Matthew Shipp is a jazz pianist and composer, who has been very active for over twenty years, appearing on dozens of albums as a leader, sideman or producer. Initially known for free jazz, he has since explored contemporary classical and electronica. Shipp was a long-time member of saxophonist David S. Ware‘s quartet. He has recorded or performed with many musicians, including William Parker, DJ Spooky, Joe Morris, Daniel Carter, Roscoe Mitchell, and Mat Maneri.
Your music is just not amenable to labels, such as free jazz or avant-garde, but people need some sort of reference point from which to describe what you do. Do you use any particular terms when describing your own music, or is all this terminology in music too restrictive?
I am into the Duke Ellington idea that there are two types of music – good and bad – but labels are necessary so people can talk about what you do. If there is a label I kind of like for what I do it might be cosmic musician. I look at someone like Coltrane as a musician who constructed a whole body of work with a cosmic theme to it. I like to think of myself in that way also and see each CD as the construction of a different energy system or cosmos of sorts, so I guess cosmic musician is the label of all labels I like the best. Each CD of sort is a globe or a sphere generated from the singularity that is the concept of that particular CD – so the big bang of that particular CD generates that CD’s space and time.
Do you think it is reasonable for people to use these terms to refer to your music if the the goal is to indicate that you go beyond the mainstream?
I don’t know if the goal is to go beyond the mainstream. The goal, if there is a goal, is to construct that particular sound object – a CD or a concert. I am naive enough to think if I like it, the mainstream will like it – I still hold out hope. I abhor genre type of cliches, so I guess in that way I am trying to go beyond the mainstream. But to me at least my DNA is that of a jazz musician. So, I am naive enough to think everyone else can experience my work that way.
Your run-ins with Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch are becoming the stuff of legend, but can you describe your main ideological differences between yourself and those gentlemen?
I really have no problem with Wynton He is not making “pronouncements” these days, and I assume he has matured and grown up over the years and most likely has a better perspective of things. That is an assumption on my part. Crouch on the other hand is a horses ass. I know him and have dealt with him and I think he is a truly evil person. There are no ideological differences with him for he has no ideas. He is a pure opportunist in my opinion. To have an ideological disagreement presupposes someone has some principals of some sort. To me, Stanley is completely empty of ideas, principals or a soul.
Can you describe your relationship with David S. Ware and how it evolved over time?
David S. Ware was not only a band leader of a band I was in, but also a close personal friend who I shared a lot of traits with, though we are very different beings. First of all, we really understood each other on a very deep level. Seems like our lives where geared such that it was destiny that we come together in the way we did. We both had simialr religious backgrounds in that we grew up christian, but gravitated to eastern religions early on. And we both had the same approach of taking our religious backgrounds and modulating that to a quest with the music, ala what I said about coltrane being a cosmic musician. David and I even had the same taste in so called straight ahead jazz. We liked the same Rollins, Bud Powell, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk CDs, etc., etc. We both had the same love of fighting sports, pro wrestling, UFC, though he was not as big of a boxing fan as I am, but he knew what was going on. Anyway, all that is to say we where kindred souls who shared a lot. We had such an instinctive understanding of each other that it scared me sometimes. That was there from the first time we got together. In fact after the first time we played he looked at me and said we have know each other in other lives.
It is easy for a listener to ignore the titles of tracks when listening to instrumental music. But with your releases, are they missing out on part of your message?
The titles of my CDs do tell a story. Each cd is a cosmic, sci-fi myth of sorts – a cosmos – a universe until itself. Maybe the storyteller behind the myths are some weird mad scientist, or maybe an alien of sort. I have always been influenced by the movie with David Bowie, the Man Who Fell to Earth. But yeah, the titles point to a sci-fi type of mystic constructivist point of view that is in tune with the myth that the music is trying to portray.
What have you been listening to recently, and does it relate to your own music?
I have not been listening to that much music lately, but things I have put in the CD player recently are: John Butcher. Monk’s Straight No Chaser, Gamelan music, pigmy music, Glenn Gould playing some Bach, English Suites… Everything you hear and take in relates to you in some way – in ways that you might not be able to delineate in language.
You continue to be very active – what are your release and performance plans for 2014?
In 2014, my trio CD Root of Things that just came out, another duo with Darius Jones, two Ivo Perelman CD – one is a trio with me, Ivo, and William Parker, another is a quartet with my trio plus Ivo, and a couple other projects as a member of the Jeff Cosgrove Group and a guest with the Core Trio.