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Critic Ken Tucker

Critic Ken Tucker reviews the new CD by hip hop artist Princess Superstar. Its called Princess Superstar is...



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Other segments from the episode on February 12, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 12, 2002: Interview with Chris Klug; Review of Princess Superstar's new album "Princess Superstar Is...;" Interview with Roswell Rudd.


DATE February 12, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Olympic snowboarder Chris Klug on snowboarding competition

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Yesterday American snowboarders won gold, silver and bronze Olympic medals in
the men's halfpipe. This is only the second time that snowboarding has been
included in the Winter Games. It's quickly become one of the most popular
events in the Games, especially among younger viewers. My guest, Chris Klug,
competed in snowboarding's Olympic debut in Nagano in 1998. He tied for
second place after the first run, but caught his arm in a gate on the second
run and came in sixth. This year, in Salt Lake, he enters the Games as the
top American male alpine snowboarder.

That's pretty phenomenal considering that a year and a half ago he had a liver
transplant, the only thing that prevented him from dying of liver disease.
His qualifying run in the parallel giant slalom is Thursday, and he expects to
compete for the gold medal on Friday. The difference between winning a medal
or not is usually a fraction of a second. I asked what it's like to compete
with that sense of time.

Mr. CHRIS KLUG (Olympic Snowboarder): Racing can be very tight. I won a
World Cup last year at Berchtesgaden, Germany, by 1/100th combined times
after two runs so, I mean, 1/100th is pretty darn hard to measure. That's a

GROSS: It's a slim margin, yeah.

Mr. KLUG: It's a very slim margin. That's, you know, reaching your arm out
a millimeter or less here or there. And, you know, that's racing; that's what
it comes down to. And every little thing that you do, that extra bit of
training, nailing the wax just right on the bottom of your board or your
speedsuit or the way you combed your hair, in that case, that day, made a
difference. But I think it's neat. You're always just trying to go faster
and faster and pick up that extra 1/10th or 1/100th or second.

GROSS: So what's the psychology when you lose by that kind of real narrow
margin? Is it easy to say to yourself, `Well, I lost but, gosh, I was close'?

Mr. KLUG: That's a tough one to accept. I, fortunately, last year, was on
the good end of that deal, but it's happened many times where I've lost by a
hundredth or a few hundredths and definitely motivates you to get out there
and make sure you're disciplined about trying to gain every split second that
you can. I think it--for me, it's obviously frustrating because you know how
close you were, but at the same token, it reminds you everything makes a
difference out there when you're against the clock.

GROSS: Are there certain things that you do that you think, `Well, this can
gain me that extra hundredth of a second. It's nothing big, but it might give
me that hundredth of a second'?

Mr. KLUG: Oh, absolutely.

GROSS: Like what?

Mr. KLUG: That's what we focus on in our training. Things like when you're
approaching the finish line, reaching your hand out to try and trip the wand,
vs. just standing up and cruising through it. I mean, that can be a couple
tenths as we've noticed in training. Making sure you get a strong start out
of the start gates. It's much like--in snowboarding we have a luge-type start
where you use your arm muscles, your back muscles, your lats, and try and get
as strong of a pull out of the start as you can. Since we don't have poles,
that's essentially your speed that's going to carry you to the first couple
gates, so, you know, we focus on everything from pulling out of the start to
reaching across the finish line and trying to gain every split second that you

GROSS: How did you start snowboarding?

Mr. KLUG: I was into skateboarding at the time. I was born in Colorado, in
Vail, Colorado, but I grew up in Bend, Oregon. And was an avid skateboarder
in elementary and junior high. And when I was about 10 years old I saw the
first Burton wooden performer and backhill snowboards come out on the market,
and my buddy who owned a skateboard and bicycle shop got a few of the first
ones in. And I just sort of saw the snowboarding as skateboarding on snow.
It seemed like a natural progression for me. And I was doing a little bit of
competitive ski racing at the time, as much as--as competitive as you can be
at the age of 10. But I got out there on the snowboard and I was hooked
immediately. And really haven't picked up my skis too much since.

GROSS: What's the extreme end of snowboarding?

Mr. KLUG: The extreme end. I think that covers a lot of things. I think
what we do is kind of extreme, the speeds and the angles you put the board up
on. And racing head to head against somebody only five meters to the side of
you going 40-plus miles an hour is pretty extreme in my mind. I think the Big
Air competitions when they're flying 50-plus feet through the air, the boarder
cross competitions when you're, you know, two feet away from four other guys,
racing at high speeds across doubles and whoops and bank turns and all. Then,
of course, the big mountain stuff, riding 50-plus-degree pitches in Alaska.
That's pretty sick, too. So there's a lot. I think anytime you're really
pushing the envelope and charging on the edge of disaster, I think that's
pretty extreme to me.

GROSS: Now you competed in the Nagano Olympics four years ago. Things are a
little different for you this time around in Salt Lake. You had a liver
transplant last year. And so it's--just the fact that you're performing in
the Olympics this year, that you're competing this year is amazing, in and of

Mr. KLUG: It's been a miracle. I'm very lucky to be here today and certainly
to have another shot at going to my second Olympics and pursuing my dream of
winning a gold medal. I'm very, very fortunate to be here today.

GROSS: Why did you need the transplant?

Mr. KLUG: I was diagnosed nine years ago with PSC, Primary Sclerosing
Cholangitis. It's a very rare liver disorder, which affects the bile ducts,
and I think it affects about one in 10,000 people. And so I wasn't real lucky
to have been diagnosed with it, but, nonetheless, very, very lucky that I
actually received a liver, and made it through it and had a miraculous

GROSS: After you were diagnosed were you still comfortable practicing risky
sports like surfing and snowboarding, knowing that in some ways you were
becoming more frail?

Mr. KLUG: It wasn't so much an impact injury that I was susceptible to, but
more so just dealing with flulike symptoms and struggling with the whole
digestion process and wasn't really able to replenish myself after a hard day
of training. Now I wasn't too worried about, actually impaling myself or
doing any impact damage with it, as much as I was the thing failing and being
in a foreign place or something.

GROSS: Right. When--how long did it take you to actually get the liver once
you found out that you needed it quickly?

Mr. KLUG: I was on the transplant waiting list for seven years and then when
I was upgraded on the list to a stage where it was imminent that I needed a
transplant immediately it took about three months. That's a very, very
challenging time for anybody that's on that transplant list. I think in the
States today there's about 80,000 people on a transplant waiting list. And 16
people a day die waiting for transplants. So it's a very scary place. And
you know, I thought I was going to be one of those 16 that wasn't going to
make it. Going back to the Olympics and pursuing my dream of Olympic gold was
sort of the last thing on my mind. I was just hoping to get through it and
live and be able to enjoy life with my family and my friends.

GROSS: Do you know anything about the person whose liver you have now?

Mr. KLUG: No, I don't know much about it. I'm starting to learn more, and I
sent the family, the donor family, a thank-you note, a few months after my
transplant, informing them how grateful I was, and how humbled I was by their
decision. And, you know, they're--I really feel they're the real heroes in
this. Without them, I wouldn't be here today and certainly wouldn't have a
second chance to pursue my dreams, so it's a big goal of mine now to help
spread the organ donor message and try and encourage other people out there to
share their decision and to discuss organ donation with their families,
because it does save lives. It can allow for miracles like I've been through.
And I'm very grateful for that.

GROSS: After your liver transplant, did the doctors try to talk you out of
thinking you'd ever be a competitive snowboarder again?

Mr. KLUG: You know, I had an awesome medical staff at the University
Hospital in Denver, and, you know, I was very lucky to have been associated
with such a great crew. I think--they never tried to talk me out of it, and
certainly after my transplant I felt great immediately. But they were--they
tried to remind me beforehand of what a major procedure this was. It's not a
small surgery. They pretty much opened me wide up right through the middle
after, you know, going in there and doing the transplant. And they just
wanted me to be realistic, and I think they were a little skeptical that I had
plans of going back and going back to the Olympics and hopefully going for the
gold. You know, it had never been done before, so they weren't telling me
that `Hey, this can't be done.' But they just wanted me to know what a big
surgery it was and that it's quite possible that I wouldn't snowboard again,
or at least not at the level I was used to.

GROSS: What were some of the things that you really pushed during your
recovery period?

Mr. KLUG: I kept--the doctors kept me on a pretty tight leash following my
surgery. I was actually out of the hospital in four days, which is record
time. And on a stationary bike and lifting isolated upper-body weights about
a week later. And then back on my snowboard less than two months later so it
was a miracle. I was so lucky not to have had any problems with infection or
rejection. My body took to the anti-rejection drugs without any problems, and
I was very lucky I didn't suffer anything. But there was some risks. Like I
said, they had to keep me on a pretty tight leash because once I got that new
liver, I literally felt better right away. I was still pretty weak and
obviously my abdominal muscles were all cut in half so didn't have much core
strength there, but, you know, I knew I was going to--for some reason I just
knew I was going to make it back. Once I woke up, I said, `Hey, this is all
going to work out, and I'm going to be able to return to doing what I love to
do, and things are going to work out.' So they were extra careful there once
I got out.

GROSS: Did you feel like you had a different relationship with your body
after the surgery because you knew how fragile a body could be? You'd been
through this major surgery, you had an organ that had failed on you, you had
it replaced, it's still a new procedure, and you knew that your body had
limits. Which is something, I think, you don't necessarily think that much
about when you're doing competitive sports, you're just pushing and pushing
and pushing.

Mr. KLUG: That's a tough--that's a good question. A tough one. I think it
put things in perspective for me, how lucky I was to be out there doing what
I love to do, snowboarding and surfing and kite-surfing. And I certainly--you
know, I don't take a single turn or day of surfing or whatever it might be for
granted anymore. But, yeah, I think one of the--you know, one of the most
valued things, more than money or possessions or anything, is your health.
And, you know, I just didn't know how sick I was until I saw the better side
of things, until I had a new liver, and everything was working perfectly.
But, yeah, I mean, without your health--without your health, it's difficult,
that's for sure.

GROSS: Are you more self-protective now than you used to be?

Mr. KLUG: What do you mean by that, Terry?

GROSS: Well, like when you're snowboarding, are you more concerned about
falling or more concerned about even catching a cold, getting sick?

Mr. KLUG: I'm not that concerned at all about falling. You know, I think if
you ride careful and ride like you don't want to fall, I think that's when you
do, and that's--obviously being tentative in my sport's not gonna get you very
far. It's gonna get you a slow time. But I definitely, a little more
conscientious of just, I think, general cleanliness and trying to wash my
hands all the time. And I'm on anti-rejection drugs now, so it makes me a
little bit more susceptible to catching a cold. So I'm just more
conscientious and a little more careful. But as far as riding and surfing and
all outdoor activities I do, I go for it even more than I ever did, I think.

GROSS: When you're timing yourself in a race, how are your times now
comparing to the times you had before you got very sick with your liver
disease and had the transplant?

Mr. KLUG: Well, Terry, every course that we run, what you do is you go out
there and they groom the hill for us and we set the gates on the hill. And
every set is different. You know, every time you go out on the hill, the snow
conditions are a little different, so there's not really a common gauge from
day to day. You can't say, `Oh, I ran a 36 on this hill yesterday and today
I'm running a 36.5.' It's always different. But I think the one way to gauge
that is sort of how I'm fairing against some of the top riders in the world
and how I'm riding against my teammates. And I've been very, very competitive
this year, as I was a couple years ago; I think even a little stronger this
year. The earlier part of the season I was kind of struggling, dialing in my
gear and a few things and maybe stressing a little bit about the whole Olympic
thing, but once I settled down and got my equipment dialed in, I was ripping
as well as I ever have.

GROSS: Do you think that competing in Salt Lake will be any easier for you
than competing in Japan was, because you're more familiar with the mountains
of America?

Mr. KLUG: I think it will be easier for me actually, the fact that my home
in Aspen, Colorado, is only six hours away. The snow conditions are very
similar, the weather is similar. This is where I grew up boarding and I know
these conditions pretty well. Whereas in Japan, we had a great hill--it was
extremely challenging--but in Japan the weather changes every minute. We had
perfect spring conditions, ego snow, you could get away with doing just about
anything on the snow on the first run, and then some ugly weather came in and
it was slicker than an ice rink on the second run. So it's sort of
unpredictable, the weather in Japan. And I think I'll have a little better
handle here in Park City on the conditions. I know the hill really well.
I've trained on it and raced on it quite a bit the last year, so I think
there's a pretty significant home-field advantage there.

GROSS: What are you gonna do just moments before the race? Do you have any
superstitions, rituals, prayers?

Mr. KLUG: I always say a little prayer just to myself: Hey, go out and do
your best and just have fun. That's all that really counts. But when I'm in
the start gate, I always put a little snow on the back of my neck just to kind
of say--turns a trigger and says, `Hey, it's go time. Time to have fun and
charge this course.' It kind of just wakes me up and reminds me where I am
and what's going on. And then I look out on the horizon, wherever it is,
whether it's the Alps or the Rockies, the Cascades, or whatever country or
place I'm in, I look out on the horizon and pick a peak and sort of envision
myself free riding down that peak, just cruising and loving life out there,
ripping up some fresh powder. I always take a deep breath and just check out
the landscape and then next thing I know I pull out and I'm in the course.

GROSS: Well, Chris Klug, good luck to you. Thank you so much for talking
with us.

Mr. KLUG: Terry, thank you very much for having me.

GROSS: Snowboarder Chris Klug spoke to us from Salt Lake City where he
competes later this week in the snowboarding giant slalom.

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the new hip-hop CD "Princess Superstar Is..."
This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Princess Superstar's new CD "Princess Superstar Is..."

Princess Superstar is the creator of "Princess Superstar Is...," a new album
from a white female rapper who writes, produces and performs her own hip-hop
with what rock critic Ken Tucker believes is a fresh, frank attitude.

(Soundbite of music)

PRINCESS SUPERSTAR: (Rapping) Hold your breath when you see me walking by.
I'm the fastest, moving, bye-bye. Throw a celebrity in your eye. Ow! I
confess, I'm a Jesse James in a Ames parking lot ...(Unintelligible) the
consumers. The man freaked at. I told you I'd get back. So if your
eight-track ate that, smokin' kitty cat. I saw you standing pat. And gag you
with a six pack. ...(Unintelligible) contract. Whose dance is that? And
A&R's gonna write all your new tracks.

KEN TUCKER reporting:

Twenty-eight-year-old Concetta Kirshner has been described in one magazine
profile as a Sicilian Jewish fireball, which seems pretty accurate. Under her
showbiz name Princess Superstar, Kirshner offers up the image of a platinum
blonde bombshell who can go toe to toe with any big, bad, male rapper and hold
her own. She talks frankly about enjoying sex as much as she enjoys twisting
rhymes into witty corkscrews. Here's how she describes herself in a bit of
rapid-fire autobiography in "Welcome to My World."

(Soundbite from "Welcome to My World")

PRINCESS SUPERSTAR: (Rapping) Let me answer the question of the day. I was
born in Spanish Harlem, then moved to PA. On 172 and St. Nich. Food stamps
and WIC 'till my folks worked themselves rich. This track's making me sick.
If you want to compare me like white Lil' Kim and Kook Keith I'm speak and
keep it simple, here's your brain on Princess Superstar pretty mental: OK,
I'm the black Shirley Temple iced out like Entenmanns iced pens and diamond
engines and denims.

TUCKER: Princess Superstar rattles off couplets like, `I got sexists begging
me to make me breakfast,' and she crows, `You're gonna feel like Chris
Columbus when you discover me,' and she's not talking about the director of
"Home Alone" and "Harry Potter." Indeed, coming upon Princess Superstar,
who's no novice--this is her fifth album--is like discovering a new land mass
in hip-hop territory. The white woman who may talk dirty but who adamantly
resists being labeled a female version of the foul-mouthed Eminem. Indeed, on
this number, she resists comparison to all others and earns her egotism.

(Soundbite of music)

PRINCESS SUPERSTAR: (Rapping) Like, all my tracks are hot. Stop going on AOL
(unintelligible) to try to find friends, and everyone likes you 'cause you
said you were tall, slim and liked Dre over ...(unintelligible) over
(unintelligible), preach over them. How does it feel Little Kim? I had no
idea you'd be down with hip-hop since you were 10. You got your
(unintelligible) lingo. Be a ...(unintelligible) like Zeppelin and your def,
and your def. (Unintelligible) you got bear skins. You rad (unintelligible)
you MVP player. Kid, I'm a real player. (Unintelligible) a real player.
(Unintelligible) Darth Vader on famous ...(unintelligible) hang with
(unintelligible). OK? Uh-huh. I'm slam super...

TUCKER: What Prince Superstar may be best at is dramatizing the games,
flirtations, fights and wars that go on between men and women in
relationships, and then connecting those battles to the ones she wages as a
female artist resisting the pigeonholes hip-hop assigns women. That's
particularly true of a track like "Too Much Weight."

(Soundbite from "Too Much Weight")

PRINCESS SUPERSTAR: (Rapping) Don't say to me I look like a saint. I
meditate every morning. Drew caricatures ...(unintelligible). Try censuring
your candidate. Gets head under the desk. If that's what you get, you can
bet I want to be the next prez. I deserve the best and if you think balloons
are incendiary, I'll go back to being an insipid secretary. (Unintelligible)
and the world will be safe. I'll just use words to talk about how Microsoft
Word is so great. I feel bad that everyone's crazy and kids are smoking
crack. I also feel bad that Michelangelo might have hurt his back. Now what
if there were no tracks for Shakespeare ...(unintelligible) or for Kerouac
there might not have been rap. Leave us alone. Make your own family a better
place. How much hate can we eliminate if you ever dealt with kids' mistakes.
It must have been fate that brought me to this game, so let's game, use the
platform for something more than fat farm. Think about the bling bling, think
(unintelligible) how to sing sing, turn your beepers off, ring ring. I'm
getting sicker, here's the kicker (censored) (unintelligible) I'm gonna advise
you to stick with CD made by Seagram's liquor.

TUCKER: As you've probably noticed, the music that accompanies Princess
Superstar's declarations is pleasingly varied, more melodic than the
metronomic beats that characterize a lot of hip-hop. She'll deploy an
acoustic guitar when it's warranted, and her collaboration with the English
singer Beth Orton is downright lovely. At one point on the CD, she tosses off
the remark, `I got a vision itching to be an imposition,' and that sounds like
the truth. She's bursting with opinions and thought-out feeling. She demands
like a petulant princess that you listen to her, and it's no imposition.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Princess Superstar Is..." by Princess Superstar.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

PRINCESS SUPERSTAR: (Rapping) I got King Kong playing Ping Pong with a big
bong and my brain storming the ...(unintelligible) wall, swarm like smog and
honk car. I know it's wrong, but I kill myself ...(unintelligible) with my
own song. This magic wall could make it be OK, kill the decay like a cake in
a lay, but today it wasn't a good day, and you can't touch me, I've already
faded, faded ...(unintelligible).

Ms. BETH ORTON: (Singing) Sometimes I wear nothing on the outside, because
there's too much on the inside. ...(Unintelligible) and he said my emotions
were too close to the skin. ...(Unintelligible) touch fear like a

PRINCESS SUPERSTAR: (Rapping) Tell me off, to turn it off, I'm off
(unintelligible). I could go on for days, but then I always complain. I
waste a breath in a name. I aim and a name and I came here to choose, but
when I look around me, compare me, I lose. Paying dues, feeling blue...


GROSS: Coming up, trombonist and composer Roswell Rudd tells us about
incorporating the sounds of traditional jazz into the avant garde. This great
trombonist disappeared from the jazz scene for several years while he lived in
the Catskills and played at a borscht belt hotel.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Trombonist Roswell Rudd discusses his career in music

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Although he started off playing traditional jazz, my guest, Roswell Rudd,
became the leading trombonist of the jazz avant-garde of the '60s. He co-led
the New York Art Quartet and played with saxophonist Archie Shepp. He won
Down Beat Critic's Polls in 1975, '78 and '79. In the '80s, Rudd disappeared
from the jazz scene. He lived in New York's Catskill Mountains and played in
the house band of one of the resort hotels. In the second half of the '90s,
he re-emerged. He's since reunited with the New York Art Quartet, Archie
Shepp and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and performed with the Indy rock band
Sonic Youth. A couple of years ago, he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in
composition. He has a new CD with Archie Shepp recorded live in New York.
This track, a Rudd composition called "Bamako," features two trombonists, Rudd
and Grachan Moncur.

(Soundbite of "Bamako")

GROSS: How do you think playing with Archie Shepp today compares with what it
was like to play together in the '60s?

Mr. ROSWELL RUDD: I think it compares very favorably. In fact, I felt as if
very little time had gone by, and I realized that probably 30 years or more
had. But we were on the same wavelength and playing with the same kind of
passion that we played with back in the '60s. Very, very emotional

GROSS: Roswell Rudd, although you became known for your playing in the
avant-garde, you started off in a traditional jazz band while you were at
Yale, a band called Eli's Chosen Six. Why did you first gravitate toward, you
know, traditional jazz, early jazz?

Mr. RUDD: This was the music that I grew up with in the house. My father
was an amateur drummer, and he practiced to recordings of music from the '20s
and '30s and '40s, and he had friends who played like this, who would come
over occasionally. You know, wherever we happened to be living, he would
scout around and find people that liked to improvise and play jazz. So this
was the music that I learned from, and my function at the time, as a child
growing up in this, was to dance, and I didn't know it at the time, but I was
dancing and scatting while these jam sessions and, you know, playing along
with the records was going on.

GROSS: I want to play something from what I think was the first record you
ever recorded on, and it's from the band Eli's Chosen Six, the band you played
with at Yale.

Mr. RUDD: Yeah.

GROSS: Was this like an official Yale band?

Mr. RUDD: Well, I think we liked to think of it that way because in order to
sell it, we used the name Yale. You know, we had the...

GROSS: The Yale jazz band.

Mr. RUDD: Yeah. And we would go out on the weekends and barnstorm at
different fraternities all over the East Coast, you know, making 400-mile
trips during the day between gigs and whatever. It was a good band musically.
Everybody pulled their own weight, and we were trying to evolve a repertory,
and over the course of the four years that it was together, you could hear
that. You could hear a lot of development.

GROSS: Why don't we hear a track from the Eli's Chosen Six recording from the
mid-1950s, and this is called "That Da Da Strain," and you take a solo pretty
early on.

(Soundbite of "That Da Da Strain")

GROSS: Trombonist Roswell Rudd with the band that he played in in college,
Eli's Chosen Six, when he was in Yale. And that was recorded in the
mid-1950s. What was your path from traditional jazz to the avant-garde?

Mr. RUDD: It was done through improvisation, or more specifically what I
like to call free counterpoint. That's what the traditional jazz had in
common with what people were calling the avant-garde jazz, or the new thing
that I was a part of in the early '60s in New York City. So that was the
common element. And people always say, you know, `How did you make such a
giant step? You didn't play any be-bop or anything. You went right from
playing "Dixieland" to free jazz.' For me, it was not a big leap. It was
mainly, you know, having a good sense of what to do in a free improvisational
setting with, you know, a couple of other horn players and a rhythm section,
which is primarily what I did with "Dixieland," you know, just finding a good
part for myself and being able, you know, at the drop of a hat to respond to
what other players were doing and find that golden mean through the texture.

GROSS: Were there musicians who helped lead you in that direction, who
introduced you to different kinds of sounds or a different way of thinking?

Mr. RUDD: Well, I think really the first musician that I can recall who was
going where I never anybody go before was Cecil Taylor, and I was able to hear
him at the old Five Spot back in the mid-'50s with a great quartet that he had
with Steve Lacy, who I still play with, and Bill Neidlinger, the bassist, and
Dennis Charles, the drummer, who's no longer with us. But it was a marvelous
quartet, and I really couldn't get enough of an earful from these guys. They
really opened up a door for me, musically.

GROSS: Did you hear a way, early on, of translating what Cecil Taylor was
doing on piano to what you would do on trombone?

Mr. RUDD: Yes, in fact, I think at times I was trying to get this clumsy
instrument, this trombone, to express in a way that Cecil Taylor did.
Although I found it very cumbersome, at the same time, it made me strive
beyond myself for effects that I'd never thought possible, and my trombonist
friend, Grachan Moncur III, who's on the Archie Shepp album that we did, that
you played a track from--Greshen told me that back in those days, the thing
that he liked about my playing so much was the fact that I was trying to do
things that he'd never heard before on the trombone. And I think Cecil had a
lot to do with that.

GROSS: You were also playing things on the trombone that probably came from
early jazz, but you were playing them in a very contemporary setting; the kind
of smears and, like, distorted sounds that a lot of the early players, say, in
the Ellington band would get through mutes and through just kind of smears.
Was that something that you were consciously trying to do, to take some of the
sounds of early jazz and use them in this new avant-garde setting?

Mr. RUDD: Well, I did need to have a lot more just theoretical knowledge to
be able to play in the new setting. However, the traditional expressive
devices that I had from the old music stayed with me and were more musically
transformed as a result of further study in composition and arranging and
playing with advanced musicians, such as Cecil Taylor. Herbie Nichols was
also very important to me in this respect because he played with a lot of
traditional bands, great pianist and composer, and he also saw in me the fact
that I had a great mammalian vocabulary, so to speak.

GROSS: Mammalian?

Mr. RUDD: Mammalian vocabulary. But...

GROSS: What do you mean by mammalian?

Mr. RUDD: Well, I mean, you talk about growls and smears and all kinds of
vocal effects, or what's called gut bucket and dirty and so forth. And you
have to realize that this is part of the basic vocabulary, tonal vocabulary of
very, very much of the oldest traditions on the planet, not just the United
States, but, you know, really old places like Africa, China and New Guinea and
so forth; Siberia, you know, the Eskimos: very, very guttural and lots of
rasp and lots of sounds with tremendous edge to them, and many, many colors.
But I would have to describe it all, I guess, by just calling it very vocal.

And then to put them into a musical format or a more musical context and make
them function in a more symbolic way, that was the transition that I had to
make, sort of, from going from Dixieland to newer music.

GROSS: My guest is trombonist Roswell Rudd. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is trombonist Roswell Rudd. His latest CD is called "Archie
Shepp and Roswell Rudd Live in New York."

Now in the early '60s, part of the avant-garde was also associated with the
black consciousness movement. As a white musician, was it ever awkward for
you during that period?

Mr. RUDD: I was really inspired by the controversy and the energy that was
coming out of the controversy of those times. And I was a freedom rider and I
was very involved in civil rights causes, and I just felt that what we were
doing in the music, a lot of that feeling of the emotion tied in with the
fight for civil rights and, you know, the cry for justice, cry for equality--I
felt that that was very much a part of my music all the time, not just during
this period. And it was wonderful, the way that audiences would be waiting
for us to show up sometimes, you know. They'd be out in front of the
performance spaces waiting for us to come, waiting for us to show up. Because
we were like a voice that was expressing their feelings. And then there would
be people in opposition to this. And so at a lot of these performances there
would be the yeas and the nays and it would be just tumultuous, and such an
opportunity for growth and change.

GROSS: Is that something you miss now? Do you miss that now, this feeling
that the music is connected to something even larger?

Mr. RUDD: It's still, for me, an expression of everything that you are
feeling and thinking and being. So it will always be connected that way for
me into all the different walks of life. It's just been so close to life for
me, this music that I play, that I can't really make a separation between the
life and the music.

GROSS: Why don't we hear a composition and performance from the era we're
talking about. This is 1961. It's a composition of yours called "Yankee
No-How." How is the music we're hearing going to relate to what we've been
talking about about the time?

Mr. RUDD: Well, I think you're going to hear free counterpoint, plenty of
free counterpoint. And you will hear it, at times, sounding like a Dixieland
band and at times sounding like a band you've never heard before. And in a
way, I'm playing the transition from the old jazz to the new jazz, so to
speak, in the course of this performance. And that's kind of the way that I
had it set up conceptually when I did it. I mention, I think, that I was
thinking about Charles Ives and some of the older Yankee composers, and how
did I--as another Yankee, as a younger Yankee, how did I fit into the
evolution into modern times from what they did. You know that Ives was a
great improviser, and most people referred to him as a great tinkerer with
musical variables. And a lot of what happens in "Yankee No-How" here is about
tinkering and improvising.

So keep Charles Ives in mind, but notice that at times you've never heard
anything like this before.

GROSS: So let's hear your composition. I think I might have said it was from
the early '60s. It's actually recorded in 1966. This is "Yankee No-How," a
composition by Roswell Rudd, with him featured on trombone.

(Soundbite of "Yankee No-How")

GROSS: That's Roswell Rudd, recorded in 1966. Roswell Rudd on trombone with
Robin Kenyatta on alto saxophone, Giuseppi Logan, flute, Charlie Haden and
Lewis Worrell on bass, and Beaver Harris on drums.

Why were you gone for a few years? Why were you away from recording or even
from performing in New York?

Mr. RUDD: Well, I went into teaching and that sort of precluded recording on
any kind of a regular basis. But actually I had only been averaging about one
record every seven years before that. And then, after teaching for a while at
the University of Maine, I felt a need to get back to New York again, and I
got as close as Woodstock. But really what I ended up doing was commercial
work in a resort hotel, which was very good for me, actually. And I learned a
lot about vaudeville tradition and show business and doing other things
besides playing the trombone on a stage.

GROSS: Well, the resort hotel that you referred to was...

Mr. RUDD: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...the old Granite Hotel on the Borscht Belt.

Mr. RUDD: That's right.

GROSS: And I know during the summer anyway that the crowd there is mostly
retirees, either from New York or people from Florida who want to escape the
heat of the summer and come up north for a few weeks.

Mr. RUDD: Yeah.

GROSS: And I doubt most of the people in that crowd had any idea who you were
and how important you'd been in the avant-garde. You must have felt like a
real fish out of water, like somebody in a completely different environment
performing to an audience that had no clue as to what you were really about

Mr. RUDD: Yeah. The thing with me is always to connect with them, not how
they're connected with me. And I must say that the crowd at the hotel changed
every week. You know, one week it would be the Polish police of Philadelphia,
and the next week it might be a Caribbean festival from Brooklyn.

GROSS: What were the tunes that were in your repertoire during that period?

Mr. RUDD: Naturally the emphasis would be on standards, show tunes, dance
music, a lot of Latin music. And, of course, there was all this, you know,
sight reading, a lot of different shows, special material with comedians and
singers, fire eaters, puppeteers, you name it. I was composing the whole
time. And I was inspired by a lot of the performances, just their energy and
their experience and the new things that I was learning from them.

GROSS: My guest is trombonist Roswell Rudd. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is composer and trombonist Roswell Rudd. His latest CD is
called "Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd Live in New York."

Roswell Rudd, I think one of the things I love about your playing is that no
matter what context you're playing in, there's this ebullience in your playing
and usually this sense of humor and big heart, no matter how either Dixie or
avant-garde the playing is. And I don't know if you have anything to say
about that or not.

Mr. RUDD: Well, I think the essential thing for anybody who's at all
expressive with their personality through a voice or an instrument is having a
sound, having an identifiable sound. And I think that's maybe what you're
talking about here, that you sort of pick me out by a certain ring or
vibration, color that comes out of the horn when I'm playing.

GROSS: That's right.

Mr. RUDD: And this is the way it is for, I think, a lot of the really great
all-time improvisers in jazz, such as Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge. You
know the ones: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie. I mean, you
can hear three seconds, you know, just a little sample, and right away you
know who it is. And it's in the sound. It's in the sound. And then you can
go on to say, `Well, it's in the choices. It's in the dynamics. This is his
signature theme.' You know, then it can go into more elaborated means of
identification. But the first thing that you hear, the sound and the
personality coming out, that's what initially identifies anybody in this

GROSS: Well, you're right. And you really do have a very identifiable sound.
Is that a sound that you consciously created, or was it just the sound that
you had?

Mr. RUDD: Could be a prenatal sound. Could be a sound coming from my
parents. Who knows? It goes all the way back, you know. But basically it's
the first sound that I made when I was given that mellaphone in grammar school
and brought it home and blew on it and this phenomenon came out. And I said,
`Damn, that's me.' And then I went to work on that for the last 40 or 50
years, and that's what you hear, refinements of that.

GROSS: Well, Roswell Rudd, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. RUDD: Oh, it's been my pleasure, Terry.

GROSS: Trombonist and composer Roswell Rudd. His latest CD is called "Archie
Shepp and Roswell Rudd Live in New York."


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with a different version of the Roswell Rudd composition that we
opened with, "Bamako." He wrote it when he was in Mali. This is from a
forthcoming CD called "Mali Cool," on which he plays with musicians from Mali.

(Soundbite of "Bamako")
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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