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Andrew Cyrille

Body and Soul: An Interview with Andrew Cyrille conducted by Rob Wallace

Andrew Charles Cyrille, born in 1939 in Brooklyn, began playing drums in a drum and bugle corps at the age of 11. For a period in his teens Cyrille studied chemistry, while playing jazz in the evenings, eventually enrolling in the Juilliard School of Music. In the late '50s and early '60s he worked with such mainstream jazz musicians as Mary Lou Williams, Roland Hanna, Roland Kirk, Coleman Hawkins, and Junior Mance, and recorded with Hawkins, as well as tenor saxophonist Bill Barron, for the Savoy label. Cyrille succeeded Sunny Murray as Cecil Taylor's drummer in 1964, and stayed with the pianist until 1975, during which time he played on many of Taylor's classic albums. He played with a good many other top players during that time too, including Marion Brown, Grachan Moncur III and Jimmy Giuffre, and collaborated with Rashied Ali and Milford Graves on a series of mid-'70s concerts entitled "Dialogue of the Drums." Beginning in 1975 and lasting into the '80s, Cyrille led his own group, called Maono (“feelings”), with its fluid membership dictated by the forces of his compositions, and also played with a band that included the violinist Billy Bang, bassist Sirone, altoist Brown, and trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah. In 1983 he recorded the all-percussion album Pieces of Time for Soul Note with Graves, Don Moye, and Kenny Clarke. When not leading his own bands, he has worked ubiquitously as a sideman, and he is currently a faculty member at the New School for Social Research in New York City. His work has earned him a number of grants and awards.

As part of the 2010 Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium, Rob Wallace conducts an interview with the renowned drummer. They discuss the body in relation to spirituality, drumming, dance, pedagogy, improvisation, sociality, big bands, and other insights and reflections informed by Cyrille's own practice. Writer, musician, and teacher Rob Wallace holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research focuses on poetry, improvisation, popular and “world” musics, and the intersections between literature and music. Wallace is an active percussionist in a number of genres ranging from Hindustani classical music to free improvisation, and he is the author of Improvisation and the Making of American Literary Modernism (Continuum).

A full transcript of the interview is available here

Improvisation implies a deep connection between the personal and the communal, self and world. A “good” improviser successfully navigates musical and institutional boundaries and the desire for self-expression, pleasing not only herself but the listener as well.

– Rob Wallace