AMN Interviews

AMN Interviews: Kirk Knuffke

1Trumpeter/cornetist Kirk Knuffke has been based in New York City since 2005 and has played with a who’s who of that city’s free jazz / improv / creative scene. He recently took the time to answer a few questions from AMN.

In New York, you are part of one of the most fertile local free jazz / improv / creative music scenes on the planet. Are you constantly gigging, teaching, and recording, or do you get a break from time to time?

Most of the time the work is constant and there isn’t much of a break. But every now and again there is a window. And I really dig that time to refocus. One of my heros, Karl Berger, says you can do it in a second, in a beat. Refocusing and getting deeper in your thing, but sometimes its also nice to have a day or so! I love all the projects I do, but I also love just practicing the things that are in my head. Most days its just go go go! Warm up, then go to rehearsal then go to the gig. On days that are free from a gig, recording, rehearsal or any combination, I work on musical exercises I’ve designed for myself.

Do you get a feeling that you are part of particularly rich moment in creative music, or is it just business as usual?

This is a rich moment! it may be harder to trace down a straight line then some other time period, but I’m only speculating. There are so many things happening right now, and I am very happy to try as many as I can. I really feel that 10 years from now everyone will talk about the Brooklyn scene just like they talked about the downtown scene.

Your list of collaborators is huge, including many individuals from what I will call the “Zorn and Braxton circles.” Is there a sense of community amongst these folks?

Its a big happy family! At least I hope so. As I stated before I’m happy to play in many different circles with many different characters. I am proud that I play with Marshall Allen and Ted Brown. I love this music, all channels of it. Recording whole records of free improvisations with Steve Swell or Mike Pride or making whole records of Mingus tunes. Everybody does love each other for the most part. The only downside to such a big group of people all loving each other is that we can’t see and hear one another as much as we want!

Is there anyone with whom you would really like to play or record, but it hasn’t happened yet?

Well I just mentioned Marshall, I would love to record with him. We played Jazz at Lincoln Center together but have not recorded. Man, there are tons of folks I would love to play with Gary Peacock, Paul Bley, Henry Threadgill, Ray Anderson….. I could go on and on!

What inspires the various configurations of players on your recordings?

I only hire people I already work with. I don’t go with the hired gun or hire a “name” guy model. Everyone that has appeared on one of my records is someone that I have a connection with before. Its a personal approach. Its also fun to work with the same friends in different bands that have different identities. Brian Drye and I play together in 4 different bands that are all distinctly different, Matt Wilson and I also in in 4 bands, This is something I really enjoy. I think instrumentation is also very important, and you can set your recording apart from the rest just with that to start, instrumentation and orchestration. You don’t have to go way out just for the sake of it, i.e., nose flute and harp, but you can consider what would really serve the music and also make it interesting

Despite being based in New York, you spend time touring Europe as well. Can you compare and contrast the appreciation of your music on the two sides of the Atlantic?

Ever since I started reading about and then hearing about folks going over seas the stories were all the same, “they dig it more!” And its partially true, when Butch Morris took me to europe the first time (and he was the first to do it) he said ” get ready, you’re gonna meet folks that know everything about you, have all your records” and he was right! But there are homegrown fans that are just as great. There are cats in New York that come out to a gig every night! So you know if they choose your gig that night its a big deal! The problem in New York is you don’t always see much money in exchange for your music, but I didn’t get in this for the money.

It seems as if your music is showing more of a Steve Lacy influence over recent years, even on recordings that are not necessarily related to his legacy. Is this progression intentional or has it just happened organically?

The great Ron Miles first introduced me to Steve’s music when I was a teenager. I’m happy if people hear bits of it in my music. When I moved to New York I met Josh Sinton and we started the band Ideal Bread as a duo at his apartment. I have also recorded Steve’s music for other projects on SteepleChase records. I connect with Steve’s esthetic very deeply. I got to meet with him a few times and patterned some of my personal practice after his. I love his completely maverick approach. Take a little idea and make it a big idea, sound and nuance are paramount.

Your releases are put out by a wide variety of small labels. What are the challenges of such an approach? Are there advantages as well?

I love all the labels I’ve worked for small and large. The advantage is you really get to do whatever you want, work this idea with this label and this other idea with that one. I would love for more folks to find my music, who wouldn’t? so that is also possible by working with several labels. I am also free to record for any label…….Manfred? Bluenote? my email is :-)

I understand that you have at least 7 new recordings set to be released next year. Any of those you’d like to highlight for us?

All of them! The Matt Wilson Quartet plus John Medeski is a big one, we have been working together for years as a quartet anticipating this release. I’m also very proud of Jeff Davis’s quintet record that will come out on Freshsound, we recorded it live and it is really smoking! With Oscar Noriega, Eivind Opsvik, and Russ Lossing. But as you said there are at least 7 and I’m proud of them all, Ideal Bread’s 3rd recording will be a double CD covering a bunch of Lacy’s work in the 70’s, and Brian Drye’s “Bizingas” (with Jonathan Goldberger and Ches Smith) 2nd recording to name only 2. I will also make a few new recordings next year as a leader, its a very exciting time.

You can see Kirk on tour this month at the following locations:

23rd to 26th Matt Pavolka Horns Band
Seeds, Brooklyn
Matt Pavolka bass and compositions, Mark Ferber drums, Loren Stillman alto, Jacob Garchik trombone, Kirk Knuffke cornet
A Four Night Residency!

25th Kirk Knuffke Trio!!!
Le Poisson Rouge, Manhattan
Kirk Knuffke cornet and compositions, Mark Helias bass, Bill Goodwin drums

27 Nublu Orchestra, with guest conductor Jameel Moondoc
Nublu, Manhattan
Ilhan Ershahin tenor, Kirk Knuffke cornet, Brandon Ross guitar, other tba

30th Ideal Bread
Josh Sinton bari, Kirk Knuffke cornet, Adam Hopkins bass, Tomas Fujiwara drums, the music of Steve Lacy

One reply on “AMN Interviews: Kirk Knuffke”

It is so fantastic to get to hear the artist speak! Thanks for the interview. I can’t wait for all these recordings to come out!

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