An interview with bassist and bandleader Matthew Moppa Elliot from MOPDtK (Mostly Other People Do the Killing)
The Jazz Interview
Interview: Bernd Eilts
Photos: All photos by/Copyright William Maail
“Mostly Other People Do The Killing” or just MOPDTK, is a jazz quartet based in New York since 2004, including bandleader and bassist Matthew “Moppa” Elliot, saxophone player Jon Irabagon, drummer Kevin Shea and piano player Ron Stabinsky. They performed march 17th – 2016 their only concert in The Netherlands in the Grand Theatre Groningen. Their group vibe works on other musicians very controversial, just to mention the american jazz trumpet player and arranger Jack Walrath, who described the band in words like “abominable, cynical, disrespectful”. And these words were just the most polite ones! The band’s style is a big puzzle like. They began to transform from a free-improvising jazz band, to an ensemble, that deconstructed both standards plus compositions of bandleader Moppa Elliot, very often with much humour. By 2009, they had been voted the winners of the DownBeat Critics’ Poll in the Rising Star Ensemble category.
In 2014 the band created a must-hear hilarious provocation through a remake of Miles Davis’s album “Kind of Blue” (Columbia Records, 1959). It’s a complete note-for-note reproduction including the recording way of the original, perhaps the most famous jazz album ever. The musicians transcribed and reproduced each walking bass line, each cymbal tap, each Bill Evans piano mood, each note of John Coltrane’s and Cannonball Adderley’s and Miles Davis’s solos. (“Blue” on Hot Cup Records, no. 141). In 2015 MOPDTK recorded “Mauch Chunk” (Hot Cup Records, no. 153). Its title is, like almost all of Elliott’s compositions, taken from the name of a Pennsylvanian town. In Groningen, I had the great pleasure, to talk with Matthew “Moppa” Elliot myself. Please, enjoy a very inspiring conversation and discover the very true whole story exclusive for 60Minuten and just all about “Mostly Other People Do The Killing”!
Bernd: To be honest, before arranging this wonderful talk, I never heard about you. Moppa: (surprised laughing). Bernd: But I know, the Grand Theatre always organize great artists, so I checked you by google and youtube and discovered a great opportunity for entering a total new universe!
Moppa: We came to Europe first in 2009 and started playing like this in The Netherlands too. We played in Amsterdam three times, the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam and Den Hague. But we never played in Groningen before. Bernd: But you arrived last night and had a free day? Moppa: Yes, a free day hanging around in this beautiful town, a really gorgeous day! Bernd: While checking you, I saw you played a lot in the past also in Germany, like on the Moers Music Festival. Moppa: Twice. Bernd: This is why I’m here actually. Moppa: Cool! Bernd: In the past they also owned a record label, the Moers Music Records, don’t know, if they still record. Moppa: Yes, it’s true! Bernd: They always had brilliant artists under their wings. Moppa: Yes, it’s a great festival. The organisator, Mr. Reiner Michalke, is really a great guy and a really educated listener. He knows, what’s going on as well.
Bernd: My first question is related to your history. I read, how you guys met. The saxophone player, Jon Irabagon, studied in the Lincoln Center under the direction of Wynton Marsalis? Moppa: Yes, that’s right.
Bernd: What are your influences that made you do, what you do right now?
Moppa: Yes, our influences are based on everything, we ever heard in our lives, you know. One of the things about this band is, that we all listen to a very extremely wide range of music, we just don’t listen only to jazz. And all of that kind comes out in the way we play. You know, some people are asking this question expecting specific answers, but there are no specific answers.
Bernd: But, are you also having influences coming from Art? And Poetry?
Moppa: Sure! And film and tv and theatre and dance and anything else. Yes, of course.
Bernd: Okay! But what in special do you have with Art?
Moppa: Well, there is nothing specific. A kind of like the idea of the band is, that we all play, whatever we want to play, whenever we wanna play it. And so sometimes that winds up something like a collage and sometimes that winds up something like the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and sometimes we decide, we wanna all play the same thing for a little while. And that’s totally cool. But yeah, this band is kind of my attempt to play jazz. Actually jazz. While acknowledging all of our experience and like not being a museum piece. Like I have no interest in kind of recreating past music. But we are gonna play jazz, how you play jazz and not create past music. And so, the solution that this band has, is, well you allow it to be influenced by everything and then in a kind of, you know, James Joyce and stream of conciousness way for all four of us, so that is like, we’re all throwing all kinds of stuff at each other. And so sometimes it all comes out together and sometimes it doesn’t which creates kind of, you know, new combinations of sounds that we wouldn’t be able to come up otherwise. Bernd: Yeah. Moppa: That makes sense. I’m not trying to doubt the question or anything. Bernd: Yeah! Moppa: I just feel like a lot of people ask asouming that we have….. real influences. Like: Oh right! We are basing what we do on this. Bernd: On Charles Mingus. Moppa: Yes. Bernd: Bill Dixon, I also heard. Moppa: Oh yeah! Literally yes, but there is no single angle there. On purpose.
Bernd: Okay. (Both laughing!) Thank you for this! I don’t want to talk about your album “Blue” (Hot Cup Records, no. 141), but what about is your new album “Mauch Chunk”? The songs are your compositions?
Moppa: The only album that does not wear my own compositions is “Blue”. Everything else is all my tunes. We have at this point 7 or 8 studio albums, and the only one that’s not my music, is “Blue”.
Bernd: So, does this mean, these are completely your compositions, or do you all arrange also titles? Moppa: All my compositions. Bernd: Okay. You are the boss. Moppa: I’m the boss. Bernd: Okay.
Moppa: But, the idea being this, you know, the people, that I play with…. I play with them, because, I know, that they’re going to ignore, what I wrote a lot of the time. And do something far more interesting than anybody could ever write (in theirs place) and that’s kind of like changing your first question and answering as far as the writing does. So I write really really simple music, so that everybody in the band can just do all kind of stuff over the top of it. You know, if you would actually play the music at its rythm, it would be very straight forward hard-bop. Most of the time. Bernd: Okay. Moppa: But, I have no interest in doing that and so I’m actually with the people, that I play with, the people that I know are not actually gonna play, what I wrote. They are gonna play around it. In ways, that are far more interesting than anyone just like playing it. Well, I think, that’ll be boring. I had a great teacher in college he kind of put that thing and ran with it where were gonna taking arranging class. His name is Wendell Logan, he was a great arranger, composer and educator. And we were talking about writing drum parts for big-band or something. And he told me in very classical way: when you can write a better drum part than your drummer will play, fire your drummer. And it was like: that could be everybody in the band then, right? You know, so, when the people I’m playing with can’t play something more interesting then I can write, I’ll find other people. Yeah! (Laughing). So, right, we are not interesting in playing music, that sounds the same ever.
Bernd: So, in a way, it is, you compose and you all do it all together, right? In the end?
Moppa: Yeah, I mean, it is highly flexible and improvised and like, you know, no two performances or even remotely the same. Like, we do not have a set list, we have no idea, what songs we’re gonna play and in what order. Bernd: Really? Moppa: Yeah. Bernd: That’s cool! Moppa: You know, two nights ago, we played like 15 or 20 songs in about… (Moppa snipping with his fingers…) eight minutes. Just jumping around that, I don’t think that never ever really happened before. But, you know, sometimes we have one song and then we are going in there for a really long time and other times we jump back and forward in between things, you know, like this. It’s very flexible.
Bernd: I can’t wait for the concert anymore! (Both laughing)
Bernd: How long do you tour now, this tour?
Moppa: Oh, it’s just a week and a half.
Bernd: Not longer? Moppa: No. Bernd: Wow! That’s special! So, you are feeling good?
Moppa: Yes, I’m feeling good like this. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to tour for a long time for like american bands. There are fewer and fewer venues with budgets that can like support touring bands. So, we’ve always done tours for about a week, we never have been able to do longer tours. Mainly just because it’s like financial really difficult for everybody. Pretty much all tours these days, unless you are talking about major names. Bernd: But you are already a name! Moppa: Ah, yes. But unless you are Dave Holland, you know, or Nels Cline. It’s pretty difficult to put together one and a half week tour at this point. Just because, there aren’t that very much venues in Europe, that have the budget to be able to pay for a band from the States. And there are more and more bands, in special more and more like european bands, and so venues, because budgets are shrimping, are under pressure to keep costs down and so. When we started often in 2009/2010, we were doing tours, where we were basically traveling on the train all the time, because all was pretty close. But for the last two or three years the tours have been like taking planes most days, because you have to travel further between gigs. For example, we just played before today in Bielefeld/Germany. And because we played there, we couldn’t also play in Hannover (Hanover) the next day, because it’s too close together, and the promotors wouldn’t wanna do that, even it’s pretty far. And we could have done that. But that is, how the economics works right now. It’s kind of returning to a situation like we had in the 1970s, where other than like the top of the heap people like, that time you know, like Sonny Rollins and people like that, where it doesn’t matter. And so now that’s people like Dave Holland or Pharoah Sanders or people on that ware, it just doesn’t matter what happens, they always can be on tour. But the bands below that is kind of disappearing. As like budgets get cut just like this, you know. So, that’s kind of the reality of that situation and in our case, we would love to tour for a longer time, it’s just incredible difficult when we all have lots of other things going on. So, in these days you go on tour for a week or two with one band and then with something else here and with something else there, but its a little bit in two weeks chunk mostly, unless you are significant older than us and more established.
Bernd: Yes, right. It’s good you mention this, because I already heard, that all of your bandmembers have other musical activities as well. All kind of.
Moppa: Of course! That’s true of everybody’s in the industry right now. I can’t think of anybody including Dave Holland, who doesn’t have multiple projects. And Dave Holland got four or five different bands he tours with. Which is another reflection of the economic reality. Even artists like Dave Holland cannot tour with just one band. He’s got have several projects in order to play as much as he wants to play, so he has got his Flamenco Duo, he got his quartet with Kevin Eubanks, his Big Band he plays with sometimes, he used to have his Quintet and so, that’s how it works. So, we all have tons of projects.
Bernd: And you are very free in your choice about projects, it’s not just jazz, it’s all kind of music you can think about, even rock orientated, right?
Moppa: Of course!
Bernd: And it’s extremely interesting, because all the people you play with, they are also like you, with your kind of qualities, if I may say this.
Moppa: Right! I mean, let me think about it, well, common interests bring people together! (Both laughing!) Yes! And I think it’s also increasingly in common, you know, it’s like the function of so many people, of our generation, who are kind of looking to people like Anthony Braxton, as example. We are all interested in world music and rock music and pop music and jazz and classical and anything else. And I think, anyone of us just don’t want to play all the same. Like, that would be boring. So, all of us just play all kinds of different music, because that’s what we wanna do. That’s not like a requirement, that’s just like lucky to be doing this. Yes, we all play like classical music, in rock bands, and all that stuff.
Bernd: Do you have influences, with this project MOPDTK, through classical music?
Moppa: Of course!
Bernd: What can you name?
Moppa: You mean, when we play classical related in this band? Bernd: Yes. Moppa: Recently I played the opening of Mahler’s symphony no. 2 several times a couple of nights ago. Our piano player Ron Stabinsky is basically a professional classical piano componist, so he can play pretty much the entire repertoire like classical trumpet concertos, classical saxophone concertos, classical bass concertos off the top of his head, it’s like a classical rap! We were in the Chopin Airport in Warsaw last week and he sat down and he played some Chopin. We were just listening to Stockhausen today in the hotel! (Laughing).
Bernd: You are very powerful and amazing musicians and your program is unbelievable in the way, you build it up and present it. What’s happening with the people, who listen to your concert? Are there some crazy things happening maybe during the show? I was just thinking about the public’s reaction during a punk concert, this is why.
Moppa: Usually not. I mean, how does the audience react? We pretty much always get a positive reaction, because it is very clear to the audience, that we’re having fun. Which, I think, is not all that common to jazz ensembles. There is a certain style like jazz performance, that’s kind of everyone is very like…. cold. We don’t do that. So, that helps. But, you know, there are times we are playing in Rock Clubs, where people are standing and that’s super fun, because it get’s a different kind of energy. We play in Theatre’s like this one, we play in Jazz Clubs where people get their drinks at the table, but we never get a negative reaction from the crowd, even when they have no idea, what’s going on to happen. Because, even when we play kind of like really really weird music, which happens, just like from our body language, we look like we’re having fun, which kind of draws the audience think: If you are watching it’s okay, this sounds really strange, but they are clearly enjoying this on a certain level. So, people kind of try to find their way in doing that way. So not as much true, you know, trying to pick up the sound we are making, just a kind of step back and listen to the whole thing as an interaction that is like, on certain sense like playful or joyous. Or whatever. And, to talk about influences, you know, the Art Ensemble of Chicago was very like that. They have a lot more like kind of apocentric ritual thing going on, but there was still this like joy, you got from them. Very ritual aesthetic. But also engaging. Because now you can tell convey, what they were doing, was important. Also people from here (The Netherlands), like Han Bennink, someone we all listen to a lot, and the bands he is into, the ICP Orchestra and the Clusone 3, just a kind of like more playful joyous side of improvised music as supposed to kind of like, you know. Bernd: Willem Breuker. Moppa: Yes. But Breuker gets a little bit like goofy, which we don’t really do. You know, the difference is between joy and comedy, we tend to be over here and Willem Breuker defenitely did comedy sometimes. Which in a certain sense we really never completely do. Even when we are doing pretty silly, but that’s not Willem Breuker silly. On the other hand, the ICP Orchestra is much more similar. It’s not exactly the same, but more similar.
Bernd: I just was thinking about Willem Breuker, because for example, he made records with the piano player Leo Cuypers for the FMP (Free Music Production) record label in Berlin, Moppa: Yes! Bernd: Which was a label for Free Jazz as well. And your music does also go into the same kind of direction, right? It is Free Jazz.
Moppa: It’s just, we’re kind of wind up being, compare to a lot of Free Jazz, very conservative at times. Because we are playing blues in 4/4 and swing, when we wanna do that. Standards or whatever. Bernd: You can do what you want. Moppa: We can do whatever we want. And sometimes we want to swing. (Laughing).
Bernd: My next question is about your recordings. You told me, your concerts are very explosive, you change, whatever you want, in the moment, so, what’s going on in the studio, when you record?
Moppa: It’s a different situation, but it’s the same thing. The only difference in the studio is, like a question of scale. Recorded albums should not be long, like studio albums. Just there is no point. Bernd: 45 minutes? Moppa: Is great, yeah. And that’s the goal. So, when we are in the studio, we are not gonna jump from one song to another, like we would do live, because we are trying to make self contained versions of the songs, so we still do the same thing, when we’re jumping around and changing all the time, it’s just that we kind take off the table of the option of changing songs. So, instead of playing one part of the song maybe and then going somewhere else, we stay in this song, even if we get completely free never come back to it where ever, but this is gonna be this thing for like these five or six minutes. We are trying to do like concentrated, destilled versions of it. So, the concept is the same, we don’t pay attention of the forms if we don’t want to, or don’t play what’s written if we don’t want to, or whatever. So, I’m listening to the takes from our recording sessions and every take is completely different. But none of them do that kind of jumping back and forward between different compositions, that thing.
Bernd: In a way, it sounds for me, you could record all the time. Moppa: We could. That would take a lot of money. (Both laughing). I’m also not particulary interested in that. Like having tons of bootlegs, you know, just because, I don’t think that is nessecary. The studio albums are very conscious documents, and we have two live albums ever and they are both great. But, I don’t really have like the motivation to do more than that. Other than like tonight, there are happen to do recordings (VPRO, Vrije Geluiden) tonight. But, you know, that’s fine. But, you know, I don’t need to have documents of all of that. Literally, every show is completely different. What is a great thing. Like after the show, we say: Oh yeah, more new stuff! Like every time we play, things that never happened before happened. And that in like 13 years or so. At no point of a show where everything we did, has happened in some other situation. So, drastically different stuff happens at every show. So therefore, unless you document every single concert, (which is kind of soey), than there is no real point, because each one is a completly unique stand alone thing. It’s not like listening to like a band’s evolution, because we are not really evolving. But I guess, we are. But it’s more like completey discreet versions of the same thing and anyone of them is just as good as any other. Even if there are good nights or bad nights, we’re gonna do this thing, and we’re gonna see, what will happen tonight!
Bernd: Thank you for this answer! My next question is: Are you teaching?
Moppa: Yeah! I’m a highschool teacher! I teach 13 to 17 year olds about music outside New York City. So, yeah, I’m a highschool music teacher.
Bernd: Do you also teach music students, older ones, like conservatorium of music high schools?
Moppa: No. That just does not really interest me. By the time you get to music school, kind of all the important battles have already happened. Like this, you clearly do not need my help. Unless you have some really specific questions like someone else could not answer. I kind of feel that like you don’t do whole lot of significant work if you’re dealing with college students. Because, special in a place like America, if the individual is already in college, then they’re already pretty much fine. The real stuff kind of happened before that. Where not everybody in the room is nessecarely go to college. In America, even you are dealing with kind of, well, the New York City Students that I deal with anyway, you know, at no point in their life’s is anyone that would tell them about Beethoven or Coltrane. Like ever. And if it doesn’t happen in Highschool, they are never gonna know. Unless, there is that small group, that’s belong to College and is curious and may find it themselves. The majority of young people in America like literally know nothing about, you know, they may have heard of Beethoven, they may have heard of Coltrane. Maybe. They defenitely never heard of Felix Mendelssohn and they defenitely never heard of Wayne Shorter. Bernd: It’s also kind of taste and interest! Moppa: No. You know, it’s kind of lack of intellectual curiousity on a national scale. And it’s over here too by the way (in Europe). But yeah, in America, also in Europe, it’s like you reach a point where the society is so privilidged, that it takes everything for granted, and so there is no social reason, to be curious in an intellectual way, because you already have everything you need, so what good would it do you. If you are a 13 or 14 year old kid, like all the music you ever hear is like coming out of this stupid speaker of your phone and it’s whatever pop music is on the radio. And when you are comfortable and have your phone and all, then there is no one, who ever tells you, you need to engage with the world on any deeper level than that. And it’s like the Mass Media thing. Like worse in America is here too, when you look at Reality and Comedy Shows, that stuff that most people watch. And it’s like completely devoided, you know, any kind of depth. And that’s fine. It serves a certain purpose. But that’s what you kind of got of that. So, as a teacher, your job is to kind of like grab people by their head and shake them! (Laughing). Bernd: To wake them up. Moppa: Right! But its neither to wake them up, because they don’t know that they sleep! You know? That’s the thing! It’s not like, oh yeah, there is always great music out there around we care. They don’t even know, that it exists. They are like, oh right, that’s the stuff that play in commercials. Like this, they think classical music is. You know, they say: Oh yeah, it sounds like a movie soundtrack. Yeah, it does! And here is some jazz and they say: Yeah, it sounds like Starbucks. You know? Because like, where also they’re gonna hear it? It’s not on TV, it’s not on the Radio. So, like this. And yes, I have no interest in teaching college, because that like small part of the population that gets to collage, (by and large), are the people who are intellectual curious and they don’t need me. But dealing with 13 and 14 year olds and it can be like: Hey, not only do I know more about Rap-Music than you, but like, you know nothing about anything, let me show you! That’s much more rewarding than teaching some bass students. It’s like saying: Buy these books and stay practicing that stuff and see you in about 6 years, you know. (Laughing).
Bernd: Thank you for that! Moppa: No problem! Bernd: My next question is about protest. Moppa: Okay. Bernd: If I see this good, you protest with your music. Moppa: Yes. Bernd: And thank’s God, you do. Moppa: Yes. Bernd: Am happy, finally I found someone like this! Moppa: Cool! Bernd: Can you please explain this? How the way is and what against you protest?
Moppa: Well, I think, this is kind of the last thing, we are talking about. And I guess, I practice it with a story about my good friend Peter Evans, the former trumpet player in this band. We were talking a few weeks ago about the opposite of that. You call this music like music protests. There is a major junk of jazz happening now, that to our ears is like the opposite of that. It’s like wend and gray and disengaged and passionless, Passionless with a capital P, and so Peter said: If you don’t have any rage at this, meaning like society, then I can’t take you seriously. It’s just like, you can’t really be in the world right now, and not have some fundamental anger, at the injustice and ridiculousness of it all. Even at the same time acknowledging of Woodstock 2 (Second album released of the 1969 Woodstock Festival). You know, what I mean? We are not pessimistic, we are not like a punk-rock band, we are not “Black Flag” (American punk rock band formed in 1976), or even “Rage Against The Machine”. They are not spectacular, but it’s more like yeah, like the world is really complicated. It’s totally chaotic and to trying simplify down there something understandable in a positive or a negative way, is kind of reductivist (a minimalist), that ignores too much. And so one of the things about music that we make, is that we are kind of trying to make music that sounds like that. Meaning: It’s not all one thing ever, it’s lots of things all the time. And I guess, a good parallel, don’t know if you a familiar with the american composer Charles Ives. Bernd: Sure! Moppa: He is kind of the quintessential american composer and he was doing this a hundred years ago. And it’s that same idea, where you got like ear racking soluble things going on. And to try the record seldem, sometimes or always, is desast. If you’re gonna kind of view the world in this way where you like, you know, the world is unfair but I’m gonna trying to bring everything together making all make sense, it’s like that bullshit. And this do not interest me at all. I also know of artists, visual artists, musicians, who talk about like, well, the world is as most terrible place at all, but I’m trying to make something beautiful. I understand that logic. But I have no desire to just make something beautiful, because I don’t think that reflects anything kind of like profound about the world. You know, I think it’s like a little bit desast. Not like necessarily in a bad way. But I think it’s deliberately desast. It’s like, well, in lateral of that terrible stuff here is a pretty painting. And I think, okay, I see that but, that pretty look painting is kind of the same thing as like a hit of a drug of something. It’s just like a little blip. For a second you forget about all that other stuff, but it does not make it away. So, I’m kind of interested in music that engages with the chaos, in a way, that is still positive. This I’m always trying to do. Make music that is worldly positive but engages with all that chaotic stuff. There is a difference between positive and pretty. I’m not interested in pretty, but I’m interested in positive.
Bernd: So, there is always hope!
Moppa: There is always hope, even it’s always protest, right! And, you know, right now we are entering a period with lots of protest. In lots of places, from here to America and back. And that’s good, it’s always good, but it’s interesting now, that a lot of the protest is much more focussed. So, specificly looking at stuff like in America the black rights matter thing, or over here issues of immigration or economics. So, it isn’t like it was in the 60s and 70s. And it’s also like a free jazz generational thing. Well, the reason why I’m here is that after World War II, western and all parts of europe, eastern too, kind watched on to jazz music and in special Free Jazz. As this kind of expression of the protest from an american angle, it’s very much like, this is african american music that on some level is venting not just their, but everybody’s frustrations. And that’s not nessecarily like free jazz does. But, in big picture, the kind of european audience was very interested in Free Jazz as a protest representative of Freedom. Bernd: The Black Power Freedom… Moppa: In a broad sense! It’s not like european audiences listening to Free Jazz because of the Black Power movement exclusivly, because the Black Power movement was not happening here (in Europe). But it was, I think, a lot of time connected to some larger, more universal thing. Like John Coltrane was doing. He was not in Black Power really much, more in this spiritual thing. So, that 60s and 70s generation of europeans kind of really latched under that. I think, it was because of a very broad idea. Freedom is like a nice big broad thing, everyone’s in freedom. Great music! And now the protests, that are happening, now kind of reflect the fact like post cold war, that big broad idea of freedom no longer has the pow, that it did. It’s like, oh, we got that. And it still sucks! (Laughing). Everyone was like, bring down the Berlin wall, and everyone will be great. And then like, they brought down the Berlin wall and everything is, dammed, it even sucks more! (Laughing!) And so, now you’re getting more smaller things, which you hear it in music, it’s not the same kind of broad protest anymore, it’s more a focussed specific protest. And different musicians exploring different facettes, rather than what you had in the 60s and 70s, where you kind of take any group of five guys european or american vroom together on stage and like they’re playing was a pretty good idea what it gonna sound like, classic free jazz wise. Where is now it’s much more balkanized. You know, little pockets and so you got us and the other people who were friends within Brooklyn and doing just one thing. You gotta call people from Chicago and they’re doing another thing. You got other people in New York, who are like the old downtown scene. They do another different thing. Then you gotta kind of the uptown, some kind of preservationist jazz musicians in New York, and they’re doing a different thing. And so its much more spread out. Really, I think protest is part of that like, some call it chaos, kind of the energy that we draw from.
Bernd: Now I come to the titles of your songs. Moppa: Sure. Of course. Everyone does. (Both laughing) Moppa: It’s okay. Bernd: You still do that? Moppa: Always. Bernd: With the Pennsylvania cities? Moppa: Yes. Bernd: Why?
Moppa: Because giving songs that don’t have words titles, is so eyesick. Meaning: If I have a song and I tell you that the name of the song is “For my mother”, that immideatly makes you think something. And then, what happens with that song goes (Moppa singing in a funny way, and fast) right? If I haven’t told you, it was called “For my mother”, you would have no way of making that association. So titles are either tricks to make the audience feel a certain way, before they even hear the music. Which I think is disengenious. Or there are like bad verbal representations of what the song suppose to sound like. You know, like “Journey to Mexico”. (Moppa singing again, very short). And so I think titles are dom. You know, then let’s look at Anthony Braxton. He gives them his own code and numbers and pictures and dew not in the way Anthony Braxton’s music, because you don’t understand the titles? Of course not. The music is spectacular! But, you don’t have any stupid preconceptions, before you even listen to Anthony Braxton’s song. Because you have no idea, what to expect. So, when I was out of college, I was like okay, I wanna name all my tunes to something, that has nothing to do with music and nothing to do with anything. So, I just picked towns in Pennsylvania. Bernd: And that’s the system? Moppa: Yeah. Always towns in Pennsylvania. Bernd: Okay. And there are many towns in Pennsylvania. Moppa: There are more towns in Pennsylvania than towns in any state of the United States. Bernd: Halleluljah! Moppa: So never run out! (Laughing). So yes, that’s why Im doing it. And it’s like soey, a little bit. Because a lot of those towns have redicilous names. And the idea is, to just like right up front have like no connection between the title and the piece of music as part of the audience is concernd. Sometimes I have a connection in my head, but I have no interest in trying to like convay that to you. Because it’s not make the songs gonna sound any different. Even when I have stories, that go with the songs, the story does not have anything to do with, how I wrote the song. It’s just like: Here is the song about this place. Let me tell about this place. Okay, here is some completely unrelated music. (Both laughing). I think, this is how it works. That idea of titles is just a hold over from like the late romantic era, you know, classical european composers like Strauss and Rachmaninov, no, not so much Rachmaninov, but Strauss and Scriabin. All the late romantics giving kind of prints, you know? We are trying to write program music. And it’s like, when I listen to or play “Don Juan” by Strauss, it doesn’t matter, if it’s about “Don Juan”. I don’t even know the story of “Don Juan”. That piece sounded great before I knew anything about like the plot, and now that I know the plot, everytime I’m playing it, am not even think about that plot, am thinking about the music. So, it’s like, you gotta call that like, you know, “Barfbag”, (laughing) or whatever, it just sounds awsome, you know. I like it better, when it give things just numbers or some title, that’s redicilious. (Laughing).
Bernd: Okay. So, that’s the system. Moppa: Yes, that’s the system.
Bernd: Let’s talk about the sound of MOPDTK. How would you describe the sound, what is it’s magic?
Moppa: Yes, the sound is jazz. But with kind of everything we can think of throwing into a blender. Yeah! So, it’s like you take all the music you’ve ever heard and put it in a blender and turn it into GO. So, it’s all chopped up. Then you pour it into a gela mould and that’s the jazz part of it. We are a JAM band, we play jazz. But within that mould there is all this other junk in there. And we are not trying to make it come out smooth and consistent and even. But there is this kind of like larger case around it. So, it’s like a jazz band with everything else turning to it. You know, from like speed metal to bulgarian wedding band or whatever.
Bernd: I can’t wait for the concert anymore!!
Moppa: We are not giving a concert! We are going to give all of it! (both laughing out loud!)
Bernd: Can you tell me please, in a very short notice, about the magic of your group members please? What makes it interesting for you, to play with exactly them?
Moppa: Ah, well, it’s really like a similarity of approach and philosophy. So, we also have a septet version of our band and we are talking about nine or ten musicians in this whole little circle, the people that I regulary play with. And we all kind of are very interested both in playing and studying and reviewing traditional jazz. We are also very interested in completely ignoring that and doing like pop music, from time to time. And we don’t see any contradiction in that. We are all those kind of people, who play “All The Things You Are” and in the middle of “All The Things You Are” we play “I’ll Survive”. And that makes perfect sense. Because they are the same song, kind of. Does this makes sense? So, yeah, the answer is, we all tend to play with people, who have a similar perspective. There are great musicians, who are friends of ours, who we play with, who don’t share this bands aestetic. So, when someone came in a gig, and I call SUP, there are certain people, who can do it. And not very many. And so, yeah, it’s a really shared sensibility. And that’s kind of like, what generates the magic or however you wanna call it. It’s just like this idea, that you should, well, I give you a concrete example. In order to play in this band you have to be a very comfortable free improviser. Right. In that kind of classic free jazz through Evan Parker, through Derek Bailey wait, post-Coltrane, Ornette. And there’s lots of people like that. But in order to play with this band you also have to be able to play rhythm changes like in Charlie Parker’s music. And there you wind up with some exclusion, where there are a lot of free jazz players, who can’t really execute kind of what we call inside jazz very well. You know what I mean? So, it’s like playing free is great, but now we are gonna play “Donna Lee” you are not like hidding over chord changes. We are just into say, we want to do that. But it means to be on the table. Like that’s gotta be an option. So, it’s like, if we start playing “Donna Lee”, and you can’t join us playing “Donna Lee”, you can’t really play the game that we are playing. Same thing, if we start playing “I’ll Survive” and you don’t start playing “I’ll Survive”, it’s not gonna work. It’s not, that we want those things to happen, but there have to be options. Same thing about start playing “Mahler 2” and you don’t know, what “Mahler 2” is. That’s a little weird, you know, what I mean? For us. And so, it has to be this. You know, the people who I play with, are people that have lots and lots of options on the table all the time. And that’s part of, the main part of the aestetic. For example in the septet (Record: Red Hot, Record Label: Hot Cup Records, no. 125, Year released: 2013), Brandon Seabrook Frances Seaburn play banjo. And Brandon Seabrook is a guy, who play (Moppa singing demonstrating this banjo sound) quarter notes swinging banjo stuff and then…. make pretty noises. And so that’s the kind of the phenomenon, that I look for. And it’s like, can you play its range, you know, am not really interested in like focus as much as
I’m interested in range. Bernd: So, that’s the magic of Jon Irabagon, Kevin Shea and Ron Stabinsky? Moppa: Right. That’s the magic of all of them, same thing with David Taylor, Peter Evans and Brandon Seabrook. It’s the same thing with Steven Bernstein and a lot of other people. Thomas Heberer, trumpet, who play in the Septet version. We have a friend called Sam Kulick, who plays the trombone, we have a couple of saxophone player friends, Brian Murray, most noteable, also Matt Nelson. There is also Mike Pride, the drummer, who plays in that band from time to time. Couple of different piano players, when Ron can’t make a gig, Cory Smythe, who is actually a classical piano player but he is an amazing improviser. Like you can go on and on. So, but the whole number is about twelve.
Bernd: Thank you! What will happen in the future?
Moppa: Who knows! Well, on friday, a week from tomorrow, we gonna record a new septet album, of material we’re playing the last year off and on, so that’s very exciting. We will playing some trio version stuff, piano trio, with Kevin, Ron and myself. Because that’s easier to travel with. Fewer people, less money, so. More quartet stuff in the States. We got hardly two albums of material that hasn’t been recorded at this point, you know, so.
Bernd: And many side activities also.
Moppa: We all have lots of side activities, yes. It’s just one band of many for all of us. It’s just, this happens to be a very specific band. Kevin has a ton of projects, Jon too, Ron has unbelievable range of projects, from accompanying classical musicians through completely free improvisations. And everything in between.
Bernd: Last two questions! Moppa: Sure!
Bernd: Your private life! Moppa: Hah! Bernd: How does that look like? I mean, now you are here as a MOPDTK bandleader and bass player, you are a teacher also, what other interests do you have? Are you going fishing, or… Moppa: Yes, I do fishing! Bernd: I wanted to hear that!! Moppa: Actually, I do fishing a lot! Not as much, as I wish I could. Yeah, I grew up in Pennsylvania, and my childhood best friend is a bariton saxophone player named Charles Evans, who is spectacular, and he and I were going fishing since we were twelve years old or so. Yeah, I do that quite a bit. I play lots of sports. At the highschool I coached the baseball team for a while, I coached the Cross Country Team for a while, my partner Amanda was a basketball coach, she coached the boys basketball team for a while. She’s a writer, she is a piano player, so I play music with her, we play a lot of basketball, like that kind of stuff. And we have a dog and we hang up with the dog. Bernd: What’s the dogs name? Moppa: Her name is Joni, like Joni Mitchell. (both laughing). Yes, there is a lot of sports in my life. Bernd: It looks, you are a very sportive energetic bass-player! Moppa: I guess! Both me and Amanda and our friends grew up as aethletes. Like we play a lot of sports through highschool. Bernd: So, you need that. Moppa: Yeah, I need that. Bernd: What kind of fish are you fishing? Moppa: Well, in America, in Omorica (laughing), we fish for Bass. So, Largemouth Bass Fishing is the thing that we do. As it is remarkably strategic and there is really nothing relaxing about it. We don’t do the relaxed kind of fishing. It’s very like intense. Bernd: Yeah, I thought about that. Moppa: So yeah, we do that quite a bit. And for a while we were really really serious about it. We had a friend in highschool, who became a professional Bass Fisherman. You know, on television, in tournaments like winning things and so on. Bernd: You are also a dancer? Moppa: Well, I know how to dance but I’m defenitely not a dancer (laughing). No one would accuse me of being a dancer. (Both laughing). Bernd: But when you play the bass, you have to stand, right? Moppa: I move around a little bit. Bernd: It’s good you do that. Moppa: There are defenitely bass players, who move around more than I do. I’m sure, you have seen some of them. Bernd: You will not jump on the other instruments? Moppa: I will not jump around. But Kevin does! He jumps around. But I will not.
Moppa: I have no idea. We probably will start with a song that has a vamp (in jazz and popular music, a vamp is a short, simple introductory passage, usually repeated several times until otherwise instructed) in the beginning, about twelve of those, (laughing), I don’t know, which one yet. When we play that vamp, a punch of weird things will happen, maybe we finish that song, maybe that song will go directly into some other song, I have no idea. Bernd: So, you will improvise in that all. Moppa: I really have no idea. It’s totally blank that way, it can be anything. It’s funny, because a lot of times promotors ask: Do you have a set list? And I: No! And they: Will you know, what song you’re gonna play? And I’m like: No! Well, I can try to think about it one more time, but it’s like this. I have no idea. Bernd: How long will you play? Moppa: Well, on tour we will play two sets. So, we will play 45 minutes, then we stop and then we do it again. If they tell us to. But when they ask us, to play 90 minutes straight, then we play for 90 minutes straight. Bernd: But not two hours. Moppa: Nobody wants that! (Laughing). It’s too much. Usually, what we do, during a long set, there are couple of tricks attend to happen, where we all are interested in kind of solo improvisation. So, in longer sets we are much more willing for everybody to step back at some point and let one person play for ten minutes by themself. Before going into something else. That propably will not happen tonight, because we are doing two sets. And when we do long sets, in the earlier version of the band with a trumpet, whenever we did long sets, we ended every night with Dizzy Gillespie’s song “A Night In Tunesia”. Not every night, but a lot. And it would start with a drum solo for ten minutes, so Kevin did his thing for about ten minutes. Then we played the melody very fast, one chorus trumpet solo, one chorus saxophone solo, head out. Bernd: Faster than Dizzy ever played? Moppa: You know, Dizzy! When that’s done, it’s over and it was for example Art Blakey’s arrangement, you know, that starts with a drum solo, then there is a saxophone cadenza, and there is a trumpet cadenza. So, what we did, drum solo, song, saxophone cadenza, trumpet cadenza. And so, the whole thing sometimes we took (and take) like half an hour. Maybe a nine minute drum-thing, one minute song, nine minute trumpet playing, nine minute saxophone-thing. So, yeah, but we’re not gonna do that tonight. But that was one thing we used to do. And actually that has happened with this band also, with saxophone and piano. So: Maybe!
Bernd: Just today I met a friend, he came from Germany. Moppa: Cool! Bernd: He told me, he saw you in 2009. Moppa: Moers. Bernd: Yes, the Moers Music Festival and he told me, it was too much for him, so he left the concert before it ended. Moppa: Hey! Bernd: You did it! Moppa: Give five! (and we did). I mean…. . Bernd:He is a free jazz lover par excellence! And he’s back here for tonight. Moppa: Cool! Maybe it wasn’t too much! (Laughing!) Yeah, I mean, I get that. And, you know, a lot of us wish that wasn’t the case, but when you are playing music, that’s really really dance almost to a point where it doesn’t even matter, how good it is. Like, even when we play a great set, you get to a certain point, it’s just like us and the audience, you’re just done. Like, too much information, you can’t pay attention to it anymore, even if you like it, you checked out. So. Which is, when we play a long set, we have different things will happen, to kind of break it up. And we do two short sets, its over like in no time. We have been told to do two short sets tonight. That what’s gonna happen tonight.
Bernd: Thank you! Moppa: Any time! Bernd: Am very happy! Moppa: Thank YOU very much!
Moppa: Touché!! (We all laugh!)
MOPDtK: The Concert
Now a few words about that concert: Indeed, we heard two sets. 46 minutes and 42 seconds and one hour and almost 2 minutes including a gift song. Many songs came from the recent album “Mauch Chunk” Moppa told me later. Including songs dedicated to Henry Threadgill, Dave Holland, Will Connell and Frank Fonseca. And not to forget “Handsome Eddy”, another composition by Moppa. Because it was my first concert ever hearing MOPDTK, I have to say: It was gorgeous!! Brilliant!! I had a lot of fun, but beside that I enjoyed most of the time the very specific musicality of this incredible band. At least for me, that concert was not enough! Am looking forward very much, to see them or any side activity they do live again. Many many thanks to all of you!!