[Fwd: India Cooke Interview, Part One]

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#1 Mon, 1997-05-12 01:09
James L Kirchmer
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[Fwd: India Cooke Interview, Part One]

Hi there - I clipped the following from a recent digest of the epulse! newsletter, the email companion to Tower Records' PULSE! magazine... (subscription info is listed at the end of the clipping...)

--- HANDS OFF

epulse interviews jazz violinist India Cooke, part 1 of 2 Even though she's been a key figure on the San Francisco Bay area's active improvisational music scene for several years, composer/violin virtuoso India Cooke delayed documenting her music until the timing was right. Finally, with a batch of compelling compositions and a top-notch band of simpatico improvisers, Cooke recorded her radiant jazz/new music debut, 'RedHanded,' which was recently released on the Music & Arts Programs of America label. Cooke, whose musical journey into the improvisational realm ranges from an ear-opening workshop with Charles Mingus during her college years to a touring gig with Sun Ra, was interviewed in her comfortable Oakland home recently for Pulse!'s May issue.

epulse: You started playing the violin when you were quite young.

Cooke: That's right. I was reared on the classics and I had a formal classical music education. It was very intense. I was put on a professional track that was going so fast it made my head spin. I went to the North Carolina School of the Arts [in Winston-Salem] for high school and also got my B.A. in music there. I majored in violin and chamber music. School was a blur to me. When I graduated, I broke down in tears because I felt trapped into playing for symphony orchestras the rest of my life. But I didn't know what else to do, so I enrolled in the music masters program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. That's when I started to have hope that there was something better in store for me. How miserable I would have been if I had gotten caught in that role of strictly being a classical musician.

epulse: Why? Was it too constricting an experience?

Cooke: I felt extremely anonymous in that setting. For one, there were few people who looked like me. But I also didn't feel emotionally connected to the music.

epulse: So what turned things around for you?

Cooke: I started to hear the violin in popular music for the first time. I went to the blues festival in Ann Arbor. I started hearing the importance of strings in disco music. It was a revelation to me. I thought, violins are everywhere. I started to have hope. I got excited taking a workshop on campus with Charles Mingus, learning about new and different constructs of music. But it was hearing an album by [jazz violinist] Michael White that really knocked me out. Hearing the violin played that way gave me hope there was more for me than Bach, Brahms and Tchaikovsky.

epulse: So you moved to California in 1978 to begin exploring that new side of your music.

Cooke: Yeah, but I wasn't sure how to go about doing that. When I arrived here, I started looking for jobs that I knew I was qualified for. I auditioned for ballet and opera orchestras even though I didn't want to do that forever. The right people heard me and suggested that I also look for work in musical theater and celebrity shows. That started me on the path of exploring a more personal style of musical expression. A few years later I took a class with Anthony Braxton, who was doing a residency at Mills College [in Oakland].

epulse: Working with Braxton must have been an eye-opener.

Cooke: He was awesome. It was amazing just sitting in class and looking at his music written out. We all wondered how we would ever pull off playing it. He'd sing the parts to us so we could follow, then he'd play a recording of the music. It was an extraordinary experience. Equally important was the way he conducted his classes. He encouraged the idea of sharing musical ideas and developing a strong community. That helped to open me up to the genre of improvisational music.

epulse: Braxton's residency at Mills took place more than 10 years ago. Since then you've been very active in the improv movement in the Bay Area. Why did it take you so long to document your music on disc?

Cooke: Finally, after all these years, my debut. (Laughs) Well, it's taken so long because of the consciousness of the music itself. I've been playing some of these compositions for several years. They were in various forms of development. I thought they were beautifully honed works when I was playing them with New World Trio and Living On The Edge, two groups in which I was a founding member. If I had gone into the studio then I probably would have been pleased. But I truly believe the music didn't want itself expressed until now.

epulse: Why now?

Cooke: The music was waiting for the right group of people to perform it. Now, after listening to the recording, I can't imagine these compositions played by anyone other than [saxophonist] Larry Ochs, [bassist] Lisle Ellis, [drummer] Donald Robinson, [percussionist] Lee and [trombonist] George Lewis. It was marvelous working with them because they intuit so well. George was doing a residency at Mills at the time of the recording. I wanted to use him because I like the sound of the trombone and violin together. I like those timbres, those colors. I guess I get that from my classical background. I want to have each orchestral section represented in my band. I want the brass, the reeds, the strings, the percussion and then we're cool. I'm my own worst critic, but when I hear the music we've created I'm pleasantly surprised. --DAN OULLETTE [!] ^^^ ^ ^^^ ^ ^^^ ^ ^^^ ^ ^^^ ^ ^^^ ^ ^^^ ^ ^^^ ^ ^^^ ^ ^^^

To subscribe to epulse, send the message "subscribe epulse-L" to the address listserv@netcom.com. Tell your friends. To stop receiving epulse, send the message "unsubscribe epulse-L" to the address listserv@netcom.com. Check out Tower's website at http://www.towerrecords.com. And visit Tower's AOL site: "Keyword: tower." Pulse! is published 11 times annually, Classical Pulse! bimonthly, epulse weekly. For subscription information to either magazine, please write to: Snail Circulation/Pulse!, 2500 Del Monte St., West Sacramento, CA 95691. Both magazines are available free at U.S. Tower Records/Video retail stores. epulse is published weekly by MTS, Inc.

And speaking of magazines - the latest issue of JAZZIZ is actually pretty cool - not filled with the usual mainstream crap, but with some of the more adventurous people working today. A drawing by Bill Frisell is featured on the yellow cover...

Tangenitally yours, James Kirchmer

p.s.- I suppose I'll fwd part two when it arrives in my mailbox.