An active performer in New York City for the past decade, Jessica Pavone has been leading her own bands, performing in ensembles led by Anthony Braxton, Jason Cady, Jeremiah Cymerman, Matana Roberts, Aaron Siegel, Henry Threadgill and Matthew Welch, and contributing to some musical collectives that readers of this blog know and enjoy. While you’re likely to see her playing viola with Anthony Braxton, if you catch one of her other projects live you’ll probably see her play other instruments such as bass or violin, sing, or begin to incorporate effects pedals in her performance to create the sound of many Jessica Pavones at once. Jessica has a busy fall ahead of her, with the premiere of several new projects and the release of a new CD. Read about all of her upcoming events here.
Jessica Pavone / photo by Erica Magrey
When did you start playing?
When I was three years old, I started asking my parents for a violin. After two years of constant pestering, my father asked me at age five, “why?”
I answered that I liked the sound it made, which justified to them that the proposition was worthy of investigation. I began taking lessons at the Brooklyn Conservatory in Flushing, Queens but after a year, my teacher died! I had another teacher for a year and then we moved to Pelham, New York. I studied with various teachers around there and played in Baroque and county orchestras. I also started picking up piano lessons from my neighbor who taught at her house. In high school there was no string program available at my school, so I joined the band. I doubled the tuba parts on double bass and picked up electric bass around then as well. After graduating, I decided to go to music school because I hated school and thought that studying music in college would be creative and fun. I am fortunate that I had the opportunity to pursue this endeavor. I auditioned on viola, which I had switched to from violin at some point in my early teens. I always liked playing musical instruments but I am not sure if, at that time, I understood entirely why.
How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?
Upon almost instant creative paralyzation after entering conservatory at age 17 (I wasn’t quite sure of what I was getting myself into, nor was I aware of other outlets for using my instrument at that time), I struggled to figure out a way to make music a more creative experience. Initially, I broke away from the confines of orchestra excerpts and viola master classes by beginning studies in education. It seemed a bit more well-rounded to me. When I still felt like I was hitting a wall studying to be an educator for band nerds, I attempted to take some composition classes. My courseload was so extensive already – playing catch-up on credits due to switching majors – that I didn’t really have time to focus on the composition course. I had to drop the course almost immediately. I began free improvising with a violinist friend of mine from the school orchestra, and that was rather eye-opening. I started to seek out more of these experiences and quickly realized that there were other people around Hartford, Connecticut who were interested in creative approaches to music. I started playing free with a bunch of people around that time. Eventually my friend Ed brought me down to Wesleyan University, which was twenty minutes from Hartford, to hear an Anthony Braxton concert. My mind was blown. Also, the people I met there were really friendly. Shortly after, students from Wesleyan were calling me to come down to work on projects and play in original music groups, as well as participate in composer/performer collectives. This is where I first started to compose and approach sound more creatively.
Which composers/musicians most influence your work?
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Otis Redding (Booker T and the MG’s)
What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
I still perform in my duo with Mary Halvorson. We have been doing this for almost ten years now. We tend to only tour once a year – more often that not, in Europe. Our fourth record, Departure of Reason, comes out this fall on Thirsty Ear.
I recently joined the band Normal Love as a violinist. This music sounds like nothing I have ever heard before. It has been one of the more satisfying musical experiences I have had in a while. We have a new record, Survival Tricks, due out later in the year.
The Thirteenth Assembly, which includes Mary Halvorson, Tomas Fujiwara, and Taylor Ho Bynum, just finished our second album, Station Direct, which is also due out this fall on Important Records. We will be touring in Europe in late October.
As for my own creative personal vision, I am cultivating a solo project. I have composed and performed solo music over the years on both the viola and violin, but I decided to elaborate on previous ideas by acquiring a multi-channel loop station to enable me to create more dense and intricate songs that I can sing simple melodies over. I spent a good portion of 2011 writing lyrics for my chamber music project, Hope Dawson is Missing, and really got into creating with words. I am not the greatest singer, but I have always felt that the human voice is one of the most elemental forms of musical expression. Besides, I am definitely more interested in creativity versus virtuosity, which is overrated. I am also currently interested in creative independence at this point in time. If you see me playing music around town in the coming year, most likely that is what I’ll be doing.
What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
I received a Jerome Foundation commission from Roulette a year or so ago and began work on Hope Dawson is Missing as the follow-up to my 2009 Tzadik release, Songs of Synastry and Solitude. I augmented the Toomai string quartet’s format from “SOSS” (a string quartet that includes double bass) by adding guitar, drums and voice, and I composed lyrics that meditate on plutonian themes of destruction and rebuilding, migration, falsities and undeniable truths. It premieres on Thursday, September 29th at Roulette’s new space in Brooklyn.
I am also exited to be going to Saalfelden, Austria with the group Army of Strangers on August 28th. I spent a good portion of 2009 composing all of the music for this band and we released a record on Porter Records in February 2011. This will be our first concert since the recording, so it is a CD release concert of sorts.
And I will of course be participating in the Tri-Centric Foundation Festival from October 5 – 8 at Roulette.
How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
Anthony was a huge part of an amazing creative musical turn-around for me, as I mentioned earlier. Not just his influence as a creative artist, but the community that has developed around him as a result of his energy as well as his encouragement to self-produce, has been really influential. People I met around then (this was the late 1990s) were just doing: organizing, creating, exploring. Not everything was coming out intelligible, but for me it was a safe place to try ideas, learn what did and didn’t work and figure things out better for the next time.
What impact has the Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
Well, it is my favorite orchestra that I have been a part of. For one, the leader is encouraging and insightful and one hundred percent grateful to be sharing a musical experience with you, which I cannot say of any other orchestra director I have worked with. In the Tri-Centric Orchestra, each orchestra member participates on an equal level. It isn’t structured for a sole leader, which is in line with the hierarchy – or lack or hierarchy – in Anthony’s musical system.
One of my favorite parts of orchestra workshops, aside from being involved with the music, is listening to Anthony talk at the end of rehearsals and share his insights. He is a brilliant and captivating speaker whether he is talking about about music, current events, pop culture – anything at all. His revolutionary mind, in tandem with his eloquent form of communication, always results in my leaving the rehearsals jaw-droppingly inspired.
What’s your favorite food?
I am the moodiest eater ever. Not picky – moody. What I like one day may totally disturb me the next, and it is always unpredictable. Some foods that remain constantly on my good side are: salmon sashimi, tacos (bean, fish), broccoli rabe, breaded chicken cutlet, yogurt, oatmeal, coffee, rice noodles, quinoa, coconut milk, cheese ravioli, seared tuna, skirt steak, red wine, sopas, mushroom barley soup, squash soup, pesto, toast, kombucha, fresh mozzarella, angel hair with ricotta and salt, most green vegetables, brownies, chocolate and peanut butter, italian ice, sicilian rice balls, tequila and grapefruit juice. I am a fan of things that are natural and not processed, but I am not uptight about it. I also enjoy sampling the vast array of ethnic foods available in south Brooklyn.
Visit Jessica Pavone on the web:
Jessica Pavone official website
About Jessica Pavone’s Army of Strangers
Jessica Pavone in Signal to Noise