by carl wilson

Erik Friedlander, unexpurgated


The rock band I was playing with had a drummer and I took her on a date there to see Stan Getz, this group he had that was an unsuccessful attempt at being 'modern.' After the gig the drummer went to talk to their drummer and I talked to Harvie Swartz, who calls himself Harvie S. now. I told him I was playing cello and he said he'd written something for cello. So he had me over to this loft - and that was the beginning. I started playing with Randy Brecker and a lot of well-known musicians. We performed at Seventh Avenue South. It was mindblowing. I was in way over my head.
A little advantage was playing an instrument that was rarely seen in jazz. My contribution was very tailored. I was painfully aware of what I wasn't able to do, but he was cagey enough to create a role that added to the music in a big way. I was playing a lot of the melodies, but I wasn't a featured sololst or anything. I wish I could go back and do it again!
After that it became kind of an onslaught to become a more accomplished musician. I needed to get my classical playing together, and I spent 10 years just refining my classical approach. I was getting jobs working orchestras, commercials, movie scores. It was a case of 'be careful what you wish for.' I got very busy but got more and more miserable because I had no creative outlet.
A group I joined, a trio called Framework, started playing the Knitting Factory after that. I started meeting Marty Ehrlich and Dave Douglas and John Zorn, and that opened up a whole situation for me... My job was to try and open up possibilities for myself in each of those groups. Then the next step was to create my own bands.

Me: Can you describe the differences, aside from personnel, between your groups Chimera and Topaz? Is Chimera still active?
EF: It's not really. It's more like seeing them on the timeline. Chimera was an early band and there was certainly a lot of compositional ambitions I was wrestling with. It was good for me, creating improvising structures without a percussion instrument. You need to figure out ways of stretching out, soloing, accompaniment, an inseresting build, to get a lot of energy without drums. But then I found that I didn't want to be playing cello in anything people were calling 'chamber jazz.' I couldn't stand that. So I chose to move on to something with more drums. I've gotten compositionally more savvy, can do more with less. My most recent band record, Quake, has much fewer notes per tune. The band is looking at five lines of score that they use to play six or seven minutes of music. But the seed is still there.

Me: Your band work all has a lot of international or multicultural sources and influences. Did that begin from working with Dave Douglas and John Zorn, who are also known for that approach?
EF: You know, you're in - Montreal? no, Toronto - and when you're in a big city, you're just surrounded by streams of input, musical, artistic, worldly. It's just part of your life. Working with Zorn, working with Dave Douglas, influenced me a lot, but it's also part of what 21st-century life is about. Also I look it as my job to search for inspiration. I've got to find it, not just sit back and wait for it. If I'm gonna find it in Bali, in Persian music, in pop music, then that's what I'm going to do.
Me: Is there anything especially helpful in looking at foreign traditions for the cello, being able to look at techniques from non-western stringed instruments and so on?
EF: Sometimes. I'm not sure if it's the cello or just whatever sounds I respond to. There have been things I've tried that haven't worked, but in a writing zone, when I'm looking for inspiration, I have a certain set of eyeglasses on that screen out what I can't use. But I suppose those stringed instruments are more idiomatic to the cello than trying to be a saxophone, even if it's just a certain way of playing a violin.

Me: What effect do you think you can achieve with solo performance and recording different than an ensemble?
EF: I'm waiting to discover that. There is something about solo performances, I don't know if it's just the cello or what, that when I sit down to play, people pay attention. But I've only done maybe five solo concerts. What I try to do is what I do with any group, to find stuff that will work and create a concert that has some variety - a performance that tells it's own story. I have 11 concerts in 12 days now, so I'll know a lot more after that. One thing is that it demands as much as I can do to make musical sense, because it needs variety. I have to pizz[icato], I have to bow, to use all the techniques on both of those, use mutes... The last thing I want is to be thinking to myself, 'Oh God, that's kind of like what I did last time.' Whereas with a band I can create orchestration - this is cello and bass, this is cello and alto, I have percussion, I don't have percussion.

Me: You've started to work more in scoring films and television. Is that a financial concern or is there something about the form that interests you?
EF: Oh, I completely love it. Working with pictures. And working with radio too, there's someone I'm doing music for radio drama with. It's similar to any other composition, but more overtly about telling a story, which is what's so attractive to me in creating music. But also with my background, my father [Lee Friedlander] as a photographer, there's something about scoring a picture.... I feel I have a rapport with it. To bring out, to etch what's happening with the picture in the music is so satisfying to me, setting up an event with the right music.

Me:It seems there are more and more cellists in the improvising world. Do you all talk to each other, or is there a sense of competition for scarce work?
EF: There's so little work for anyone. We're all struggling for whatever we can do. It's hard for everybody. It's always nice when I see another cellist. We're not exactly accepted like a guitarist or sax player.
Me: I notice you have cello lessons and tips on your website.
EF: I'm trying to reach out. A lot of people are going to music school and graduating and there's a huge disconnect between what they really want to express and what they're actually doing.

Me: Do you think the mood, the politics and general situation in the city since 9/11 has changed the New York improv commmunity in any way?
EF: Things are just much harder now. I'm not sure. Some people latch on to being very political, but many who've never been motivated by that, they haven't changed. I think it's harder to make records, get them out, sell them. People are having to take more jobs, teaching, that's just a dampening effect on everybody. At the same time I think it's interesting to see Myra Melford going to teach at Berklee, and things like that. People are doing what they have to do, but the community is still here. It's as much about economics as anything. All the work we had in Europe has more or less disappeared. People are having a hard time sustaining it. And yet, even five years ago I wouldn't have been able to tour the U.S. this much, so I find this [solo tour] kind of heartening. I was talking about this with someone the other day, that there's so much ability to recreate instruments using synthesizers and so on, maybe there's been too much of the same and people are ready for something different. I was amazed when I went to Austin [for SXSW]. I was dreading I would be like a bug on the windshield there... but as long as I had the energy, they were way into it.


Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, April 15 at 12:49 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)



name corrected, Harvie. my apologies.

Posted by zoilus on May 28, 2004 10:38 AM



There is no one in Jazz Called Harvey Schwartz. There used to be Harvie Swartz who is now
Harvie S

There never was Y in Harvie

Please correct it on your site. thank you.

Posted by Harvie S on May 26, 2004 11:55 AM



Great to have these interview "outtakes". Scares me hearing someone like Erik say the work in Europe has dried up.


Posted by posgate on April 17, 2004 12:18 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson