On the collaboration
Working with Jason Moran [on “Refractions” in 2009,] was one of the highlights of my experience as a choreographer. A true collaboration is like tongue and groove. He’s so intuitive and so bright and has so much structure in that mind. It’s a perfect combination of a steely mind with a big heart. [To add Lloyd], they’re both monsters, incredible artists, and when they’re together there is a chemistry and alchemy that is unbelievable.
When we first met, I said I’d like to hear some music that we can’t label…we can’t claim it with a style or moniker. With some composers, we need to say, “Let’s take this out,” or “This gets too erratic here.” With Jason and Charles, it’s sublime—[they send] treasures to select from and move in.
Its particular nothingness, and its potential for unimaginable power, has caused minds to liken sand to human beings for eons.
Sand is the uncountable aggregation, and yet today grains of sand can be estimated. Sand can halt an engine. A grain of sand can temporarily blind you. Its has been used as a metaphor for the passage of time, in hour glasses, and in dance as a listening process in how the body slowly shifts in transitions. There is power in the commonness of its abundance, its vast shapely beauty in dunes, on beaches, the desert, and the bottoms of oceans. Sand is the mineral cousin of water, it can be poured, and the wind can maneuver it into wave-like patterns.
Sand is used to polish and shape some of the hardest materials on the planet. You can hold sand by cupping your hands. When you grip it, it escapes through your fingers.Sand is largely composed of quartz crystals. Quartz is primarily made up of silicon dioxide, which has a unique physical property of being piezoelectric, which lends itself for use as a primary foundation of circuit boards, and computer processors. It has often been said that human beings are like tiny pebbles placed together in tight proximity to cause friction until our edges become smooth.
As a boy growing up in Memphis, I was immersed in a very fertile music culture. From the age of 3 I knew that I wanted to play the saxophone, but I also wanted to be a singer. Sadly, I found out early on that I didn’t have the voice for it. My mother enrolled me in Mabel Robinson’s ballet school where I showed some promise, but as soon as I got a saxophone at the age of 9, I abandoned my pliés and pas de deux to devote myself day and night to my instrument. It became my voice and my dance.
In the 1960s when I lived in Greenwich Village, I became friends with Merce Cunningham who expanded my understanding of dance by leaps and bounds, by stops and starts, dangling arms and magnificent slides across a smooth floor. So, it is something of a full circle to find myself collaborating with Alonzo King and Jason Moran on SAND. Jason and I have been working together in my quartet and in duo for nearly a decade – we know each other’s language and sensibilities. Through this collaborative process, I am getting to know Alonzo’s language of movement in relation to sound and space. He is highly intuitive and a deeply spiritual Being. For me, this is a mysterious journey into the unknown. It gives me great joy to be part of this process.
Creating space is the way. I think of the dancers as melody makers.
I have always been curious about how other artists complete their visions. What is the process? How do they locate the materials or collaborators that push the piece to the to a new plateau. Alonzo and LINES have been outstanding collaborators. The first time I saw LINES, they were performing to the music of jazz saxophone legend Pharoah Sanders. Later they performed to Zakir Husain’s tabla. I was in awe of how Alonzo translated the music into movement. And when we began working together, that would continue. How he hears, how he sees, and then distributes those ideas to the company. It’s phenomenal.
I love leaving space in the music. Letting ideas and sounds hang in space and slowly drift to the ground. When Alonzo and I work together, he reminds me to think about way that the music can hang in space, which in turn may become a pas de deux. Charles and I have always had a special relationship, and this is a wonderful opportunity for us to present new music to Alonzo.
Movement has always been an important part of the jazz lifestyle. The music has a social function, and if the right song is playing, everyone will want to dance. I think Alonzo has a special way of connecting to that history and translating it into contemporary ballet. Unisons dissolve and return. I look forward to performing in this context because it highlights the sensitivity that I must maintain to best aid the dancers. I must play to the dancers. We need each other. And we must be sensitive to each other’s process. I can’t play something too fast or slow as it could possibly destroy everything. That is what we spend our time in rehearsals figuring out. How to do what when, and why. And then how to make it feel like every moment in the piece is a brand new moment. It’s a sublime feeling to capture this as a performer.
Jazz has always been into counterpoint and syncopation. Those relationships make the music spark. And the more the music pops back and forth, the more it ignites a room, possibly into dance. From the fields to the stages, the world has used this movement to express. For the past four years I’ve been performing a Fats Waller tribute as a dance party. A way of making sure my music connects to the dance traditions of today just as Fats Waller did in the 30s and 40s. We make it happen, and the audience joins in on the fun. Somehow, the dance traditions in jazz have dissipated, but there are pockets of folks who keep the flame burning. Alonzo is clearly one of the artists with his torch held high.