November 1, 2013
The other day I learned that Gerald Clark, pretty much an unfamiliar name to me, was about to launch a Jazz suite dedicated to the Nakba and the Palestinian people. I was intrigued, I contacted Gerald and offered my help. A day later, the album found its way to my letterbox.
I am usually bored by 'political music.í Occasionally it lacks the necessary wit let alone a musical edge. But Clarkís Nakba is a masterpiece Ė music in its purest and most genuine form. Itís probably best described as a 'Blue Note for Palestineí. This new album is a treat, and you should seriously consider adding it to your Jazz collection.
A sampler medley of the album can be heard here: https://soundcloud.com/geraldcmin6/nakba-album-sampler-medley
I asked Clark about his musical background.
Are you a professional musician? What instrument do you compose on?
Gerald Clark: I am not a fulltime professional musician at this stage. I write all kinds of music: film scores, pop songs, etc. Iíve recorded an album as a singer-songwriter (The Great Divide), and six short film scores, but I have a feature film to score in the new year, which Iím already doing quite a lot of work for. Iíve written a symphonic suite and a string quartet, mostly to see if I could do it, and several jazz works. Iím a piano player predominately, and virtually all my composition starts sitting at the piano.
Gilad Atzmon: What made you compose a suite for Palestine?
Gerald Clark: It was 2002, the second 'Intifadaí had started and Jenin was being attacked. Iíve always been involved with political campaigns and Iíd been on a couple of 'Freedom for Palestineí marches. Iíd been playing around with a rhythmical figure on the piano (which is now the riff at the start of Jenin), when I developed another one (now the riff at the start of Intifada). Then I saw Jocelyn Hurndall give a very moving talk about the death of her son Tom. It all fell into place around those ideas. Ultimately I wanted to do something to help. It took a while to finish it and put it together, but now I have a finished product and I know that every time someone buys the album Iíll be personally donating money to a Palestinian charity, so it feels worthwhile.
Gilad Atzmon: This is beautiful. I was very surprised to find out that you didnít play on the album. I then realised that you were the composer. An unusual role in jazz. How would you describe the process of making an album with a jazz team?
Gerald Clark: Surprisingly easy. But I agree itís not that common (Iíve got a lovely album by Russ Garcia that he doesnít play on, and of course there are arranger/composers like Gil Evans). Iím not sure why Ö perhaps because most jazz composers are jazz musicians. I would love to have played on it myself, but my jazz piano skills are still in their infancy while my jazz composition/arranging skills are far more developed. I knew I couldnít have done it justice. But the team were all great musicians. I guess they all felt like sidemen, which works okay as long as someone knows what they want. That said, they were very supportive, they helped to interpret my charts so that they could understand them and know where to cue themselves in. My role in the studio was that of producer really, which Iíve done before. Itís not that different from having a jazz section in a film soundtrack.
Gilad Atzmon: What kind of decisions led your choosing the musicians?
Gerald Clark: One of the reasons I didnít start this for so long is probably because I knew I wasnít good enough to play it myself. But Duncan Haynes, the piano player, is a good friend of mine. He listened to the early drafts and expressed enthusiasm for it. Once I knew that he was happy to play on it, I asked Johnny Lippiett (sax) whoís another one of my oldest friends (and who knew Duncan). Byron Wallen was my first-choice trumpet player. Heís such an incredible musician, and Duncan knew him too. In terms of the bass and drums, I wanted some classic hard-bop guys, who could swing hard, but cope with sections of double-time, break into Latin for two bars in the middle of swing (and vice-versa)Ö Dave Hamblett and Sam Lasserson were perfect, theyíre also really nice guys so the recording session was very smooth and fun.
Gilad Atzmon: Did you rehearse for a while as an ensemble? Or did you meet in the studio for the first time?
Gerald Clark: Everyone had the charts for a few weeks in advance, but we met for the first time in the studio and recorded it in a weekend. Johnny lives in NY and flew in on the Saturday morning. Duncanís based in Peru, and the other three are very busy working musicians, so there wasnít an easy opportunity to meet up (getting most of the band back in the same room for a launch gig has been challenging too) Most of the finished tracks are the second or third take. Thatís it.
Gilad Atzmon: This is pretty incredible. But it may explain the freshness of the sound. Since you picked a political cause, was it important for your musicians to empathize with the cause?
Gerald Clark: They all knew what it was we were recording, so I guess they empathized. Iíd had a long chat with Byron about it first Ė heís actually been to Palestine and I think his experiences helped him to be involved. I introduced every tune before we recorded it by explaining where the title came from and what it meant Ė that was quite emotional at times.
Gilad Atzmon: Do you believe in the role of art as a political weapon? Can beauty present a prospect of a better future?
Gerald Clark: Yes, I think I do. Not a weapon perhaps, but it has a very important role to play. If a Jazz Suite for Palestine can bring to jazz fans greater awareness of whatís going on, or a painting can bring to fans of art greater awareness, then itís worth doing. But for the artist/composer I think itís much more powerful. It gives the music a much deeper meaning and emotion, which I hope is reflected. And at the end of the day, no matter how horrible a political reality, beautiful art can come from it. Art makes the world a better place and thatís important when things are bad. As a composer I think of Shostakovichís symphonies which came out of the height of Stalinist oppression (and reflect that in various ways) or the wonderful music from South Africa that gained a much greater western audience in the early-mid 80s.
Gilad Atzmon: Why did it take you 10 years to record this beautiful album?
Gerald Clark: Well I didnít write it all in 2002-3. I started then. The final piece was actually written in January just before we went into the studio (although most of it was finished about four years ago). As Iíve outlined above, it took me a while to appreciate the concept of recording a jazz quintet album as a composer, and then I had to get everyone into the same studio (let alone the same country) at the same time. I think I just needed to develop my own confidence as a composer/producer before I felt it was something I was able to do.
Gilad Atzmon: Looking at Palestine now, having been composing this suite for more than 10 years, are you optimistic?
Gerald Clark: I canít say that I am. The situation doesnít seem a lot different. But I think the general public is slightly more on-side now. Itís easier to talk about it. There are issues that we can take up and get popular support with, like the issue of Palestinian Child Prisoners. Once Palestine is seen as an important issue for everyone and not just political activists, then things could move quite quickly. I just hope itís not too late for the Palestinian people.
Gilad Atzmon: What is ahead, when and where do you launch your album? Any plans for tours?
Gerald Clark: We are launching the album at The Vortex on Wednesday 6th November. I would love to play it a few more times, but that would have to depend on funding for a tour. With Duncan and Johnny living overseas we canít easily throw it together again Ė itís a big undertaking. We might be able to arrange another gig in America, which is something Iíd like to explore. Otherwise I think my next jazz project will have to involve people closer to home. But this album will be available to download and weíll be shipping CDs worldwide (through my website www.theinterruptingsheep.com), so the internet gives us an opportunity to get the music out to the whole world.
Iíd like to do some more jazz too, Iím not sure what form thatíll take. Iím practicing hard Ė maybe Iíll be able to play on it.
Gilad Atzmon: Good luck with everything and thanks for the music and dedication to the right cause.
Gerald Clark: Thanks very much.
Gilad Atzmonís latest book is: The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics