Name: Jacob Wick
Occupation: Trumpet player, improviser
Recent release: Jacob Wick's Standards is out via Full Spectrum.
Recommendations: Dodie Bellamy, Bee Reaved; Julius Eastman, If you’re so smart why aren’t you rich?
If you enjoyed this interview with Jacob Wick and would like to find out more about his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, and twitter.
Over the course of his career, Jacob has collaborated or performed with a wide range of artists, including Mabe Fratti, claire rousay, Jason Nazary, Trevor Dunn, Matana Roberts, Gerald Cleaver, and Toshimaru Nakamura.
[Read our Mabe Fratti interview]
[Read our claire rousay interview]
[Read our Jason Nazary interview]
[Read our Trevor Dunn interview]
[Read our Trevor Dunn interview about improvisation]
[Read our Matana Roberts interview]
[Read our Gerald Cleaver interview]
[Read our Toshimaru Nakamura interview]
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
The high school in my area had 4 levels of jazz band, so kind of like a sports program. My older brother was in the top jazz band, like the varsity jazz band, and they wore all black and had special jackets with logos. I thought that was cool as hell.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
It depends. I guess I see shapes too but not objects nor colors. This comes across in my approach to scoring, which I basically approach as setting different shapes in motion. Like a garden or something. Every part, every player, should be placed in a way so that they can do what they do in a way that will be beautiful. But to get technical I’d say that’s my mind, not my body. Sometimes I have visceral reactions to music. Sometimes I want to dance.
I’d like to make music that is danceable but that would require the spaces I perform my music in to be open to dancing. Most of the places I play are unfortunately operating under the violent and domineering rules of European “classical” music, which demand that the audience remain perfectly docile and still.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
Matana Roberts came to visit a residency I used to work at in southeastern Ohio and talked to us about creative confidence and it took me a long time to start to figure out what that meant for me.
Fifteen years later, I think I’m starting to understand what Matana meant. I’m focusing on the things I want to make and the people I want to be with and finding ways to do that.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I identify as queer. To me queerness involves intentional relationships, intimacy, generosity, and care.
It also means complication. Being queer is complicated. I didn’t come out of the closet to walk right into another. I mean, I did do exactly that, but over time I think I’ve found my way out of being a gay man into being me, more or less.
My listening is motivated by curiosity and my preferences are motivated by nostalgia, sentimentality, intimacy, quality of relationships, care. I think things should be assembled with care.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
I would say that my work is dedicated to and informed by queer feelings and queer politics. Chasing intimacy, oozing sentiment and trying to establish nonhierarchical loving honest and intimate relationships along the way.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
There is no future. Or rather, whatever future is coming will very likely be very bleak for most of us and will demand a sense of humor, intimacy, intentional relationships, generosity and direct communication to survive. Meanwhile, the tradition that I personally come from as a white Euro-derived individual should be destroyed and I’m not going to make a fool of myself by laying claim to Black traditions that are not mine.
Originality, innovation, perfection, and timelessness all sound like bullshit to me. I want to make things that are messy, that demand critical thought and problem solving on the part of the performers and the public. Originality & innovation in a world of 8 billion people where humans have been creating things for thousands of years are both ludicrous concepts. I feel like at least 99% of things proclaimed as original or innovative are very old and/or stolen.
The idea of timelessness is similarly ridiculous, everything is subject to the grind of time and nothing stands outside of it. How does that poem go, Ozymandias? I had to memorize it when I was like 12 or 15. “Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!”
The more optimistic view of this is what Jaimie Branch said, that everything that can or has or will be played is floating around us all the time. It’s all already there, it all already has been there, it’s always already going to be there. Those who claim that what they plucked out of the ether is something that only they could have plucked are buffoons, fools, trying to colonize that which is everyone’s.
[Read our Jaimie Branch interview]
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Well, if you’re going to play the trumpet you’d better practice.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
During the week I wake up around 7 or 7:30, make some coffee, eat a banana, sometimes papaya & yogurt with granola. I have a full-time job (remote, work from home) so I can pay my rent and continue recording and performing music, so I start that around 9.
I usually have meetings until noon, when I walk my dog for an hour. Then I’ll do some work until around 3, when I usually eat lunch. I’ll practice the trumpet for a couple of hours in the doldrums of the afternoon. Sometimes I can’t because I have more meetings or things to do for work, but I try to get in at least 30 minutes a day if I have a performance within 10 days.
Around 5 or 6 I take my dog out again and do some stretching or yoga. Then from 8-10pm I’ll work on creative stuff, like writing or music or whatever. Sometimes I’ll go to rehearsal or go meet someone for dinner. Or sometimes I just watch tv.
I go to bed around midnight or 1am and start it all again. I’m naturally a night owl but I’ve curbed it a little bit to be able to maintain my job, which in turn maintains my creative life.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I used to have a really complicated process but now I don’t. Now it’s just like, start. Do something.
This album, Standards, is particularly dear to me. I knew I wanted to sing “Hey little boy is your daddy home” and “Nacho” and those two things just rolled around in my head for a long time until I sat down and started to do something. Until we started to do something, actually. I wrote a first set and didn’t really like it once we played it so I rewrote about half of it to fit the material that is now Standards.
I usually write music on 11in x 14in paper, an idea I stole from my friend Dan Nettles, who also writes on landscape-oriented paper. I write a score and that’s it, there’s no parts. What every person is supposed to do is indicated on the score, usually by name. When I was like 14 or 15 I was obsessed with Duke Ellington and I think he writes in his autobiography that he wrote things according to people’s names rather than their instruments.
Usually there is like musical notation + text + drawings. The text or drawings may or may not be directly related to how the piece should be performed, but they’re always there for a reason. Performers usually have a fair amount of freedom in what they are going to do and also usually have to make critical decisions about when to do what, often as a team with one or two other people in the ensemble.
My music doesn’t work if people are looking for me to be the leader, the leadership or authority or whatever has to be distributed.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I prefer doing things with people. People do surprising and brilliant things that I could never imagine by myself.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I don’t know. I’d like my work to inspire other queer people to make things that don’t conform to empty Western conventions like perfection, virtuosity, timelessness, originality, authenticity, genius, etc. Just like, make things that mean something to you and/or that you want someone else to have.
The role of music in society should be to destroy the current society and encourage the emergence of the coming anarchosyndicalist utopia. ;)
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Art has taught me how to think critically and understand myself and my actions as part of a broad constellation, rather than as the star of some story.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
It seems like the world of science is just as full of macho charlatans, obsession with genius, etc as the world of music. So the two fields could probably benefit from dropping traditional Western ideals and aiming towards something else.
Recently a musician based in Europe contacted me about performing in Mexico. I set up a show for him, performing in a quartet with myself and two great musicians from Mexico City. He complained and eventually withdrew from the show, saying that he doesn’t perform with large groups such as quartets. So in this case music could have benefitted from science, which could have illustrated to this man that four is one of the smaller numbers.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Yes, writing a piece of music is different from making a cup of coffee because in one situation you are writing a piece of music and in the other you are making a cup of coffee.
Every couple of months I have a barbecue at my house. I usually start working on things the day before, in the afternoon, and cook straight through to the following afternoon, smoking meat and making sides and vegetarian and/or vegan dishes for my friends who don’t eat meat. I invite everyone I know, usually with a goofy flyer and Instagram posts and text messages or just like, face to face. The last one I had, maybe 30 or 40 people came and everyone was happy, stayed a long time, danced, talked to people they hadn’t met before, sat on the porch while it rained, invited their friends, shared drinks, ate some more.
At some point I would like the depth of my music to reach the depth of these barbecues. However, hosting a barbeque is very different to writing music for a group, rehearsing and performing it. It’s important to remember what is real and what is not, what is abstract and what is not, and to avoid getting lost in a swirl of empty equivalencies.
I think about Kermit Ruffins, who opened a barbecue restaurant in New Orleans and plays there like every night. Seems like just about the greatest thing you can do. That way you don’t have to say things like “performing music is like making a great cup of coffe” or “jazz is barbecue” or whatever. You can eat barbecue and listen to jazz and understand and appreciate that these are two different things.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
There’s a book by Judy B called Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. The general vibe is that speech carries physical force and thus has the potential to violently injure, hence the idea of hate speech is valid because the phrases and force of speech transmit a physical force that can be felt by the person being addressed by this speech.
Like, if a young queer male-idenfied person hears “faggot” and doesn’t have a context of that word in a reclamatory context - and/or the word is directed with pure violence rather than knowing cajoling - it feels like a punch.
I think this applies also to non-violent speech or sonic performance acts. We live surrounded by sound, and if we’re living in an urban or suburban environment most of that sound is artificial and overheard. For those of us who are able to hear, every event of our lives has taken place in a sonic environment, which could later be recalled in a variety of ways: a song that happened to be playing somewhere nearby, a bus braking, a forced-steam radiator clanging on, a refrigerator humming. These “mundane” sounds can recall intense emotional experiences. So can any sound, any vibration in the air.
The important thing to remember is that it is not the individual vibration that is responsible or the cause of whatever experience the listener has after it strikes those tiny bones in your ear which resonate it into your brain and give it social significance. That significance is derived from your own individual and collective experience.
Sound waves do not have agency. But people do, sometimes.