You can't print everything. That's a valuable lesson I learned from a journalism teacher during college. It's something I think about a lot after doing a great interview and knowing that only a few, choice quotes will make it into the article.
This week, Pittsburgh City Paper ran my interview with Moppa Elliot, the bassist of the jazz group Mostly Other People Do the Killing, who are coming to town next week. With a 500-word limit, I could only put so much in the article, and tried not to delve too deep into technical details of their music. So I figured it's time to bring out some thoughts that were left on the cutting room floor. In particular, I wanted to spotlight Elliot's thoughts on Blue, MOPDtK's note-for-note recreation of Kind of Blue, Miles Davis' revered classic. In some ways, Elliot had a lot to say about it, but I also wish that I had gotten him to open up a little more, and that I had asked a few devil's advocate questions. I also included his thoughts on why he names his compositions after Pennsylvania towns (though not the "big" ones like Philadelphia or Pittsburgh). Details on the show can be found in the CP link.
Tell me about Blue. How did it come about? Were you guys just sitting around and somebody said that it was a cool thing to do?
Elliot: That's actually exactly what happened. We do a lot of sitting around talking about a lot of crazy random things to do, 90% of which we don’t do because they’re stupid. [Blue] was one where we came up with an idea and some time went by, and we brought it up again. Instead of sounding stupider and stupider like many of our ideas do, it sounded better and better. The more we thought about it, the more interesting it revealed itself to be.
And it’s proven to be this never-ending wormhole of… I think it’s a really good piece of art in that it means all kinds of stuff to all kinds of people. And it facilitates all kinds of thinking about all kinds of things. Everywhere I go, that’s what everyone wants to talk to me about. And everybody wants to talk about it for a different reason. Which I think is a testament to the fact that it was a good idea. Everybody has a strong opinion and very few people’s opinions about it overlap and I think that’s all good.
We thought about it for years before we did it and it took us four years to do it. So that idea was floating around for a very, very long time. Which was part of making sure this was a good idea before we actually did it.
Why did it take four years - for accuracy?
Elliot: Well, that’s a whole angle right there, where it’s like, we could keep working on it the rest of our lives and it would never be right. It’s literally impossible to do.
The document that we released was as good as we could get it right then. We’ve also jokingly – and this does not seem like as good an idea as a joke - of doing it again. It would be, you know, better but still not the thing. The thing that’s out, that people can listen to, is the document of the best we could do right then, given the constraints of time and having lives and the whole thing.
I wondered if it was supposed to be a piece of artistic commentary, relating to jazz as "America's classical music" and what that would mean if you really stuck to that idea.
Elliot: That is one very solid angle that I’ve thought a lot about: Taking certain aspects of the jazz world and pushing them to their logical extreme, and then everyone freaks out. And you you think, "Oh, okay, cool. So where’s the line?" At what point between here and, you know, Branford Marsalis redoing A Love Supreme or Chick Corea redoing Return to Forever, or …. I could list any number of tribute projects right here. Where does it stop being okay? That, I think is an incredibly interesting conversation because everyone will give different answers. But I think a lot of the other things I mentioned are equally stupid. But obviously not everyone agrees with me and that’s awesome!
Are you always going to name your songs after cities in Pennsylvania?
Elliot: I’m in no danger of running out. I think trying to give profound titles to instrumental compositions is a little bit silly. It’s a little bit manipulative because you're telling the audience what to think before they hear the music. Titles create association. I wanted to have something completely unrelated and arbitrary as a titling system so that anyone trying to read into meaning in the titles is clearly barking up the wrong tree because they’re just dumb names of Pennsylvania towns. So that way there is no connection and now we can just listen to music. Either that or you do the [Anthony] Braxton thing where you give [the compositions] weird codes and numbers that mean something to you but no one else. That’s another good strategy.