FONT interview by Douglas Detrick

Nate Wooley, recipient of the FONT commission in 2007, is among the most unique, creative and powerful trumpeters in the world today. He is a busy musician, with a full touring schedule, a steady stream of gigs in New York and a long list of albums in his discography. His newest, (Put Your) Hands Together, features a set of new compositions for his quintet, and is out now on Clean Feed Records. Hands Together is essentially a jazz album. If you are familiar with Nate’s music, you know this isn’t normally what he does, but what could have sounded like a musical shotgun wedding instead sounds natural and compelling.

All of Nate’s work has a very personal feeling to it, but Hands Together sees this approach turned in different direction. All of the pieces are dedicated to all of the important women in Nate’s life who have raised him, influenced him and supported him.  Nate mentions how the album is an answer to his roots in jazz and big band music with his father when he was growing up. The band is made up of musicians with whom Nate has known and worked with for many years: Josh Sinton on Bari Saxophone and Bass Clarinet; Matt Moran on Vibraphone; Eivind Opsvik on Bass and Harris Eisenstadt on drums. So, the album has layers of personal significance, and his words about this in the interview reveal some charged personal feelings. His ideas about the album are an important look at his musical personality, and tell a great deal about him as an artist.

We also talked about Nate’s ideas about playing the trumpet and how he feels that his music came into its own. The key, for the Nate, was to stop trying to play in a way that he felt he was supposed to, and instead to play what he was interested in hearing. The idea is simple, but given the way that music is transmitted from player to another, can be hard to put into practice. We don’t merely collect a set of techniques and stand in front of the audience to put them back together again and call this music. We are emotionally and intellectually connected to the ideas behind the music, and for some musicians, finding a personal foundation for the music, a reason for playing, can be the most challenging obstacle of all. Nate is a musician who has struggled with this issue, and continues to struggle with it. His music is a fruit of this labor.

One other memorable part of the interview was Nate’s relationship to what he considers the tradition of the trumpet and how defines this tradition in his life. We talk about the idea of the “trumpet revolution”, as I have with Brian McWhorter and Jeff Kaiser, where we have to confront the idea of tradition. For a trumpet player deeply involved with the playing of the instrument on the fringe of the field, Nate’s has often been challenged by the idea of tradition. Many players reference the traditions of their artistic practice to prove the legitimacy of what they do, to give it context and added weight, but this an approach that Nate has intentionally avoided.

Nate is wary of trying to fit his influences, and himself, into any kind of lineage and he is wary of trying to define a music that defies categorization. He is very conscious of the players who have come before him and is very earnest in his praise of their music, but at the same time is hesitant to put any of these players into a “lineage”. For Nate, his music is the result of the path of individual experiences that he’s had over his life. These times spent listening intently to recordings, attending concerts and conversations with musicians are what could be called a “tradition” for Nate. They have provided a personal frame of reference, unique to Nate, that gives a foundation to the music that he plays.

But, even with all that said, it’s not that simple. Nate is also very clear in pointing out that his music is also intrinsically linked to his personality. He talks about asking audience members at his performances to right next to him. At the last performance of Nate’s that I saw in New York, with Paul Lytton and Ikue Mori at the Stone, Nate sat in a chair right next to the front row, as if his was just another chair in the row. This is further evidence of his commitment to “letting in” the audience, as he puts it, to an experience that is unique to Nate. To Nate, this is the most valuable thing he can offer, and it is his goal as a performer.

Enjoy the interview, Nate is an articulate and thoughtful person, and this interview, done just after the release of Hands Together, catches him at an interesting time. I won’t call it a new chapter in his career, but certainly a step in a new direction that broadens his previous work through its contrasting approach.

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