Ten Questions with Tyshawn Sorey

5 05 2009

Tyshawn Sorey is a NY based composer and drummer. He first came to my attention as the drummer in pianist Vijay Iyer’s Quartet on the “Blood Sutra” album. He still plays with Iyer in the trio Fieldwork, with Steve Lehman rounding out the trio on sax. When Sorey’s debut as a leader came out on Firehouse 12 Records, I kind of freaked out about it here. It was so unlike anything I expected after hearing him in other contexts, and pretty much blew me away.

Tyshawn stays busy writing and performing, and in August, he’ll be curating the shows at The Stone in New York so you will be able to see him in a wide variety of settings.

1: What got you into creative/improvised music making, and what keeps you there?

During my formative years in Newark (N.J.), I was always interested in creating things…  I drew a lot, painted, wrote short stories, etc.  But it’s nothing important, really.  My father, in particular, exposed me to many different types of music growing up.  Since around the age of 2 or 3, I knew I wanted to be some kind of musician.  I was never the type to associate myself with any genre of music, because I knew that somehow there was much more to absorb and learn from than what I was exposed to.  So then I began listening to music from other cultures and then delving more into gospel music (my mother was an aspiring gospel singer in a local church, and I still think about how amazing she was at it), country, blues, other types of jazz expression, classical, and dance music.  It was always in me to try and check out as many things as possible, and it was only natural for me to simply listen to the music for what it was.  I mean, there was never any real “way” I became aware of my interests in music and creating, because it was already there from the get-go.  All I would listen to back then was more traditional sounding stuff from WBGO or WKCR only to later discover that I became somewhat of a “jazz purist”.  It became apparent to me that I was listening to music in one “way”; that it was time for me to eliminate the idea of taste, likes, and dislikes and take from whatever I listened to and let it be a part of my musical makeup.  I believe that every listener of music listens in their own way, and I did not want to listen in ANY WAY…but to JUST listen – no feelings that “something sucks” or “something is catchy”, etc.  then, my tastes would not let me fully experience what was happening in the moment.  To listen to something without “listening”.

2: Breakthrough album(s) and Why?

There are WAY too many for me to list.  But here are a select twenty of these:
1 )  Charlie Parker – The Dean Benedetti Recordings
2 )  The Complete Louis Armstrong Hot Five/Hot Seven Recordings
3 )  Pierre Boulez – The Three Piano Sonatas
4 )  Captain Beefheart – Lick My Decals Off Baby
5 )  James Brown – Live At The Apollo, Vol. I
6 )  Max Roach – Drums Unlimited
7 )  Nirvana – In Utero
8 )  Karlheinz Stockhausen – Gesang der Junglinge/Kontakte
9 )  Otis Redding – Live In Europe
10 )  Anthony Braxton – The Complete Braxton 1971
11 )  Jimmy Smith – Crazy Baby
12 )  John Cage – Atlas Eclipticalis and Winter Music
13 )  Cecil Taylor – Indent
14 )  Milford Graves – Stories
15 )  Gorguts – Obscura
16 )  Steve Coleman and Five Elements – Black Science
17 )  Muhal Richard Abrams – Levels and Degrees of Light
18 )  Alvin Lucier – I Am Sitting In A Room
19 )  Morton Feldman – For Samuel Beckett
20 )  Prince – Around The World In A Day

3: How do other art disciplines affect your work?

Well, besides art disciplines…Zen Buddhism, literature, and painting has had a very profound affect on my work in many ways as well as the way I listen to music, which is really no way at all – positively speaking.  Those two things are the primary generators for my work, as well as the experience of everyday life…which, for me, is improvisation in all senses.  As far as favorites in these fields: Robert Rauschenberg, Alan Watts, and Charles Bukowski are among my favorites.

4: Favorite Film(s)?

Again, I will pick a select twenty to choose from – as it would not be possible to list them all:
1 )  All movies directed by John Cassavettes, notably Shadows – which is all improvised
2 )  All movies directed by David Lynch, notably Mulholland Drive
3 )  Werner Herzog – Herz aus Glas
4 )  Richard Pryor – Live and Smokin’
5 )  Robert Altman – 3 Women
6 )  Takashi Miike – Ichi the Killer
7 )  Andrei Tarkovsky – Andrei Rublev
8 )  Spike Lee – Malcolm X
9 )  Nicholas Ray – Rebel Without A Cause
10 )  Jonathan Demme – Silence Of The Lambs, The Manchurian Candidate
11 )  Rob Reiner – A Few Good Men
12 )  Martin Scorsece – Taxi Driver, Goodfellas
13 )  Bryan Bertino – The Strangers
14 )  Francis Ford Coppola – The Godfather I & II
15 )  Carol Reed – The Third Man
16 )  Oliver Stone – Scarface, Natural Born Killers
17 )  Gordon Parks, Jr. – Super Fly
18 )  George Stevens – The Diary Of Anne Frank
19 )  Jon Landis – The Kentucky Fried Movie
20 )  James Melkonian – The Jerky Boys

5: Favorite Film Score(s)?

No specific film scores come to mind, although I have a fond appreciation of the work of film score composer Bernard Herrmann,  as well as all of the scoring for Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason.

6: Favorite Fiction Reading?

Right now I’ve been getting into the works by Phillip Pullman – His Dark Materials; Henry Miller – Tropic of Cancer; Samuel Beckett – Krapp’s Last Tape, Not I, and a bunch of other stuff; J.D. Salinger – The Catcher In The Rye; Charles Bukowski – Burning In Water Drowning In Flames; Arthur Miller – The Crucible, and a few others.

7: Favorite Non-Fiction Reading?

Amos N. Wilson – Black On Black Violence; Alan Watts – The Way Of Zen; George E. Lewis – A Power Stronger Than Itself; John Cage – Silence; Carter G. Woodson – The Mis-Education of the Negro; William Parker – Who Owns Music?; and Dusty Bunker – Numerology and the Divine Triangle.

8: Favorite Guilty Pleasure Music?

None I could think of…for me, there is no such thing.  I have been checking out a lot of stand-up comedy recordings of the following artists in particular: Richard Pryor, Andrew Dice Clay, Eddie Murphy (his early stuff), Lenny Bruce, some Redd Foxx, Lewis Black, George Carlin, Paul Mooney, and a few others.  But I don’t see any qualitative difference in their work and how it has also been influential to me.  The same goes for listening to Joni Mitchell, Tupac, D’Angelo, Blondie, Wu-Tang Clan, Elliot Smith, Autechre, Meshuggah, or any other type of music.  I mean, I can listen to anything I want and to simply let it come to me…if it doesn’t come to me then I’ll go to it.  But then, if I don’t like the music, the fault is on me – I create the problem with listening to it…  I have to know this for myself, as a human being, that I am not interested in creating a “guilty pleasure” music that has the potential of being brought down to its’ lowest common denominator to sell a lot of CD’s and all.  However, it should also be clear that I do respect it for what it is and for the effort these people put in to express themselves as they wish.  As far as feeling guilty of listening to this is concerned, I don’t.

9: Favorite Under Rated Musician(s)?

I’ll go out on a limb with this one…since this is something that has been bothering me for some time.  There are so many people I wish to list, but the underrated COMPOSERS who I want to discuss are also percussionists that we all know.  Susie Ibarra is my favorite percussionist/composer around right now, and I find that it’s a shame that not many people know that she has a lot to offer as a composer, not to mention the amazing work she is doing.  The same should go for Paul Motian, Mark Guiliana, Gerald Cleaver, Andrew Greenwald, Dan Weiss, Billy Martin, Joey Baron, Marcus Gilmore, Milford Graves, Tommy Crane, among others…  I personally believe that these drummers who are also composers and/or play other instruments should be recognized for all of how they express themselves, as opposed to only being credited for their sideman work and/or for their drumming abilities. It’s interestingly ironic because what these drummers contribute to the music of their respective bandleaders is so strong and powerful that what they create becomes an essential part of the music itself; they MAKE the composition, as far as I’m concerned.

10: Recommended Artist(s)/Shout Outs?

All of the above, as well as Aaron Stewart, Todd Neufeld, Otis Brown III, Jesse Elder, Steven Ruel, Sara Serpa, Thomas Morgan, Fay Victor, Carlos Homs, Eric McPherson, Ingrid Laubrock, Nate Wooley, Russ Lossing, Greg Scrulloni, Steve Lehman, Kris Davis, Randy Peterson, Jacob Sacks, Meilana Gillard, Frank Rosaly, Jen Shyu, Darius Jones, Andre Matos, Matana Roberts, Ben Gerstein, Okkyung Lee, Terrence McManus, Joe Albano, Michele Rosewoman, Carl Maguire, Rich Woodson, Mat Maneri, Billy Mintz, Aaron Burnett, Nasheet Waits, Jeff Parker, John Hebert, Loren Stillman, Vardan Opsevian, Pete Robbins, Taylor Ho Bynum, Judith Berkson, John Escreet, Adam Niewood, and many others…this will take forever to finish.




7 responses

8 05 2009
8 05 2009
Jason Guthartz

Regarding Tyshawn’s comment about one of his favorite films being “all improvised”:

“John Cassavetes’ Shadows comes a little closer to being a true improvisation, but only briefly–in an early, discarded version. The first version of Shadows (filmed in 1957) was indeed based on a dramatic improvisation the director and his actors had worked out in an acting class. But Cassavetes was so embarrassed by the filmed result that after screening it just three times late in 1958 he decided the only way to salvage it was to write a series of scenes to cut into it. The revised 90-minute film retained less than 30 minutes of the original footage. … Most of the important dramatic interactions between the characters were the new scripted parts.
“It should be added that Cassavetes himself was responsible for much of the confusion about whether Shadows was or was not improvised, since at the end of the scripted version he retained the same title card that had ended the unscripted version: ‘The film you have just seen was an improvisation.’ Although his intention was to express gratitude to his actors for having originated the story, the title card only served to mislead critics and audiences.”

9 05 2009
Tyshawn Sorey


Thanks for passing along that information. I stand corrected!

8 05 2009

I knew someone would bring that up!

I think the way improvisation was used is still worth noting. Similar to what Mike Leigh and Christopher Guest would further develop through character based improv.

Also, if you read “Cassavetes on Cassavetes” there is a hilarious story about Mingus playing on the Shadows soundtrack. Spoiler Alert: it involved Mingus getting super pissed.

16 07 2009
Ten Questions with Steve Lehman « Glowing Realm

[…] Travail, Transformation and Flow Lehman leads an Octet of musicians (featuring Ten Questions alum Tyshawn Sorey and former VCU’er Mark Shim) through a set of music derived from studies in spectral harmony. […]

7 12 2009
Ed Peterson

Numerology by Ed Peterson is the ultimate companion book to the book Numerology and the Divine Triangle. I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.

6 12 2010
» D:O GIG PREVIEW: Tyshawn Sorey, with Steve Lehman & Todd Neufeld 09 Dec 2010 destination: OUT

[…] from Sorey with no supporting info. Is it a taste of the havoc he plans to unleash on Thursday? An inspiration for this sax/guitar/drums foray? Or just a tune that offers distant hints of areas to explore? Only […]

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