Q: How have you’ve changed as a musician over the last 30 years? How are you different now than you were as a young man, in both good and bad ways?
A: Well, the most striking thing for me now is that all I want to do is make someone feel something. I want to make a melody stick to somebody’s innards. And that’s really it. You know, this whole idea of showing a command of the instrument — I’m not ever going to be Sonny Rollins, I’m not going to be Joe Lovano, I’m not ever going to be one of these speed demon saxophone players. There was a time when I wanted to do that. And I don’t know that I was ever on that track, really. But I have less technical facility now than I did. And that’s okay. It’s like — Miles is a great example. As he goes along he actually tends to play less of anything that would be technically astounding. By the time Bitch’s Brew rolls around he’s kind of done blazing a trail with the trumpet, and he’s thinking in conceptual terms only.
Q: Value systems and priorities shift. I think that’s how it should be.
A: I would have never, ever thought that I’d be like happy to play a melody.
Q: So what now?
A: Boy, is that a good question. I don’t know. I was hoping you’d tell me. I’ve been writing a bunch more music. We managed to play live, and we will do that again, but it’s hard to get seven schedules to mesh. These guys are all much busier than I am, the guys I recorded with. So part of my challenge now is finding ways to do that. We’re going to develop a true hotel lounge act, that we’ll hopefully actually get to play in a hotel lounge. I should tell you I shopped this to a couple of nice rooms in Philadelphia.
Q: It seems like a no-brainer. You should do a tour of hotel lounges.
A: I wrote this letter but I haven’t sent it yet to anybody at W, and just said, “Look, you really ought to get behind this idea of lounge culture, of your hotel being like a hub in various places for lounge culture. Embrace it and let me be your traveling salesman.” But I haven’t sent that yet. I haven’t found the right person at W. The thing that I want more than anything is a steady way to get better, and that to me is playing live.
Q: What about journalism?
A: That’s a good question, too.
Q: Do you want to keep writing?
A: Yes. I had somebody from the Inquirer call me a week after they should have written their Dylan at 70 story, and literally the day before he turned 70, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, there was a lot of stuff on the wires last Sunday about Dylan. Do you have any Dylan thoughts for us?” You know, what do you do? That was the first piece I’ve had since I left there. I did it because I felt there was some stuff to say about Dylan that hadn’t been said.
Q: Maybe that’s the litmus test, for writing and your music and everything else. If you have something to say that hasn’t been said, or hasn’t been said the way you can say it, add your two bits.
A: I’m not in a position to be able to turn down a lot of stuff, but this is the way to live, right? When I look at guys like Mario Batali, who seems to be having a blast, he’s figured out a way to do that across platforms in very creative, funny ways. But at the same time he’s cooking up, no pun intended, really interesting restaurants concepts and he’s bringing them to the world. It’s working because he’s having fun.
Q: That’s a keen observation, that it works because he’s having fun. I think a lot of people would reframe that as, “He’s having fun because it’s working.”
A: We know that from countless interviews. When musicians get to the point where they’re beating their head against the wall, what often comes out is kind of a yucky record. But when they’re just in it and there’s a flow, something happens. And as you know from what you’re doing, just dipping a foot into the water brings its own level of exhilaration, and nothing else matters.