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25.7.07
 

Inicia-se aqui a publicação em fascículos coleccionáveis de uma extensa e – devo dizer em antecipação – muito interessante entrevista que o trompetista norte-americano Dennis González deu a João Pedro Viegas. Como toda a gente que se interessa por esta música domina suficientemente o Inglês, edita-se na língua original. Quem não souber o significado de uma ou outra palavrinha, diga, que eu traduzo com gosto. Esta é também a melhor forma de preservar o alcance, a autenticidade e os múltiplos sentidos das palavras de González, artista completo. Aqui está: Dennis González, Fascículo I. Uma lição (grátis) de Vida e de Música, o que, como se sabe, são uma e a mesma coisa, só que a Música é quase sempre melhor. Felicitações e agradecimentos a JPV e a DG pelo excelente trabalho e pela oportunidade que me deram de publicar o escrito. Abraços.

I would like to know the secret of how it is possible to do and promote so many activities at the same time and keep doing them so successful with a high degree of exigency?

First of all, life is short, and with so much to share and so much beauty that I find that must be given away, it is important to take advantage of the time and the many gifts I have and not keep them for myself only…what is the use of that? Because in giving, I receive much more than I give, and this helps keep me alive. I am curious by nature, and life has many mysteries ready to be found and explored, and the way that I discover the meaning of these mysteries, these hidden treasures, is to try to play them as notes, to sing them as melodies, as well as to write about them and uncover them with a poetically-written phrase, a hint of the truth embedded in the word. As I teach, I learn these secrets, which are not really so well hidden because children readily know them, and as adults we forget them so quickly! They are found in the small mistakes I make in trying to draw and paint, in the details of a piece of art I have just created, which really only creates itself. It is just up to me to open and understand these hidden truths, and I do that the only way I know how - with all that I know and with as much of my spirit as I can raise up.
I cannot speak about doing something, some creation, without just sitting down and doing it. Sometimes, if I stopped and planned, it would never happen. I have to realize an opportunity when I see it the first time, and then I must do something about taking the opportunity and working with it.
I have many impediments to my work…lack of money, lack of time, a job that takes 8 hours of my day and sometimes more, not being as well-known in the world of art and music as I want to be known, being far from the main centers of culture, and having to support my family and staying close to home as much as possible while still trying to make myself heard and understood. But instead of seeing these things as barriers, I see them as challenges. Early in my music career, I played with some fabulous people…how it happened I don’t quite understand…but I knew then that I was not at the same level musically as they were. Instead of worrying that I was not even with them in experience and technique, I used everything I had learned up to that point to engage them and bring out the best in me and in them. The music spoke to me and said to me, “Listen, this is what you must do here. Do it this way, and surrender to the magic, and it will go well for you.” And so I have always trusted that I have very special, though small, gifts of which I must use every bit of in order to show the wonder of this, and other, worlds.

So, if I understood correctly, the creative process comes as a reaction of what you see and hear and as a consequence of a proactive approach to life itself. It is not a result of a well planned process. Can we talk about spontaneous creation?

It’s interesting to have my words perused and thought about so deeply in such a quick manner, but let me go back a bit here. What I am actually saying when I speak of an action that is not planned does not refer to the years I spent preparing for this moment. For years I studied and practiced and worked on a plan of action, actually laid it out in my head and projected into the future, starting in grade school. In those years I played sports on school teams, studied music and instrumental technique, and was very interested in language, studying English, Russian, French and German in collège and lycée, and in university, even working with Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphics at a very early age. I tried to get my university diploma in languages, music, and plastic arts, but I was not allowed…I was too far ahead of my time. Every opportunity I got I would travel, and I would write while I was on the road to remember what I had experienced, stories I had heard, melodies that came to me, ways of living, so that when in the future I would be offered an opportunity, there was a form, a plan of action into which I would plug the opportunity, and away I would go with a project.
My only trouble that I had with this is that I always demanded excellence in all my projects, and many of the people I have worked with did not believe in this concept of giving one’s best always, possibly because they were tired, or because they were never convinced of the correct reason for working on a presentation.
Because of the way I have accepted the magic that comes into my life, I would not say that my creative process is a reaction, but instead a channeling of this magic, a re-ordering.
Let me explain as well how my days work. I get up every morning around 6 am and get myself ready to go to my daily job. Even as I am preparing, I check my correspondence (e-mails, letters, phone calls) and see what I wish to work on this day when I have those few moments between classes. It really does take a lot of planning, for example, to set up a tour, like the tour I was involved in this past August - 10 days of music, workshops, art exhibits, and travelling to Lisboa, Madeira, Guarda, and Frankfurt. The actual planning took 2 to 3 months of almost daily contact, negotiation, discussion, music writing, and even the visual art which was shown at Trem Azul was begun a year earlier, and I had to find a way to get this art to the people at Trem Azul, so I took the work with me to New York on an earlier tour with my sons and with Rodrigo Amado. I happened to play 2 concerts at Vision Festival this past summer in New York, and I took the works on paper to one of the concerts - a very small window of opportunity - and presented it to the Portuguese guys.
As my day unfolds, I use every available second to keep my planning going, and to make sure things work out for the future. At this moment, for example, I am doing 3 or 4 different projects at once - I am writing lesson plans for my classes tomorrow; I am talking to you for this interview; I am helping my son get his tour to Mexico together, as he leaves on Sunday to play punk and jazz concerts; I am helping my wife print some stickers and price lists, since she is starting a company of her handmade makeup, soaps, beauty products and bath powders - in order to do this, I had to design a logo and all the forms for ordering her creations; and I am working on getting two very important concerts in New York at John Zorn’s venue, The Stone, for December 8 and 9.
Where the spontaneity comes in is in the creative aspects of what I am doing. All images and sounds I have heard in the past few months are coming together to form the essence of the projects I am working on, and the resources I tap into are extremely fertile and rich and I am so happy that these things exist to help me create new from old, in a spontaneous fashion.

Your answer reminds me of the statement that says that “talent requires a lot of work”. I cannot agree more with that. What I mean by that is that your art (not just the music, or even better, especially not the music) comes to me in a very “impressionistic” way. Your poetry is, a lot of times, a consequence of the sensations you experience in your travels, your painting reflects, among many other things, your taste on frugal stuff (ex: brands of cigars) at the same level of your worries (ex: the word insulin in drawings), and knowing you a little bit (what a presumption!) I think that it’s your way of sharing life. And that you can not plan. It’s spontaneous. It comes to you and it goes straight from the same channel to your audience… Would you like to comment on this?

The world, even after all my intense planning, comes to me as it is, a total improvisation. I open myself to it and it imprints itself on my senses, on my soul, on my psyche, and then, if it changes, it is because of my own limits, and that is what it means to me to be human, to be limited, but to be able to use the limits and mistakes to show a piece of understanding, from this viewpoint that is me, to share the life force that allows us to live and feel and breathe.
The world is full of oppressed people, and many are oppressed by other human beings, and it is intolerable when this happens. But what is even more intolerable is the oppression felt by people who oppress themselves, who put the weight of existence to work against them, and are unhappy and unfulfilled, whose spirit is small and suffering, even in the midst of this miraculous world. Much of that comes from disbelief - not believing that the world is as it is, and that it can be shaped in this channelling of the sensations of the world through our bodies, minds, and spirits. And much of it comes from believing the wrong things, even when the evidence is overwhelming that that belief is totally wrong.
We are out of touch much of the time with ourselves, and we are led into believing things that are not true by others who make us believe that we are wrong in our senses, that we are wrong in our intuitions, that we are wrong in our magic. And the magic that we have comes to us from this miraculous life in this magical world.
My art and music and writing are an attempt to translate that intuition, that gift of life, into a beautiful phenomenon of positivity. I choose to see the poetic, spiritual, unseen part of this life, and it is the deepest expression of our own beautiful selves, something that we have grown away from in this, and the previous, century for whatever reasons we have chosen to disbelieve our own spark of life. It is often a sorrowful expression, but through that sorrow we are cleansed and purified, and our fire grows. And it is a lot of work to keep that fire burning day after day.

Words like “positivity“, “magical“, “miraculous” and “spirit” are very common in your speech. Which takes me to a strong characteristic of your art. More than spiritual, your art have a lot of mystic and ritual iconography. Where are the sources of that mysticisms? In your studies on Egyptology and Mayan civilizations? Or in the signals you receive everyday in your quest for humanity?

It’s a long story, but in 1989, I was playing in London with a New Orleans street band, and a strange man walked up to me and demanded to speak to me. How he knew that I spoke Spanish I am only now finding out. He claimed (and I have seen proof of this) that he was in the country of Jordan doing a street performance when he saw a vision of me playing in London, and he was told in this vision to go the next day and find me playing in the streets of London. He was also told that I had been making art that needed explanation, and that I was doing things I didn’t understand, and that I needed a guide to help me sort out this phase of magic in my life.
The past 18 years have been a search for the source of this magic that I began working some 20 or more years ago. And this man was my mentor and teacher in the world of spirit and the miraculous, the hidden aspects of creation. I now also realize that I was preparing since early childhood for this shamanism to appear, and my wounding in various ways - physically, mentally, spiritually - was the vehicle for opening myself up to these healing forces, which truly are not so hidden after all.
They are found everywhere I look, written on the wind and in someone’s eyes; in the spaces between someone’s words, where words exist silently; in the repetitions of numbers that we hear and read every day; in the way someone’s handwriting reveals the directions of that life; in the way love manifests itself between human beings.
As a boy, I studied the shapes left by fossils in rock. I studied the shapes of crystals and saw the magic that it took to make them that way. I ordered newspapers from many countries and would sit for hours trying to figure out what the words and pictures meant. I met a man who had just returned from Africa, and he had found a carved piece of wood with strange writing embedded in it somewhere in a market, and although he didn’t understand it, he knew that somewhere, someone would find the magical writing interesting, and I was the young child to whom he lent this carved wooden object for a year.
In 1990 I sat in a café in the centre of Dallas, and a man wearing African clothing walked out of a crowd of people, and in French addressed me and asked if I was the one that had “serpents in his life” - the very words this first man I mentioned earlier had uttered to me in London! How did he know I understood French, I asked him. According to him “they” had told him to come and find me. He had a python skin that he had to give me before he returned to Mali, and he had taken a bus from his home in Fort Worth, Texas, some 60 kilometres away, just because “they” (the ones who knew that I had serpents - pythons - in my life) had asked him to come to Dallas, to an obscure café, to find me on a nameless Friday noon in spring. I never claimed the python skin. I was too afraid.

So where does this magic come from, this ritualistic sense of imagery? Either I am totally crazy (I really don’t think so) or totally sane, and at times it is painful. As Jim Morrison said, “The days are bright and filled with pain; Enclose me in your gentle rain.” Maybe that sort of feeling in the air and in the spirit of a person is where some of the signals come from.

Another thing is your role as a teacher. You come from a family where teaching is almost a tradition. Your father was a teacher, your brothers and sister are teaching, you teach and your soon Aaron is teaching too. How do you face it? How do you find that experience of sharing with your students?

Teaching is a very difficult job, but the rewards are great, and I have stayed in teaching all these 32 years because I continue to learn. There are times that I have come close to ending my teaching career, but those discouraging times pass. Everything that I do, I feel, succeeds because I know how to teach. Even this past summer, when I led the Madeira New Jazz Workshop Orchestra in Funchal, I was acting not only as a musician, but also as a teacher. Teaching implies knowing what it is that I am teaching, so I have to prepare well every time I teach. But it also means that I cannot learn for the students, no matter how well I know the subject, so I have to know how to help the students open up and receive the information and place it in the place where it is understood, and where it is transformed (again, another form of magic!) into a learned and useful thing. This “thing” then has a life of its own, and begins to give life. Not only must I know the subject itself, I must also know a lot of information about many different things in order to find that piece of the puzzle that will link the knowledge with other bits of information, thereby making it learnable, connected, worthy of being taken time with.
But the most important subjects I teach do not compare with the knowledge I give that is not spoken - among other things, they are: listening, openness, awareness, being awake, as well as the ability to read the language that is not spoken in words, but in actions. The meaning of gesture; the language that the eyes truly speak; the meaning of being close and turning away; sincerity or the lack thereof; the power of the life force and of the emotions; the hidden spirit of life.
Teaching, up to a decade ago, was considered probably the highest and most important profession in the world, but with the way the world has become, it is not thought of in the same superlative light anymore. It was, and still is, an honourable profession, and in the lifetime of a teacher, that teacher will have reached, formed, and prepared thousands of students in the way to lead their lives and hopefully find fulfilment, a sense of peace, and a way of making one‘s way through this life. The problem now is that parents, communities, and governments no longer understand how to support educators because they themselves never learned what it is to learn and use the important things, the real things that can connect us to each other.
I must add, though, that if a teacher truly connects and loves his students, the students, as they leave the “nest” of education, will never forget what teachers mean to them. It is always a pleasant surprise to be in the community when a former student comes up and introduces himself or herself and says, “I appreciate what you did for me as a student. Thank you, Mr. Gonzalez!” And then I realize that frequently we are the only hope for these people who are about to go into the world. Frequently we are the only solace that these children have.
Lee Iacocca said, “In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have.”

I think we now have an idea of the man behind the music. Now, let’s talk about your music. Would you tell us, please, what you are doing these days?

I am completely crazy busy with so many projects going on at one time, but I am enjoying it so very much! To begin with, we are in the middle of a very challenging school year. At my morning school, I am attempting to teach very intensely on a daily basis, and as I teach French, I am attempting to teach how language works as well, and the majority of students are enjoying it tremendously. In the afternoon, at North Dallas High School, I have two classes of an hour length each, and I am attempting to teach from the beginning, how to play the guitar while teaching my students a repertoire of Mexican music, from mariachi through Tejano, through more recent hits by groups like Maná and Jaguares. I am also attempting to teach a bit of Flamenco as well as teaching some of the Hispano=American musics such as that played by the guitarist singer José Feliciano. By May, my beginning students should be playing some great concerts all over the North Texas area.
In the field of music, I am working on several different tours and recordings. I produced, for Clean Feed, a recording in March of 2006 led by the legendary Chicago drummer Alvin Fielder, with Memphis pianist Chris Parker plus me on trumpet, as well as my sons Aaron (on contrabass) and Stefan (on drums). I am hoping that the CD, called A Measure of Vision, will be out in early winter of 2006. It took some doing because Alvin, who now lives in Mississippi, had to come with Chris parker to Dallas, and I had to fly Stefan in from Oklahoma City on the day of the recording. It is difficult to find good pianos to record in Dallas, so it took some work to arrange the session, but it worked well in the long run. Alvin Fielder does not “do” the internet and does not own a cell phone, so communicating with him has been through landline phone calls and letters, a more difficult condition these days of instantaneous communication. And Chris Parker has not owned any sort of vehicle for a long time, so that presents its own set of problems.
My sons and I, with our jazz trio Yells At Eels, presented a very important concert here in Dallas at Mountain View College at the end of October, which was supposed to be part of a tour that I had worked on for months, and which got cancelled. The tour was to start in Bryan, Texas, at Texas A & M University, the concert which was to feature not only our music, but also my words. The concert was rained out. And we were not informed until we got there, after a 3 hour drive from Dallas in the pouring rain. So we drove back to Dallas that night and presented the concert at Mountain View College the next night. Then we were to drive to New Orleans for 2 nights of concerts, our first planned in New Orleans since the Katrina Hurricane disaster, but that was also cancelled without explanation by the promoter.
We are working at this moment - while my son Stefan is on tour in Mexico - on two nights of concerts at John Zorn’s venue The Stone in New York on the weekend of the 8th and 9th of December, and I had been negotiating with London’s BBC 3 Radio network to record us on the 8th (me with my sons and clarinetist Patrick Holmes and well-known contrabassist Ken Filiano), but Zorn intervened and discouraged the crew of BBC from recording the concert, which was to have been broadcast on December 22nd!
The next night, December 9th, I will play a concert with British musicians from Keith Tippett’s quartet, Mujician, at The Stone, and I am really looking forward to collaborating as a leader of my own group with Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers, and Tony Levin. While I am there I will pick up my artwork from Downtown Music Gallery which was left by Hernani Faustino of Trem Azul after it was shown in exhibition at Trem Azul this past summer of 2006, at which time I also toured Portugal with LIP and led a workshop orchestra in Madeira. I have been invited by Paulo Barbosa “Minhoca”, to come back for the Quinta Splendida Jazz Festival in Funchal in August of 2007, so I’m hoping that will work out…that is something I’m working on.
Also, my boys and I have been invited to play in June in Slovenia at the Cerkno Jazz Festival, as well as to do some playing in London. My accordion quartet, Banda de Brujos is also supposed to play in Madrid sometime in the spring, as well as do a tour of Michigan State Colleges, and then I am supposed to return to Madrid later in the year with my Inspiration Band (with Roy Campbell, Michael Thompson, Sabir Mateen, and possibly my son Aaron on bass or New York bassist Hill Greene). And I was just asked to provide trumpet music for an exhibit in Chicago by San Juan, Puerto Rico-based visual artist collaborative Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, along with trumpeters Franz Hautzinger, Ingrid Jensen, Wadada Leo Smith, Leonel Kaplan, Mazen Kerbaj, Natsuki Tamura, Stephen Burns, Birgit Ulher, and Ruth Barberan.
All in all a very busy and exciting time!

(Fim do Fascículo I. Coleccione!)

 


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