Name: Darius Jones
Occupation: Composer, improviser, saxophonist
Current release: Darius Jones's Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) is out 11/5 via Northern Spy. To celebrate the occasion, Darius will be playing two gigs on October 27th and 28th at Green-Wood Cemetery - The Catacombs (Brooklyn, NY).
If you enjoyed this interview with Darius Jones, visit his official homepage for a deeper look into his work. He is also on Facebook.
Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please. How would you describe the relationship with it?
For a long time, I looked at my saxophone as a weapon like a Samurai and his sword. Lately the relationship has evolved into an animal and its human companion.
What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?
The way the horn sounds and resonates is the most important thing to me. If the sound isn’t right, I don’t feel I have my voice, which effects my mood and creative energy.
When it is right, I literally feel like anything is possible and my only obstacle is my imagination.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
To me they are two sides of the same coin. Improvisation and composition both deal with strategy, architecture, and problem solving. They both require a high level of discipline and intuition to manifest one’s imagination into sonic reality.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
Sound itself is the most malleable and transformative element within music. It is the driving force that stimulates me on an intellectual and emotional level in any musical or creative setting.
As a composer/improvisor I think about orchestration and environment with relation to how they influence the organization of sound. Environment has been the main thing I have been focusing on lately because it invites an unpredictable sonic agent into the music being created or performed.
Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a group compare to a solo situation?
Those statements are highly subjective. I’m not sure I agree completely with either statement because they imply assumptions about personal aesthetics.
I I am not sure I look at group playing differently from solo playing because they both require the practice of deep listening. The thing that one must navigate in group playing is when to lead and when not to lead. One must have tools for the foreground and the background in my opinion.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind for your improvisations and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter this state more easily?
I live in a state of continuous creativity. Intimacy, security, and reliability are integral to my creative process. I can be distracted by the foolish and mundane aspects of life at times, but I try to find a creativity there too. The only strategy I have is making sure I don’t leave the creative state.
Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?
I experience an intense internal dialogue while performing live for some reason. I edit ideas, configure strategies, manage emotions, talk to God, listen intently to everything within the environment, and more.
This usually quiets down if I achieve a flow state while performing. I live for those moments.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
I’ve been very attracted to listening to the sound of spaces lately. I will visit spaces and imagine what kinds of ensembles would blend well with the sonic environment of the space.
Performance is something I am currently rethinking since the pandemic. I am really attracted to the idea of sharing rather than performing. Something about the word sharing feels more aligned with the relationship I am trying to cultivate with those who chose to witness my art.
How is playing live in front of an audience and in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?
I don’t see these as connected at all within my artistic process. One is exhibition and the other is solitude for me.
I look at the studio as a place to really experiment if I have the time and money. The live experience feels like a moment in time that can’t always be captured precisely. There is something vitally human and beautiful about the fragility of performance.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My solo project has been a deeply enlightening experience for me. It is a project that helped me through a rough time in my life. Something about going from town to town performing for audiences, then roaming the streets as a stranger feels freeing.
I started developing the project after working on a bunch of vocal music. Something about hearing the naked voice made me want to explore my horn in a more exposed way. I started by working on melodies I enjoyed and realized the project should be about me exploring pieces by composers I love. I so rarely play covers and thought this would be a fun but challenging situation to explore solo sax.
Influences on my process were comedians, classical saxophone recitals, and vocal music of all types. Also, the subway concerts of saxophonist Kalaparusha I witnessed during my commutes into the city from Queens. The sound of Kalaparusha playing in the middle of the comings and goings of life is something I will never forget.
In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music can express truths about humanity that are hard to admit.