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Saxophonist, Composer Mark Turner Talks With VOA - 2002-06-29

Until recently, Mark Turner was one of Warner Record's hotter jazz musicians, but he has left the label and is devoting himself to performance, where he prefers to play in bands where all the musicians share equally in the risks and the glory. He spoke with VOA's Adam Phillips.

Turner: "I'm feeling pretty free and open now in the sense that I don't have any outside forces really holding me back in a way. So I'm just enjoying that and wanting my music and the music that I make with others to reflect that. [I like] having bands that are a collective effort. Immediately you have that because everyone has basically equal parts. In other words, no one is 'in front,' not even the one playing the melody. Most of the time, the band ['s name] is the name of the leader with his or her sidemen. And I am not really interested in that at the moment."

Reporter: Where are you at these days? What interests you? Maybe there is an example that shows how you were inspired to sort of be intuitive and to think free and breathe free in music?

Turner: "They're all different. But there is one that has basically no solos on it. It's a 'groove' with a sort of chorale played through the groove."

Reporter: What's the song called?

Turner: "Zurich is the name of the tune."

Reporter: You have really ranged through a lot of different styles in your short career. What is something else that might show an example of how you're evolving and the way you've changed, and you way of looking at things?

Turner: "There is a song called Myron's World which is a 'short-form' song 'short-form' in the sense that the actual form of the tune is short, but it feels extended because of the way it revolves around and around. The main thing about that tune is that it was all based primarily on harmony. And the melody came out of the harmony. And I wanted to try and take smaller seeds and see how far they could be developed just by improvising over them."

Reporter: First, what is improvisation, and can you perhaps give me an example of a straight-ahead [simple] tune that some of us might know and then kind of what you do with it?

Turner: "Sure. In my view, it's being able to discover or make something out of anything or any material that you have in front of you. It could be one note, two notes. And, being able to create from moment to moment as best you can. So you can take a given melody… and the first thing you can do is change it rhythmically, playing the same melody. Then you can begin to change it melodically, gradually ornamenting the melody more and more and more until you only hear the melody through the harmony, basically."

Reporter: I know that there are other sorts of improvisation you've become famous for some of them a bit less familiar than 'Happy Birthday.'

Turner: "What you can do is begin to improvise from one note. So far example, if I'm starting with one note, then I add another note, then another. Then I begin to use, for example, those three notes to create new information. Almost feeling that you are keeping that edge about to fall off the cliff but never falling off. Playing with that."

Reporter: Have you ever fallen off the edge?

Turner: "Of course. I fall off all the time! And you can pick yourself back up again, you know. That's the fun of it! "

Saxophonist and composer Mark Turner was a featured performer at the JVC Jazz Festival in New York that ended June 29.