Bop & Words: An Interview with Joe Giglio
Bug: As I was stirring my brain & coming up with questions to ask you, I realized: why don’t we have an email dialogue instead you answering a list of questions?
The interview all too often takes the form of an interrogation: bare-bulb glare in the face, “truth serum” swimming in the veins, shadowy, cigarette smoking “good cop” in the corner. . .
If we dialogue, I’ll be able to respond to your responses & the conversation can have a more coherent flow. . .
First question: On your website, you mention that you teach improvisation. How does one go about teaching such a technique? How do you train students to acquire such a skill?
Bug: your words as filtered through my psycho pathology
The inner-view calls to soften, partakes of the formless entity of a(n)(dis)integration: threadbare radish (bealsa)bu(l)b(s) galore. pie in the face, (lack of) truth muse(r)um swooning in vain, share (a) dowry: trousseau dare.
chi garish dinette smoting no-good co-opt, a stand-in for the crooner. . .
and so it begins…
i imagine it is much like teaching creative writing – one needs: a fluency in language & writing skills; to be well read; critical feedback; guidance, life experience; many attempts; a touch of the loony; & the acceptance & appreciation that mistakes are our best learning tools. substitute: good instrumental/vocal skills; theo(he)retical knowledge of music; specific & broad listening experiences (live=the best, though not always the choicest); keep: critical feedback; guidance, life experience; many attempts; a touch of the loony & the acceptance & appreciation that mistakes are our best learning tools…
i must add that poorly read/lack of life experience musicians, share dusty shelf space in my ap/op/de/comp-art-me(a)nt with those writers of words who haven’t as yet accepted Thelonious Monk into their lives…
Bug: I like this idea of Thelonious Monk as a gift into one’s life. What specifically about Monk do you think wordsmiths could accept? Listening to Monk I am always amazed by how you can almost hear him reach for the next note, consciously deciding what path to go down. . .
Joe: reaching for the next note…that’s exactly what it is.
thelonious monk was one of the greatest composers in any genre, in modern time. he wrote music that had never previously been heard, & played it in a way heretofore unequaled. he used space – positive & negative, like a cubist painter. some of his melodies/harmonies are so open that one might drive a truck through them; & many others so tightly woven that negotiating their paths is akin to threading a needle. in all instance though, the music is primary & the architecture secondary.
in anything artistic that i attempt, i always ask where i am, to reveal & lead me to where I will go next. i accept it a blessing/gift/coupon…some may find it too prim(re)i(ac)tive.
when i improvise it is note|tone to note|tone – the many hours of practice/study/listening/gigg(l)ing, allow me to play from one note to the next rapidly. if i am playing monk’s tune ’round midnight’, i see the melody/chords/pulse/beats, in my mind & in my (likely) vacant star(e)- quo fato vocant,,, & i just fill in some of the blanks & leave others as they were…
when i draw – (cave dweller) – it is line to line; color to color; shape to shape, mistake to mistake.
when i write words it is just like playing/improvising, except slower – but it really feels the same to
me -i look at the page & try to divine what will look good on that page.
wordsmythes can gleen from monk’s m(us)(ing)(ag)ic the concept of accepting the creative flow & of being a channel for it.
Bug: Reading your response, I was struck by these two comments. Let me juxtapose them together:
“i look at the page & try to divine what will look good on that page.”
“the concept of accepting the creative flow & of being a channel for it.”
If the artist (musician, writer, painter, cook, etc.) becomes a channel that divines a “creative flow,” then how much control do you think the artist has over his/her artwork? Is creation more a collaboration with external forces?
Also, what first attracted you to jazz instead of other forms of music?
Joe: i grapple intermittently with the concept of ‘artist as a channel’…
one of my students mentioned that the ancient greeks used the term genius to describe another being/entity that guided them in their various artistic/academic quests – when they referred to their genius they were speaking of this entity. i suppose it is along the lines of a muse.
i have always known that i could do certain things. when i was 4 years old i asked for a guitar but got piano lessons with a semi-sadistic old women who didn’t like little boys – i quit. i kept wondering when i would get my guitar, because i knew i could play it. scroll forward to age 10 & it came together – i could play it from the first embrace, as i had already been playing it in my mind for years.
now here’s the rub(ble): except in rare instances, i believe that no matter the level of one’s innate talent, one needs to nurture it, coax it out of it’s insinuation in the fibers of one’s being, dig the dirt, break the rocks & harvest the gems. this of course is studying, practicing, listening, feeling, interacting, acting, being sometimes dormant (or in the the case of the creative artist, a doormat…) i believe that one is given the talent & along with it the task of dealing with it. also, environment is a big factor, but one not really in the control of the child for quite some time. when i was a teenager i scoured the city for jazz records & memorized the liner notes, personnel & tune titles -i was fortunate that i could avail myself of these treasures.
that said, many years ago i was hanging out with my 5 year old niece on the swings in her backyard. out of literally nowhere, she proceeded to freestyle some of the most amazing poetry i’ve ever heard. i thought i was dreaming & called out to her parents that she was a genius. she kept going for quite a while, & that day it seemed that she could access this material at will. i can’t explain it & neither can she. she remains brilliant in her young adulthood & works hard for her achievements, but this was a freaky deal!
regarding how i came upon jazz, one of my blessed curses is that i have been able to grok things that were well beyond my years/paygrade. it has been a great help, & at times a hinderence. i had a cousin 10 years my senior who was a jazz & general freak. i looked up to him & hung around him when i could. he played ‘ascension’ by john coltrane for me when i was 12. it is one of coltrane’s most ‘out’ records & i loved it. the rest as they say is mystery…
Bug: I’ve been letting your words stew in my mind.
“i kept wondering when i would get my guitar, because i knew i could play it. scroll forward to age 10 & it came together – i could play it from the first embrace, as i had already been playing it in my mind for years.”
I find your instant ability/attraction to the guitar fascinating. It almost seems that the guitar was a new kind of tongue that you knew had been missing all along.
“i believe that one is given the talent & along with it the task of dealing with it.”
Speaking of talent, you have worked with many different musicians and it seems that each group you’ve participated in has fashioned a different sound. In albums such as Threedom’s “Clairvoyant Avenue,” it is thrilling to hear how you and the other musicians work together, with all the instruments operating as a driving unison, but with each instrument also taking part in a responsive conversation. To add to that, the YouTube video of you and Jimmy Halperin offering a musical counterpart to Heller Levinson’s poetry emphasizes the affinity between different art forms, each art mutated by contact with the other.
All that being said, how do you know when you will work well with another artist?
Joe: thanks for thinking on my thoughts!
the guitar was like a picture of some delicious, succulent looking food & i was hungry; and/or like a video w/ sound of the ocean & i instictively know that i was spawned from those depths, plus i’m feeling hot & want to take a dip…
one does not have to do anything with, or about any thing – talent or otherwise; perhaps they are unaware of it or are re/sup-pressed: once they have found it they either deal w/it or deny their true nature.
‘threedom’ is a special musical entity for me & gratefully for some other folks. the group name explains it: 3 musicians playing together to make music that comes from a free(dom) place. we are gearing up for a new foray…
the thing with jimmy & heller was the type of loony, typical of the 3 of us unleashed in the daylight. we had just finished recording ‘disassembly’ heller’s epic about global war(m)(n)ing & heller started this blame-blame thing & we just freaked on it – kind of a spastic-funk episode.
i can most often know how it will be playing with someone for the first time – but not always…sometimes i can tell by the music or lack of music in their speaking voice &/or in how they listen & interact in a verbal conversation.
with some it’s like meeting a new friend or lover & you have a history together before you meet, & one that you can both reference.
this of course relates 92% to creative gigs – comercial gigs not so much – on those, other forces are afoot & may be tripping or kicking you with that foot.
every so rarely though, i have played a commercial gig – (party/wedding/banquet/impeachment/divorce/human sacrifice) where the music becomes magic with either or both, the band’s interaction &/or the audience-band dynamic. when that solar eclipse happens it’s a mindfuck!
and everything i just said applies to my poetry-were that it was true…
Bug: I like how this interview is chugging along. . .each response seems to explode into a billion different directions. . .a lot like your poems.
Speaking of your poetry, how did you start writing poetry? I am aware that Heller Levinson’s book has kindled your recent stretch of composition, but what has drawn you to writing, and poetry specifically. Also, how did you arrive at your aesthetic?
Joe: i began to write songs before i played guitar, but they were only for me-i either sang them in private, or in my mind’s ear.
this was sporadic & perhaps random, until i was about 10.
i like(d) the sound of words individually & collectively, & would read passages in books over & over-kind of like letting the hot water in the shower spray on your neck long after you are clean, because it just feels good…
when i became aware of bard bob dylan i began to swim in words – surrounded by guitars – haunted by his mournfully happy voice.
it was blues poetry, acid tripped, Beujelais washed, angry-lovesome music – it was me!
around this time i also heard Coltrane, & that was as i have before said, life changing…my religion was (maybe is) dyl-tr-an-e-icism.
i went to a liberal-excellent high school with some unusual & inspiring teachers. one math teacher had played with the ‘mothers of invention’ (frank zappa), many were anti-war activists, many were writers/poets.
i wrote songs about the war in vietnam, played protest rallies & coffee houses & really interacted with my peers & advisors in a creative-collective way.
a 9th grade teacher, alan shapiro totally affected my outlook. he was an amazing person & helped me to not be scared & also to be terrified.
but rather than to be fearful of the red menace, i learned to recognize the true threat that was insinuated into our daily lives.
we were told to drink milk & eat fruit/vegetables for our health, but weren’t informed of the toxic pesticides/hormones/antibiotics/tortured animals/chemical fertilizers…we were taught to believe in our government, but were deceived about the atrocious criminal actions & freedom stripping practices of our leaders. from him i learned that power corrupts & absolute power corrupts absolutely!
i wrote poetry & song lyrics, & found them to be different views of similar emotions. if i wrote song lyrics it was always w/a guitar in hand.
poetry/prose was played with a pen & paper – never did they meet under my watch.
college was fast & tense for a while, & i wrote a lot of papers, which at the time were holding my words for ransom. i tuned in/dropped out, part-timed & studied creative writing with richard stack at purchase college.
he was very encouraging & helpful, & the contact led me to more writing.
i dropped the 3rd class i was taking w/him when he shouted the praises of a poem read in class that basically chronicled a classmates orgasm, complete with concomitant desk pounding-breathing & shrieking sound effects…
little did i know that a few years later this scene would be reprised in ‘when harry met sally’. the point being that i can recognize bullshit as well as can any other fly on the wall.
jazzjazzjazzjazzjazzjazz…sporadic poetic forays…jazzjazzjazzjazzjazz…some philosophy readings…lots of thinking…jazzjazzjazzjazzjazzjazz…heller levinson-the most musical of poets…jazzjazzjazzjazzjazz…
heller read my composition columns in just jazz guitar magazine, called me when he got to town – came to a giglio-halperin gig…in the recording studio we improvised along w/his recitation of his epic poem: Disassembly..i read his books, wrote him a cute response to his latest:’Smelling Mary’, sort of in the ‘hinge’ mode…he dug it & suggested i submit it to you jared…i thought he was daffy (which i liked)..sent it in…& now i can’t stop…blame him!
seriously though i am very grateful to heller in so many ways. he has encouraged me, advised me, shared material w/me & has given me many volumes to read that he thought essential to my writing – along w/his invaluable erudition…he’s a cultural treasure!
my asthetic as it were, is really sound oriented – i will complicate this by saying that it is also very important to me how the words, (p)unctuation & symbols
look on the page. sometimes it is essential that they have motion, other times i need them to look like they are moving, but sound like they are standing still.
i think about how to communicate the sometimes extreme (p)unctuation were i to read these poems aloud. i also have written a number of things w/no punctuation at all.
i really love mystery & subterfuge – there are many, many layers of meaning & interpretation in what i write. i do not claim this to be good or bad, only that it really does represent how i think-feel-am.
Bug: What I like about your work is that it seems to show little interest in narrative. Rather, it explodes with fragments of narratives that bump against each and have a fearsome dialogue. Since many artists have worked on denaturing narrative, but all for different reasons, what is your reason for exploring other ways of communicating?
Your idea of conveying motion on the page is really interesting. It startled a question into existence for me: while the page is undeniably static, can the written word acheive motion through multiple readings? For example, the gnarled syntax and punctuation of your poetic line seems like it could give rise mutiple interpretations, essentially implanting a different poem in each reader’s brain.
You mention that you have been thinking of ways to perform your poems’ sometimes extreme punctuation. What hypotheses have you come up with so far?
Joe: 1.) i like lots of possibilities & always have…
i do think that it is inherent in my nature – when i learned of improvisation i knew i had found my life’s work.
for tune’s rhythm: co(de)-authored sidestep wise
(ever) clear blues guise,distingué in silhouette…
most often when i am writing a cover letter, something for a music magazine, border treaty, or text for my jazz website, i strive to create a linear word-flow & an absence of ambiguity – at these moments i tend to yearn for verbal exchange – while i respect & am to a degree capable of eloquent/articulate writing, i suspect that vocal dynamics & facial/body expressions add a significant other dimension. when i write creatively i am drawn to ambiguity-multiple interpretation-language visuals-subterfuge; i grew up in an era fraught with paranoia, an uncertain future, fallout shelters, etc – as a result i may write in code at times, but it is all there hiding in plain site…
when collections of tallies, housed in leather bound hope chests
stand in silent blasphemous prayer, so am i without re-course/source,
relegated to the role of my keeper…
2.) motion in poetryà
downdraft upwind of the outcast’s (de-)(en)(tr)(c)(ampment),
|O>O| – facing southeast
3.) i may have to substitute unctuation for punk…
but seriously i believe after shamefully little thought, that the poems will have a new inca(r)n(t)ation when spoken aloud…
re-torn promised vilifications scatter mood swings: sees awed clusters
peopled from the growing underclass created by no win saturations
shelves lined with non-perishable good intent.
Bug: For my next question, I am curious about your relationship to New York City. Have you always lived there or did you move there?
How does the City treat its jazz musicians? Is there a supportive artistic community in them there parts?
Joe: i grew up in a town about 15 miles from manhattan & about 2 miles from the bronx. as migration tended to proceed at the time, people moved away from the city as they prospered – so i was always surrounded by ny’rs – one example being my father, who was born in little italy on elizabeth st., grew up in brooklyn & practiced law there into his 70’s.
as a teenager, along with friends – mostly musicians & those that fancied musicians, i would train to nyc to attend concerts, hang around the village, buy insense, romanticize voluntary poverty/hallucinagens/hippie girls-communal living/etc.
like much of the world, to me nyc was/is the destination.
i moved here 10 years ago & live on the upper westside where you can’t throw a stick w/o hitting a liberal; bass player; poet; columbia university professor; trust fund baby; master barista, it’s a place to be…
the relationship of jazz to it’s environs is often by nature difficult, & nyc despite it’s mecca like status in the artisitic world is not very different. jazz was a dance oriented music in the 20’s; 30’s & much of the 40’s. as such it was widely appreciated – pop music of the time.
with the advent of be-bop in the mid 40’s; cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz in the 50’s, & free jazz-avant garde, & jazz-rock in the 60’s, it established itself on the fringe or in the underground, depending on one’s perspective.
in my jazz liftime thus far, i must say that it has never been easy to subsist as a jazz musician, & never as difficult as it is currently. i have always taught guitar & jazz improvisation both as a means of self-support & because i enjoy helping aspiring musicians to develop the skills needed to find their voice & because: i refused to be a fool, manipulated like a puppet dancing on the strings held by the men on high…
nyc is one of the most difficult places to find decent jazz gig – sounds crazy but it’s true. though it is a jazz mecca in print, or if you are wynton marsalis, chick corea, pat metheny, et al, the many amazing musicians here compete daily & seemingly with desperation, for the same few low paying gigs in noisy restaurants, or in soon to be gone, well intentioned non-corporate jazz cafes/bars: clawing at the gates for bread…
in addition as it is nyc, there are a multitude of aspiring players willing to play for free & the concomitant number of restaurant/club owners who can’t discern the difference between apprentice & master. this doesn’t at all imply that i object to one’s honing their craft on the job, i encourage my advanced students to sit in w/me on many of my gigs, & in my teaching emphasize the developing of practical skills so as to be prepared for the real world.
in other parts of the country club owners view live music as a means of attracting customers. in oregon, texas, ohio & minnesota for example, friends of mine gig 4 -6 nights per week.
here in town even well known jazzers playing in neighborhood eateries/bars, worry about attendence – either they bring in an audience of eaters/drinkers, or they don’t work. club owners generally don’t advertise, & expect you to do all the leg work, & even with this they can’t understand why their business suffers. it amounts to a pay to play situation – it’s not about how well you play or how deep you dig, it’s about asses in the seats – period(.)
but hey, i’m not bitter…
so why am I here? well, someone stole my wallet & i’m just trying to raise enough money for a knish & a train ticket back to parsipanny, nj.
so if you can spare some change…
As a last question, why don’t we look towards the future?
What kinds of projects are you currently working on & what should we be looking out for in the future?
Joe: low overhangs & random flying objects…
i am excited about writing – both poetry & music; & about doing some more drawings. for me, playing (& singing) music is autonomic – a guitar in my hands & a song rising from my lungs depicts my default state of being – true love.
i have a number of projects percolating: a new recording fom ‘Threedom’;
a solo guitar cd; a book of original music compositions; much more poetry-perhaps gathered together & laced with string…
opt inout/tread-to read- thread/appreciate-appropriate/groove/
& stop talking – for a moment…