This brought me to a point where I really had to start facing up to
things that I had neglected to face for many years, like 25 years. If I had
read the books five years ago I wouldn't have known what he was talking
about. Now it's all falling into place. Another thing that really opened my
ears was Indian music. I listened to it many times before but I didn't know
how to listen. If you don't know how to listen to it, all you hear is a
drone. People who listen to it for the first time say it sounds like bad
bagpipes. There's more to it than that. The drone after a while just fades
into the background and all the other music is superimposed. It's
unbelievable! I thought I knew a lot about rhythm but when I really
listened to Indian music I realized how little I know. How little we in the
West know about rhythm. It's a totally neglected area of music. Indian
music uses pulse. Western music is either 4/4 or total craziness which you
find in contemporary classical music. They claim they get varied rhythms.
Various rhythms doesn't mean it's going to create any tension in the way
Indian music would. They build up this incredible tension.
db: Because Eastern influence has affected you, I've heard you are into drums.
Hammer: I consider myself a drummer almost as much as a piano player now.
I'm involved. That's why I like playing with Elvin Jones, sitting next to
him on stage absorbing his approach and learning. It's school. That's what
school's all about. I mean, school is usually sitting in the classroom
while the teacher writes something on the blackboard. That's all bullshit.
You've got to sit next to your teacher and he plays something and you play
something. I mean that's the Indian way, one for one. That's the only way
to teach music.
db: In Birds of Fire you use the Moog synthesizer, how has that affected you?
Hammer: Anything I've played so far has a lock-in keyboard - piano, organ,
electric piano, always locked-in pitch. But the synthesizer is flexible;
you can bend notes on it. I can finally play the lines (slides) I've been
hearing. One cannot be restricted 100% to half-note, eighth notes, quarter
note, or whole notes. That's why I freaked when I first played that axe and
I haven't heard anybody use it in that way. People use it for all kinds of
things, but nobody's been into really bending notes. Peoples have been
using the Moog from five to seven years. All they do is like Muzak. It's
either Muzak or bombastic symphonic sounds which are great but at the same
time the synthesizer is an axe to be played. It's not only a color. I'm
just starting to scratch the surface of it. I feel it's going to take me
quite a few years to really get inside.
db: Do you think a lot of the jazz players are trapped?
Hammer: Yes, that's the feeling I have. They set their own traps although
the trap has been set for them and for me. I've been in it. That's how I
feel and I'm glad I'm out of it. I really was deep in it when I was in
Europe. If I hadn't left and come to New York I would have never gotten out
of it. New York is the place. You set your traps and have your dreams
db: It's like the cookie monster, but it's the dream monster.
Hammer: It's great! Everybody needs it. Musicians really need it.
db: It's like you either totally find your own identity or you become lost.
Hammer: Yeah, but when you leave and go somewhere else and try to
concentrate in finding your own identity - Europe isn't the place,
musically or personally. I believe you can find your own self anywhere but,
musically, there are the guys in New York who play. You can't find these
musicians anywhere but in New York. That's why I'm here. I need playing.
db: Could you talk a bit about your next step after the band?
Hammer: I would hope for my own band but I can't imagine any other band I
would enjoy working with. Replacing the energies would be hard to do. I am
so much a part of this already. This is the closest thing I've come to my
own band. It's very balanced. Each person is a certain extreme and it's a
five-way tie, making it all round. Like when Jerry stands drinking beer
with a cigarette stuck in his violin playing next to the immaculate image
of John - it's great having these extremes. The feeling I get is that I've
waited for this band knowing it was bound to happen. Every experience I've
had led me to this point. Never in my wildest dreams would I really imagine
enjoying playing with a Chicago rock'n roll fiddle player. I would never in
my life dream about it. It's a whole new way of playing for me. To me music
talks of sharing. I have to share, otherwise there's no sense for me to
play. If I'm going to play in a jazz club for three depressed people in a
corner I might was well not play. I feel jazz and I really live for it.