LARRY OCHS: An interview by Alexander Kan
from November, 1990 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia

Rova Saxophone Quartet's 1983 Russian tour, with its incredible political and cultural tension and as much incredibly intense human contact amidst the short, post-detente, pre-perestroika, cold-war spell, almost immediately acquired a nearly mythical status. The myth though was materialized in a Hat Art live release and a TV documentary -- both appropriately entitled Saxophone Diplomacy.

We all -- Soviets and Americans involved alike-- knew that Rova had to come back. After long and painful talks with clumsy, inexpedient and not quite generous Goskonsert (the officuial Soviet touring agency), the two weeks-ten concerts-seven cities tour started on November 18, 1989 with a performance at Leningrad Autumn Rhythms Festival. After Leningrad the quartet played in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Tartu, Moscow and Kazan.

A lot has changed. Altoist and flautist Andrew Voigt left the group. Among other more serious musical and personal issues partly discussed in the interview, this posed a problem of name. The V in Rova dropped out. Some people speculated whether Rova should look excusively for a saxophonist whose name started with a V. Fortunately or unfortunately the three remaining Rovas didn't have time to be concerned with trifles like this, and the replacement they found -- Steve Adams -- perfectly fit into the group in every respect but the name (unless, as the group mentioned, you change his name to Stee Vadams). The group has matured both musically and socially. Six years ago we were all euphoric in our attitude towards music (primarly new) as an almost universal means to uplift the spirit and to achieve togetherness. Not that we lost that belief or have become cynical today. For we certainly have become more professional in our attitudes and busier in our commitments. Six years ago I was with Rova for every day of their tour travelling with them from Leningrad to Moscow, then back to Leningrad, then to Riga. This time, although I'd been involved in setting up the tour, I had to leave the country (to go on a tour of Germany and Austria with Orkestrion, a new music group from Volgograd) shortly after Rova arrived. So I was just at two first concerts and unfortunately missed the best (according to Larry) gigs in Moscow and Kazan.

After the tour was over, Larry Ochs -- the tenor, sopranino, acting manager, executive director, one of the prime composers and the O of the Rova Saxophone Quartet stayed in Leningrad for another week. I came back to town a day before Larry and his wife, poet Lyn Hejinian, had to leave for San Francisco. Right in time for the farewell party and for this conversation with Larry about the tour, the current Rova, Larry's new group Room, and what not. --Alex Kan

LARRY OCHS (of Rova Saxophone Quartet and Room) An interview by Alexander Kan

AK: This is the last day of Rova's second Soviet tour which I'm sure has been as exhausting as the first one. I'm wondering about your impressions of the tour otherwise.

LO: There were two major differences between this tour and the first one. The first difference was that this wasn't the first one so I kinda knew what to expect in terms of the physical place, in terms of coming to Russia, whereas the first time all I had seen were the black and white TV images, as well as having read some books. The second time is never like the first time; that's just the way it is. And the second major difference was that, when we hit here the first time, it was 1983, and now it's 1989. It's been a long six years for this country; there are major, major changes here. The first time we came, our tour was more of "an event": no American new music group had ever toured before and no jazz group for years, and this was, as far as anyone knew, the only tour that was going to happen for God knew how much longer. There was no end in sight to the political situation as it stood in 1983; that was the impression all of us, Soviet and American had, when we were here. This time , most of the musicians and artists are now trying to make a career in the Western sense of that term -- as opposed to East European sense of that term - which just means to stay alive. Now there's the potential to make Western currency with your art, or to try to become a rock star as Grebenschikov has tried to do. So, in fact, on this trip everybody was out of town just as if we'd gone to New York. So this was much more like a normal West European tour which in a way was disappointing at first. But then, after being here for a while, I realized that it's a very positive development. Which is to say that Rova never meant to be a Saviour coming to town with a message. As a performer it feels very nice to feel the audience leaning on everything you say. But really, in terms of the "real world", the situation here is moving in the right direction now...... And also, just as a viewer of the society, I had a much more meaningful experience this time than I did last time. This is much more real; I've been here for three weeks and I had a chance to spend a week in Leningrad after the tour when there was no pressure -- just kind of be here and really get a feeling for the city and some of its problems. I loved it the first time, and this was nothing like the first time, but I'm glad I came.

AK: What about the musical aspect of the tour?

LO: Well, musically, among other developments, Rova is much stronger at this point of time than we were in 1983, and we had a new member join the group last year. Since Steve Adams joined, we haven't had a chance to record our music, and we actually have quite a few pieces that are more than ready to be recorded. So it was really nice to be able to come here with Bob Shumaker, who was the recording engineer for our first record in Russia. This time he was actually sent over by New Albion Records, rather than coming on speculation. It was really nice to get some pieces that were ready (or more than ready) to be recorded on tape in a live format. I frankly prefer live recording, although the studio sound is generally better: it's bigger, the saxophones sound bigger; you can get that big sound whereas live it's a little bit more difficult. We were recording direct to digital so the quality is excellent, and I'm really happy about that. So musically I feel, at least as far as Rova went, it was a good tour; on the other hand, I'm kind of disappointed not to have made more and better contacts with musicians this time. One of the reasons we really wanted to come back was that, the last time that we were here, we made so many wonderful contacts with people and, really, that's kind of rare when you're touring the West. In the West, it's more like you get to your gig, you play, you get the money, you're going back to the hotel. . .but, when we came to the Soviet Union last time, in just nine days we met so many wonderful people. I didn't see most of those people this time -- that was too bad: you know, I expected to meet and to talk to a lot of new people. When you're playing the West you get paid, in the Soviet Union you don't; so the other aspects of touring other than the material ones become more important. So that was disappointing from the musical point of view. Also, in Leningrad, we went to the Autumn Rhythms Festival, and I was expecting to hear a lot more experimental music than I did. Part of that problem was that our plane travel got messed up, and we didn't get to Leningrad until the greater part of the festival was over, but still I was kind of surprised: I thought the festival itself would be a little bit more adventurous.

AK: I was just to two Rova concerts in Leningrad, but from what you told me and from what I heard from other people, I know that you didn't try to play some of the more ambitious, big scale compositions Rova has been playing recently: the Terry Riley piece, the Alvin Curran piece. Why is that?

LO: We had a concept before we came that we would be playing one set, and than Tarasov would be touring with us and would be playing with Greg [Goodman] for half an hour and with a couple of the guys in the group as a quartet or a quintet--we thought Tarasov would be bringing a bass player -- for another half a set or so. This meant that Rova would have only one set each concert. Now, the Alvin Curran piece is totally impractical here because it involves computer electronics- so that was out; the Terry Riley piece is an hour long: if we played that, that's all we'd play on that particular night, and, unless some promoter specifically requests that piece, we don't play the Riley because we feel that most people are interested in hearing us do improvised music. Terry's piece is 85% notated; it's a beautiful piece, but it's not what we're about. Even though it was written for us (we comissioned it), it's not like Alvin's piece or the stuff we did with Braxton or the Threadgill piece or some of the other pieces which really feel like they were written for Rova -- whereas Terry's piece feels like it could have been written for any saxophone quartet. . .

AK: Any saxophone quartet . . .

LO: Yeah, there's probably a saxophone quartet, maybe a classical saxophone quartet, that could probably realize that piece a little bit more easily than we can because it's 85% notated and that's not our strength. On the other hand, there is improvisation involved in that piece and so - who knows? - maybe it's better that somebody like Rova plays it, I don't know . . . In any case we're playing just one set in a country that we haven't been to in six years and may never return to again; so we want to play a set of our own pieces. And the third thing is that New Albion Records wanted a CD from us of live music, and we really wanted to record pieces that we think are very strong and that have been waiting to be recorded for quite some time. The last Rova record was in January 1988; it's been a while, you know. . . .

AK: You don't count the one with Braxton?

LO: No, I mean Beat Kennel. The one with Braxton was a quintet lp and one of the pieces on there, The Aggregate, was on Beat Kennel, and one side was Braxton's stuff; so there's only one piece on there that has been written in the last two years. So when Tarasov dropped out -- he had to go to Germany to fulfill a contract -- we just decided that we'd go after seven or eight pieces. And also when we came here last time we were playing pieces that were at least 15-20 minutes long, predominantly, whereas at this point of time we only have one piece like that we're doing a lot. . . .

AK: The Unquestioned Answer.

LO: Right......Most of our pieces at this point are 10-12 minutes or less; that's just a function of this time period, it's not a reflection of where we are at now.

AK: Do you mean the function of this time period at this particular place: the fall 1989 Soviet tour? Would you be playing the same set of pieces if you were touring, say, Western Europe, not Russia?

LO: Oh, yeah, we'd be playing the same repertoire. We do have pieces by Fred Frith, and this Threadgill piece, and we would have played them if we had been playing 2 sets each concert or if we hadn't been going after the New Albion CD. Which brings up an interesting point: In 1983 we really had a concept of what we wanted to do here. We really felt that, except for you and maybe a few other people, nobody in Russia had any idea of where we were coming from musically, so we thought that we should play mostly pieces with lots of energy; then people would at the least get involved with the energy even if they didn't understand what was going on musically. Whereas, this time this wasn't a consideration; we just played what we are playing right now. There were a couple of gigs where we got to the city and we felt: "this audience will be "beginners," let's start the concert with one or two relatively easy pieces." But that was about the only concession we made, and we had a couple of concerts where we started with what people might consider our most cerebral or difficult piece, just to do it and just to see how it went, and it went fine, really well. It seems that, if you give people the thing they fear the most first, they won't worry after that. People come to hear jazz, and we give them Bruce Ackley's The Freedom of Information which is a piece of relatively abstract music. When the people got with that, they had no problems whatsoever for the rest of the night.

AK: Do you think you were getting an adequate reaction from the audience?

LO: Oh, the response was really good. It was funny though: there were a couple of places -- I think either Riga or Talinn and also Leningrad where the response was.......well, you know, before we came to Russia in 1983, everybody said: "Look, just don't be surprised if there's no response, because it's not cool in the Soviet Union to applaud really loud. If the audience shows that kind or response, then the authorities will not let this music happen again so it's better to pretend: 'Oh, it's interesting' and to just sit on your hands." But inside they'll be loving it. Well, instead, in '83 the response was outrageously enthusiastic. But this time in one of the Baltic states -- and we played twice in each of those cities --it was kind of like what we were told to expect last time. The response was. . . almost like we were playing in a library..... but then, after the concert, people would come in to the backstage area or come up to us in the restaurant or whatever and just say: "It was real great! What a great concert! Thank you for coming." So everything was upside down this time, you know. But basically, in Vilnius, Moscow and certainly in Kazan and I think in Talinn the response was really positive.

AK: What about the two . . . four . . . how many? concerts you had with Tarasov and Goodman?

LO: Yes, we did three concerts with Tarasov and Greg Goodman: piano, drums and four saxophones. We'd arranged a little bit of a structure because Tarasov actually really wanted the structure there. We'd given him some written music that Rova was doing which he would play -- he's perfectly capable of reading composed music. And so we kind of had a beginning and maybe a couple of "islands" of composed music in the middle of a largely improvised structure that we'd just cue in at certain unspecified points. And, of those three concerts, I think two of them were great; the second of the three was kind of more in the tradition of free jazz, and wasn't really that interesting. I don't think as a listener I would be that interested in it; there was, however, a lot of energy, full out the whole time. I had a great time playing the concert, but often the blowouts are not as interesting listening from the outside as they are from the inside.

AK: Do you intend to include any of that stuff on the upcoming record?

LO: Not on the CD; that's a Rova CD. Like I said, we haven't had a record out in . . . But this record won't come out until next winter, so it'll almost have been three years. (editor's note: Rova actually will release a quartet CD/LP on Sound Aspects called Long on Logic, featuring the pieces of Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser in July of 1990.)

AK: So the record won't be as much a documentation of the tour but just like a new stock of Rova works.

LO: No, it will also be a documentation of the tour because it's really going to be what Rova played on the tour as the quartet . Some pieces we played on the tour , but it'll be a real documentation of the tour. The Tarasov stuff I would say we would definitely send out and see if somebody wants to pick it up, maybe Sound Aspects or Leo.

AK: Tell me something about this New Albion Records. I realize this CD is gonna be your first American release since Metalanguage.

LO: Yes, that's right.

AK: Which is sort of an important step. I know that all new jazz and new music musicians keep justly complaining about an American record industry that's ignoring them, and you haven't had an American release for years. Now there is a label which picks you up. What kind of label is it? This is a new name for me and I'm sure for most of the people.

LO: New Albion Records is a label that's been around for most of the Eighties. Foster Reed is the owner of the label, and he started out being exclusively interested in New Music -- by that I mean composed music. The early people he put out were like John Adams, early John Adams, who now of course is being recorded by Nonesuch and has some major works out that are very well received, Morton Subbotnick, who worked on compositions involving electronics, and the vocalist Joan LaBarbara. Foster recently put out works by Lou Harrison, who's not very well known except in the United States -- a California composer of John Cage's era -- and he's put out I think a CD of John Cage, a couple of Morton Feldman CDs. Recently he started to become interested in improvised music, and he's released a CD of solo Anthony Braxton as well as works by Alvin Curran, who's pretty well known as a New Music composer but also works as an improviser: he played with Lacy and Musica Electronica Viva. Recently Alvin wrote a piece specifically for Rova called Electric Rags II. This is a piece for four saxophones and interactive computer electronics. He wrote us thirty, three-minute pieces. In any given performance Rova plays between 10 and 30 of these pieces so the piece could be half an hour, it could be 45 minutes, it could be two hours, it could be five hours because you could play the pieces more than once. In September 1989, we did six performances of this piece, and we played it then at a lenghth of an hour and a half; we didn't play all thirty pieces because there is one piece called Corny Island -- every piece is three minutes and each has its own title, and the Corny Island piece is just written ideas for improvisers to play off of. In the performance we had duo Corny Islands and four solos so there were six conceptual pieces and then we played 24 of his notated pieces. By notated I mean maybe they were 75%-80% notated and then there was some improvising fitted in in each piece. So the pieces were in these three-minute sections and it just goes right by with the electronics adding all sorts of interesting sounds and effects. Alvin is out in the audience with the computer electronics housing this very innovative program that I couldn't possible describe, but just doing beautiful alterations of and additions to the saxophone sounds -- it's a very powerful piece-- and it was an absolutely great experience doing it for a month. We essentially started rehearsing it with him on September 3, the first performance was on September 10 in Atlanta, and then we did six performances including three in San Francisco which lasted over that whole month. It was just great; it's been really great working with other composers on their pieces...... it's been really exciting and this was one of the best experiences of all. So Foster Reed of New Albion came to one of these concerts, and really was excited too, so he's putting that out by June of 1990, and the CD from the Russian tour will come out later in the year.

AK: So you're really in it with New Albion.

LO: Yeah, we are. Well, New Albion is not a major label, it's not distributed by Warner Brothers the way Nonesuch is distributed by Electra-Asylum, but it's an American label and it's a step in the right direction. Last March we recorded three pieces by Fred Frith and one by Henry Kaiser that we felt were more accessible than the things we'd been doing. The three Frith pieces were written for Rova and Henry's piece was a piece he's done himself that he arranged specifically for us. And I loved them, all four pieces I really love. We thought, because there was more melody involved and Henry's piece even feels kind of rock oriented to me, that we could get these on an American label. And the fact that they were by Frith and Kaiser who have some notoriety in rock circles we made us think: " OK, maybe somebody will pick this up." Well, I sent this music out to major labels I thought might possibly be interested and a couple of European labels with good distribution in the United States like ECM, and there was no interest whatsoever. At that point I just said to myself, you know,Rova still doesn't equal "commercial potential"........... this is not the moment when Rova is going to break through on any kind of a major label. So we've just let it drop. (The Frith and Kaiser pieces will be released on Sound Aspects in late May.) But then this piece of Alvin's came along, and I knew that New Albion was interested in Alvin's work, so I called Foster about that and he said he'd be interested in putting that out. Bob Shumaker, who was recording Alvin's piece and who's a friend of Foster's, mentioned that he, Bob, was interested in going to Russia with Rova. See, I hadn't mentioned the Russian tour to New Albion because I just didn't really think they'd be interested in a Rova quartet - record...........just didn't seem that was something they would want...... But Foster called me up to say that this live Russian CD was a great idea: "Let's do it; I'll send Bob over there." So that's what happened.

AK: So, this is a step.

LO: Yeah, I think this is good. Number one, this guy is into our music and that's always a good sign, and number two, he's in San Francisco and that makes the situation much easier for me to work with than with somebody in New York or in Europe. I've got much more control over what happens. So I'm happy with the situation.

AK: Since Rova was here last time there was a major change in the personnel. Well, I mean when we are talking about small groups like a quartet, when one person is changed, that's a major change, especially for a close-knit group like Rova has always been. I don't want to go into personal details, but could you just try to sum up what happened with Andrew Voigt, what were the reasons for the break and how do you feel about the new member?

LO: Well, in reverse order I feel really good about Steve, he's real conscientious, he writes really interesting music, and he fit right in. Andrew left just thirty days before a major tour. I went to LA..... luckily he just happenned to be down in Los Angeles which is more or less close to San Francisco, and I flew down there with the written music wondering if he would be able to deal with that.

AK: You'd known him before?

LO: Yeah, we'd known him. He'd been in Your Neighborhhod Saxophone Quartet which helped immensely as he had real experience playing in a saxophone quartet. He was also working with a new music group, which meant that he could read music, and we had to do this Terry Riley piece on that tour and that was our major concern: to find somebody who could read notated music and improvise, and he just fit right in. And Steve had some real strengths: he was the baritone player in Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet which means he was the rhythm guy, he had to keep the rhythm, and so we ended up with two guys who really understood how to keep the rhythmn together instead of one. Before it was just Jon holding down a solid rhythm on baritone while everybody else enjoyed themselves, floating around the beat. Now we had two. And so it was a real help for us and a certain strength that we picked up. As far as Andrew leaving the group went, I mean, I don't want to get into the personal thing either, but basically, as an overview of what happened...... it was simply that it'd been ten years and there were certain concepts and interests that the three of us had that Andrew wasn't excited about and there were certain things he wanted to make a major priority that the other three of us were less interested in; so we were just growing apart, and it was time for the relationship to end. I guess the main thing was that the other three of us were really happy with these collaborative projects and all the time that they took (and they take a lot of time), but Andrew wasn't. He wanted to be doing his own music or the group's own music.

AK: You mean the collaborations you did with other people, with Braxton, etc.

LO: It wasn't that he didn't enjoy playing with Braxton, he did. But in terms of priorities, we'd spend a month with Braxton, then three months later we'd have to be ready to play with Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser and there was a lot of work involved in getting all those pieces together. We'd not only be committed to doing concerts in San Francisco but also we were telling people in Europe we had pieces by Fred Frith, Alvin Curran, etc. Andrew really only wanted to do his own music, but there wasn't time to get to it. And it wasn't that the others didn't want to do it; it was just that we had all these other commitments, and finally there was a kind of a blow-up. At that point we had to look around immediately as we had this tour; we got Steve for the tour, and the tour went really well. Steve went home to Boston, and he decided that there was enough really interesting work with Rova that he would make a commitment to move out to the Bay Area.

AK: So basically you don't think that the group has become any weaker?

LO: No, I think that really the rhythmic capacity of the group is stronger, and the ensemble sound in fact is tighter than it was at the time Andrew left because, at that point, the ensemble sound was suffering from the dissension in the group. . . .

AK: Yeah, that's clear and that makes it. ........... How do you feel about the general musical situation in America today?

LO: To me, things couldn't be too much worse and still be anything at all. I have to say that I feel like Rova has generated an awful lot of really exciting projects through the PreEchoes series -- all these collaborations have been really far out; we've got some really great product. And we've gotten it out: we toured and recorded with Braxton, we were in Germany with this Japanese martial arts group that we collaborated with in San Francisco first (and that's going to be televised in Germany too), and it was a great piece. It wasn't a real innovative thing, but it was alot of fun, and I think the music really happened. And this thing with Alvin plus the commissions for Threadgill to write us a piece, for Robin Holcomb and Chris Brown (who's in Room). We have other commissions: John Carter and Jack DeJohnette are writing pieces for us. So I feel like we're really starting to generate some repertoire for saxophone quartet that's gonna live beyond Rova. Even though it's written for us, there's plenty of improvising saxophone quartets everywhere. Every time we go somewhere there's a new one, and I think that saxophone quartets........ you know: I hope and I think that fifty years from now this is gonna be a real recognized genre, just the way the string quartet is. It's developing right before our eyes at this very moment.

AK: And you don't feel jealous of the competition from the others?

LO: No, not at all. Number one, there's almost nobody. . . Your Neighborhhod Quartet and Kolner Saxopone Mafia had a tendency to get into spaces that we do but almost nobody else really does, and if they do, we're five years ahead of them anyway, they're just catching up.

AK: You were one of the first, if not the very first, weren't you?

LO: It's not even that we were one of the first, it's just that the groups that came into being at the same time more or less as us . . . like the World Saxophone Quartet. . . I mean there is a place where we intersect with the World but basically we're really different. It's different music. You know: it's like saying that there should be just one bebop group. All these saxophone groups are different, there's alot of musical possibilities with the saxophone quartet, and different groups are exploring different areas of it.

AK: Do you mean the more groups like this that are around, the wider the medium is expanded?

LO: I hope so. When we came into being I didn't know that the World Saxophone Quartet existed; they started about ten months before, and the word kind of filtered to us about two months after we started. Of course, we knew about them individually, but we didn't know they'd started a quartet. And I thought at the time, oh this is a great thing for us, it'll make it easier for everybody if there's more groups. It hasn't really worked out that way. Rova and the World Saxophone Quartet and the 29th Street Saxophone Quartet have gotten most of the action (and maybe Itchy Fingers). Everybody else is like a . . . . there's not alot of business out there for saxophone quartets, but I think it'll get better. The economic story is something else again, but musically we're creating alot of material for saxophone quartet: all these works we've commissioned plus many of the sixty or more works that Rova has created will be able to be played by other people. And I think this thing is going to continue whether or not Rova is still around. I don't know; it's been twelve years and we'll just see how much longer it goes. Generally the improvised music scene is in a very sick state, and so there is a sense that Rova, even though we've accomplished alot the last couple years, and even though we feel real good about it, there's always that sense that, at any minute, we could disappear. The bottom could just drop out leaving no venues to play and no funding in the United States, no money to play for and no way to get from California to the East Coast. Because, you know, if we had to depend on places like the Knitting Factory, coming from San Francisco we'd be dead. So most of the places we play are funded, and it then doesn't really matter now much of the audience there is except for the fact that, if you get paid a really fair fee by an organization that's funded, and only one hundred and fifty poeple show up, you're not coming back for at least five years because there's lots of other groups they want to have. So if you can't economically guarentee a good wage, you're in trouble. Right now the scene, I mean the audience, for improvised music is shrinking, and in the United States it was never very big to begin with. It's certainly shrinking in Europe; it's shrinking everywhere. That could change. Braxton seems to think it's going to, Alvin Curran is sure it's going to -- I hope they're right. But then again, in 1989, Rova actually did some fairly extensive touring of the United States for the first time in a couple of years. New York we could always play in; Chicago has always been a good city for us; normally, we can get to a few major cities besides San Francisco, but basically that's it. This year, though,we not only played New York City, but we actually played in Rochester, Troy and Buffalo, which are smaller cities in New York State. We played in Atlanta, Georgia, two cities in Tennessee, New Orleans, Houston, Texas; we got around to a bunch of places -- the audiences, however, were tiny. I mean it was great to go but it was clear we couldn't say: "OK, see you next year," because the economics of the situation make that impossible. And I don't get any sense in the United States like things are going to change anytime soon with public education getting worse and worse and the mass media becoming more and more interested in selling a simpler product. All that means is that there is less and less exposure to alternative possibilities; we're rapidly getting back to 1952 in the United States. As fast as they can, they're getting back to Mom and Dad and Dick and Sally and Spot. Which isn't to say that people like me and Braxton etc., are going to disappear -- we're not going to because this music is our life.

AK: Are there new people coming in?

LO: Yes, there are, but very few.

AK: I mean like a generation, not like separate individuals.

LO: No, I don't think so. A new generation of listeners,no.

AK: Of musicians?

LO: Of musicians?. . . I don't live in New York City. In New York there's always more happening, so maybe I'm out of touch. But I would say no. I would say that most of the musicians that are coming up now -if they are into alternative musics at all- they're more post-punk -- it's more an alternative to commercial rock than it is an alternative form of music -- and the concept of improvised music is a little bit vague to them. Look, honestly, I don't really know the answer to that question. I do what I do and I'm not spending alot of time wondering about what younger musicians are doing, but if the audiences are any indication, I wouldn't say that things are really developing in directions I'm primarily interested in. That isn't to say that there aren't younger musicians who are fed up with popular music and looking for alternatives, but their alternarive selections are not ones that I'm particularly enamored of. I think that the most interesting music on the planet at this time is improvised music in all its forms, and I don't hear alot of new stuff. I don't get word of alot of younger musicians who are adding vocabulary to this form. But the people who are around are not going anywhere. I just think that, certainly in the United States, our time just hasn't really come yet. Plenty of mainstream press guys are into it: like Francis Davis or Kevin Whitehead ,or people that write for Down Beat and other jazz periodicals. . . . These people are totally aware of this music and they write positively, but as far as the general public goes, I don't think so. The Knitting Factory is doing well but that's one little place in one major, huge city. So they get eighty people every day to go see alternative music in the Knitting Factory. Unforunately that's impressive -- you know what I mean? That should not be impressive, but it is. That says alot for what's not going on. On the other hand, Rova in San Francisco has been doing this PreEchoes, these collaborative projects since '86; it's now 1989. I would say that maybe except for one concert, everyone of them has been really exciting, and the people who've come have really been excited by what happened. And yet our audience has, if anything, shrunk over those four years. If Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser came and did it again with us, if John Zorn came and did it again with us, we'd have a big audience. But it hasn't got to the point where people just say: "Oh, great, Rova is doing another collaboration. Let's go and see what it is even though we don't know who their current collaborators are." But if we'd been doing the qualitative music we've been doing for the last three years from 1966 to 1969, we'd be filling the theaters. At that time, people had money to check things out. It was in the air to go check new things. It's a much more conservative period now.

AK: Aren't you just being nostalgic -- the glorious late 60's?

LO: Maybe that's true, but I feel that was a period of time in the United States when it was socially acceptable and a popular notion to expand one's horizon and look for things that were "weird" and go do them even if you didn't know what they were. In the 1980's, the dollar doesn't go nearly as far, people work harder and earn less money in terms of real wages, and so that factor plus the fact that it is not a socially popular thing right now to expand one's horizon, make it much more difficult to develop a wide audience for less commercial, adventurous (experimental, if you will) music. Anyway, that's the only explanation that I have.

AK: You once said in an interview that, apart from the musical motivation, there's always been for you a kind of social and political motivation to be doing the kind of music you've been and still are doing. And from what you are saying now I can see that this point is still very much valid for you.

LO: Well, it is and it isn't. You know this is one of the first interviews I've done in a long time. Unless I can't avoid it, I've been turning the interviews over to the other guys in Rova because I've kind of gotten confused. . . . I don't know if "confused" is the right word. . . At this point I am less certain about my motivation for doing this music. And it's not that I'm not motivated to do it - I am - but I'm so inside the process, and I find it so fascinating from a strictly musical point of view, that I'm not really sure I need to know how important this music is politically or socially. But it's also in a way not so important a question, because this music has kind of become my life. This is what I do, and that's my reason for sticking around. In a way, it's more important now than it was before. So when you asked that question about how important that is politically and socially. . . . I don't know; it's much less clear to me now than it was ten years ago.

AK: And it's probably much less of a concern.

LO: It's much less of a concern. I'm in it for the long haul, and I'm pretty sure I'll be dealing with music and musical concerns for a long time and there'll be times I hope when doing this kind of music is something which is really of interest to a larger audience and there will be times when it's even thinner than it is now. But I hope that I will be able to continue. People like Derek Bailey . . . or even Ornette, who's certainly in a nice period now.... everybody has periods when they disappear for a while. And it's not that they stop being musicians; it's just that the audience, for whatever reason, thinks that they're not involved at that time.

AK: You just mentioned Derek Bailey. Since the mid-80's probably, there is a certian feeling among the new jazz community that the spontaneous free improvised music Bailey was the strongest proponent of had somehow exhausted itself: lots of musicians started looking for alternatives. Many, especially black musicians, have come "back to the roots." Many in New York -- Zorn is probably the prime example -- are experimenting with various compositional forms with the obvious nod towards rock, and even Rova has been playing more and more of the composed music: not just originals but music composed by other people -- something which is totally antagonistic to the very concept of spontaneous self-expression in the form of improvised music. So is there a way for the improvised music to develop within its old frames or is what has happened and is happening inevitable?

LO: You brought up three or four things here. So let's try and take these issues one at a time, although, the issues certainly do overlap. OK: taking the last part first: in jazz, let's hope that change will always be inevitable. An idea (such as free improvisation) is proposed and developed over a period of time, and when that idea, in its pure form, begins to become part of the common language, it's only natural that new musicians on the block would go one of two ways with the practice. Either the younger musicians will choose to keep to the pure form or , when coming into free improvisation with their own sets of influences and interests, will choose to use elements of that practice, and combine free improv. with existing forms from other musics that they know and love. So in the case of so-called free improvisation and my own work, you have to look at the timeline of events. I'm from San Francisco. In the seventies, the free music scene was very vital there, but there were not that many strong (and ultimately) committed free improvisers in the Bay Area. Towards the end of the seventies, the improvised music scene in its pure form needed an infusion of new blood. Rova's answer was to create compositional structures to frame the improvisations. We wanted more control over the direction that any particular piece would take. We still (then and now) use free improvisation as our laboratory for discovery, but we refuse to reject the possibilities that come our way from studying other peoples' musical sounds and musical ideas. In his own way, someone like John Zorn has done the same thing. First with the game pieces, then with the song forms. Alot of people are dismissing Naked City as a sell - out, but that is total nonsense as far as I'm concerned. Almost every piece they do is a severe and intensive distillation of elements drawn from Zorn's experience with all kinds of music, certainly including free improvisation. I think people are pissed off that Zorn has fun or something. Or that he is making some money. Isn't it ok for somebody to make money? Wouldn't it be nice if we all got paid to play the music we believe in? So, why is it that, as soon as someone becomes relatively popular, that he becomes immediately suspect? When Zorn put out Locus Solis in the early part of the eighties, nobody paid any attention probably because it was released on a small label, but that lp - an absolutely hardcore improv lp - was a forerunner of the Naked City stuff. Well, I could go on and on about this, but John doesn't really need my help; if anything, it's the opposite. So let's move on. Has free music as proposed by Mr. Bailey and Mr. Parker among many other great European improvisers run out of gas? Ridiculous idea, man. New musicians look for alternatives because it's in the nature of the so-called jazz idiom to look for alternatives. Despite the tendency of younger musicians in the eighties to ignore all the developments since "A Love Supreme," and despite the fact that the popular media has erased the memory of the Black Free Jazz Movement and (in the USA anyway) never paid any attention to the European developments of the sixties and seventies, and has, in the eighties, dismissed the work of, for example, Braxton, Mitchell, or (the '70's) Lacy, as an abberration of that period, nevertheless, jazz embraces the idea of "change"; that is: development, or as Braxton put's it: restructuralism. The stylists and the traditionalists have the upper hand right now. In the USA at least, the powers that be (or want to be) are doing their best to institutionalize Jazz and cut off any concept that the future of jazz might include any concepts deveoped after 1963 (and they would exclude SunRa or Ornette or Cecil's pre 1963 work). But they will ultimately fail. Already a place like Berkley School of Music is perceived by many, including some of its own teachers, as a place for the living dead. Go there to learn and come out obotomized... institutionalized to death...... which is a dramatic way of saying that, if you want to pursue music as an art form, go study with Braxton at Mills College or go to NYC and join in the public arena. If you want to make money with your music or, if you in fact genuinely enjoy formula music, go learn how to do it at Berkley. But for me, music will always be an art form of exploration and discovery, of improvisation and surprise. But getting back to somebody like Derek Bailey, you're talking about somebody who's got a very definite vision, and who has pursued that vision through thick and thin, just the way Ornette has with his vision or Braxton has with his. These people will continue to continue. And, had there been any real support for this music called free improvisation either in schools or in the media, we would see more "free musicians" and just the numbers would lead to exciting new developments. Remember however that, in the sixties, the idea of spontaneous improvisation as a form, as art-in-performance, was truly brand new in the jazz world, and you and I as younger people with virgin ears, so to speak,were knocked out by the very idea of this music; it's not surprising, then, that writers of our generation might now say that this music had exhausted itself, because that first rush of discovery was never experienced by them again. And, of course, it can't be, if you get what I mean. The first time can only happen once. But if you go to a place like England where there still is a concentrated (around London) and relatively large group of improvising practitoners, you see new faces periodically in this scene. So: I expect this music to continue to grow, but slowly, because there aren't many musicians committing themselves exclusively to the discipline, and also, because, growth takes time in uncharted territory; but it's that "frontier" aspect that makes the discipline exciting. And I feel like we in Rova also have a definite vision, as does a Zorn or a Frith, an Alteena or a Lindsay Cooper, or any of the other musicians who love free improvisation but choose to formally express themselves using compositional devices of varying types. Room really works the same way because Room's music, like Rova's, involves structured improvisation. As I already mentioned, when I came onto the music scene in the late Seventies, this was a time when I was responding to free music in a sense that I was interested in incorporating structure or compositions that would contextualize the ideas that we developed in free improvisation. I didn't feel, at the time,that what we were doing was denying the strengths of free improvisation. We weren't saying: "OK, free improvisation has reached a dead end, so let's take it somewhere else." I was just taking it somewhere else that I was interested in, and this is what I've continued to do. I love to spontaneously improvise and just get up with free improvisers; it's something I find very satisfying to do occassionally. Finally - and you see how all these areas overlap - when Rova started getting involved with other composers we did it for several practical reasons. First, it wasn't until '84 or 85 that I began to face the fact that Rova would be a part of my life for an indeterminate period. Up to that time, I always expected that the group would fold "after the next tour." Now, to keep the group alive had always involved alot of rehearsal, etc. So, time was and continues to be limited for outside activities. But it was clear to me that I needed input from other artists, and since I couldn't go out and work with anyone formally, then the next best alternative was to invite them to collaborate with Rova. Secondly, in the mid-eighties, Rova had been touring for 6 or 7 years. Promoters weren't interested in another Rova concert, so we began to see the need to have special projects that we might be able to get hired to do. Third, in 1984-85, Rova hit a dry spell compositionally, so it was clear that we could help ourselves by trying to get friends and/or musicians we loved to listen to, to write music for the group. So these three factors led to our commissioning works from (chronologically) Braxton, Frith, Terry Riley, Henry Threadgill, Alvin Curran, Robin Holcomb, and Chris Brown ,John Carter, and Jack deJohnette. I hope I didn't leave anyone out....and we are very interested in getting works from Europeans, but, so far, the grant money for that has not been forthcoming. Now I feel that we are a much better group musically because of all the challenges that we have met, and our own compositions have grown and I think definitely as a result of playing other people's works. Not to mention the direct collaborations, where we created music with synthesists Richard Teitelbaum and David Rosenboom as a sextet, or with Frith and Kaiser, again as a sextet, or with Butch Morris and Zorn using larger ensembles, or the quintet thing with Braxton, and finally, the great piece Jon Raskin and I wrote for Rova plus the martial arts drum troupe, San Francisco Taiko Dojo.

AK: Ok, I think that this is gonna be the final question. Since I am a Soviet journalist and we are in Leningrad this is about Soviet improvised music, Soviet jazz. You've had some experience with it both as a performer -- you played with the Ganelin Trio and others -- and as a listener. For some time there was a certain fuss about Soviet music. What do you think?

LO: There are certainly some excellent musicians here, the guys in the Ganelin Trio, this duo that I heard in Leningrad (the Leningrad duo Gayvronsky and Volkov), very beautiful stuff. But from what I've heard on record, I feel that the Russian scene is a developing situation, not a situation that is substantively leading the way towards new areas of music that I have never heard before. I think that the Ganelin Trio was really important and has a lot of recordings that are really great, and as individuals they are still doing some pretty interesting music. But if I talk about the Soviet scene as far as improvised music goes, I think that most of the excitement has been generated by Western p.r. people and not by the musicians, not in terms of recordings. It is happenning here, but it's not happenning here in any more vital way than it is in other countries. I wouldn't want to be ranking it, but just thinking about Eastern Europe, there's been more music that excites me from East Germany than there has been from Russia. But this is a vibrant cultural climate, and events are occurring here now in a very dynamic way; when political changes of this magnitude occur, thay always produce cultural changes of the magnitude that could lead to some really exciting developments through the next period, something that I definitely plan to stay in touch with.