by Mike McKinley | photography by Ian Gittler
As I was listening to guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel's latest double live album‚ The Remedy‚ the concept "music as the remedy" really soaked in. It was in the midst of a solo‚ where Kurt kept digging deeper and deeper‚ developing into a blaze of raw‚ emotional expression. The band was having a great conversation -- suggestive‚ wrapped with as much subtlety as fire. You could feel how much they were getting out‚ pouring from the heart.
As simple as the concept sounds‚ it felt like the perfect theme that kept coming up in conversation with friends -- whatever life throws at you‚ there's always music. Yes‚ it is the remedy."That's it‚" is all Rosenwinkel had to say when I told him my assessment of why his album is called The Remedy. Following a noble tradition of the giants who came before him (Coltrane‚ Evans‚ Dizzy and Dexter to name a few)‚ The Remedy was recorded live at the Village Vanguard in New York City. Certainly‚ the dynamics of this band fit right in‚ superbly‚ with the rich lineage of this room.
Let's talk about the new record. It's good to hear you stretch out. I know it's been out for a while now‚ so how are you feeling about it?I feel really good about it. I'm really happy with how it came out and I feel good about having a record out there that really shows what we do live. I think it's a really well-made record. I'm proud of it personally.
Do you think it captures the chemistry of the band?Definitely.
I think so‚ too. I just don't know how much more there is out there. It's hard to get it all down.That's a pretty high representation‚ I would say.
What kind of things happen when you're up there and in the zone. What kind of things do you see? Is it visual?Yeah‚ it can be. Well‚ last night‚ for example‚ I was playing a gig and we got into this zone and I saw this space station and this spaceship docking into the space station‚ and these aliens talking in the space station and broadcasting over the universe. My part was this person in a spacesuit working on the outside of the station hammering something. I was playing the hammering. [laughter] The way that everything was fitting together musically was what was creating this vision for me. It's also some kind of narrative‚ almost like a movie. When I used to play Brooklyn a lot‚ I would imagine that my part playing the melody was this stage with no band‚ but just an older woman off to the side giving this sort of soliloquy to the audience. So I would imagine that I was that woman giving this soliloquy.
Where do you think that comes from?I don't know. I guess just the imagination and from things sparking memories. When you go about your day and you smell something and suddenly you remember something-music is very visual for me like that. Music can trigger dreams for me sometimes‚ literally. It actually can trigger the memory of the dream‚ and I go back into this dream that I had‚ almost like déjà vu. Like a dream that I had but I didn't remember.
Do you ever have things that pop into your head about your childhood?Yeah‚ music is really an extension of childhood play for me. When I got too old to play with toys‚ I started playing music. All that childhood adventure quality to life transferred into music‚ so it definitely represents that kind of world to me. It's deeper than just playing like a kid; it has everything in life as you get older and learn the lessons of life. Music has all of the lessons in it‚ I find. Music shows you everything you need to get through life as a person. When things aren't balanced inside your own person‚ it's very obvious through music that that's the case‚ if you're aware. Music is really a good teacher‚ I've found.
What do you do to nurture that relationship? Is there any ritual experience you do when you approach it‚ or are you always looking for new things?There are a lot of things‚ big and little‚ that I feel that I have to do to approach it in the right way. You've got to clean your room. Sometimes you have to light candles‚ or sometimes you need to meditate‚ or sometimes you need to just practice long enough until you open the door‚ and then there's music. Sometimes you need to study‚ and sometimes you need to just go for a walk or make sure you're living life right. Maybe you need to get back in touch with your old journals from your youth or something-get power from different sources. I remember for a long time‚ I would imagine that when I would play‚ this hatch would open in my head and these antennas would go up in the back of my head. [laughter] That doesn't happen anymore. There's all kinds of ways to quote-unquote put your antennas up.
That makes sense-you become a catalyst. That's a funny image. [laughter] Talking about meditation and these images that happen in the thick of it‚ how much of that do you think you can control‚ knowing that you're in the middle of this crazy music and knowing that you're really riding it? I've heard a lot of musicians say that if they think about it too much‚ they lose it. But other musicians feel like with improvising‚ that's the next step-to be able to ride it‚ but to be able to think about it.
The reason why one practices is so that when you lose yourself‚ everything doesn't fall apart. You're still functioning on whatever the music demands craft-wise. That helps‚ making sure that your level of craft is as high as it can be‚ giving you the freedom to really let your heart take over.That's the key for me-having an open heart and thinking with your heart‚ or experiencing the music first through your heart and then processing with your brain‚ but always having it go through the heart as an organism. You feel like you experience life in your head‚ in your brain‚ in your face. You listen to things and smell things and taste things and think about things. It's all in your head. Life is taking place in your head. It's another thing if you imagine that everything is being processed through your heart‚ which is powerful. I think it's a very important distinction of how to approach life.
And for me‚ music is very much a reflection of that. The thing about that is‚ the heart is associated with love in all of its different shapes. There's the truism that all that loves‚ listens. And so‚ it's about listening. I'm listening with an open heart‚ and making sure my skill and craft levels are as high as they can be. But everything else-my internal thinking process is listening and experiencing through the organism of the heart. I find that if you're engaged in that way‚ then your mind is in its correct function‚ which is just informational‚ translating forms of chord shapes. It can be working a lot during the whole thing‚ but it has its own function‚ which is secondary to the whole experience. It's the calculator.
When do you think you hit that point where you realized that?I'm constantly re-realizing it. I think you learn that pretty early on‚ though.
It's a continuous journey. You have to keep assessing. You've been teaching….I teach in Berlin at the Jazz Institute.
Are you learning quite a bit about yourself being a teacher?Definitely. I really love teaching because you have to kind of diagnose a problem and figure out how to help them‚ and I enjoy that a lot. I feel like I'm a kind of music doctor for people. It's fun. Everybody's in a different situation.
Do you feel like you're also a philosopher?Yeah. I tend to teach a lot in metaphor. I'm always coming up with analogies and visualizations for whatever we're talking about. I enjoy teaching because it's like having a really good conversation sometimes. It's philosophical‚ but also very practical. I'm a very practical teacher.
taken from state of mind