Name: Nate Wooley
Occupation: Trumpet player, composer, improviser, editor at Sound American
Current release: Nate Wooley and Columbia Icefield's Ancient Songs of Burlap Heroes, also featuring Mat Maneri and Trevor Dunn is out via Pyroclastic.
If you enjoyed this interview with Nate Wooley, visit his official homepage for more information.
Over the course of his career, Nate Wooley has collaborated, performed the music of and appeared on recordings with a wide range of artists, including Trevor Dunn, Bruno Duplant, Gerald Cleaver, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Mark Sanders, Mette Rasmussen, Mats Gustafsson, Ches Smith, Tomas Fujiwara, Michael Pisaro, and Wadada Leo Smith.
[Read our Trevor Dunn interview]
[Read our Bruno Duplant interview]
[Read our Gerald Cleaver interview]
[Read our Gerald Cleaver feature "about Griots, Ghost Orbits and Modular Synthesis"]
[Read our Ingebrigt Håker Flaten interview]
[Read our Mark Sanders interview]
[Read our Mette Rasmussen interview]
[Read our Mats Gustafsson interview]
[Read our Ches Smith interview]
[Read our Tomas Fujiwara interview]
[Read our Michael Pisaro interview]
[Read our Wadada Leo Smith interview]
When did you first start getting interested in musical improvisation?
I grew up in a jazz household, so improvisation—in that tradition—was around me long before I knew to give it a name.
Which artists, approaches, albums or performances involving prominent use of improvisation captured your imagination in the beginning?
The first big person for me as a trumpet player was Dizzy Gillespie. I had a few records of his as a kid, and the fireworks of his playing were just the sort of thing that attracts a twelve-year old boy just learning how to play.
I would say that, practically, I got more out of playing in big bands with my dad at that age, though. I learned a lot from watching the other players and listening to their stories, realizing later that I appreciated their ability to improvise those stories as much, or more, as I did their solos.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to improvisation? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage?
I believe that to improvise is to embrace as many possibilities as possible. It’s a world in which there is no dogma, even to the point of including some elements of composition, or working on music that is through-composed. It is a life practice that has as much to do with the books I read and the conversations I have—the walks through natures and arguments with strangers—than philosophical thought about musical style.
I want to make music with every possible option at my disposal. It is about making decisions and seeing what those decisions open up next. To that end, tradition and lineage are not really interesting to me at this point, as they put things on a linear, limiting path.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your collaborations? Do you feel as though you are able to express yourself more fully in solo mode or, conversely, through the interaction with other musicians? Are you “gaining” or “sacrificing” something in a collaboration?
I can’t imagine any sacrifice in being with other people.
Even though I am a fairly solitary person (maybe that’s my identity?), I find that the complexity that comes from working with others is always revelatory and far greater than anything I could do on my own.
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?
Materials are less interesting to me than processes. I think you can look for something endlessly transformable, but the limitation is how many ways you have at your disposal to transform.
So, to me, the material can come from anywhere, and the search is really to find infinite pathways of working on it.
When you're improvising, does it actually feel like you're inventing something on the spot – or are you inventively re-arranging patterns from preparations, practise or previous performances?
It depends. Both sometimes. I don’t really think of them as separable or hierarchical. They are a dialectic pair: opposed ideas held in your mind at once.
To you, are there rules in improvisation? If so, what kind of rules are these?
It depends. I don’t think anything, especially something as abstract as improvisation, can be this zero sum.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? In which way is it different between your solo work and collaborations?
I think if I had to find an ideal state of mind for being creative, then I wouldn’t be very creative very often.
You have to just find whatever space is available and work with that.