Improvised Music at Homewood Studios — The Musicians

Scott C. Newell

In 1969 (sixteen years old) I used to go into Shoppers City in Maplewood and stare at a copy of "Nothing Is" by Sun Ra, in their music department. There was something troubling about it.  So instead I purchased the first Tony Williams Lifetime record, (the one with Spectrum Road).  The next week, I went back for the Sun Ra platter!  By the fall of  1970 I was  regularly checking out "Blue Freedoms New Art Transformation". I had been playing guitar for a short bit and now my interests were turning from rock music to jazz and improvisation. This period also saw the formation of my first band "Reykjavik Gold" and a continuum of musical exploration. The chance to see, hear, and get to know, Milo Fine, Joe Smith, and Richard Barbeau was invaluable, as they were examples of the complexity and variety of issues improvised music, or music in general, presented. In particular, Milo Fine was very encouraging and provided many of my first and subsequent performance opportunities.  Also of import to me, was a period from the early 1970's to the late 1970's that I was employed as "The Record Dude" at 3 Acre Wood Records in downtown St. Paul.  This place served as a laboratory / think tank for discussion and meeting people of musical interest.

I'm interested in methodology and suspicious of it at the same time.  There is a great deal of disrespect shown towards improvisation, to be sure.  But then how much do people in general know about the inner workings of other musics?  Not much, I think.  So to me, what is important about music, is the content. The science, form, politics, spirit worlds of music are all important.  It's one big kettle of  conundrums if you ask me, and that's where a lot of the fun comes in!  The real problem for me, is style. 

When people listen to music, they have a hard time separating the "name" of what they're hearing from the actual sounds.  The way people look, their reputations, status of venue – all are huge factors in how people hear music. This will sound preposterous, but I believe that often the same fractals and ingredients occur over and over again in music. This makes the listeners job difficult.  Then, the safe fall back position is, the slavery of "style".  I don't really have any advice about how to listen to "this" music ... just good luck, and I'm sure it will work out one way or another.

Here's my dang deal.  I've been working on the integration of composition and improvisation through the use of a self invented notational system of numerically based and visually driven structures.  Vocal call and response, language subtexts, permutations, serial music, a variety of tried and semi-true methods, to be used in both open and closed contexts. 

an after thought

I wanted to address what might be the obvious, about the appeal of open improvisation to the player.  You get to have a real say in what the form of the music will be.  You can attempt to set a direction, support, color ,add, subtract, impede, assassinate, in short, your opinion counts as far as your ability and cohorts will allow.  This area should also hold some interest for the listener.  The listener can try and figure out how is this "thing" functioning?  Personality dynamics, what is the mood or vibe, shapes, independent directions, thematic materials, are all things to listen for.  Of course, "the old reliable" just let go of your thoughts and drift is a "good one" always. 

    This isn't much to go by, but there it is.