Rich Halley


Personal Statement

Rich Halley

There have been two great areas of interest in my life: music, centered on jazz; and nature, centered on the wilderness, plants and animals. Although these two interests may seem dissimilar, they are one in my life and it's been a common event for me to practice my horn, work for a while on a new composition and then head into the backcountry for a few days. This is certainly at odds with stereotypes about jazz musicians, but having grown up in Oregon with the woods behind my house, it's natural to me.

My interest in nature led to academic study (M.S. Biology, University of New Mexico), various jobs working in the mountains and lots of time spent in the backcountry of the West. Since I have lived in Oregon most of my life and know the region intimately, its geographic, environmental and human particulars have been part of the creative process for me. Tune titles, texts, compositional concepts and the feeling that goes into the music: all of these things are influenced by my home country and the way it affects me. This is not always conscious but I think awareness of where you are and the uniqueness of what is there is valuable in any creative work. In my music I have tried to reflect my experience and the place where I live is an important part of that.

On the artistic level, I believe the main thing is to develop your own voice. In jazz, the tradition has always been to extend the tradition. This means that a musician needs to absorb the essence of what has come before and then use that to develop something original that speaks authentically from his or her own experience. I believe that in order for the spirit of the music to stay alive it must continue to evolve. Reflecting this, my own work has developed and evolved over the years in response to my own changing experience.

Certain basic values and approaches have remained throughout, though. My primary background is in jazz and I feel a strong identity with the entire jazz tradition from Louis Armstrong to the most abstract contemporary stuff. But folk elements are also really important to me. I learned how play as a professional while working in rhythm and blues bands in Chicago. This early experience left an indelible mark and the blues remains a core element in my music. I have also worked in Latin bands and in African based music. Finally, I have listened a lot to American folk traditions, especially Native American music and rural Southern folk music. I have come to see an essential unity between all these musical strands. These diverse styles are reflected in some measure in the music that I write and perform.

As of now, I am working with more open structures that emphasize melody and rhythm. Frequently the music is based around some kind of groove although the cadences may be odd and are often based on multiple rhythms that "stack" one on top of the other and open the way to move in and out of different subdivisions. The structures are written in such a way that they give a general direction to the musicians without being restrictive and are interpreted differently from performance to performance.

The main thing however, is the feeling. For music to be successful it has to move people and have meaning for them. That's what is really important.

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