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ALBUM FEATURE

CHAMELEON - RIVER

By Dave Lisik  |  SkyDeck Music

Published March 21, 2024

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SOLIPSIS

The Endeavour Jazz Orchestra New Zealand and composer, Dr. Ryan Brake released his debut jazz orchestra composition and album, Solipsis in the (Northern Hemisphere) summer of 2022. Solipsis received a four-star rating and “editor’s pick” review in Downbeat Magazine which qualified the album for inclusion in their Best CDs of 2022 issue at the end of last year. In his review, Downbeat editor Dan Margolis, declared:

 

“The concept behind the Endeavour Jazz Orchestra New Zealand is laudable. The ensemble was created primarily to feature the best young jazz composers in New Zealand, and it features many of the island nation’s best jazz musicians playing alongside some of the world’s top jazz artists: Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Dick Oatts on alto saxophone, Francisco Torres on trombone, John Escreet on piano and John Riley on drums.”

 

In fact, the Endeavour Orchestra was founded to create a large jazz ensemble capable of recording and releasing this project, and others like it, being created by New Zealand’s outstanding young jazz composers. 

 

As the ensemble's inaugural recording project, Ryan Brake's six-movement suite, Solipsis, is an outstanding work. Inspired by concepts and narrative from the film Synechdoche New York, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, Ryan's compositions are complex, cohesive, and conceptually ambitious for a young composer's first recorded collection of new jazz orchestra music. Originally from Tauranga, New Zealand, Ryan lived in Wellington, the capital for more than a decade as a student at the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University of Wellington. Ryan completed five degrees at the university (Bachelor of Music, B.Mus. Honour’s, Master’s, Post Graduate qualification in education, and Doctor of Musical Arts.

 

Ryan: My first musical experiences were in intermediate school taking guitar lessons. Those were pretty basic and dealt with simple chords and melodies, but it was high school jazz band where things started to get interesting.

 

SkyDeck: Did you have a specific school guitar teacher or was it a fluctuating thing? 

Ryan: I think it was a different teacher every year. It was just through the school. The students signed up for them but I’m sure they were close to free. Maybe $10 a term or for the year. Coincidently, teaching those guitar lessons, that's my job now. 

SkyDeck: So the kids got pulled out of class to do them once a week? 

Ryan: Basically. 

SkyDeck: Is that one of the situations where you go from room to room to find the kids and then bring them with you? Or do they just know where to go an show up? 

Ryan: Well, hopefully they show up, and if they don't, too bad. (laughs) The ones who are keen obviously show up. 

SkyDeck: What was your jazz band experience like in high school? 

Ryan: I originally started out in big band number two where the repertoire consisted primarily pop songs. I pretty vividly remember a version of Carry On My Wayward Son from Kansas.

SkyDeck: What was the teacher's name? 

Ryan: That was Mr. Page, Sean Page, who's now effectively my boss. Then I eventually moved into big band one and the school jazz combo as well. 

SkyDeck: What was it about that experience that led to your more serious musical interest or flipped the switch that made you decide this was something you might want to do? 

Ryan: It just started out as a fun experience and being involved was enjoyable. I’m sure part of it was seeing things being done at a bit higher level as we progressed from one band to another.

SkyDeck: Were you in another band, a concert band or anything? Or was it just the jazz band? 

Ryan: No, it was just the jazz groups.

SkyDeck: And then at what point did you think, “This is something I actually might want to do on a serious enough level to study it after high school?” 

Ryan: It was probably when I was in year 13 when we played here at the Tauranga Jazz Festival and our band got a few awards. That was pretty motivating. Many of the others in the band were thinking about going to Victoria University as well. Most of them were a lot better than me, so they all went. I took a gap year while I mulled things over and then eventually showed up at Vic as well.

 

SkyDeck: Was there a particular story that you remember from high school surrounding jazz or the jazz band that was particularly memorable or interesting? 

Ryan: Thinking back on it, a lot of my high school music experience was more social than musical. 

 

SkyDeck: Did you go on any memorable trips? 

Ryan: We did what I guess we'd call a tour around to Hamilton and Rotorua in one year. Another year, actually we went to the Gold Coast in Australia. That was year twelve. This was around the time that good things were happening with the school band. That year was pretty good for the level of the students in the band…better than usual. Most of us were year twelve, continuing on to year thirteen. I guess the thought was that the  band was going to be even a stronger that following year. So the decision was made at some point to plan an Australian trip with that band for the following year. That served as extra motivation to put in the extra hard work and that trip was a cool experience.

SkyDeck: And there would be a number of students from New Zealand for whom that probably was their first overseas? 

Ryan: I mean, it was a bit of a deal.

SkyDeck: I guess, in terms of a culture shock, it's not too dissimilar from New Zealand. You can go to Australia and understand what’s going on, even if you've never been there. If you’re from here you've met Australians, you've seen the television from Australia.

Ryan: Right. The language obviously isn't a big deal and there are fewer cultural differences between here and Australia.

SkyDeck: So then you decided that you were going to do jazz.

Ryan: After a gap year. The others players in my year went to university earlier.

The concept behind the Endeavour Jazz Orchestra New Zealand is laudable. The ensemble was created primarily to feature the best young jazz composers in New Zealand, and it features many of the island nation’s best jazz musicians playing alongside some of the world’s top jazz artists — Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Dick Oatts on alto saxophone, Francisco Torres on trombone, John Escreet on piano and John Riley on drums.

Downbeat Magazine

SkyDeck: What were some highlights of the first sort of three years of the undergraduate experience? 

Ryan: Essentially, going to university is your full time job. At least that’s the attitude I went into it with. From nine to five, you're either at class, practicing, or doing something music or jazz or guitar related. I remember for those first few years, going pretty hard at all those things and I don’t think I’ve ever done that during any other period of my life. At least not to the same level. Nick Granville was my main guitar teacher throughout my years at the NZSM.

SkyDeck: During your undergrad years, in terms of composition, when did you first write something that sparked an interest or had you thinking, “I actually might be interested in doing more of this.” 

Ryan: I guess that was second year when I first finished some tunes. Vaughan [Roberts] was teaching the second year composition and arranging class and it was a pretty good introduction to composition. I love just writing good chord progressions and melodies and, I don't know, maybe being a guitarist, or playing a chordal instrument, helps somewhat. I suppose we can relate those melodies and chords together a little easier than people who play other instruments.

I found school a good challenge but not necessarily easy. Coming up with a cool chord progression and melody that worked over the top seemed to come pretty easily at first. Composing, in comparison to working on jazz improvisation, always gave me a little bit more time and breathing room to think about decisions and figure things out.

SkyDeck: Did you do any tunes or projects that you still have around from those first couple of years or is all of that gone into the abyss? 

Ryan: A lot of those early ones, I got some good feedback on them but looking back there was some unremarkable work in there. Valuable for later though. Some of that a good starting point. But then, in third year, when you come along, I think things definitely changed for the better. 

SkyDeck: So that was when you would have done the big band writing class that year.

Ryan: Yes, prior to that it was just a couple of heads of tunes. Some lead sheet style arrangements. 

SkyDeck: Yeah, I remember being surprised that no one had any finished work to show, even in the third and fourth year groups. I think you can learn everything you need to about the process of arranging and composing, the techniques and historical practice and, at the same time, still be writing actual music that you can play. I’m not a big fan of “exercise” assignments.

Ryan: I do remember the big band arranging… thinking I had done a fine job, and then bringing it into you before it was due and having some pretty hairy chords. I think I stayed up the next night and basically reharmonized the whole chart ahead of having it played by the reading band the next day. And actually it sounded pretty good. 

SkyDeck: So what was that experience like in terms of being motivated to keep going? Was there a moment where you heard your chart being played back, even if it was a mediocre performance, but there was some sort of spark? Bad reading sessions is where a good imagination comes in very handy.

Ryan: I could imagine a really good band playing something that I wrote that didn't exist before. There was some extra motivation because there were some pretty good musicians at school at that time: Callum [Allardice], Lauren [Ellis], Jake [Baxendale], so being able to play or write music well was exciting. That was really good motivation. 

SkyDeck: And then your Honors project was essentially a Pat Metheny study where you write a set of octet tunes? 

Ryan: Yeah, right. In terms of tunes I’ve written that I've still got, those are probably the earliest ones. I think each one of them was slightly different instrumentation. One was for a seven piece group, one was for eight, and maybe one was even ten players. But yeah, they turned out pretty good. And I've still got them. 

SkyDeck: What were a couple of the titles? Weren't there some back at that point where every project had to have at least one tune title with a “Brake” pun? And what was that one, “McLaren Falls” or whatever, a funny take on Metheny’s “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls?”

 

Ryan: Yeah. Oh, jeez. Yeah, I guess there's a place here in Tauranga, McLaren's Falls. A little local spin on that one.

SkyDeck: So that was 2011? You did that right away? What was it about Pat Matheny in particular that was especially captivating? 

Ryan: It’s a lot of things but especially the chord progressions, a really bright and melodic quality to a lot of his music. Like his tune, “James,” for instance. On the bridge, I swear you could just play from root to the fifth and it spells out a beautiful melodic line. I think some of those chord progressions just are so melodic. 

SkyDeck: And then did you go to teacher's college after that, or did you do that after your master's degree? 

Ryan: Then I stuck around to do the master’s degree which was huge for me. A pretty massive undertaking for the level I was at. That’s where Solipsis came from. Other than my first year out of high school, I hadn’t taken another year off by that point.

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SkyDeck: How did you come up with the premise for Solipsis and the idea of it being based on the film? 

Ryan: I flatted with a group of film students all through that time, all through undergrad, really. And they were into some pretty arty films, Synecdoche New York being one of them. Every couple of nights we'd sit down and watch some pretty cool movies. It was interesting to get a different perspective on so many movies.

SkyDeck: So then presumably you wouldn't simply watch the movies. These film students would have some comments, analyzing the films in a different way than you might have thought about them?

Ryan: Totally. That film has so many themes and meanings, you could talk about it forever.

SkyDeck: Take me through the premise of the film and how it the music represents your take on it.

Ryan: Essentially, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Caden Cotard, has this preoccupation with death and decay and that follows him around for the whole film. He's a theater director who gets a MacArthur genius grant, which, at least in this case of the movie, is unlimited money to put on this grand theatrical production. Eventually he settles on the fact that there's no greater production than real life.

So he starts writing this play that involves himself and everyone he knows in just their day-to-day lives. As a result, he has to find someone to play himself, but then find someone who can play the actor that's playing him. Soon he ends up building a warehouse in order to stage this place, the play, which eventually ends up containing a model of New York. So it's warehouses within warehouses and plays within plays. Eventually it's just a gigantic city.

SkyDeck: And there's a point where it just clearly becomes fantastical and abstract rather than anything that could remotely be possible. And it's a very gradual transition into that state where there's no knowing what's real and what's not.

Ryan: It is pretty hard to make sense of the plot in a real world sense. Within the context of the movie, it is all real, even though from the person's vantage point watching the movie, it couldn't possibly be. But within the movie itself, it is real. And essentially the entire world is involved in this play.

New Zealand jazz writer Graham Reid describes the Endeavour Jazz Orchestra New Zealand's Solipsis as a “no-holds-barred, widescreen blockbuster” and adds, “Whatever it is Ryan Brake writes, and however these players explore it, he's doing something very different in the canon of Aotearoa New Zealand jazz. And we're the better – if perhaps a little more terrified – for it.” (elsewhere.co.nz)

Ryan: One of the main objectives of this project was to explore the use of non-musical ideas like programmatic themes and concepts, and musical techniques, melodic motifs and harmonic concepts. Developing these ideas would hopefully create a sense of unity across the entire suite. I’m a big fan of cinema and many of my musical compositions find inspiration in the themes and motifs of some of the films I find most compelling. I appreciate and am fascinated by the storytelling capabilities of film, and continually try to bring some of that perspective to musical storytelling.

 

Each movement of Solipsis was inspired by themes and motifs found in Synecdoche, New York, the 2008 film written and directed by Charlie Kaufman. The plot follows the story of Caden Cotard, a theater director struck by numerous physical ailments and becoming progressively fragile, mentally, as he copes with a strained relationship with his wife. The plot of “Synecdoche,” is extremely hard to follow given its non-linear timeline, vague distinction between fact and fiction, and increasingly complex layers of actors playing actors and warehouses within warehouses. But, it’s rich in recurring themes.

 

My title for the suite comes from the psychological idea of solipsism, the theory in which the self is the only thing that can be known and verified. This relates to one possible explanation of the film in that much of the plot is constructed in Caden’s mind after his death.

 

“Somewhere Between Stasis and Anti-Stasis” introduces Caden’s search for identity and quest for meaning. In the film he is described as being a “man already dead.” He “lives in a half-world between stasis and anti-stasis.” I love 70s prog-rock and wanted to open the piece with a simple bass pedal idea that launches into the entrance of the full ensemble and the beginning of the melody. I was experimenting with quartal voicings at the time and enjoy coming up with various ways of using them over a static bassline. So that’s how the introduction happened. This piece also sets the bar high as far as solos go. Both Alex [Sipiagin] and John [Escreet] play great solos, and those sections have become my favorites. 

 

SkyDeck: We always talk at school about the advantage that jazz composers have when their final product includes some great contributions by someone else. It makes listening to your own music more palatable because there are interesting ideas that you haven’t heard a thousand times.

 

Ryan: Yes, it really changed my perspective on writing for soloists. It’s more an indication of what the ensemble is doing, and a great soloist will choose to go with it or against it. [Drummer] John Riley is also a major highlight for the album. It’s amazing to hear everything played in the ensemble show up somewhere on the kit. I get a lot out of hearing him navigate his way through some of the album’s busier moments.

 

One of the film’s recurring themes is that of delusion. Caden’s surname, Cotard, is a reference to Cotard delusion, the belief that one might be dead or that their organs are decaying. “Sycosis and Psychosis” emulates the element of decay through some increasingly dissonant and unstable harmonic and rhythmic material. The rhythm section brings a real delicate touch to the opening passages which only grows more volatile as the ensemble is introduced. Bob Brookmeyer said that the first solo should come once the composer has exhausted all of their ideas. That was a part of the thought process behind the beginning of this tune (and pretty much all of the others too). It was a good challenge to take a relatively mellow idea and develop it into the dissonant monster it becomes, both before the solo section and even more so after!

 

Nick [Granville]’s solo is fantastic here. The backgrounds come close to being too much, but they only elevate his ideas and build to a great handoff to John who also nails it. All of the substitutions he throws over those chords progress the story. He really captures the vibe, and sets up the full band material that follows. There are some really hairy voicings that I really just messed with, moving a note or two, almost at random, to give it that sound. It’s pretty intense, but that’s the story of the piece, so I think there are some pretty great moments during those parts.

 

“Infectious Diseases in Cattle” takes its title from one of the many provisional titles Caden gives to his theater piece. The inspiration for this piece comes from Caden’s preoccupation with the film’s recurring themes of death and decay. The main melodic theme of this movement draws from more dissonant intervals such as half steps and tritones, and is harmonized in whole steps (for the most part). Also adding to the chaos is the fact that the melody is played in small fragments that cascade through the ensemble giving it the effect of a liner line. The solos are once again among my favorite parts of this tune. 

 

[Saxophonists] Roger Manins and Dick Oatts are great counterparts to one another. I can’t get over how relaxed Dick Oatts plays over the fast tempo, particularly when the chords start moving. He plays some great stuff, and the band builds really nicely towards restatement of the head.

 

SkyDeck: Along the same lines as I was just mentioning, being able to get these solos transcribed and see and hear them as videos gives another level of interest than just following the printed score and seeing blank measures where the solo is happening.

 

Hear and see the Dick Oatts solo here:

 

Ryan: Of course. Hearing great solos is always exciting but to be able to bring players of that caliber into the mix on something I wrote really makes it.  Then, in one of the more metaphorical episodes of the film, one of the main characters buys a house that is eternally on fire. She expresses an initial concern about dying in the fire, but in the end buys the house anyway. She ends up dying due to smoke inhalation years later. The main melodic theme of the piece is based on a lydian-augmented scale for a more “sharp” and angular sound. I did experiment with ideas based on the altered scale but couldn’t get anything that I really liked and could develop. Hopefully that it was the right choice.

 

Generally we avoid a semitone interval at the top of a voicing, but it happens several times at the climax of the melodic theme. It really adds that sense of danger and aggressiveness. John Riley’s drumming in this tune adds a lot to that too.

 

The definition of “simulacrum” is an imitation or representation of someone or something. This concept features several times in Synecdoche. Caden hires actors to play real life characters and consequently actors are hired to play those actors, and so on. “Simulacrum” features some of my favorite textural and harmonic moments of the whole work as the ensemble seemingly comes dangerously close to falling apart on a number of occasions. In these moments, I’m attempting to capture just how fragile Caden’s mind is becoming. At the end of each statement of the theme the band gets kind of stuck on the same three-note motif which then gets thrown across the ensemble, with a few transpositions and rhythm displacements along the way. I really love those moments. It can be a lot of fun to test how far you can take things, and then require some real problem solving to get out of it. These moments show up a lot in this piece, but make appearances all through the various tunes, like the start of “Infectious Diseases” and in several big moments in “Lighting an Obscure World,” the final movement.

 

This one acts as the grand climax to the suite. The piece is inspired by Caden finally realizing the truth about life and finally figuring out how he will stage his play. This marks his accomplishment of achieving self-realization and success in his quest for meaning. As a way of tying the whole suite together and a way of marking his discovery, this movement contains a lot of previously composed material but features these ideas in a variety of different ways.

 

The main melodic theme from this piece is a single-note line made up of many quirky melodic cells. Many of these small melodic fragments appear throughout the suite in various instances. However, their appearance in this movement, puts them in a brand new context. I also thought it would be important to create a kind of bookend by placing an emphasis on referencing the opening movement “Somewhere Between Stasis and Anti-Stasis” more than the others. As a result whole sections from “Stasis and Anti-Stasis” can be heard in “Lighting” as well, albeit with some variations.

 

Right after the piano solo we get another one of those moments where various licks are spread through the ensemble. Again, it’s lots of fun to come up with the perfect balance of chaos and carefully control how much tension gets introduced with the help of rhythmic displacement or transposition. After Alex [Sipiagin]’s solo, we get a brief recap of all of the previous themes of the albums, each arranged quite differently than their original appearance, as an extra challenge. And then there’s the “play anything” section. Most players just played random sounds or licks. And then John played an amazing couple of minutes of solo piano. Everything he plays is so well-constructed and balanced in every area. I love coming back to this tune. The tempo is pretty quick, and there is a lot going on. It’s amazing for me to hear the whole ensemble nail that head.

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SkyDeck: What were some of the musical influences that you looked at in the research process for the piece? 

Ryan: The research process for the master's degree was essentially unifying devices across multi movement suites. There were a couple of main Maria Schneider and Jim McNeely works that I was looking at and a lot of other works from different genres and eras. Not all of it was jazz. There was also a lot of studying scores by some of the top contemporary composers. Whatever I could get my hands on.

SkyDeck: What was the impact when you finally heard the music back? 

Ryan: There were certainly a ton of lessons learned there. Things I brought to more recent project like the doctoral one and they really helped when I felt I was getting stuck. I guess it happens to everyone. On every project you get to that moment where you’re thinking, “What am I doing? How do I overcome this?” And every now and then, I'd listen back and almost forget what I had done, if there was some time in between. You can feel somewhat removed from it. “How did I do that?” 

SkyDeck: That book by Gil Goldstein... 

Ryan: Jazz Composer's Companion.

SkyDeck: Yes. I was chatting with Gil for days online when I was in the UK…mostly about [Michael] Brecker. But anyway, there's a section at the end of that book with some short interviews with prominent composers and the Carla Bley interview is really interesting. It's probably my favorite of those interviews because it's got this bit at the beginning where she's like, “Every time I start a new project, I have to remind myself that I can actually write music.” She'll say, “Okay, I've got this project. I'm going to get up in the morning, I'm going to start working on it. I sharpen my pencils…” I don’t remember it verbatim but basically, “It seems like I used to be able to do this, but I'm convinced that I can't do it anymore. And then I'll go do a little bit of gardening or I'll make myself lunch.” She'll do these chores or something and ease her way into it mentally. And I really relate to that process.

Ryan: Yeah, I’ve totally been there. And you've got to just remind yourself, “I've done it once before.” Or maybe more than that now. “How do I do it now?” Obviously that is a huge motivating factor too. And now that I've got a few more projects done, I can overcome that barrier a lot quicker now.

SkyDeck: Right. So you also went to teacher's college in between there, right? And you got your teacher certification. And then at certain other points, you had the chance to not only be a tutor in certain theory classes but take over some of the classes for real during certain semesters.

Ryan: Yeah, I also tutored for the “Music Now” class. But yeah, having a chance to do like a couple of those classes was awesome and great experience. 

SkyDeck: That gives you a different level of confidence, but also insight into the subjects because once you've started to explain certain things to students, then it just makes more sense in your own brain.

Ryan: Yeah. And I guess if you don't have the confidence at the time, well, you better hurry up and find it. There were certainly some lessons where it's like, oh, man, I don't really know my stuff, well enough. But I'm the kind of person who, when that happens, which it does all the time, I'll put in the work to make sure the next day it's very clear that I know what I'm talking about and I'm on top of it. 

SkyDeck: We can probably leave the fine details of the doctoral project for later but that was also inspired by a film, Magnolia? Because that one's about ninety minutes worth of music. And what was the premise? 

Ryan: Right. Which is about 50% more music. I had another listen to that just recently. There are a lot of notes crammed into that 90 minutes, too. Really pretty harmonically heavy stuff. And similar recognition of themes from the movie. Semi-programmatic. I really love that idea of trying to translate movies into music. And I like the storytelling ability of film. 

SkyDeck: Was that something you brought to the table earlier? How much did this living with those film students really shape that thought process? 

Ryan: Oh, that really kicked things in that direction. I also thought it was cool when I was doing research on Pat Metheny’s The Way Up, that he also took inspiration from the storytelling capabilities of the film when it came to writing the music. And I thought, “Wow, that’s cool.”

SkyDeck: And now you’ve got John Escreet recording your tone clocks project? He’s such an incredible player. The first project I had him on was the Relativity CD with Chris [Potter], Alex [Sipiagin], and Eric Harland. And he sounded so good he was an obvious and eventually great choice for Solipsis. For the tone clocks, I guess it’s obvious that he could handle just about anything but what was it about him specifically that made you think that he would be the guy to deal with this?

 

Ryan: Listening to his playing on the Solipsis tunes really, you know, really changed my perspective on things. He was playing a lot of things that I did not see coming. Really eye-opening stuff, particularly the “play anything” sections. I just thought it's all just constructed so well for an improvised solo. Incredible stuff. And then I've been listening to a lot more of him and working on the new piano solos, trying to build my harmonic and melodic vocabulary. I’ve been looking at other sources of pitch collections that lie outside of the seven note diatonic scales. And I'm not sure exactly how I came know about Jenny McLeod's tone clock pieces but the scores are available for them. So I purchased them, had a little look through. And I thought “That's an interesting compositional challenge.” And rather than trying to arrange this for a band I decided to remove the arrangement side of the equation and focus on a solo instrument. Piano gives you more to play with than perhaps a horn, or even guitar, certainly from an endurance standpoint. 

SkyDeck: Yeah, not too many solo trumpet albums without accompaniment.

Ryan: And then having listened to a lot of John’s playing already, you're dealing with some pretty interesting harmonic or intervallic structures. Because I was hearing something like jazz, I guess, like lead sheet style tunes based on the Messiaen modes, which I guess would be another concept entirely, but the tunes themselves I was coming up with were in a real hard bop, pretty diatonic, vibe. Just a little off, trying to be somewhat functional harmony, just with some interesting note choices. And it just didn't really interest me. So I thought, well, if you're going to be experimenting with these more interesting pitch collections, I think you've got to kind of fully know what you’re trying to write. These pieces ended up being far more inspired by something like Cecil Taylor or Carla Bley or Ornette [Coleman] and really trying to lean into something different.

"This is the Endeavour Jazz Orchestra New Zealand’s inaugural release. Let’s hope more are on the way."

Downbeat Magazine

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Ryan: I guess one major thing that will set these ones apart from the Jenny McLeod pieces is the improvisation. Having the pieces function as starting points for some free improvisation and trying to incorporate improvisation in clever ways that aren't just “head solo head.” I don't know how successful the pieces will be at doing that effortlessly but I know that John is a pretty incredible pianist.

SkyDeck: How has your concept developed over these years from being a pretty young student to now where you think about not just how do I leave space for this person to improvise, but how do I consider turning over some of the responsibility for creating the piece? “I'm the composer, but I have to leave space. 

Ryan: I think there have to be some decisions made about intention. “What is this?” Not a tug of war, but an understanding, a willingness, a vulnerability or an openness to say, “I'm inviting you based on my confidence in your musical ability. I'm inviting you to, essentially, write a bit of my piece.” 

SkyDeck: And what does it feel like to adjust those parameters? Because you haven't written that much music that isn't in that context. Whereas when you write classical music, most of the time, there's very little of that.  “Here's my piece. It'll be great when human beings plays it musically and, of course, bring something else to it.” But notes and rhythms and the essential elements of it are not something you're asking somebody to invent.

Ryan: There's a good quote I won’t remember exactly but it’s from the Graham Collier book. The Jazz Composer Book? 

SkyDeck: Is that the one where he’s bashing Jim McNeely and spelling his name wrong at the same time? And to his credit, McNeely was too kind to bash him back.

Ryan: Yeah. There was one idea in there that I thought was worth thinking about. Let's say that it was that some composers, like [Bob] Brookmeyer, for example, compose jazz. And that the music written on the page, the notes, is jazz music. It's the jazz language and the intended style considerations all that stuff. And then other composers, and I think he's kind of referring to himself, compose in order to allow jazz to happen. And I guess that's the complete other end of the spectrum. I think usually it's a careful balance of the two. In some moments, I understand that I'm composing jazz music, I'm writing the notes on the page. And then in other moments, I'm more than happy to just turn it completely over to the performers. Hopefully I've set up the environment. But now I'm going to compose to allow jazz to happen and someone else to create the jazz.

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