Reprinted with permission. © 2006 by JazzoSphère and Sabine Moig.
2000: Sabine Moig for JazzoSphère
Joe Fonda fourmille de projets. Il aime rencontrer des musiciens, s’investir avec eux autour d’idées et de concepts musicaux à mettre en forme sur scène ou sur CD. Il reconnaît volontiers l’héritage essentiel pour sa musique des travaux de Charles Mingus et Bertram Turetzky. Autant d’atouts pour avancer et progresser dans son approche inclusive de la musique. Une philosophie qui lui est chère et qu’il nous dévoile ici.
Sabine Moig: Can you introduce you to the french public ? (When did you start playing music ? Why did you choose the bass ?.)
Joe Fonda: I started playing music as a very young child ,around the age of 9 or 10, I believe. Music was always something that fascinated me. I remember going to the parades that they would have on holidays in our very small town and I would pay attention to the music of the marching bands .I never saw the clowns or the fire trucks or I did not pay them any mind , I would follow the bands up and down the street, That’s what fascinated me . not the candy they were giving to kids not the balloons , The music ,and the energy that the music was creating it was magical for me. It was the same for the concert band that played every Sunday in the park in the summer. The other kids would be running around but most of the time I would be standing in back of the stage listing to the music and watching the drummers .On the break I would do some running around with other kids because I loved to Run around with the other kids and I was fast. But when the music started it was time to stop running and was time to check out the music. Music and I were falling in love with each other at a very early age.
Sabine: A lot of creative bass musicians say they have been influenced by Charles Mingus or by Bertram Turetzky’s works. What about you ?
Joe: As for Mingus, Yes he was an influence a big one. In my opinion his influence on the world of bass playing and the world of music as a whole is unmeasurable. For me — just speaking about his bass playing — he was a player who used the instrument not only in a harmonic ,melodic and rhythmic way but also explored the sound the possibilities of the instrument. I think Mingus may have the first bass player in the so called jazz community to to do this . He was the first bass I had heard who had incorporated this concept in to the music . The duet he did with Max called percussion discussion says it all. His writing was also a big influence. His ideas were so new and original, and the music was so free it just flowed in and out and up and down and fast and slow then double time ,triple time no time, then 5 different metrics realities all happening at once. all of this that Mingus brought opened me up . I am still learning and studying Mingus and expect to for a long time to come. As for Mr.Turetzky ,I have known of him and his work for a long time. I first heard of him and his music when I was working with Leo Smith. Leo knew him and had played me some of his music which was fantastic and had also given me a book that he written that I studied and learned a lot from, this was 15 years ago in the mid 80s I think. So he has been an influence but much more in directly. I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Turetzky’s work.
Sabine: Could you speak to us about your music philosophy (about your philosophy of inclusion) ? Do you think, like William Parker (for example), that music is a means of discussing the world, of asserting, to make reflect the public on the world ?
Joe: As for my philosophy on inclusion, For me it started as a subconscious activity and grew into something I now do on a conscious level . In the beginning or early on in my musical activity I had put together a group that consisted of 5 musicians a painter a sculptor an actor A culinary artist and a dancer . I had no idea the impact this group would have on me and our audiences, I just thought this would be a very interesting project. I had worked with each of these artists on a one to one basis in the past and had learned so much from them and enjoyed it so much , I thought, lets bring them all together. The result was wonderful and it became very clear to me that there is no separation between one creative discipline and another unless you create one, So in affect what were doing here was breaking down some of the barriers that had been keeping us from communing out of our privet studios and kitchens or were ever we were. So we could bring our creative energies together to make something much greater than any one of us could have created individually. In a sense we created community on the band stand, because of all the interaction that was happening and communication that took place among us. Our audience got to see this and the end of the concert the audience and the artists ate the food that was being prepared as part of the concert. We live in a time where were, in many ways more isolated then ever before, and for share the concept of community has given way to the so called nuclear family concept, so this kind of interdisciplinary work, this inclusive way of thinking is needed to help counter that reality. Its like the old saying together we stand because divided we will fall. As for the question, I do think the music is a place where a musician can communicate what ever it is he or she is thinking or feeling to the public and the audience. Its a wonderful process and opportunity for the artist and audience. Though out history the artists often led the way to something new and often had to drag the public along with them kicking and screaming booing for years until they got it or not. Stravinsky did it Sun Ra did it just to name 2 of the many who have done it for us and those who are doing it for us today.
Sabine: You play in several different groups. Is it important for you ? Is it a way to open your play to all the music perspectives - no limits, freedom... ?
Joe: I do play with a lot of different groups its because of two reasons one is the inspiration and possibilities that different musicians and artists offer you . I find it interesting to be in a new situation with a new combination of artists who have not worked together before, and to be part of the process of finding our common ground and our differences and to reconcile them and try to create something together. Its often like a dance where the people are a bit tenitive , cautious and with there Egos quite present but as the dance progress these things will melt away or if they don’t its doesn’t work on a any serious level. I like this process its very inspiring and very human ,when we let go of ourselves enough to make it happen. But don’t get me wrong because I also believe strongly in the concept of playing with the same people for long periods of time in order to develop a group sound and concept. We need more of this kind of activity ,this thing that’s been going on for the past 15 years or so with this young lion concept ,where we take a talented young sax player or who ever and put him with some great rhythm section and produce a CD and the artists have no relationship to each other and no interest in each other is so empty and we loose when music is created in this way. We need more Families and community in the music. The other reason we all play with a lot of different groups is economics that’s the same old story we all know so well.
Sabine: What did you learn from your collaborations with the great musicians : Leo Smith and Anthony Braxton ? Did they influence a part of your play ?
Joe: As for my association with Leo Smith it started in the Early 80s when I joined an organisation he and Bobby Naughton had started call the creative musicians improvisors forum . I learned a great deal from Leo he helped shape my concept . The way he organised sound was totally unique the way I now hear and think about sound is directly connected to Leo Smith. We did a recording that came out on Chief Records in 88 or 89 called Procession of the great ancestry. Its with Bobby Naughton And Kahil El Jabar Leo and myself. It’s one of my favourite recordings I’ve done and the music Leo wrote and the concept is still inside my head. As for my association with Anthony Braxton, I must say I learned a great deal working with him. more than I may realise in this life time. The depth of his music is endless there is always something new and always something to be learned and pondered. His whole being his music, his writings all of it are like a universe in and of its self . Its interesting because like Leo With Anthony I also was involved in an organisation that he had started called the Tricentric Foundation, which was very active until this year. I am a very lucky man to have worked with both Leo and Anthony.
Sabine: What are your inspirations - art, literature, NYC, daily life ?
Joe: I do find Michel Angelos work very inspirational he has it all inside of what he created, I aspire to his level of completeness, all of life as he new it was inside the art. I’ve found the writings of Neale Donald Walsch and God to very inspiring lately.
Sabine: How do you approach your different works of compositions - for dance, theatre, groups ?
Joe: As for the way I might approach composition for dancers, painters, musicians, is simply to find a way for who every is performing the composition to orchestrate the music or concept of the music for themselves, so they find there own way into the inside of the music. More often I write the composition then we all find our way inside the music together.
Sabine: I listened to your CD "When It’s Time", a solo bass. Is it a big challenge for you and can you speak to us about these experiences ? Do you think that the play in solo can help you to develop your play in groups ?
Joe: As for my solo project I first must thank Jos Demol And Emile Clemens and Jazz’halo for creating the opportunity for me to do a solo project. It was interesting how it all happened Jos and Emile had come to a concert of the Fonda Stevens group in Belgium and I just happened to play a long introduction that night to a composition of mine and Jos and Emile like it so much that they suggested to me on the break that we do some solo project, so we did. But I can’t say enough about these two people and much respect I have for them, god bless them both. For me the experience of doing a solo project was infighting . Because you have only your own resources, your own strength to draw on to make it happen, when your finished with a project like this and the music is happening, it elevates your level of understanding about yourself and about what it takes as an individual to create the music, your music, how to give it life, to make it breath. And to answer your question yes To do a solo project will effect your playing in group situations because of the new awareness you will bring. It may very well effect your marriage if your in one, your parenting skills if you are one. I did no over dubbing on my solo CD its was all done in one session direct to two track. I wanted the music to fell and carry the same energy as a live performance, and it dose.
Sabine: The Fonda/Stevens group project seems to be very important for you. Is it true ? What a so long association (in the time) can apport to the musicians and more specifically to you ?
Joe: The Fonda Stevens group is very important to me. It’s a group that’s been working together for over 10 years. We have created an understanding and energy in the music that we play together that is very real and straight from the heart. The other thing is its a group that is co lead by Michael Stevens and myself. This is a very hard thing to do in a time when so much focus is on the individual and his or her ego. So because of the kind of person Michael is we have been able do this together and make it work, And the world needs more of this I am sure of it.
Sabine: Is there, to your mind, a new creative bassists generation ? Are you optimist for the evolution of the creative music ?
Joe: Yes there is a new generation of creative bassists check out Mark Dresser, William Parker, Mark Helias, Ken Filiano, Ed Shuller, Steve Neal, Joe Fonda the list goes on and on and on and it will until we are no longer on this earth. Creative music is life itself and it will grow and develop as long as we are here.
Sabine: What are your projects (CD, performances...) ?
Joe: Some other thing I am involved in is a group called Conference Call with Gebhard Ullmann, Matt Willson, Michael Stevens and myself its a great group with a great sense of humour , thanks to our drummer who covers it all in a very individual way. I also have very interesting duo project with Xu Fengxia who is from Shanghai China she plays the Guzheng. She is so powerful and so full of energy all of you should check her out.
Reprinted with permission.
© 2006 by JazzoSphère and Sabine Moig.