There’s a good chance that Nate Wooley’s upcoming solo set will contain some of the most radical music on offer at this year’s TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
Although the 39-year-old trumpeter has mastered most traditional jazz styles, he’s also been researching how to reinvent his instrument—and the general consensus is that he’s succeeded.
Wooley’s extensive investigations into the workings of the larynx, lips, and tongue—based, he says, on the linguistic principles of the International Phonetic Alphabet—have given him access to an entirely new set of embouchures. He uses amplification as a kind of microscope, creating near-electronic noisescapes from the sounds most trumpeters struggle to suppress. And he takes a playful approach to the material world, using his horn to resonate thin sheets of metal, for instance, to otherworldly effect.
Playing solo is a way to distill all of those discoveries into one deeply personal statement. But given how abstract or even jarring that statement will be, why should anyone else care?
“That’s a deep question, for me,” Wooley says, reached by telephone at his Jersey City home. “I’ve thought about it a lot, actually. I don’t think that every music is for every person, obviously. But through my years of playing—and I started playing professionally when I was 13—I watched people enjoy music in passing. I’d be playing a concert and maybe someone would walk through, and you could tell that they enjoyed it. But when you talked to them, they felt either that they didn’t have a right to enjoy it, because they hadn’t put the requisite effort in, or they were surprised that they enjoyed it because they didn’t think they were intelligent enough to get it.
“There’s a reason people feel this way,” he continues. “In a lot of cases, there is someone who is telling other people that this is only for a select few, that this is an elitist pursuit. And I personally don’t think that it is an elitist pursuit. When you listen to something like [electronic-music pioneer] David Tudor’s Rainforest, it’s not that far off from the dance music happening today, but there’s been this mental block that’s been created, saying, ‘You can like dance music, because that’s your intelligence level, while we true intelligentsia understand David Tudor.’ If you take that out of it and place the two things side by side, though, I think the person that’s into one can appreciate the other.”
In other words, Wooley says, “People aren’t stupid.” And you don’t have to be a musical savant to hear the evolutionary forces at play in his inspired renewal of his horn.
“In the jazz tradition, ever since Louis Armstrong, one of the words that you hear being used to describe the trumpet is vocal,” he notes. “But I think the vocal quality that a lot of those people are referring to is a very specialized, kind of romanticized vocal quality. It’s crying, or it’s joyful; it’s singing. And the thing that I became interested in was all the other vocal qualities you could have. Certain trumpet players have used screaming, but what does less-than-screaming sound like? What does mumbling sound like? What about indifference or pain or intense experience that’s not this romanticized notion that we have from Chet Baker and Miles Davis? What does that mean? How does that sound? To me, it’s the next logical step.”
Nate Wooley performs solo and with DJ Olive as part of Destroy Vancouver, a collaboration between the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival and VIVO Media Arts, at Ironworks on Saturday (June 28). He’ll also give a free workshop at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre at 4:30 p.m. on the same day.