Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Bad Plus Interviews 2017: Reid Anderson

Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King
at the Dakota on December 21, 2017
Photo (C) 2017 by John Whiting

Date of interview: December 4, 2017

Pamela Espeland: According to Lowell, this will be your 18th Christmas at the Dakota.
[Note: Lowell Pickett is the owner of the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis.]

Reid Anderson: Wow. I guess if Lowell says, that’s what it is.

PLE: What has it meant to you to play there every Christmas?

RA: It’s been very meaningful for us to feel the support of our hometown. That people have come back year after year, and the audience has grown, has been a localized symbol of what we set out to do: to be a band, to create a sound and to have actual fans in the world. It’s all we could really ask for.

What will we hear this year at the Dakota?

For the last 17 years, we’ve always done a combination of older and newer music. The first year it was all newer music. It’ll be business as usual in that respect. We’ll try to put out a combination of older songs and some of the later stuff as well.

Are you approaching this any differently because it’s your final Christmas here as the original configuration?

No, we’re not. There’s all this end-of-an-era thing, but that’s not the way we see it. Of course it is [the end of an era], and I understand putting it that way, but for Dave [King] and I, the band is continuing. It’s not like we’re going to make this big, dramatic statement of “this is the end.” It’s not the end. It’s just a change.

Is there a secret meaning to the name The Bad Plus?


What was your plan when you started out as a trio? Where did you think this would lead?

When we started the band, everyone was talking about, “If only we could have a band that was a committed band. We could all get together and develop a sound, and have a cooperative group that can play group music, and develop a language and do what we do.” I think lots of people still talk in those terms.

We just committed to doing it. That was our main objective: to make this happen and commit for as long as we could. Even to the extent of turning down other work when we were just starting off, when we were paying money out of our own pockets to play concerts in the name of “we believe we have something here.”

The only way to make this happen is to have that level of commitment. We’ve done it. We’ve had an 18-year run of playing this music together, and we’re very proud of that accomplishment.

Your first album was “The Bad Plus” [2001] on the Spanish label Fresh Sound, and then “These Are the Vistas” [2003] for Columbia. That kind of blew things up. The Bad Plus were called the saviors of jazz and the destroyers of jazz. You got a lot of press attention, both positive and negative, including mainstream press. What was that like, and did it give you any second thoughts about what you were doing?

It was a surprise to us, as it was for everybody else. But we didn’t come out of nowhere. We were all in our 30s when that album came out. We had all been laboring in obscurity and making our own records and writing music for years before that.

By the time we made “These Are the Vistas,” we really knew what we were doing. We had experience under our belts. We had our personal aesthetics pretty much established, and our writing styles were very much there as well. It was an opportunity to record for a major label, and we were ready for it, and we had something unique to say.

I guess in a sense it was an idea whose time had come. We were just there. The combination of the kind of stylistic open-mindedness that we brought, and playing the famous cover songs as well – which was not unique to us, but I do think we brought a certain attitude and energy to it that was fresh and, dare I say, it was needed. Something needed to be shaken up. We were just in the right time and place to do that, and we had a sound that was personal.

The jazz world isn’t always receptive to a personal sound. They’re much more comfortable with something that they can easily describe and check certain boxes in terms of “this comes from this” and “this is referencing this,” and all that. But we were much harder to do that with. That was disturbing to some people and positive for others.

Having said that, I do think that people who were our detractors, a lot of them, if they’ve bothered to stick around, have come around to saying these guys [The Bad Plus] clearly weren’t the end of everything. Jazz has continued on in myriad ways, and we’re another part of that stream.

Reid Anderson
Photo (C) 2017 John Whiting
When did you and Dave and Ethan first start playing together?

We grew up together. Dave and I have known each other since junior high school. Ethan [Iverson] and I met in 1989 or 1990, when I was a student for one year at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, and Ethan was still a high school student in Menomonie. We were introduced because Ethan needed to make a demo tape for something, and Ron Keezer, who was a percussion teacher at Eau Claire, put us in the same room together. We had mutual interests and hit it off. So we have a long relationship, but The Bad Plus didn’t start until 2000.
[Note: Ron Keezer is the father of jazz pianist Geoff Keezer.]

So we can actually put this on Ron Keezer.

Yeah, it’s Ron Keezer’s fault. [Laughs.]

Did you start playing together around the same time?

I guess around 1990, we got together once in my parents’ living room. That was an unremarkable meeting. We were just young kids all trying to push ourselves and push the boundaries, but without the skills or perspectives to do it very successfully at the time, like a lot of 20-year-olds.

But there must have been something there.

No. There wasn’t.

What happened then?

Ten years went by, and we all had been pursuing our musical paths and playing with each other. Ethan is on two of my records; I’m on three of his from the ’90s. Dave was doing some incredible things with Happy Apple in Minneapolis. I think what sparked it was when Ethan had a concert in Menomonie, and he called Dave to do it, and they hit it off. I remember Ethan coming back from that and saying he had enjoyed playing with Dave.

One thing led to another, and we thought – we know each other. Let’s see what happens if we play together. I was a big admirer of Happy Apple. That was kind of the original committed band. So we played at the AQ or something. It just kind of started from there. At that point, when we got together, we felt there was something there. Something we didn’t have to talk about that was there in the music. So we decided – let’s try to play together every couple of months and commit to that and make a record. It just kind of came together naturally.
[Note: The AQ was the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul, which closed in 2013.]

The record was your first, on Fresh Sound. Had you recorded for them before?

I had done three records for them under my name, and Ethan had done several under his name. Fresh Sound was an important label for a lot of New York musicians, giving a lot of us a chance to make records that no one else would’ve given us.

[Our first record for Fresh Sound as The Bad Plus] got us out there in the world and got us some attention. You can see from that first record that there’s something there. We already had a sound.

How many gigs have you played together? Has anybody kept track?

It’s a pretty big number at this point. We weren’t doing so many concerts in the earliest days, but probably by 2004 or ’05 it was starting to get up there. Let’s say on average maybe 100 shows a year. That’s just a wild guess. I’m trying to be conservative.

That’s a lot of shows, a lot of travel, a lot of road.


It’s a lot of music. Yet every time I’ve seen you, I’ve never once felt that you were phoning it in.

Good. I think that’s one of the things that’s kept us together. We don’t phone it in, and that’s part of a committed band and the group music ideal that we were going for. It’s like – we’re going to go out and not only have this sound, this tribal language that we speak together, but we’re going to have a collective energy with this music.

Part of it is because it’s always our music. Everything we play, every song, no matter who writes the song. We’re all playing our music. That’s a different energy from backing someone up or being the leader.

What are you leaving undone as the original trio? Is there anything you would’ve done differently?

Honestly, no. We’ve done so much, and there’s no single project or concept we’re leaving on the table.

Looking at jazz 18 years ago, and looking at jazz today, what’s different? And what part has The Bad Plus played in that?

It’s hard to say from the inside. I suppose we’ve probably influenced the sound of some of the music that’s happening these days.

I think bands are really important. I think group music is really important, and I hope we’ve kind of shown the way on that front. We’ve been an example of why you would commit to a band. This is something that can exist within this music, and it should.

We heard Brad Mehldau’s trio last night. They’ve been together for a long time.

The difference between the Brad Mehldau Trio and The Bad Plus is it’s the Brad Mehldau Trio. They play Brad’s music, and that’s incredible music, but it’s not quite the same as three conceptualists and composers and what The Bad Plus does and represents. Granted, it’s not so easy to get three people to cooperate on that level either, but that’s something we stand behind. We did this. We contributed this.

Who do you think is The Bad Plus’s closest imitator?

I have no idea. I’ve heard some things where I’ve thought they’ve clearly checked out The Bad Plus, but I’m not trying to uncover or discern who’s trying to emulate The Bad Plus.

People are saying GoGo Penguin sounds like The Bad Plus, but to me, they sound more like E.S.T., but then I think E.S.T. sounded like The Bad Plus.

E.S.T. was around before The Bad Plus. And E.S.T. stands for Esbjörn Svensson Trio, so that was different.

What’s your favorite The Bad Plus album and why?

You know I can’t answer that question. I like them all, for their own reasons. I honestly can’t say we’ve ever made a record that I think is a lesser record.

When I first contacted you about this interview, I said I would not be writing a breakup article. But I do need to ask about the transition. When did you know that a change was coming and Ethan would be leaving the band?

In a sense, I could say it’s been clear for a long time, but Ethan told us in January of this year that he wanted to move on.

Was that surprising to you?


Can you talk about the decision you and Dave made to stay together as The Bad Plus and keep the name?

First of all, Dave came up with the name. It’s very much our band as well. Ethan is one-third of it, but Dave and I have built this thing as well, and we feel very much that it’s ours. It’s not a life sentence to be in The Bad Plus. Ethan wants to move on, and that’s his right, and that’s fine, but in terms of what we’ve done and what we’ve built and what The Bad Plus represents, that’s something that [Dave and I] want to continue.

Why is Orrin Evans a good fit for The Bad Plus?

I’ve known Orrin since the early ’90s. I’ve played a lot with Orrin and he’s a friend. My stock answer is he’s a fellow weirdo. He’s a brilliant pianist, and he’s also someone who has really committed to a group aesthetic in his various projects over the years. He’s a very inspired player, and he’s the only person we considered.

Dave and I said – let’s see if Orrin will do it. We had no one else in mind, and we didn’t have any auditions or anything like that. We just said let’s call Orrin and see if he’s open to doing this. He said yes immediately, which I think was quite brave of him.

Maybe you know this, but John Murph wrote a piece in April 2004 for Jazz Times, responding to “These Are the Vistas,” that said – and this is an exact quote – “Meanwhile, equally daring and inventive black artists such as Steve Coleman, Jason Moran, Greg Osby and the bad plus Orrin Evans have had to toil for far more years to receive such praise.”

He wrote “the bad plus Orrin Evans”?

He did.

See? Written in the stars.

You and Dave have already made your first album with Orrin.

Yes, and I have to say I really think it sounds very much like The Bad Plus, and that’s the whole point. Orrin is a very different pianist from Ethan, but The Bad Plus is more than just some guys getting together. We’re overall very highly curated, and we’re very concept-based, and we’re very composition-based, and that’s also why Dave and I felt so strongly about continuing, because … how do I say this? What makes The Bad Plus tick is very much in our possession.

When we did the record with Wendy Lewis [“For All I Care,” 2009], it sounds like The Bad Plus. When Josh [Redman] comes in [“The Bad Plus Joshua Redman,” 2015], it still sounds like The Bad Plus. There’s a reason that we sound the way we do. It’s not an unconsidered equation.

Do you have any final words about The Bad Plus in its original incarnation?

No, because it’s not final.

I think our body of work speaks for itself, and it’s something we’re all extremely proud of. That’s pretty much what I would say.


The Bad Plus Interviews 2017: Introduction

The Bad Plus interviews 2017: Ethan Iverson
The Bad Plus Interviews 2017: Dave King
The Bad Plus Interviews 2017: Lowell Pickett (Dakota Jazz Club)
The Bad Plus Interviews 2017: Philip Bither (Walker Art Center)

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