Interview with the European music website Mizar5

M5:
You were born and raised in New England and initially trained in classical music. Can you describe the general mood in those days, the major influences you can remember, being 7 and starting to play the piano... what made you choose for an education in music...?
KW: I grew up in Amherst New Hampshire, which is in southern New Hampshire, right near the Massachusetts border, about an hour from Boston. In the 50's it was completely "the sticks", very rural. It was before dial phones, we had a "party line", which meant we shared our phone line with all of our neighbors. If someone was talking on there, you had to wait until they were done before you made a call! We had no TV until I was 9, so I always had to invent things to do. I spent a lot of time playing outdoors, building things, playing in the woods and fields. It was a dairy farm, an idyllic place, 125 acres with old growth elm trees, and a river. I spent a lot of time with cows, and really loved that place. It was a wonderful place to grow up.
Around age 7 I remember one day that the neighbors' boy, who was a little older than me, was over at our house and was playing on our piano, because he was taking piano lessons, and that's when I decided I wanted to start piano lessons. I remember he was playing the "3rd Man Theme". I also remember being at his house one day, and he played some 45's of some songs I had heard on the radio, and that was when I realized that you could actually buy recordings of songs on the radio. Before age 7 I used to listen a lot to music, though, in particular Beethoven's 6th Symphony was my favorite. It was in the movie "Fantasia", and after I saw that I was hooked on Beethoven. We had an old record player with 78's, and I used to watch the records spin, and I'd watch them drop one by one onto the turntable from the stack, because you had to pile on the whole batch of records on the spindle.
Anyway, my first piano teacher used to come to the house, and I remember he charged $1.75. What stands out the most in my memory was that I would get very excited whenever he would improvise something. I would always ask him to make up a song. But he never encouraged me to make up one of my own. So I grew up thinking that only big famous composers like Beethoven wrote music. It never even occurred to me that I could write music too, until I was well into my teens, and even so, I didn't really get into writing until my twenties.
When I was 13 I got sent away to a private boarding school near Boston, and continued my piano studies there. When I was 14 I realized that music was what I wanted to do with my life, and have never reconsidered since. It just became clear. I remember the day driving in the car with my Mom when she said "you know, Kit, you should consider being a musician. You could make a lot of money at it!" That makes me laugh now, because most parents are trying to talk their kids out of playing music, because it is such a financially unstable life! But that's what my Mom was like, she always encouraged and supported me in it. None of the rest of my family was musical really, I was the only one who stuck with it.
So at the school I continued my classical music studies on the piano, and after I decided that music was what I wanted to do, my music teacher encouraged me to work towards going to a conservatory when I graduated. His name is Brian Jones, he's a pipe organist and choir director, and later in his life he went on to be the organist and choir director at Trinity Church in Boston, and stayed there until just a year ago. He was a very supportive teacher, really my first mentor in music. He took me to a lot of classical and organ concerts. He had gone to Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, and he suggested that I apply there. When I was a sophomore in high school he encouraged me to switch to the pipe organ, because the competition on classical piano was so fierce, and besides. I could get a gig as a church musician. So I went for it.
But meanwhile, the psychedelic era was beginning, and I was totally taken by the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Rolling Stones,The Yardbirds, Traffic, Procol Harum, and on and on. My mom bought me all the latest records and I devoured them. I listened to all those bands, and wanted to be a drummer. At about age 14 I got my first drumset, and started a band with some friends at school, called the Inmates. As I was playing in that band on drums at parties and the like, I was also learning blues piano, because I was totally into all the blues bands that were coming out as well, in particular, Paul Butterfield. I also became completely fascinated by the Hammond organ and Leslie speakers (the rotating speakers). Every weekend I used to go into Boston on the subway to places like The Boston Tea Party, Where It's At, and Club 47 in Cambridge, and listen to all those bands live. I was a complete fanatic for all that music, it was all I would think about.
Simultaneously, though, I was going after school every day to a church in the town and practicing on the pipe organ. I was completely into Bach especially. Somehow the whole atmosphere of being in the church every day by myself and playing Bach would transport me to some kind of spiritual realm that I treasured. When I was a senior I prepared and played an organ recital as my graduation project. It included pieces by Bach, Hindemith, and Messaien, all of whom are still among my favorite composers. I practiced my butt off for the concert and it went well. But the tape recorder broke, so I got no recording of it. Then the summer after graduation I stayed at the farm and worked for my father and didn't touch a piano or an organ. I had practiced too much, and needed a break. I spent the whole summer driving a tractor.
M5:
You studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, later on the University of Michigan School of Music. How come you decided that classical music wasn't your path and what music influenced you so that you changed your direction...? In what directions did you major and study ultimately?
KW: In the fall when I got to Oberlin Conservatory, I just couldn't get myself back into the practicing routine. I tried valiantly, but the LSD and marijuana got the best of me, and after the first semester, much to my parent's dismay, I dropped out. I stayed living in the town of Oberlin, though, thanks to the generosity of my friend's mom, who took me into her house as if I was one of her own kids. My girlfriend was still in school, so she would bring me food from the cafeteria, and I just bummed around. I started a band with some friends, including a drummer from Liverpool who had moved there. He turned me on to the first King Crimson record, "Court of the Crimson King" which I loved, and our band modeled itself after those types of bands. By then I had gotten my first Hammond organ and Leslie speaker, and I also had begun writing songs. I didn't sing though, the sax player did the singing. It was organ, bass, drums, and sax, and we called ourselves "Fat". Traffic was another band that we emulated. I would sneak into the Conservatory practice rooms every day and practice piano and write songs.
After about a year of that lifestyle though, I realized I wanted to continue my education, and got serious about wanting to be a composer. I started studying books on my own, about composition and counterpoint, and made some progress, but finally decided I needed more guidance so I applied to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor Michigan, wanting to be a composition major. They told me I should come as a pipe organ major, and that after a year i might be able to switch to composition. So in the fall of 1972 I moved to Ann Arbor and started in on my classical studies again, this time with more determination to make it work.
I kept at it that whole year, taking composition lessons, but also practicing the pipe organ a lot. I wasn't in any bands, but still listening to all the rock music that was coming out, I remember one of my favorites at the time was Captain Beefheart, as well as the Band, and many others. Beefheart's "Trout Mask Replica" was in number one rotation at my house then, I had the whole thing memorized.
So I had this split kind of life. At the music school I always felt like a misfit, I was a long-haired hippie, sitting in class with a bunch of kids who felt to me like they were still in junior high, all the girls with their matching outfits, and the guys very neat and studious. I got bored with the music theory classes because it went so slow, and I was miles ahead of everyone, wondering about improvising and the like, which wasn't taught at all then. And then I would go home and rock out, with my hippie friends, listening to "Neon Meate Dream of an Octafish" and "Steal Softly through Sunshine" and all these other stoned-out Beefheart absurdities.
Still, though, I was serious about wanting to learn composition. But the composition lessons were very dry. I would be drawing pictures of the composition, and then filling in the notes, like some kind of intellectual exercise that had no soul to it. I wasn't really consciously registering that, I figured that this was how it was supposed to be done, but somehow it wasn't really clicking. But I thought that maybe when I got to be a composition major I would get into the good stuff, and then it would be cool.
The one class that I really loved, though, was the ethnomusicology course. I was fascinated learning about all the different instruments from other countries, and the scales they used, and so forth. One day during that time I was in the record store in Ann Arbor and I heard the most beautiful guitar music I had ever heard playing over the speakers. Every note was like a diamond, and the virtuosity was something I had never heard, because it had such purity of tone, and at the same time was all improvised. It turned out to be the solo album called "My Goal's Beyond" by John McLaughlin. I bought it and got immersed in it. On the cover he had pictures of himself with his guru, Sri Chinmoy. It was that album that sparked my spiritual search. I remember thinking that if having a guru could do that to his music, maybe that was something I should look into, although it didn't really manifest until a few years later. Also that was when Stevie Wonder's album "Music of my Mind" came out, and after I saw Stevie and his band play in Ann Arbor I became a complete Stevie Wonder devotee. To this day I think he is just about the funkiest and most soulful musician there ever was.
From John McLaughlin, I started to think that I should look into jazz more, so I started to buy jazz albums. John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, Leon Thomas, and the early Keith Jarrett records with Dewey Redman and Paul Motian were among my favorites. I still didn't know much about playing jazz, and I remember one day I went to jam with an excellent jazz guitarist in Ann Arbor, named Gale Benson, (no relation to George) at his house. He proceeded to play complete rings around me, and sent me back to the drawing board. I realized that this was a whole other realm and that I had better get down to work.
But that fall came another disappointment. When I went back into the school I asked if I could switch my major to composition. They said no, because there weren't enough positions teaching composition in colleges, and that church musicians were more needed, so I would have to stay an organ major, but I could have private composition lessons with Leslie Bassett, the head of the department. So I lasted for a couple of weeks, had a couple of lessons with him, but my heart wasn't in it. I was disheartened, because it had nothing to do with what I wanted to do with my life, and my talents, it had to do with how i could be most useful to the system. So once again I dropped out.
I moved to Western Massachusetts, to Northampton, and got involved with the UMass jazz workshop. I wasn't a student at UMass, but they needed someone to play piano at the jazz workshop. The great drummer Max Roach was the teacher, as well as bassist Reggie Workman and saxophonist Archie Shepp. After my experience with Gale Benson I had begun practicing my scales and chords in earnest, and was teaching myself jazz. The workshop at UMass gave me a context to really develop as a jazz musician, and Max Roach was a wonderful mentor for me and a bunch of my friends at the time. He took a liking to me, and I got to hang out with him a lot, and play with him too, in the workshop from time to time. He would bring jazz masters up from New York City to do master classes and concerts. There was a big band at the school that I also played with. I also formed a band with some friends, called "Real Tears", and we did mostly our own material, which was inspired by the funky CTI style of jazz at the time, like George Benson, Freddie Hubbard, and Herbie Hancock, and Doug and Jean Carne. We had vocalists, so it was funky jazz with vocals. There was a pretty vibrant live music scene in western Massachusetts at the time, so we played every weekend at local clubs, and other clubs around New England. We had a nice following, people would always dance to us, and we made a living at it. Of course, my rent was $75, so that wasn't that hard to accomplish! That was a wonderful period for me, because I practiced a lot, and listened a lot to music. That was when the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report were hitting their stride, and that music was heaven for me! It was a style where all the influences I had could come together. Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, and then Keith Jarrett during his solo piano period on ECM, that was like complete musical nectar to me. It is still some of my favorite music.

M5: You play more than one instrument (piano, drums and...?), but the Hammond B3, a Rhodes electrical piano and the synthesizer are like forever connected to certain musical eras. Do you feel you've been 'lucky', to be part of a generation in which certain musical developments and exploration created new sounds that kind of were the basic layers for jazzrock, fusion and anything experimental? And what made you lean more towards the jazzside of things than the rock influences...?
KW: I do feel lucky to have hit the wave of music that I did, when I was coming through high school and into college. It was an explosion of all kinds of things, and an international cross-pollination of influences as well. And it was before the corporatization of the music business, so people were breaking new ground and saying what they wanted to say, playing what they wanted to play. The music business today has a problem, that is hard to describe exactly, but it seems to me that there are relatively few people breaking new ground. Sure, there is a lot of new technology, and everyone has access to it, but musically I don't hear that much that really holds my interest. Where are the new Miles Davises, the new Coltranes? The new Hendrix? The new Cream? Now we get reunion bands (Cream is having a reunion!). Today it is all about "product", and entertainment, and we are losing sight of the power that music has to raise consciousness and transform and heal. There are encouraging things going on today too, I feel, with the coming of age of the internet as a distribution medium. But searching for something original and fresh in all of it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. That's why sites like Mizar5 are such a valuable service. We need people with taste and intelligence to search through the haystack for us, and report their findings!
But it is getting harder and harder to find music that hasn't been played already. I feel that to be original we are going to have to dig a lot deeper into ourselves. This is a subject that really interests me, what being "original" really is. Since all the notes have already been played many times over, our originality is going to have to be more about HOW we play those notes. And much as I love electronics, it's with an acoustic instrument that we really get to go into the creation of our own sound in depth. Creating tone on an instrument is like learning Tai Chi, or a martial art. You have to connect with the instrument, so that it becomes a living breathing extension of your body. I feel that this is something very sorely lacking in music education these days. There's no short cut to that. To really master music and develop an original sound we have to look at our whole life, and bring it into alignment. And this is going to take focus, dedication, and time. No way around it. But it is the most rewarding journey I could imagine, because, as the great Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan said, music is life itself.
The Hammond B3 is just the coolest instrument. I fell in love with it early on, with bands like Procol Harum, the Young Rascals, Steve Winwood and Traffic, and the like, and then later in jazz with organists like Jimmy Smith, and my all time favorite, Larry Young. I got my first B3 when I was a junior in high school. Somehow it dovetailed with my pipe organ studies. It's funny how it still is popular today, as is the Rhodes. I have a cherry 1958 B3 now that I got 5 or 6 years ago. I still look at it in amazement. It's like a classic antique car or something. And the Leslie speaker, with the spinning speakers, is still one of the coolest inventions of the 20th century!
What made me lean more towards jazz, was when bands like Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra came out, and I heard the blend of influences, and the high level of improvisation. It brought together all of the kinds of music I had been interested in into one music. Somehow jazz fusion got derailed along the way, until now it's almost a dirty word: "fusion". It's too bad. I still think Weather Report is one of the best bands that ever happened. That is the original world music. Somehow North, South, East and West all came together in that band.
M5:
You spent time in Boston and studied with a renowned teacher, Mme Chaloff. Can you tell us anything about these years and in what respect were they of major influence to you? What did she teach you in particular?
KW: Madame Chaloff was a legend around Boston, for being not only an amazing pianist and teacher, but also a kind of spiritual teacher. She taught a method of piano technique that had been passed down through generations of pianists, many of whom were quite well known, including Mozart, Czerny, Beethoven, etc. The technique involves using the breath, with weightless arms, and reminds me very much of a kind of martial art, like a miniature karate/kung fu, for the piano. The object is to create a singing tone on the piano. Madame Chaloff had many illustrious students, including Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, George Shearing, Kenny Werner, Steve Kuhn, and many others. Here is something I recently wrote to another one of her students about my experience with her. It was really quite serendipitous.
It was in 1976-1977 that I was studying with Madame Chaloff. I studied with her for about 7 or 8 months, and she died while i was studying with her. I got there just in time! It's funny, because she used to look at me with those piercing blue eyes and tell me I was killing her! With so much love, though, that I really didn't take it personally when she did pass on. But she was an extraordinary gift for me.
The circumstances of our meeting were quite powerful too. It was my birthday, October 4th 1976 (I was 25), and I showed up at her apartment unannounced. I had only just heard of her for the first time the night before from a friend, and when he told me Keith Jarrett had studied with her, that was all I needed to hear, because Jarrett was and still is one of my all time favorites. I lived in Northampton MA at the time, and the next day, my birthday, I rode into Boston with a friend who was going for a vocal lesson. She dropped me off, I went to a phone booth, and looked up Mme C's address, and just went to her place on Comm Ave and rang the buzzer. (I have never done this kind of thing before or since)... She buzzed me in, and started by telling me I would have to make an appointment for 2 weeks or so later. But then when she saw me, she told me to come in anyway. She felt the back of my neck, as she did with people, because she was deeply psychic, and said "oh, what a beautiful soul" and then told me, "this must be fate". When I told her it was my birthday, and that my name was Christopher (that's my full name), she was astonished, because, she said, she had a grandson named Christopher, and that it was his birthday that day. She also told me she had just kicked out a student for not practicing, which she had only done once or twice before in her life.
So she brought me in, and read my palm, and also read my playing card out of that book she used. I am 5 of diamonds. She told me we had worked together in a past life. I played a little for her, but was so nervous that I played terribly, but she didn't seem to care, she accepted me as her student on the spot. I was so blown away by this meeting, I will never forget it.
So then the next months I took on the task of trying to absorb the essence of the teaching. I felt like a Zen student with a koan from the Zen master to solve. It became my constant meditation. She told me to observe the birds, and I really took that to heart. Trying to get the weightless arms, the breathing, the whole thing. I worked and worked at it. Week after week I would come in, start my piece, get through a few bars, and she would say, no no, that's not it, and we would go back to playing one note, trying to get it to "sing". And then I would go back home, determined to get to the bottom of it.
Whenever I would come into her apartment I could feel a palpable energy field there. I do feel that she was a spiritually enlightened being. It was always with a mixture of excitement and awe that I would come to my lessons. She had this amazing way of making me shake in my boots, all the while however making me feel completely loved. And she would tell me how the tones can be directed to people for healing anywhere in the world, also something that has become a real priority for me with music.
Then a month or so before she passed on, I remember coming to a lesson, and as she was in her kitchen she told me to just play a little to warm up. I did, and she came out and said yes, that's it, now you are getting it. I felt so elated, because I really began to understand it. I had only a couple of lessons more, and I think it was at the second to last one I remember her saying, "well, I guess you won't be needing me any more". And then a few weeks later she was gone. I also will always remember going to see her lying in state, after her passing.
She also catalyzed a life-long spiritual search for me, that has run parallel to my musical life, because after her I began to feel that I needed a spiritual teacher more than a music teacher. That has been a long and winding road, but a very worthwhile adventure, and I really credit Mme Chaloff for starting me out on my journey. Being with her was really my first experience with direct spiritual transmission from a teacher, and since then I haven't been satisfied with anything less than that.
M5:
You traveled back and forth to India. What was it you were looking for the first trips there and better yet, did you find 'it'?
KW: When I used to drive to Boston for my lessons with Mme Chaloff, I would go to a spiritual bookstore there, because I was starting to get very interested in meditation. I ran across these books by the teacher in India called Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, (now known as Osho) who was relatively unknown at the time, but later became notorious, especially when he ended up in America. When Mme Chaloff passed on, I realized what I really needed was a spiritual teacher, and simultaneously I realized that Rajneesh was accepting anyone who came to him as a student. I had such a strong affinity for his teachings, because he helped me to see that the real solution to the problems of the world is inside us, not outside, because ultimately inside and outside are the same. A book of his that I read at that time called "The Inward Revolution" really drove that point home. Something popped for me, and I made plans to go to India. All that winter I played with a horrendous lounge singer to save the money to go, and I went in the fall of 1978.
At that point, what I was interested in was freedom, self-mastery, and, for lack of a better word, enlightenment. And certainly something pretty unusual and revolutionary (in the true sense of the word) was going on there at the Rajneesh ashram. I went back again in 1979, and all in all spent about a year there. It was an initiation into a new relationship with life and myself and the world which hasn't let up for a moment since. It has been a long and winding road, and there have been several milestones along the way that have shifted my entire perspective. As to the question of whether or not I have found "it", I can say that at some point years after that I changed from a seeker into a "finder". It is clear to me that God, or whatever you want to call it, is a palpable, visceral experience like an electric current running through and around the body, and it has an undeniable radiance and brightness to it. It is just a byproduct of being present. And when you really begin to see through yourself, and your particular strategy for avoiding "it", then "it" finds you. It rushes toward you. It was always here all along. There is a threshold you cross, that is a point of no return. But there is nowhere to arrive. There is nothing to find, and there is no one to find it. It's all a kind of riddle.
M5:
In 1982 you moved the the San Francisco Bay Area... How come, why there?
KW: After being in India, I felt I needed a new horizon. I had been around Boston so much, and it just seemed like I could see how things would end up if I stayed there. But it took a long time to get used to California. When the grass turned gold in May I freaked out. I still sometimes miss having more seasons, and some weather. It's a beautiful sunny day here every day. But I felt that there would be more musical opportunity in California. I was also getting more interested in ambient music, and music for meditation, and there is a lot of that going on here. It's a mixed blessing though, because a lot of New Age music is little more than sugar-water. It is a challenge to create something spacious and meditative that still has artistic value. That's why I love the ECM label so much. That seems to be a pretty consistent vision that they have, and they have managed to avoid being thrown into the New Age bin.
The San Francisco area has a pretty good music scene. What I like about it is, there again, the diversity. There is a lot of world music, and a lot of hybrid blends of things. There seems to be a pretty experimental spirit around here, and it is reflected in the music. There are lots of festivals, the SF Jazz always has interesting programs, there is a jazz school in Berkeley, and there is a music industry presence here, though not like it is in LA. But that's probably a good thing. Plus, it's a beautiful place. I live in Marin County near the coast, and the air is clean, and there is a lot of nature preserve here, even less than an hour from the city. One of my priorities is to have natural beauty around, and yet have access to culture, and it seems to me that San Francisco is probably the best place in the US for that. But I am concerned about the whole social and political context in the USA right now. It is a very discouraging trend, and the thought has crossed my mind more than once to try living elsewhere, perhaps even Europe.
M5:
In a nutshell, you recorded two critically acclaimed records for Windham Hill Jazz, composed music for an award winning nature documentary and worked with a variety in musicians on even more varied projects. It's clear you love to work with different styles and genres of music and seem especially drawn to world music... Is this also something that appeals to you in a spiritual way, because you feel world music is spiritually based?
KW: World music is an interesting genre, because in a way it can include almost anything, because the world consists of all the countries. I guess part of why I like it, is because it seems to be the most free genre, in terms of what fits into it. I have always had this problem with genres. It seems that the minute you label something, you no longer have to really pay attention. You can say, "oh that's jazz, and I don't like jazz", so that's that. Or," I do like jazz, cool music. Now what were you saying?" And then you can go back to distraction, and the music fades back into the wallpaper. And then when you can't name it, you have to reject it, because it doesn't fit into any of the music slots in your mind. I think the corporate music business has done a lot to injure music in that way. We are losing the capacity to pay attention, and real music demands that of you. Music is a two way street. With no listener, there is no music. With no one to perceive this world, would it still exist?
So that's why I love things that fit between the genres, there is more room for originality. It's like the genres have already been farmed to death. All the country songs have been written many times over. All the real estate is built on. But there's still room for aboriginal country music! or klezmer funk.
Another reason I like world music is because it is more genuine. Most of it comes from people living ordinary life, not wanna-be rockstars. It is songs about village life, or about the ancestors, or about freedom for our people, myths and legends, and so on. Corporate music has some kind of disconnected quality that is either violent, or based on illusory values of some sort. And behind it all you can feel the money motive. When I feel that, I turn it off. The spirit is about truth, about being real. So yes, I feel the beauty of humanity in world music, and that keeps me going!
One of the things I love the most is having friends from other cultures, especially musical friends. It's a worldwide family, and we all speak the language of music. What better way to honor our common humanity than with music? And it is amazing how those 12 tones can be organized in so many different ways and flavors, both from different cultures, and in different genres. I love being in a room with friends from different cultures, speaking different languages, even if I can't understand what they are saying. I don't know why, it just warms my heart to hear people speaking with different accents, and playing music together is the best. 

M5:
Your recent projects involve the Kundalini Boombox, a new album "Supernatural World" and an acoustic jazz quartet with bassist Gary Brown, drummer Eric Kurtzrock, and Evan Francis, alto saz and flute... How did this particular project evolve, do you initiate it or do others ask you or ... And this is pretty 'traditional' jazz isn't it, compared to some of your other projects... You wrote "Zanagrie" for this quartet...
KW: The acoustic quartet evolved out of a gig that we play frequently at a very elegant Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco, called Ana Mandara. It is a big beautiful place with a lounge upstairs, and they have a gorgeous Bosendorfer grand piano there. Gary Brown is an old friend of mine, who I've known since the 80's, when I had my Windham Hill Jazz albums. Though he didn't play on the albums, he was the bass player in my band for many years. Then our paths diverged for a while, but a couple of years ago we reconnected, and he invited me down to play that gig, and we hit it off, as a trio with Eric, who always plays at Ana Mandara too. Then we found this 23 year old genius alto player, Evan Francis, to add to the mix. He is as sweet a person as he is a brilliant player. Amazing that someone so young plays already with such an original sound. So we decided to make this recording, which will soon be available, but there are extended clips to check out at my website.
Actually I wrote Zanagrie several years ago, along with a few other tunes that we are playing, but never really got them played until now. I have such a huge backlog of tunes that have never been played that lately I haven't been writing tunes so much. Spontaneous improvisation is interesting me more now, it almost doesn't matter what the vehicle is. I love standards, because there are millions of ways you can interpret them. Every night the same tune can have a different vibe. I thrive on that kind of energy, and that has been an evolution over my life, from having everything planned ahead of time, to now, where I really prefer to have very little planned out. It brings out the nowness of things more, which is where all the life is.
I also wanted to do this quartet, because it is very easily classified in the jazz category. I have always struggled with this thing where jazz players and fans think I'm too New Age, and New Age people think I'm too jazzy, and straight ahead people think I'm too jazz fusion, and so on and so forth. I love the straight ahead acoustic milieu, and want to work in it. I do want to explore new directions in it though, possibly bring in some electronic elements in the future. But I wanted to just get some good old standards recorded, because I love to play them, and it's like, yo everyone! I do this too! It's funny how whatever you get known for, you get stuck there in everyone's minds.
Then there is the other project, Kundalini Boombox, which is a different universe. This grew out of my love for dancing, and my desire to create a music that could be for what I think of as "dance journeying", where dance becomes a prayer. It is more oriented towards the kind of dances that shamanic cultures do, or the dances used in spiritual practices. I suppose the seed was planted in me by Rajneesh, because dancing was a very important part of his teaching. All of his meditations are done to music, and almost all of them involve some kind of dancing or body movement, the idea being that once you exhaust the body, the mind becomes much more easily still. Also one gets to experience the "still point" even in the midst of total body movement, which really helps when you want to bring your meditation into all of your daily activities.
So Kundalini Boombox is an offering in that spirit, an attempt to find the common ground between stillness and movement, earth and sky. But hopefully it can also just be music that can be listened to and enjoyed, like any other music.
M5:
Besides a musician and composer, you also arrange and produce for others. What do you consider the ultimate challenge, musically spoken?
KW: What I love about producing is the process of creating a musical context that really enhances and supports the artist. It is always different, and it is an intriguing process. It all happens pretty intuitively, and often it involves something very simple. Of course there are many kinds of artists, and only some would benefit from a production such as I would do, but when it clicks, it is really fun. It is like creating a painting. There are so many colors available now, what with the electronic palette of all the new music technology, which is an endless exploration. I seem to have a mind for the technical side of things, and have been working with it so long that I can keep a creative flow going even in the middle of dealing with some pretty left-brained stuff.
M5:
Regarding music and composing it... What are your views given the fact you so easily blend styles and abandon a perhaps purist's approach of things... Do you feel music should be without boundaries and do you need to experience something 'new' or paths you haven't explored yet... ?
KW: I do seem to have this need to constantly be finding new territory, to find what hasn't been played or written yet, and like I said above, it is getting harder and harder to find. But there is a territory that has very few settlers on it still, and that has to do more with art and music that comes from a place of stillness, and pure consciousness. And I'm not talking about "New Age" music, either. To me, most of the music in that genre misses the boat, because the artfulness has been jettisoned, as if developing mastery at your art were one of the trappings of ego, and therefore something to be shunned. This is a fine point, but really important. There seems to me to be this kind of tenet in the New Age world, that in order to be really spiritual we have to drop the ego, and drop all individuality, and just become kind of amorphous and nondistinct, and most of the new age music sounds like that. To excel at something is put down as an ego trip, and mediocrity is raised up on a pedestal. Most of the New Age music I hear just makes me angry, rather than relaxed. It is rare to hear music in that category that has lasting value as art. There again, that is where the ECM label has really succeeded, I think. But that music is not thought of as New Age. And that's a good thing. Another artist who really hits the nail on the head is Brian Eno. Of course he invented "ambient" music. But it somehow manages to stay art. And he doesn't go off on all this marketing hype on how it is "relaxation" music, "cosmic" this and that. The music speaks for itself.
So I really enjoy finding music that has a natural sense of spaciousness to it, and yet still has the quality of artistic mastery. I really like the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek for that. He has completely mastered music, no question about it. He can play a lot of notes for sure, but he can also NOT play a lot of notes. For some people who can play a lot of notes, NOT playing a lot of notes seems difficult. When Garbarek plays one note it cuts through you like a razor. Of course Keith Jarrett also has this down. There is something about when these artists leave space in their music that draws you in to "interior time". It isn't just a question of not playing so many notes. Even when they play lots of notes there is still that sense of space. But the empty spaces have to breathe with aliveness, and if the artist isn't really present in timelessness, then even if they leave gaps, they won't have that depth and vitality. And there is no shortcut to mastering and embodying spaciousness in that way. That is where music becomes a life-work, a spiritual path, that demands your all.


M5: If you have time to listen to music, what music do you like to listen to these days?
KW: That is a timely question for me at the moment, because lately I really haven't been listening to much music at all! I remember the time when I would constantly be finding new music and devouring it, listening to my favorites over and over. Now it is very rare that I find a CD that I feel like listening to over and over. Even music that I really like, I tend to listen to only rarely. And I have been feeling that I need to fall in love with music again on a deeper level, and I am not sure how that will come about. Maybe part of the reason I'm not listening that much is because I am working on music so much, that when I'm not working, the silence is refreshing. But in general, silence is revealing its beauty more and more these days. Of course, like John Cage said, it is never totally silent, so there are always some kind of ambient sounds going on. Where I live there is nature all around, and many birds. I love the sound of wind in trees, and birds, and water rushing, and the ocean. One of the things Osho said that always stuck with me, was something like "once you have heard the sound of the silence, all other music just sounds like noise".
That makes more sense to me these days. That's why I love music that incorporates silence. The stars are so beautiful because they are set off by the blackness of the night sky.
I'm also pretty overwhelmed by the sheer amount of music that's out there these days. It's hard to know where to start. Yes, a lot of it is mediocre, but there is such a vast amount of music that is truly brilliant and inspired, too, in all the genres, in all the continents and countries. Lately I have just been enjoying listening to whatever crosses my path, things that friends turn me on to, or just browsing on the internet, and so on. But it's almost like trying to remember my dreams. So much goes through, that it's gone before I have a chance to even remember who the artist was. It's a very interesting time for music right now, and I'm not really sure how to even pinpoint it. Somehow it seems like a paradigm shift (to use a worn out phrase), where music is being given back to the people. The age of the hero up on the stage being brilliant, and the audience just passively receiving, seems to be slowly ending. Everyone can make a CD now, and everyone is! And there are some jewels coming up from the most unlikely places. Unfortunately the sheer numbers makes those jewels harder and harder to find, but we'll work that one out. It feels like a big sifting-down process going on right now. The top down model doesn't work any more, and the new way is still emerging. So we are in a kind of creative chaos period right now.
M5:
Can you name some musicians that have been of influence to you or you view upon as people who made their mark in history...?
KW: There are so many! But here's a few: Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky, Olivier Messaien, Shostakovich, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cream, Hendrix, Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, John McLaughlin, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Peter Gabriel, Salif Keita, Youssou N'Dour, Jan Garbarek, the Band, Procol Harum, King Crimson, Weather Report, Bjork, Pat Metheny, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Steely Dan, Arvo Part, Egberto Gismonti, Thelonious Monk, and countless others.
M5:
Regarding the music of Steely Dan, what are your fav compositions and why?
I love Steely Dan! I got on the Steely Dan wagon a little late, in the 70's with the Royal Scam. That one, and Aja, were in constant rotation for years. But I think the Royal Scam is my favorite. "Haitian Divorce" sticks out in my mind, and "Kid Charlemagne". For some reason, these days, that line from Kid Charlemagne keeps running through my mind: "you are obsolete, look at all the white men on the street". Because there are a lot of obsolete white men walking around. Time to get with the program, and that is about one humanity, one Love. I know that's not really what the song is about, but that phrase has been stuck in my head.
I really like the two latest Steely Dan albums too, still the same classy elegance, and impeccable songwriting. I am really glad they are back together. There is something about band synergy that beats solo artists hands down. And those guys have longevity, and consistent quality. What can I say? More power to them!!
M5:
You've traveled a lot and met with different cultures. Where do you feel your home is ...? And what were experiences that made a great impression... What places or countries touched something or made you change inside?
KW: Another timely question. At some level I never quite feel at home anywhere, and at the same time I guess I really feel like a citizen of the world. Seems like the era of big powerful nation-states is coming to an end. So many cultures blending! I live in California right now, but never quite feel settled here. I was in Australia a couple of years ago and loved it there, but I really like Europe too. Many of the places I have been I didn't get to stay in long enough to really experience, though. On tour you pass through everywhere so quickly that it all blurs together, and you don't ever really get to meet and get to know people. And for me to really feel at home somewhere I need to know some people there. So I can't really answer that question. Of course here in California i have lots of friends and things going on, but I always feel like I haven't really found the physical place called home yet.
M5:
Looking back on your years as a musician, in what respect did you change or grew, are there things you would like to do again or never experience and are there (still) any dreams you'd like to accomplish...? When starting as a music student, did you ever think you'd be where you are today?
KW: When I started as a music student I had such a limited vision, in terms of what I thought I'd be able to accomplish. At first it never even occurred to me, (and no one really encouraged me) that I could write music. I kept my attention on the immediate task of learning music. Even in the 70's, our band Real Tears never even made a recording. Now I just can't even understand that. So now I am working on expanding my vision, because there are so many things still I would like to accomplish. I have a book to write at some point, and a teaching, around the link between meditation and music, consciousness and creativity, the practice of music as a spiritual path. I want to play and record with more musicians from other cultures. I want to visit Brazil, Africa, and India again, and participate in musical adventures there. I want to explore music for healing more, even though so much of it is just naturally healing without even having to try and make it so. I have many more albums to make and musical avenues to explore. I want to do more soundtracks for films, in particular, films that are about healing and humanity and consciousness. I would love to write something for orchestra. I want to reach more people with music in whatever way life wants it to happen, I'm open!