Libby Hanssen interviews Brad Cox, one of the recipients of the 2010 Charlotte Street Foundation Generative Artist Award. The Owen/Cox Dance Group performs Oct 2nd and 3rd at the Jewish Community Center.
Brad Cox is one of the recipients of the 2010 Charlotte Street Foundation Generative Artist Award. A multi-faceted composer and performer, he co-found and music directs the Owen/Cox Dance Group, leads the People’s Liberation Big Band, and performs with many different artists and musicians in Kansas City. We spoke about his upcoming performance roster, including the presentation for the Award, which is October 11, 2010 at the Polsky Theatre at Johnson County Community College.
Brad Cox: For the performance, we’re doing some music that’s written for a double trio, although it’s a double trio plus three more guys so really it’s a nonet. A couple of the pieces are built around these sort of interlocking rhythms in different meters.
LH: How did you come to decide you wanted to do that sort of piece?
BC: I’ve always been interested in contrapuntal aspects to music and different possibilities for layering sounds in music and this seemed like a really interesting extension of that idea. There’s one piece in particular by Henry Threadgill that used this effect that I heard several years ago and I’ve always wanted to do something based on that same kind of idea.
LH: What are some of the other influences?
BC: It’s jazz music…I would say that one of the biggest influences on it are the musicians themselves, the players, trying to write things around the musicians that are involved and what would be nice for them. The trio components of it are the two drummers are Scotty McBee and Kent Burnam, the two bass players Jeff Harshberger and Gerald Spaits, and the two saxophone players are Rich Wheeler and Matt Otto and then the additional three players float from side to side between the trios: Sam Wisman (percussion and samples), Patrick Conway (percussion and baritone saxophone) and me (Fender Rhodes electric piano).
We’re doing a couple of excerpts from a piece that was written for Owen/Cox Dance Group; the piece is called I Scream, You Scream, We all Scream for Ice Cream. And then we’re doing a couple of new pieces written for this nonet. They don’t have titles, yet.
[I Scream] is what actually got me thinking about writing more of that. We did that piece for the dance ensemble as a recorded piece and I thought it would be fun to try and write more for that ensemble and to play some things live, because it’s completely unreasonable to try and play with that ensemble live, so I thought that was [the perfect opportunity]. I thought, well, my general creative process is to get a very stupid idea and get completely over my head and then see what becomes of that.
LH: You have had a lot of success with that in the past. What are some of the other ideas that have been successful?
BC: One of the things that worked out real well with the People’s Liberation Big Band was the Nutcracker idea and I really liked how it worked out in terms of both the ensemble participation, getting other people involved and just sort of the way it’s grown in general, because we started it just as a concert performance and had several different arrangers from the band on the project so lots of people were involved with it, like Mark Southerland. Roger Wilder’s daughter, Lila, sang. The first year we did it Mike Dillon played on it as well and Bill McKemy. I think it’s really nice the way it’s grown and evolved and become now a complete dance piece as well. It’s had a real nice way of getting lots of people from the music community involved.
LH: You performed that with the People’s Liberation Big Band and the Owen/Cox Dance Group. What’s happening with those groups?
BC: We’re doing another performance of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King in December. We also have a performance coming up with the dance ensemble of The Golem on October 2nd and 3RD at the Jewish Community Center. It’s in collaboration with Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy and Paul Mesner Puppets. Paul Mesner Puppets made a 10-foot tall puppet to act as the character of the Golem. It’s very nice. The Golem is based on a very, very old story of a clay figure that’s brought to life by a sort of kabbalist magic.
Also, the People’s Liberation Big Band is going to have a CD release performance on November 7 at the RecordBar.
LH: You do a lot of collaborative work. How does that typically work? Do you have an idea and then you find an artist or do you find the artist and then develop an idea?
BC: A little bit of both, I think. I do collaborative work because I’m not very smart [laughs], so I have to get other people to do the work.
It’s definitely a little bit of both, because some musicians or artist that I either know and want to work with or work with regularly will either bring certain ideas or make me think of ideas I wouldn’t think of without their presence and sometimes it’s the other way around where it’s just an idea and I think of who’s the best musician or artist to do it.
LH: Going back to the Generative Artist performance and the I Scream piece, what was the process for it?
BC: Since that piece was written for the dance ensemble, a lot of times we approach those pieces a little differently. When you know something is going to be choreographed to the music there’s a different way of thinking about it from the very beginning and what’s going to help drive that. That one was fun to put together because we started with just basic kind of rhythms that would lock together in certain ways and then Jennifer Owen choreographed some movement to these basic rhythms and then we sort of layered things up from there. That was sort of a fun process as far as putting it together with Jen.
There’s a lot of improvisation in that piece. There are some fairly rigid structures as far as how long sections will last and the phrases themselves, but then there’s a large amount of improvisation from the saxophone players and the drummers. Eventually, the way the piece culminates all the rhythms start lining up. It starts off like there are two different tunes that are going back and forth and eventually we realize that they work together, that it’s the same tune—a little bit of auditory slight of hand.
LH: And the title?
BC: One of the rhythms for that piece [comes from] the ice cream truck driver in my neighborhood who was playing on his little bell one day and I thought it was an appealing rhythm, so I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget it and could use it in a piece. That’s the way I write, I just scribble down tiny notes and then go back to them at various points.
LH: And then just give them to the musicians to figure out?
BC: Exactly, [laughs] tiny little scraps of paper.