In part-two of his interview with the trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, Malik Crumpler delves even further. In this rather fluid conversation, he talks about New York, curation and of course ‘the lifestyle’.
You ever considered yourself the typical Jazz musician?
No. I strive to simply be a musician.
So, the composer element is just part of the musician lifestyle, for you?
Definitely. I think it’s just who I’ve tried to become musically or what I aspire to be musically.
Did New York refine your aspirations? If so, how?
I came to New York, not knowing at all what I needed to do. I just figured it out through my relationship with; mentors, friends like Steve Coleman, the variety of shows, workshops, hanging out with people like Henry Threadgill, Muhal Richard Abrams, sitting in at sessions with Roy Hargrove and checking out as much music as humanly possible. The people are the city and the people educate you. When I first got to New York, I didn’t gig that much but I went to a bunch of jam sessions after class, at the New School. But you know, there’s the education in school and then there’s the education in those downtown Manhattan hangs. In those sessions playing with a variety of different musicians, that’s a whole other education.
You were hanging with comedians downtown for a minute too, right?
It’s so much cross pollination. I hung out with a few comedians for a short spell. Hanging out in that small-scale scene in New York, you’re seeing more honest gigs. Like, you’re not seeing Chris Rock, you’re seeing some cat almost bomb on a 7-minute slot. Or you know, you see a very solid middle comic, who does nothing exciting but just kind of keeps the audience at a hum-drum pace. What you’re really seeing are similarities within these different expressions of arts.
Some people and artists are just undeniable originals, in terms of their expression on the canvass or sculpture or whatever medium.
What is it beyond the cross pollination in New York that inspires your work/lifestyle?
Where do I go for inspiration? I go in, Sun! I mean, I take inspiration when it comes, and I look for it all over the place. There’s, morning cups of coffee. I love checking out other people’s work and by work, I mean I love the visual arts.
I like sculpture, I like painting, I like photography, I like installations, mixed media, weaving, quilting, quilts. I like to see the human hand in the product. When I see someone that puts together a body of work, it’s very inspiring. Because say for instance, you see six paintings on a wall that obviously have some sort of link and continuity to them, in terms of subject and time, and you’re like shit. That’s the same feeling I want to get when I put an album together. For me, when I put an album together, I want to offer that same feeling that you get when you go to a gallery or you go to a gig and it’s like very happening, and you’re like, damn!
Like back in ’08 when we walked into that El Anatsui show in Chelsea and you were like, “Damn! It’s all the way, undeniably Anatsui!” At the same time, the varieties within a certain contextual environment, when it’s all part of the same body of work in the same timeline. It’s inspired by probably many things, but the artist sees it fit that all these pieces sit next to one another in this arrangement. I think that’s beautiful in terms of presentation and like, imagining the person or persons behind it all.
So, essentially, you’re inspired by and so studying curation?
Sure. But I really like to see different people’s work juxtaposed to one another in the context of a show. Curatorially, that’s just amazing to me, when someone nails it on the head.
John Henry. You know what’s curious? The James Kerry Marshall show, at the Met Brewer. He was given a room to take 40 works of art from the Met’s collection and curate the room himself so that, in some way or another, the pieces altogether, informed his own works. It’s the influence of other artists works, having indirect effects on another artists work… I’m really into that.
As a member of several museums in New York, is there any one that informed your work in a way that no other has?
The reopening of the MOMA kind of blew my mind. That was a tremendous moment in my younger life.
Build on that.
When I moved to Manhattan in 2000, the MoMA was being renovated. I remember when it reopened in 2004, it was a big deal. You know, living in New York just gives you access like never before. I mean, I was doing everything I couldn’t do at home in Oakland, simply because of proximity. I lived on a hill, it was annoying as hell. Even though I always had exposure to art growing up in California, it was a totally different caliber of work and you always needed a car to go anywhere. It was always like a special occasion to check out museums.
I inhabit several different perspectives in my work. But I do feel like the curator putting together a collection of songs to make say an album.
I lived in Oakland at the time and getting over the bridge to San Francisco meant sitting in traffic. Otherwise you had to get on BART, then get on the Muni. By the time you get to the museum you’re already exhausted. Being in New York City, your proximity to some of the highest art on earth, was just astounding. Plus, I could go whenever I felt like it with just one quick train downtown from Harlem. So, when the MOMA opened, I bought a membership and I abused that membership.
What really got to you in the MoMA?
The whole experience was just overwhelming because there’s so much seminal art in there and entire rooms dedicated to artists development. The Demoiselles and all those huge paintings that (until then, you’d only seen in art documentaries and magazines) were suddenly right there in your face, you can walk within one foot of them, put your face up to one and smell the paint.
You pay attention to the deep details or is something else altogether happening?
It’s detail. But like again, you can see the hand, it’s like you can feel the decision-making process of the maker, you can feel Cézanne’s hesitation or urgency, when you’re really looking closely. Sometimes the paint’s put on thickly at certain points and very softly in others. Like those real flat Matisse’s… It was just a real joy… Those Agnes Martin’s, David Hammond’s, and Twombly exhibitions. I mean, it just felt like it was all mine because whenever I felt like it, I’d just get up and go over there. I didn’t have to get on the BART or rot in traffic, I didn’t need an excuse, I didn’t need to make a whole day of it, I could just go in and go out whenever I felt like it.
It’s an osmosis kind of vibe. But really, who’s to say what you pick up, really. But there’s like obvious elements for instance, in exhibitions I’m often wondering if the composition’s distinct in all these works? Is the harmony strong and immediately identifiable? In a lot of cases the story telling, the narrative is very strong and unique? A lot of the same elements are put into music compositions, like a two-dimensional plane on a flat surface, varying depths.
Studying a Norman Lewis, are you considering personality and voice as two different things?
Some people and artists are just undeniable originals, in terms of their expression on the canvass or sculpture or whatever medium. That’s something that you can really take away with you, the individuality or individualism of all those people in the museum. You know, seeing a Rauschenberg for the first time was startling. You’re like Damn, this guy’s absolutely incredible, how is he doing this?
This album ‘speaks’ because of the nature of the instrumentation.
You see a late Twombly or a De Kooning or Barnett Newman and you’re just like, What the hell were they aiming for? After you see it over and over again, you slowly see recognizable themes or styles repeated in different countries in other galleries somewhere else, or even in a magazine, and it’s so obvious that it’s them, you recognize their work immediately, you almost feel like you know them, personally. Same way in music, you know. So, no I don’t really look at them that differently. Only real difference is, that I can look at one of them.
Access, that’s the big difference between your lifestyle in New York and the Bay Area?
Man, I just feel like you can’t put your nose in the arts anywhere, like you can here, in New York City.
Would you consider it more of a New York lifestyle than anything else?
I just didn’t want to live like anyone that I saw. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do in New York City. The last thing I wanted to be, truthfully was a “Jazz musician” …. whatever that means. You know, the same for access to music and great musicians, incredible concerts, it’s not like I’m just in libraries, chess games, bookstores, museums and galleries all the time I’m usually out checking out live music.
What about the difference in instrumentation on your new album?
With the first two albums there’s obviously the idea, that they’re works in progress- investigations into instrumentation. I want to know how much I can squeeze out of that set up. But I also realize there are limitations. There is only so much I can do to make the music move like paint does on a canvass. With 3 Times Round, adding that extra breath element by adding more horns and taking away one of the rhythm instruments, I was able to, I feel, accomplish a lot more in a less subtle way. I feel like the other albums have more subtlety about the harmony. This album ‘speaks’ because of the nature of the instrumentation.
When you’re composing or playing do you ever see yourself as the narrator or the lone painter?
I am going to say neither. I inhabit several different perspectives in my work. But I do feel like the curator putting together a collection of songs to make say an album. It’s like cooking in a way you instinctively know when it doesn’t need any more salt.
So, you’re dealing with each song like a curator deals with a piece in an exhibition?
Sure, because there are ideas about scale which I equate to length or just all out density, activity. Like Henry Threadgill said, “They can’t all be juicy ones”. Well, basically it’s like my sonic gallery, that’s what albums are for me…yeah, my albums are like my sonic galleries.
Images by John Rogers