I am free to bring what I am hearing to the music - interview with Kris Davis

Piotr Wojdat
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mat. promocyjne

Kris Davis, Canadian pianist closely related to the New York scene, talks about friendship with Ingrid Laubrock and what we can do in lockdown.

How do you feel right now about that you can't play concerts?

Kris Davis: At first I was happy for a break - I was feeling pretty run down from the road and the pace I was keeping as an educator, performer and composer. But now I haven’t played with anyone for 3 months and I’m really starting to miss it. I’ve tried a few online performances using Zoom, but it was uninspiring.

Some musicians like for example Susana Santos Silva have done albums during lockdown. Are you one of them or you had an opportunity to do something else?

KD: I released a duo album with Ingrid Laubrock on Intakt Records in June. The album was recorded last year and the last concert I played with was Ingrid in Toronto in March. Little did I know that would have to suffice as the CD release concert! I am also recording John Zorn’s Bagatelles with Mary Halvorson, Drew Gress and Kenny Wollesen in July. It will be the first time I play with people in 3 months and I’m really looking forward to it!


This March you've released an album with scandinavian musicians: Øyvind Skarbø, Ole Morten Vågan and Fredrik Ljungkvist. Why we have to wait for this album until 2016 when it was recorded?

KD: Oyvind was always planning to release the album, I’m not sure why it took so long for the album to come out, but I’m very glad it finally did. I loved being on tour and playing music with Oyvind, Ole Morten and Fredrik. Beautiful people and musicians!

How is to collaborate with Ingrid Laubrock? What kind of person is she? 

KD: Ingrid and I have played together since 2008. We are dear friends and close musical collaborators. Ingrid is a deep musical thinker and a risk-taker. She is also one of the kindest people I know. I have learned so much about music and composition from playing with her for the last 12 years. I am honored to call her my musical soulmate!


About six years ago you've released an album with polish trumpeter Tomasz Dąbrowski. What have you remembered from this session?

KD: Oh my gosh, that was so long ago. I remember we recorded at Peter Karl’s studio in Brooklyn and that it was an enjoyable experience.  

In "The New York Times" you said "A lot of times I don’t have a specific way in mind that something should sound". Is it a rule?

KD: I consider that a composition exists in 3 stages. The first stage is the completion of the ideas from the composer. The second stage is bringing it to the musicians, giving some direction as to what you are looking for, but then allowing for the possibilities the other musicians bring. Musicians usually come up with something I didn’t think of or expect, and it is important to me to be open to this process and learn from my fellow bandmates. I play a lot of improvised music - which is collective, each improviser acting as a composer in the moment and we composer together in that moment. This experience is reflected in my approach to my own writing, where I want the musicians to be involved in the composition process by bring what they are hearing to the written material. As a side person, I also really appreciate when other composers think this way, because I am free to bring what I am hearing to the music. If the musicians do something I don’t like, I give more direction, even it if mean I need to write out a separate part for that player. But for the most part we can get there through talking. The third stage is a moment focused on living, playing and breathing the music. In this stage, we find how to internalize the ideas and transcend them, the spiritual aspect and connection between players takes over. There’s nothing more incredible than this moment and this is why musicians are so addicted to being on the road!


What are your plans for the near future?

KD: It’s very hard to make plans right now! I am working with a few artists on silent films - I was supposed to premiere a silent film project collaboration with filmmaker Mimi Chakarova at Monheim in July, but that was cancelled because of Covid. I am focusing on solo piano since that is all that is available to me at the moment. I am also working to create an archive of my scores from past albums.