: >I don't care.< I mean, this is what I'm wearing; I don't care. I don't care what the fashion says. I mean, I want to look OK, but I like the way it is, so it's OK. So... so, when I sit down and play I don't worry about I don't have a synthesizer or I don't have foot pedals, because it's not part of my world. It's part of their world, it's OK. It's OK for them to have it, it's OK for me not to have it. It's all OK.
AS: Have you ever recorded on unamplified guitar?
AS: I think there's one piece on a twelve-string, recorded in Italy, on "Reflectons in Rome".
BK: Yeah, sure. But... The most important thing in the world for each one of us, because we don't live very long... It is over before you know it, really. The most important thing is to learn how to live... how to live. And the most important problem that comes up in living is relating to other people. And there's three things that help you in relating to other people: Don't try to change anybody, don't let anybody change you, and you change when you decide to change. If you decide to smoke less or smoke more, to eat less or eat more, sleep more - it's up to you to decide for yourself. You don't try to change anybody, you don't let anybody change you, and people are the biggest problem in your life, and anytime you have a problem, it's either that somebody is trying to tell you what you should do or you're trying to tell somebody else what they should do. >I don't like you because you are not doing it my way, you are not doing it the right way.... And usually... here's the thing, this is the unfortunate part... When a child is born, if it is born and the father and mother are both there for the child and they both show that they love the child, then the child grows up in a good way; and it doesn't have to try to impress, because the parents said: >We love you; we are happy you're our child; we wanted a child; we are glad you are the child; I'm happy to be your father, your mother - wonderful. It's great. They feel that they have it. If you don't have this, then you try to get the love from other people, because you don't have it. And that's right - maybe if I play faster, maybe if I have a green guitar, maybe if I play behind my back, maybe if I dye my hair the world will love me. And that's so they do all these things: <Please love me! Please love me! You must love me because I don't love myself. And the reason I don't love myself is my father and mother didn't give me enough love.< Or they died, unfortunately... My father was an orphan, my father was an orphan, see. Now, I had a father and mother, but my father beat the hell out of me. My father beat me with a belt, see. So, sometimes you have parents, sometimes the parents you have are not so kind, sometimes you lose them. But if you grow up with a father and mother, you have something in you that carries you the rest of your life. But if you don't have it, you have to find it for yourself, you have to get it. You have to get it. You have to be your own father and mother.
AS: When you talked about accepting oneself I was thinking about my main problem, and that's too much, well, self-criticism which, especially after my first divorce, grew almost into self-destruction.
BK: Well, alright, alright. Anytime a person has a divorce, this is not only to tell you but its to tell the world that you're a failure, you see. Because... you can be a failure in certain things and people never know it. But if you have a divorce, they know it. But the thing is... the thing is: We spend more time trying to find out how to buy a car than we do to find out the right person in our life. We spend more time to buy a house, to check all the things about the house than we do with the person that we fall in love with. This is
AS: Awfully true
BK: Yeah, because... when the emotions come in, we don't use our intellect. There's a time for the intellect and a time for emotions. And if you use emotions in an intellectual situation or vice versa, it's not so good.
AS: You have to try to harmonize brain and soul.
BK: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, yes.
AS: I think it's the same with music. It should not only be listened to in a purely emotional way, but also with your brain
BK: Absolutely - analytically, analytically. You know, you say you go to the opera or to the ballet or you go to hear a rock group or - and then you say: >How was it?< - >Yeah, it was really good; I liked it.< That's not enough. You have know what was going on. >I heard this band. They had four trombones. They played something, and they all had mutes. The saxophones, they stood up and played in harmony. The drummer was playing with brushes. The bass player played with the bow< - to know what's going on, to analyze it. >The ballet, they would be dancing this way, they had on these - they didn't wear any shoes in one number.< It's not enough to say >Yeah, it was really good.<
AS: That's true. The first step towards analysis would be observation.
BK: Yeah... to analyze. And when you're listening to something, the minute you begin to judge it, you don't see it anymore, you don't see it anymore. If you look at it you say: >It's this, it's this, it's this.< But if you say: >That's not too good, she should have done this or that<, you're looking at it through a bias. AS: That's my problem very often when I'm writing book or concert reviews - that having read the book or having heard the concert was no fun, subjectively speaking
BK: You see... alright. No look: We all see the world the way we look at the world. If I'm wearing glasses and here's what the glasses say, here's what the glasses say: >Germans cannot play jazz because they are Germans. They can't swing because only Americans can swing. So therefore: He is German, I saw his passport [laughter], and I know he's German, so he can't possibly swing.< So, now I put on these glasses [mimes it]. And somebody is playing, and they're playing the hell out of it. They're playing, they are really playing. But I have on my glasses that say - and I saw his passport. So he cannot possibly swing [laughter], see, that's it. And that's the way we look. >All Americans are bad. They're loud, They only think about money. They only think about
RP: They are [laughter]!
BK: That's true [laughter]. But we have to get rid of these things, we have to get rid of these biases. See, no matter what we are, we're here for such a short time. We're here so short
AS: It's a long way to objectivity
BK: We have to make the most of it and enjoy our life. Enjoy our life, every day, every day. Wake up in the morning and be grateful for what you've got... Every day... that you can walk, that you can see, that you - not everybody can... That you can get out of bed, you're not in a wheelchair.
AS: You must only have experienced death in one form or another to very quickly learn to be grateful for being alive
BK: OK, you finish.
RP: He [points to the man at the door] is responsible for closing.
BK: OK, so we go.