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'Get Out' Sprang From An Effort To Master Fear, Says Director Jordan Peele

Peele says that his turn as the director of a horror/thriller film comes from a "deeper place in my soul" than his previous comic work. Originally broadcast March 15, 2017.

22:30

Other segments from the episode on January 5, 2018

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 5, 2018: Interview with Jordan Peele; Obituary for Roswell Rudd.

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. "Get Out," the satirically funny horror film written and directed by Jordan Peele, has earned a Golden Globe nomination for best motion picture in the comedy or musical category. The film was a hit at the box office and among critics - some of whom wondered why Peele himself wasn't nominated in the best director or best screenplay categories. Daniel Kaluuya, who costars in the film, is also nominated in the best actor category. The Golden Globes will be broadcast on Sunday.

You may know Jordan Peele as half of the duo Key and Peele who had a sketch comedy show on Comedy Central. Terry interviewed Peele last March when "Get Out" was in movie theaters. The film's about a young African-American photographer, Chris, played by Kaluuya, who's dating a white woman, Rose, played by Allison Williams. They go to meet her parents who go out of their way to be friendly and show their appreciation for black culture. But Chris finds something sinister beneath their genial liberal surface.

In this scene, Chris and Rose are on their way to her parents' home. She's driving when the car hits a deer. They pull over and a police officer asks Chris for his ID.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GET OUT")

TREY BURVANT: (As Officer Ryan) Sir, can I see your license, please?

ALLISON WILLIAMS: (As Rose) Wait, why?

DANIEL KALUUYA: (As Chris) Yeah, I have state ID.

WILLIAMS: (As Rose) No, no, no. He wasn't driving.

BURVANT: (As Officer Ryan) I didn't ask who was driving. I asked to see his ID.

WILLIAMS: (As Rose) Yeah, why? That doesn't make any sense.

KALUUYA: (As Chris) Here.

WILLIAMS: (As Rose) You don't have to give him your ID 'cause you haven't done anything wrong.

KALUUYA: (As Chris) Baby, baby, it's OK, come on.

BURVANT: (As Officer Ryan) Any time there is an incident, we have every right to...

WILLIAMS: (As Rose) [Expletive].

BURVANT: (As Officer Ryan) Ma'am...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Is everything all right, Ryan?

BURVANT: (As Officer Ryan) Yeah, I'm good. Get that had headlight fixed and that mirror.

WILLIAMS: (As Rose) Thank you, officer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WILLIAMS: Jordan Peele, welcome to FRESH AIR. I should mention, we can't see Chris, the boyfriend - the African-American boyfriend, cringing and trying to, like, disappear during that scene. What are some of the things the Allison Williams character did wrong?

JORDAN PEELE: Well, you know, part of this scene is about the white girlfriend who's dating the first - her first black boyfriend getting woke to a certain racial dynamic for the first time. So, you know, part of this story is watching her wrestle with the racial implications of all these interactions that she's never really had to wrestle with before. For Chris or for, you know, African-Americans in this sort of situation or other situations that arise later, the experience and the perception of the racial undertones is an everyday experience.

And, you know, every true horror - human horror, American Horror - has a horror movie that deals with it and allows us to face that fear and - except race, in a modern sense, hadn't been touched. You know, it really hadn't been touched, in my opinion, since "Night Of The Living Dead" 50 years ago maybe with the film "Candyman." And that, to me, I just saw a void there.

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: So why the idea of the white girlfriend with a black boyfriend bringing him to her parents?

PEELE: At some point, I realized that the movie "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" was really the perfect starting point for this film. I think one of the reasons that film was so - it resonated so powerfully is that it's a universal situation. Take race out of it. We can all relate to the fears of meeting our potential in-laws for the first time and the feelings like we might not be what is expected.

So I just thought it was a great entry point to help make this movie inclusive - to help make it something that you don't have to be African-American to emotionally connect to the main character here.

GROSS: And the parents, when they meet the Allison Williams character's boyfriend are trying to be, like, so cool with the fact that he's black. They're masking any discomfort they might feel by being like overly jokey and overly friendly. And you can really sense this discomfort. But they're very, like, liberal and open-minded, or at least they think they are.

And so I want to play a scene. And it's a little hard to make out what they're saying because there's a lot of jokey asides here, but you'll get the kind of tone of it. So Allison Williams has just brought her boyfriend home, played by Daniel Kaluuya. And the parents, played by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, are, you know, again, trying to be, like, super friendly and cool. And Bradley Whitford, the father character, speaks first. And what he's asking here is, like, so how long have you been together? So here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GET OUT")

BRADLEY WHITFORD: (As Dean) So how long has this been going on, this thang (ph)? (Laughter) How long?

KALUUYA: (As Chris) (Laughter) Four months.

WHITFORD: (As Dean) Four months?

WILLIAMS: (As Rose) Five months, actually.

KALUUYA: (As Chris) (Whispering) She's right. I'm wrong.

WHITFORD: (As Dean) Attaboy. Better get used to saying that (laughter).

CATHERINE KEENER: (As Missy) Please, I'm so sorry.

WHITFORD: (As Dean) Oh, yeah. I'm sorry. She's right. I'm wrong (laughter). See?

WILLIAMS: (As Rose) Does he have an off button? This is exhausting.

WHITFORD: (As Dean) I know, and I want to give you a tour.

WILLIAMS: (As Rose) Can we, like, unpack first?

WHITFORD: (As Dean) Do you want to unpack before the tour?

GROSS: OK. I love the way Bradley Whitford says, this thang (laughter).

PEELE: Yeah. (Laughter) It's perfect.

GROSS: Yeah (laughter). So...

PEELE: He really got it.

GROSS: Yeah. So you, obviously, wanted to put in things that white people sometimes say to black people to make them think, like, they're really aware of and in sync with African-American culture.

PEELE: You know, part of being black in this country - and, you know, I presume being any minority - is constantly being told that we're being too aware of race somehow. We're obsessed with it, or we're seeing racism where there just isn't racism. So it was important to me to, first of all, put the entire audience on the same page of what it feels like to be aware of these little subtle interactions and the sort of underlying racism that is sort of, like, just being even slightly distracted or to be made aware of your own race in a normal conversation.

So, yeah, I sort of teach the audience early on that, you know, Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, is - he's nervous about meeting these parents because - and he's nervous that she hasn't told them that he's black. From that point forward, any little, whatever you want to call it, microaggression, you know, sort of lame reaching out to make a connection - it becomes aware to the audience. And we sort of - we get the giggles of awareness from audiences.

GROSS: So, again, you've made a kind of horror film that plays on real racial fears and stereotypes and discomforts. And the movie starts with a young African-American man on the way to visit his girlfriend in her suburb, and he's totally geographically lost. The streets all look the same. Her address is on, I think, like, Edgewood (ph) Street, but Edgewood Street is right near Edgewood Lane. And he's was wondering, like, who does that? Who puts Edgewood Street close to Edgewood Lane? How can you possibly know where you are?

And he's a little nervous, especially when a car passes him by and seems to be slowing down and watching him. And you know that this character is thinking about Trayvon Martin. And you know most people in the audience are probably thinking about Trayvon Martin. But you don't have to mention Trayvon Martin's name in this, and you don't.

PEELE: Right. This scene, for me, is the entry point into allowing a nonblack audience to relate to real fears that we experience. I think after this scene, for the rest of the movie, everyone knows that there is a threat of racial violence just around the corner. And that is the state that black people have when they feel like they're - might be perceived as the outsider in the wrong neighborhood. So it's very important to me to just get the entire audience in touch in some way with the fears inherent of being black in this country as a starting point.

GROSS: So it sounds like you had this conscious sense that you had to set out certain things for white people in the audience that black people would take for granted. But the first thing you needed to do was kind of bring in white viewers who might not be oriented to that?

PEELE: Yeah, I mean, it's...

GROSS: Is that what you're saying?

PEELE: Well, yeah. I did - this was an exercise in, first of all, making a movie that is meant to be inclusive. It's meant that, you know - like, you know, any good story, whoever you are, you should be able to relate to the protagonist. At the same time, I had to recognize that black people will be watching this movie and having a different experience or bringing in different baggage than white people would. And I don't mean - you know, I don't mean to trivialize it by saying baggage.

Often, when I thought about a specific scene or specific moment, I'd think, OK, yeah. I hope the black audience here is meant to say, OK. You know what? This is my experience. I've never seen it done in film like this. That's awesome. And at the same moment, I might sort of recognize that there would be a lot of white people who would watch the scene and either recognize these moments as something that maybe they've done or that they've seen someone do or not recognize it but be invited to experience it for the first time.

GROSS: So in horror films, usually, like, the main character has seen something nefarious or is being hunted by a monster or an alien. But no one believes them. And the main character starts to question his or her own sanity. And that kind of happens in your movie, "Get Out." But it has all these racial overtones to it.

And I think it's interesting that you're using this form, this genre to get at that feeling of uncertainty - of not knowing what someone has just said or done actually has a racist overtone, or maybe you're overreacting, maybe you're projecting something that isn't fair, you know, because this - that constant uncertainty until we really know what the story is.

PEELE: That's right. I mean, it's - one of the...

GROSS: Do you experience that a lot - that uncertainty? Like, I don't know if what that person said is kind of racist, or am I just, like, projecting that on them? I mean, I've experienced that as a woman a lot. Like, that thing that that guy just said - is that really sexist, or does he understand what he just said (laughter) you know?

PEELE: That's exactly right. I think we're wired, at this point, to look for these interactions and to wonder and to sometimes, you know, to call them like we see them. But we're also - you know, I think any minority - women, gay people - you know, we're constantly told we're not seeing what we are seeing. You know, I'm glad you brought up gender because this thing you're talking about is also present in "The Stepford Wives."

GROSS: You know, I've never seen that.

PEELE: It is...

GROSS: Should I see that?

PEELE: Oh, you should - if you like "Get Out," you should absolutely see it. It's one of the most well-crafted social thrillers that there is. And in it, much like in "Rosemary's Baby" with Mia Farrow, the protagonist is in this state you're talking about, where it's crazy enough that something awful might be going on, but it's also real enough that something just normal and awful might be going on.

And so what ends up happening is we see that state that you've described as being part of being a woman - I described it as being part of being African-American - is being told we're not seeing what we think we're seeing. It's a perfect state for a protagonist of a thriller because it helps keep the character in this unfolding dire situation longer because he, she can sort of mentally justify why this might be, you know, something that they're overreacting or going crazy about. So that was another thing I wanted to make a movie that satisfies an audience's need for a character to be smart.

DAVIES: We're listening to an interview with Jordan Peele, the writer and director of the film "Get Out," which is nominated for two Golden Globe Awards. The Golden Globes are this Sunday. We'll continue Terry's interview with Peele after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIJAY IYER'S "BLACK AND TAN FANTASY")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's interview with Jordan Peele, the writer and director of the film "Get Out." It's earned Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: As we've been talking about the film, it's very much a kind of thriller about race. And I don't want to give away too much of the plot. But I want to find a way of talking about this. The white people in this movie are - they're very upper class. They're very kind of outer suburb, you know, outer ring of suburb. And they're basically living very much in their own bubble. When the young man, the African-American protagonist, arrives with his white girlfriend and they're at a party here at her parents' home, the white people there are very kind of admiring of this young man because of certain qualities that they feel like black men have. You know, black people are - they're faster. They're cooler. They're stronger. They're athletic.

And all the white people there kind of want to kind of be close to him and have some of that rub off on them. But at the same time, you have the sense that they would like black people to be exactly like white people so that they're not posing any kind of challenge of being different. They're not challenging the norms that the white people have in any way. And I guess if there's - I was wondering if there's anything you wanted to say about that (laughter) - about this sense of both, like, admiration and envy and at the same time - but be just like us.

PEELE: Yeah. You know, it's a tricky part of the African-American experience. And it's interesting because these are the type of things that really happen all the time, all day long. And it's really - it's very low-key. And, you know, when you compare it to the more violent hateful versions of prejudice, it's, you know - these are meaningless - seemingly meaningless interactions.

You know, but this movie is - was, you know - I kind of was coming up with it in the post-racial lie America, OK? That's what, you know, I think I've been calling it when, you know, Obama was elected, and all of a sudden we weren't addressing race. Or there was this feeling like, if we stopped talking about it, it'll go away. There was even this, you know, some notions that like, hey, Obama's blackness was, you know, helped him become president. That's why he became president. You know, so there are these little, you know, notions and these little racisms that on one level sound OK, but if you dig a little bit deeper, there is a denial of the reality of the African-American experience and the horrors attached to them.

So, you know, the point in this movie - I wanted to point out how, you know, these seemingly harmless - again, like, you know, I don't love the term microaggressions because it just seems so kind of clinical and not - I don't know. It just - it seems weird to me. But these microaggressions are proof to me that racism is still very much alive in this country. And, you know, they're one side of the same monster that ends up killing black men at the hands of police or the mass incarceration of black people. Yeah.

GROSS: So one of the things that you draw on is this fear of somebody kind of, like, invading your brain, like not only getting under your skin but, like, invading your mind. And that's been a theme of a lot of horror films, like "Invaders From Mars." Have you seen that?

PEELE: I haven't seen that one.

GROSS: Oh, it's a great one. I think it's from, like, the 1950s. Like, aliens land and transplant these things into people's heads, and they look like the same person except they look hypnotized, and they're not behaving the same because they're under the control of these invaders from Mars. But the main character in your movie, the guy, he's a smoker and his girlfriend's mother offers to hypnotize him and help him stop smoking because that's one of the things she does in her therapy practice. And his friend urges him - don't, she might get into your mind. This figures into this story in a larger way that I won't describe, but I really - watching the film, I was really wondering, like, are you a smoker? Did you try hypnosis?

PEELE: (Laughter) I used to smoke. I have not tried hypnosis, but it is something that, you know, I think is kind of universally scary to people - right? - this idea that, oh, my God, what - when somebody can probe into my psyche, there's no telling what - how vulnerable I'll be and what kind of influence they could have. You know, albeit, this is a stereotype, but it's grounded in reality. Black people have not had the experience with therapy as a whole that white people have or at least there is a heightened fear in the black community of this idea of going to a psychiatrist. It's like, no, I'm good. I'm going to go to church, you know.

So that was another reason why I thought this sort of mental probing, this whole thing - you know, Chris would sit down in this chair with Missy played by Catherine Keener. You know, I could just hear the, you know, the black people in the audience going, nope, nope, nope, nope, don't do it. Come on. Get out of that room right now. Get out. Get out. Get out. You can sort of hear and sort of feel that. And, you know, Chris himself is appropriately skeptical of the process as well.

GROSS: Jordan Peele, thank you so much.

PEELE: Thank you, Terry.

DAVIES: Jordan Peele wrote and directed the film "Get Out." It's earned Golden Globe nominations for best picture and best actor. The Golden Globes award ceremony is this Sunday. After a break, we remember trombonist Roswell Rudd, known for his big, ebullient sound, who died last month. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICHAEL ABELS' "END TITLES (MONTAGE)")
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Roswell Rudd, the leading trombonist of the 1960s and '70s jazz avant-garde, died last month at his home in Kerhonkson, N.Y. He was 82. Rudd started out playing Dixieland and then graduated to free jazz. He was an early champion of composers Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. In the 1980s, Rudd disappeared from the jazz scene. He lived in the Catskills and played in house bands of resort hotels.

In the second half of the 1990s, Rudd re-emerged and reunited with earlier jazz associates, including the New York Art Quartet, Archie Shepp and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. He explored world music, collaborating with musicians from the West African nation of Mali for his recording "Malicool." Here's an excerpt of jazz critic Kevin Whitehead's recent review of Rudd's last recording, which came out shortly before his death, a quartet album called "Embrace."

(SOUNDBITE OF ROSWELL RUDD'S "SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: The late Roswell Rudd on Billy Strayhorn's "Something To Live For." Rudd had always had a glorious sound on trombone even when he'd play a lightweight student model. When I first saw him in concert, I was surprised he wasn't bruisingly (ph) loud because the sound projected so dramatically. But that was true even when he dropped to a stage whisper. Roswell Rudd's sound can be so voice-like, especially when he shapes his notes with a plunger mute, it's no wonder he got on with singers, like the one on his new album "Embrace." Brooklyn's Fay Victor.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T WE BE FRIENDS")

FAY VICTOR: (Singing) I thought I found a man I could trust. What a bust if this is how my story ends. He's going to turn me down and say, can't we be friends?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WHITEHEAD: Fay Victor and Roswell Rudd had bonded over a mutual love of Herbie Nichols tunes, but that was just the start. Her own low swoops and fine-tuning of pitch, her bends, moans and growls fit right in with his. Like him, she also has a dramatic sense of phrasing. Lest you miss the parallels, they kick off one old ballad by imitating each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I HADN'T ANYONE TILL YOU")

VICTOR: (Singing) I hadn't anyone till you. I was lonely till you.

WHITEHEAD: This album's look back at life and classic tunes has a valedictory air. The quartet also play Monk's "Pannonica," Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and "The House Of The Rising Sun." Rudd had been ill a few years at the time of this 2016 recording but paces himself well and doesn't waste a move. Like other greats who've reached a certain age, he packs a lot of wisdom into every note. But he'd sounded like a wise, old soul long before that. "Embrace" is vintage Roswell Rudd, and that is saying something.

DAVIES: Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead on Roswell Rudd's last recording, "Embrace," released late last year. Terry spoke with Roswell Rudd in 2002.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: 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?

ROSWELL 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. He would scout around and find people that liked to improvise and play jazz. This was the music that I had - that I learned from. 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 is the first record you ever recorded on, and it's from the band Eli's Chosen Six, the band you played with at Yale.

RUDD: Yeah. 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. We were trying to evolve our repertory over the course of the four years, and it was together you could hear that. You could hear a lot of development.

GROSS: Well, 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 ELI'S CHOSEN SIX'S "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?

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. That was the common element. People always say, you know, how did you make such a giant step? You didn't play any bebop 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 what - 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, too, who helped - who introduced you to different kinds of sounds or a different way of thinking?

RUDD: Well, I think, really, the first musician that I can recall who was going where I never heard 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, Buell Neidlinger, the bassist, and Denis Charles, a 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 could do on trombone?

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 had never thought possible. And my trombonist friend, Grachan Moncur III - Grachan 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?

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 - a great pianist and composer. He also saw in me the fact that I had a great mammalian vocabulary, so to speak.

GROSS: Mammalian?

RUDD: Mammalian vocabulary.

GROSS: What do you mean by mammalian?

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, lots of rasp and lots of sounds with a tremendous edge to them and many, many colors. But I would have to describe it all, I guess, by just calling it a very vocal.

DAVIES: Roswell Rudd speaking with Terry Gross in 2002. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROSWELL RUDD AND STEVE LACY'S "PANMONICA")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. We're listening to Terry's interview with Trombonist Roswell Rudd recorded in 2002. Rudd died in December at the age of 82.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: 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?

RUDD: I was really inspired by the controversy and the energy that was coming out of the controversy of those times. 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, you know, the cry for justice, the cry for equality. I felt that that was very much a part of my music all the time, not just during this period.

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. 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 - such a opportunity for growth and change.

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? 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?

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 a 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 refer to him as a great tinkerer with musical variables. A lot of the - a lot of what happens in "Yankee No-How" here is about tinkering and improvising.

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 ROSWELL RUDD'S "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 Warrell 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?

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. 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 is - was the old Granit Hotel in the Borscht Belt.

RUDD: That's right.

GROSS: And I know during the summer, anyways, 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. 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 musically.

RUDD: Yeah. The thing is with me is always to connect with them not if - 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?

RUDD: Naturally, the emphasis would be on standards, show tunes and 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.

DAVIES: Roswell Rudd speaking with Terry Gross in 2002. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE LACY AND MAL WALDRON'S "MONK'S DREAM")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. We're listening back to Terry's interview with trombonist Roswell Rudd recorded in 2002. Rudd died in December at the age of 82.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: 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 this - 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.

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, the - a color that comes out of the horn when I'm playing.

GROSS: That's right.

RUDD: And 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. But the first thing that you hear, the sound and the personality coming out, that's what initially identifies anybody in this music.

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?

RUDD: Could be a prenatal sound.

GROSS: (Laughter).

RUDD: Could be a 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 - when I was giving - given that mellophone 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 (laughter).

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

RUDD: It's been my pleasure, Terry.

DAVIES: Roswell Rudd recorded in 2002. He died December 21 at the age of 82. On Monday's show, the opioid crisis. We explore the origins of the deadliest drug overdose crisis in American history and some of the new public health approaches being tried as an alternative to punishment. Vancouver is experimenting with prescription heroin. We'll talk with German Lopez, a senior reporter for Vox who's been covering drug policy since 2010. Hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROSWELL RUDD'S "SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR")

DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROSWELL RUDD'S "SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR")

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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