IMPROVIJAZZATION Nation - Issue # 87
INTERVIEW with Troy Chapman (of Billet-Deux)
I've played in over 65 "bands" . We will highlight a few of these bands in this (and future) issues.
CLICK the PLAY button to listen while you read - or don't, totally up to you! You can also PURCHASE these tracks, if you'd like to support our efforts; no obligation to do that, but the option is there if you'd like!
Here's another feature Zzaj Band - 2 of 'em in fact, so you can listen while you read the interview. First is "The Old Neighborhood", with Eric Wallack on guitars, Ernesto Diaz-Infante on guitars and found street sounds, & me on my trusty old Kurzweill. Both albums, as you'll hear were in the "experimental zone" to the max:
Troy had sent me the CD for his "Billet-Deux" group for review (it's in this issue, here), and after reading a bit more about this fine group from the Great Northwest (that's right, up here in my neck of the woods), he & the group seemed a perfect candidate for an interview, especially when he said (in one of his emails back to me regarding the interview), "Improvijazzation nation is a complete description of where I'm coming from". My thanks to him for taking the time to prepare the interview & meeting my "deadline"!
Zzaj: Most of our readers love to learn a bit about the performer/group, so please sort of "diagram" your way (in words) from Chi-town (or wherever your journey actually began) to the Great Northwest for us!
Troy Chapman: I moved to the Northwest in 2001 to join my (now) wife Julie. We had met in high school and after a long delay, reconnected. I spent my 21 years of waiting in Chicago! I consider Chicago to be one of the great cities on the planet. It has it all. And the musical experience, having spent my formative musical years there, was invaluable.
Zzaj: Having lived (in my early 20's, & then again later in my 30's) in Europe for about 12 years, I can easily relate to "cafe-music". Some folks call it "gypsy" music, others have different names... .please "define" what the music you play should be classified as - or if it SHOULDN'T be classified at all.
Troy Chapman: Musical classification is such a zero sum kind of thing. No matter how we define ourselves someone is not going to listen to us based on whatever category we use. We use Modern Gypsy Jazz as a starting point because it gives some ideas of our roots, especially my own musical roots. Django Reinhardt had a great influence on my guitar playing. I don't try to play LIKE Django but I certainly try to express the same freedom and joy in my own playing. James Hinkley is a classically trained cellist who entered jazz from the other side of the spectrum. Roger Bennett began as a bop saxophonist and migrated to drums. Keith Bowers is equally adept at tele chicken-pickin' as he is at bluegrass and jazz. Michael Yocco has years of experience in in every kind of musical group imaginable including The Lawrence Welk Band (I think this was when Michael was about 12).
Zzaj: Was most of the group already in the Great Northwest when it was forming, or did folks "come here" to join up? Please introduce us to the members of Billet-Deux with a little sketch of their background/history as it relates to the group, etc.
Troy Chapman: All the members of Billet-Deux were living here in the Northwest when we started playing together. We've been very lucky. There are quite a few great players out here in the Seattle area and we have played or are playing with some of the best. People can find bios of everyone on our website: www.billet-deux.com
Zzaj: Tony, I notice that you have quite a bit of musical training, & played in Chicago for sometime.... how did you become interested in Django-type music? What drew you to it?
Troy Chapman: I first heard of Django and heard his music in the late '70s. I bought a copy of Guitar Player magazine that had Django on the cover. I still have that magazine! Unfortunately in those days, up to about 7 or 8 years ago, it was quite difficult to learn much more about what is now called "Gypsy Jazz". So I continued to study a more normal jazz curriculum. In 2001 the first Djangofest Northwest was produced in Langley WA by Nick Lehr and Stacie Bergua. It was small at that point, just two groups Robin Nolan Trio and Pearl Django. But it was enough to remind what had drawn me to Django many years ago so I dove back into the music full-bore and haven't looked back.
Zzaj: I notice (from your website) that you have quite a few live performances scheduled... are there plans for tours, or will you be performing (pretty much) around the Seattle area?
Troy Chapman: We would love to play as much of the country as possible. We'll be in the Seattle for the spring and summer. We'll be headed up to Canada in the fall for a little while. We'll see what happens as "Deux" becomes more well-known. We hope!
Zzaj: Not to get (too much) into the political arena, but one of the things that inspired me about Barack Obama is that the music backing his campaign seemed to project the same hope he advocates.... do you think musicians can help to change an atmosphere that's been decidedly "un-hopeful" for a while now? If so, how?
Troy Chapman: Musicians have always been a leading voice for change and hope. Maybe that's the original point of music, somewhere in our primordial brains. Music is always a reflection of the times, for better or worse.
Zzaj: Since this 'zine is about improvisation & jazz, I always feel it's important to ask how important an interviewee thinks "musical training" is. Maybe the better question is - how important do you think improvisation (or the ability to do that) is?
Troy Chapman: Musical training is indispensable, however it doesn't have to always come in the form of a formal education. For every musician you can name that graduated from Berkeley or Julliard I can name someone equally as talented that learned by watching and listening other musicians informally. What they all have in common are great ears and great chops. The ability to improvise well flows from those two things: ears and technique. Jazz is improvisation, sometimes more, sometimes less but improvisation is the foundation of jazz.
Zzaj: Other than Django, do you have any particular musicians you look up to & are inspired by?
Troy Chapman: Certainly! John Coltrane is the greatest musician to have ever walked the face of the earth. If I could accomplish 1 per cent of what he did on saxophone on my guitar I'd be happy. Jim Hall is as big an influence on my playing as Django. So is Wes Montgomery. There are so many. Django was the greatest GUITAR PLAYER ever, but I'm a musician so ALL other musicians have an influence on me.
Zzaj: Is performing live more enjoyable, or do you find special satisfaction in studio recording as well?
Troy Chapman: Playing live is what it's all about. I enjoy most of the recording and mixing process but that's a whole different part of your brain. The instant creative process that happens in the best performance situations is what makes everything else worthwhile. I certainly prefer the instant response of audience to the slow trickle of response from a CD release.
Zzaj: How would you advise players who are just starting out? What are the pitfalls to avoid if pursuing a career in music? What (if anything) is most rewarding about playing?
Troy Chapman: It's going to take 10,000 hours to become a master musician. At one hour a day that's about 25 years. Practice more! Steal ideas from everyone and make them your own. Play with people that are way better than you so you can see where you need more practice. Learn songs. Don't read tunes out of the realbook. Become obsessed with music and with your instrument. Listen to every type of music you can get your hands on. If you listen to music the rest of your life you'll still be lucky to have heard 1/1000 of 1 percent of what's out there. There's a few ideas and comments!