Jazz Inside Magazine Oct 2014
Interview with Cheryl Pyle by Nora McCarthy
JI: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview
Cheryl. You’re kind of an enigma in the
jazz and creative music world. You are a serious
and accomplished artist, flutist, composer, poet,
lyricist, conceptualist, bandleader and all around
creative individual who who has played with and
currently performs with some of the greats in the
business. You are also a staple on the L.E.S.
avant-garde scene and can often be heard at
many of the underground venues and performances
spaces there as well as in Brooklyn and
throughout Manhattan with your various projects
and as a member of projects led by other artists.
Your physical presence is very unassuming and
understated but your musical presence, your
voice, is advanced and developed, well defined
and honed—reflective of someone who is wholly
committed to their art and who has paid their fair
share of dues. So to begin, I’d like to ask you to
please talk a bit about where you’re from, when
you arrived in New York and what was the motivation
for coming here?
CP: The motivation for coming to New York in
1980- was to play jazz. I went to UC Berkeley
and so I lived in San Francisco and then the Midwest
before moving to New York.
JI: When did you pick up the flute?
CP: I started playing when I was nineteen in my
first year of college at San Diego Music College.
I was going to study art and I took a music class
with this really good professor that had studied
with Nadia Boulanger and he really inspired me
to get more into music. Also a friend of mine
played Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew for me which
had just come out at that time in 1970 and
Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay. Then when I heard
the CTI LP’s with those wonderful arrangements
of Hubert Laws—that’s when I knew what I
really wanted to do, so I switched to majoring in
music and got my Associate
Degree there and then went up
to UC Berkeley. I started
pretty late but I worked really
hard. I auditioned at UC
Berkeley and got in what was
pretty much a Classical Department
and I auditioned
with some Bach and Hindemith
and then by my last
year there in 1976 they started
a jazz program. They had a
really good jazz professor
Ollie Wilson and they had a
Javanese Gamelan so it was a
really wide range of music not
only Classical but jazz and
world. Then through student activities
they had a jazz big band so I got to
play all the big band flute parts with
those guys and every year they did
Pacific Coast Jazz Festival where
they invited artists to come in so we
got to play with Freddie Hubbard,
Hubert Laws and Sonny Rollins at
one concert. I remember sitting on the
steps in the wings on the side of the
stage with Hubert Laws watching
Sonny Rollins take this cadenza at the
end of a tune that just went on-andon,
it was just amazing to see him
playing alone so free like that. There
was a club in San Francisco at that
time called Keystone Korner and I
used to go in there every night and
hear a few tunes — Rashaan was
there — Horace Silver was there —
Dexter Gordon had come back from
Europe at that time — I mean everybody was
playing there — Earl Fatha Hines—it was just an
amazing club to hear jazz musicians and so I was
meeting a lot of musicians; I met Woody Shaw, I
met Horace Silver’s band at the time, Barry Ries,
Todd Coolman, Harold White and all those guys
and they all said, “Move to New York.” So, in
1980 I picked up everything and came here.
1980 was really wonderful here. There were
musicians everywhere in the Village and there
were so many clubs. Max was still the owner of
the Vanguard; he let all the musicians in to hear
music and Steve Getz, Stan Getz’s son, was
doing the door at Fat Tuesday’s. I met Fred
Hersch at Bradley’s. He had been playing there
because they had a wonderful piano and they had
piano/bass duos so I did a little demo tape with
Fred Hersch, Ron McClure and this drummer
from Scandinavia and I got a gig at the Jazz
Forum. There were lots of loft clubs at that time:
Jazz Forum, Jazz Mania and some other places,
so I just started the journey that way and I did
my first gig at the Jazz Forum in November with
Fred Hersch, Ron McClure and Billy Hart and
it’s just been a wonderful experience putting
together groups, writing music, writing lyrics,
just playing as much as I can.
JI: Let’s backtrack a bit and tell our readers who
may not know who Nadia Boulanger was.
CP: She was a teacher in Paris that taught a lot
of the composers to write and so a lot of people
came from the States over to France to study
with her—like Charles Ives. So the professor
that I had was pretty inspiring and I think that
got me started really working hard plus my
friend at the time that had played the Miles and
CTI stuff for me practiced everyday so that got
me into a routine. I noticed what the other musicians
were doing. If you worked on tunes and if
you worked on ideas, then the work that you do
every day in little increments builds up over the
years which becomes your experience and translates
into your voice or how you conceive of
playing jazz. I still play every day. I play scales
and do warm ups, Classical flute studies and
work on jazz ideas as well.
JI: So you came out of a Classical background?
Is that what you started playing first? What were
you playing before you got into jazz?
CP: I took some flute lessons initially and most
of that is you learn scales and arpeggios and you
work on Mozart pieces, you work on Bach and
flute sonatas, you learn to play the instrument. I
think you really have to do that first before anything.
If you don’t know how to play the instrument
it’s pretty hard to do anything—jazz, classical
JI: So when you got to UC-Berkley that’s when
you were focusing more on the jazz and was it
straight ahead or a mixture?
CP: Yes, at that time I was really learning harmony,
learning music forms, learning changes
and just getting a really good background. Even
when I came to New York I was mostly playing
tunes, changes and writing that kind of music. So
the freer improvisation has manifested in the last
four or five years.
JI: Sometimes I think the instrument picks the
musician. They just show up one day and suddenly
you pick it up and that’s the beginning.
CP: I don’t know. it’s a mystery.
JI: I think most creative artists approach composition
in a very personal way, please talk about
your compositions and also about the process.
CP: I write tunes, I write lyrics. I do a lot of
composing. I think it’s really good to keep fragments
of ideas. I jot everything down. Sometimes
they turn into tunes much later or sometimes
they turn into tunes immediately but it’s a
mysterious process. I like to work on ideas and
JI: What about your lyrics—you’ve written
words for other people’s work as well as your
CP: I mostly do other jazz tunes. When I was in
San Francisco I did lyrics for a Frank Foster
tune, “Simone” and when I came to New York I
met Roseanna Vitro during the early years
around when I met Fred Hersch. They were two
of my first friends here and I showed those to her
and she really liked them. I was working on
some of Fred Hersch’s tunes for the gig, he
writes some amazingly beautiful melodies, and I
just heard some words—there was something
about the rhythm of the melodies that gave me
the ideas for the lyrics and I wrote those down. I
wrote a lot of lyrics for Fred’s tunes. He recorded
a duo CD with Janis Siegel and I did
some of those and Roseanna recorded some of
those too. I wrote some lyrics for pianist Michael
Cochrane, who I’d been doing some gigs with,
and a lot of lyrics for Tom Harrell’s tunes and
Sheila Jordan has recorded a couple of those:
“Sail Away” and “Buffalo Wings.” So that just
kind of took off as another creative outlet for me.
I’d work on these tunes during the day and then
at night I would start hearing words that would
fit to the rhythms and so I’d send those off to the
composers. There are so many great jazz musicians
now that write their own music and I feel
that some of them are so beautiful that somebody
should sing them as well. So, I’ve just been
mostly doing words for other people’s tunes.
JI: That’s a specific art in and of itself. It seems
that your process for getting into the lyric writing
was a very organic one, a very natural one.
Do you have a certain formula that you use to
write or do you just let it happen?
CP: It’s really the rhythms, those give me the
ideas. Certain rhythms just fit certain words.
Sometimes the title gives me a subject to write
lyrics about but it’s kind of a mysterious process
composing and writing. I just try and tap into the
intuition and go where the rhythm takes me. I
think that rhythm is the most important thing.
When I’m playing gigs I want to stand next to
the drummer; I gravitate towards that. It’s really
an important element of music. It’s the melody,
harmony and rhythm. Especially with jazz, the
rhythm is the most important thing. You can
almost in a way play whatever you want to play
if the rhythm is there. Music for me is really
magical and it’s great if you can tap into that
area of it and just stay with the heart focus,
where the music is.
JI: I think rhythm is everything too. Anytime
you want to change a tune up—arrangements are
all based off of rhythms—you just switch it
around. The rhythm gives way to the feel of it
and there you have a new thing. So you mentioned
a couple singers, do you work a lot with
CP: I’ve mostly done instrumental groups. Actually
you and I just did a wonderful gig with some
singers that you arranged at the Medicine Show
Theatre that was really wonderful. And, I’d like
to do more of that. I was really glad to record
duo flute and voice with you and I’m exploring
that more. I just did another lyric project for the
music of Claire Fischer that Roseanna Vitro
recorded with her group with Mark Soskin.
There are some really amazing arrangements for
those tunes. But, I haven’t really done a lot of
gigs with singers, mostly just put together duos,
trios or quartets. I did one sextet with Carmen
Cuesta and Chuck Loeb and that was really
beautiful. I had voice, flute and trumpet as the
horn section. So I have some ideas for those
groups but I haven’t been able to do a lot of gigs
with larger groups that way.
JI: What about arrangements? When you conceive
of an idea for a group, do you physically
write out arrangements or is it something that
just goes from the idea to the actual manifestation
of it to the practice of it?
CP: It’s always different. Initially it was tunes,
so the changes are there and you can decide on
where you want solos, that kind of thing. I
played in a flute big band with Chip Shelton,
Jamie Baum and Dottie Anita Taylor and a lot of
the flute players in New York and I did an arrangement
for one of my tunes so it was four
flutes, alto and bass flute and rhythm section and
that was kind of a big band arrangement for
flute. Lately, it’s just been conceiving a free jazz
idea or a topic and improvising that way. It’s
always different and I really enjoy that because
that keeps the music growing I think rather than
to be locked into playing tunes, or standards or
just playing one way or the other; I just kind of
try a lot of things. I play regular tunes, I play
free, I play with rock bands, I do internet projects—
I’m just trying to do as much music as
possible which is the main goal.
JI: Wow, you’re multi-functional!
CP: I think there’s this thing that happens when
you hear certain tunes and it’s called the “goose
pimple factor” where you get this feeling like,
“oh, it’s great,” and I mean it can be anything. I
just did a gig with mbira. We played these African
tunes which are just beautiful, but it can be
any kind of combination. I think it is good to
explore and for me I think that’s the purpose of
playing music to explore that creativity.
JI: Who are some of your major influences,
either on your instrument or in the music and
also some people that you have performed with
that we might know about other than the ones
you have mentioned?
CP: I’m not really sure. I mean some people told
me that they hear Debussy and Hindemith in my
playing—some people say they hear King Crimson
and Eric Dolphy. I have no idea, I’m just
trying to play. I’ve met so many wonderful musicians
here I just feel so lucky to be in New
York because every situation that I’ve been able
to play in has just been a wonderful experience. I
feel that most of the musicians have been better
than me so it makes me a better musician to play
with them. I try to hear what they have to teach
me and then add what I can. I just feel that some
of the experiences have been so incredible I
can’t even believe that it happened. On my 38th
birthday for example, I was able to record some
tunes with Tom Harrell for his CD and that was
with Joe Lovano, Danilo Perez, Charlie Haden
and Paul Motian. I keep remembering that session
because they just completely lifted me off
of my feet. The support musically for whatever I
was playing was so amazing and I sometimes
say I was on a cloud of Paul Motian. It’s just
playing with amazing musicians that are so creative
and know how to play so well that they
make you a better musician and there are many
of those people here in New York. I think that’s
why we are very lucky to be in this playing
situation. I’m just always trying to learn as much
as possible and I thank all the people that I’ve
done gigs with. I think the list of names is very
long at this point because it’s been since 1980
and it’s now 2014 and I feel really lucky to still
be playing Nora because of health issues that I
had in 2010, playing is a wonderful healing and
sustaining influence so that’s what I would add
to the list of amazing musicians.
JI: Not to get into your personal health issues,
but health was an influence on you as well it
CP: A lot of people are dealing with some serious
things and it changes your perspective I
think. I’ve been more open in a way and more
driven. Sometimes, when you have problems
there are lessons that you learn and it makes you
stronger. It’s not always a bad thing but I’m
really happy that I can still play flute.
JI: The musicians that have always inspired me
were people that were able to rise above their
personal tragedies be they health issues or some
other kind of life changing experience and turn
them around into something positive. I remember
a story that a friend of mine, pianist Ace
Carter, told me years ago when I was feeling
down about something and he spoke about
someone he knew, an amazing pianist, who lost
one of his hands and he could no longer play the
piano so he picked up the trumpet and he mastered
CP: There’s always a way if you want to find it.
JI: Let’s talk about some recordings that you
have out there. You mentioned the one with Joe
Lovano and Tom Harrell earlier, how many recordings
do you have out there and talk about
your 11th Street Music Production Company.
CP: Yes, I have publishing and my own little
record company. I did my first CD in 1996-97
with a quartet of guys that I had been playing
gigs around New York with and we recorded a
CD called, Dalle Alle. I pressed it, got a distributor
nationwide and got them in Tower Records. I
did the whole process myself and became a onewoman
record company. Then in 2008, I got a
digital recorder so I’ve been recording at home
and doing a lot of online CD projects since
2008-09. I have a group with Stan Zaslavsky, a
pianist/bandleader who lives in Russia, the trumpet
player is in Germany, the bassists—there’s
one in New Jersey and one in Nashville and the
guitarist is in Oklahoma. We’ve done two CDs,
Wonderful Times and Post Fiction this year.
That’s a wonderful group. I love flute and trumpet
as the horn line-up. I’ve done some live CDs,
one recently with you, flute and voice duo Let’s
Talk About Now and a trio CD Live at
Shapeshifter Lab for my birthday gig in April
with Roberta Piket and Newman Taylor Baker—
it’s just been wonderful being able to record and
find other musicians from so far away and collaborate
on music with them. I also have a free
jazz trio with Max Ridgway and Randall Colbourne
and we’ve done three CDs and that’s all
recorded via the internet. We did Soul Dust in
2011, Green Underworld in 2010 and we just
did Modern Art this year. I really enjoy doing
that because I can be home and really focus on
what I’m playing and then I send the tracks off
to be mixed. It’s a new world of recording now,
and I’m meeting lots of musicians. I just did
another duo CD with Axel Weiss a guitarist in
Germany that’s called Silent Noise On Saturn
and that’s coming out in September and we did a
sextet CD in 2012 with a singer and trumpet
player that are in Norway called Flow. There
have been some wonderful projects lately and
I’m really enjoying that as well.
JI: You are recording live in the moment? Explain
the process in more detail.
CP: I record with a digital recorder and send
away files. So for example, the piano player in
Russia, he’ll send me a tune that he’s recorded,
sometimes he sends it with the trumpet solo
already or sometimes he’ll send it to me first so
I’ll add some flute and then he’ll send it to the
guitarist and he’ll add a guitar part. These arrangements
come out so beautifully that some
people have actually mentioned that they think
we wrote it out and we didn’t. It’s all by ear. I’m
really enjoying that because you have to listen
and not step on people and give them some room
to play too so it’s a unique playing experience
and something that is probably going to happen
more since we are all online.
JI: Not only is that great but it has the potential
for the entire world to start having a musical
dialogue with one another but it is a very positive
and beautiful way to communicate and
you’re doing it. Everyone knows or should know
it will be the artist that ultimately saves the day.
This is the way out of the insanity that we’re
currently experiencing here on the planet—
alternative means to end war and create peace on
earth through music. It’s a start. You found a
way. You’re bridging a cultural dialogue, you’re
CP: Exactly. It’s Jazz Without Borders. They’ve
done a lot of articles and news stories on Stan in
Russia and that’s what they mentioned. They can
do live web concerts via the internet where you
can actually play with people and see them. We
haven’t done that yet. A lot of the musicians
from Europe that I’ve recorded with have actually
come to New York and I’ve been able to
meet them which is always really nice. I prefer
to play in person—and if we get a chance to we
always try to do that. But when we are all so
spread out and you find like-minded people, why
not play some music with them? I think that this
is a positive thing and that’s all you can do in the
world to make things better is to influence the
person that you’re talking to at the moment and
it’s those small movements that change things
more than anything.
JI: That is so true. I believe in that. I think any
step in that kind of a positive direction affects
the entire outcome of everything. Not to mention
wouldn’t you rather tune in to people making
beautiful music together rather than killing each
other? To quote you Cheryl….”Energy Flows
Where the Attention Goes!”
CP: People are really enjoying the music and
that’s the important thing for us.
JI: So commerce doesn’t enter into it?
CP: That’s another topic. I don’t know what to
say about the music business. I mean you and I
just did a jam on that as a matter of fact. That for
me is a whole other story. I’ve always worked a
regular job part-time and played music so I don’t
know. I always dreamed it would be wonderful
to make a living playing music but the reality is I
don’t think any of us can do that anymore. What
I want to do instead of focusing on that is focus
on what I can do. I think that having any kind of
health issues that scare you, when it hits you that
you won’t be here forever; that changes your
focus. So the focus for me is music and if I can
make some money, well we all need that of
course but, I really don’t know what the answer
to that is Nora. It’s such a complicated issue and
everyone is struggling with it. I really don’t
know what the answer is—the economy—I don’t
know. That’s all I can say. Tom Harrell wrote
this tune one time and he was looking for a title
and I just said, “I don’t know,” and that’s what
he titled it. That’s something I say a lot because
there’s so many complex issues and there’s so
many messes in the world, I don’t know what the
answer is but for me, I’m just trying to focus on
playing as much as possible. I hope that will
send out some positive energy.
JI: I trust a person that says, “I don’t know.”
Keeps it open for some actual results or some
solutions to take place, that to me shows that
there are possibilities, that you’re not closed
minded or that you think you know how to solve
something, because I don’t think any of us at this
stage of the game can figure it out. The commerce
issue has a lot of musicians in a quandary.
It is interfering with how they make music. It’s
got them running in circles trying to figure out
how to do what they do and survive at the same
time without compromising. Nobody wants to do
day gigs. No other occupation or vocation requires
that you do something else in order to
survive or qualify your existence. If you chose to
be a doctor for instance, you would just do that.
Even a teacher, though they don’t get paid well
either but it’s a respected professional and they
get a wage and benefits. So I think that issue
regarding compensation and long term benefits
such as pension funds and health care has everyone
running in circles. Too many door gigs …
none of these gigs last and certainly one gig isn’t
going to pay the bills. It appears, more often than
not, that everyone makes money off of the music
but the musician. An urgent solution begs.
CP: I hope so. We all try to survive any way we
can. That’s the bottom line.
JI: Do you have a particular philosophy that you
CP: It’s just to learn as much as I can, not hurt
anyone, try to be the best musician I can be and
JI: What is your take on the scene currently and
the changes it has gone through for better or for
worse over the years?
CP: It seems like a lot of the places that I played
in the early ‘80’s are gone. After 9/11 a lot of
places, businesses, closed in New York but some
new ones have opened. We have the wonderful
Why Not Jazz Room now. They’re doing experimental,
straight-ahead, world, all kinds of stuff
there and I really love the room. I’ve played with
Premik Russell Tubbs in our Flute Karma Duo
and played with your group Manna For Thought
and Beyond Duo with bassist Francois Grillot.
I’ve been playing a lot of free improv concerts at
ABC No Rio and Downtown Music Gallery so
those two places feel like home for me as well.
The first gig when I was getting my lip back
together in January, 2011 was at ABC No Rio. I
played a duo with Nick Gianni, two flutes.
That’s a wonderful place. The building is falling
down and there are holes in the floor but it is just
great to play there. There is a whole bunch of
musicians who really love music who go there
and do sets and then we all jam at the end which
I really love so it’s a real community feeling.
Bruce Gallanter’s Downtown Music Gallery is
wonderful because it’s been in New York since
the ‘80’s. It used to be on 5th Street and then it
moved downtown to Lafayette and then Monroe;
it’s moved a couple of times. Bruce has jazz
concerts there every Sunday and you can hear
some wonderful creative players there for free. It
also has a lot of great records as well. There are
some really cool places still in New York. I just
noticed that people are really coming together
lately. I feel that kind of 80’s vibe. It’s like when
the ‘80’s were like the ‘60’s. It felt like that
when I first came to New York—I’d just walk
around and there were lots of musicians in the
Village and everyone was going out to hear everyone’s
gigs and everyone was collaborating on
gigs and putting together gigs with their friends
and that’s happening a lot now. You and I just
did the Dissident Arts Festival at El Taller as
members of the Dissident Arts Orchestra along
with many other creative artists. It was a day of
great music. The more we struggle the more we
JI: I think so too and I also think that that is one
of the best things about being in New York is
that we have this large community of musicians
and the diversity is just mind boggling. The people
are positive and pulling together, like you
said, regardless of the economy or the availability
of gigs, it’s not stopping the music at all.
There’s a tremendous underground scene I think.
CP: And, really great musicians, I’m just enjoying
it immensely. I feel really lucky to be a part
of it and to be included in the creativity means a
lot to me.
JI: So, in an ideal world in keeping with what
we are talking about, what would you like see
happen with the music and the opportunities for
CP: I don’t know, I’m just here now. Now is all
we have. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I
can’t predict. I can’t even imagine because so
many great things have happened to me and so
many scary things have happened to me. You
just don’t know. To try and say what will be is a
mystery. So, I’m waiting for it to unfold and I
hope I can be here as long as possible to see it.
JI: Do you teach?
CP: I would like to teach. I did a couple of Classical
festivals for my flute teacher up in Vermont
at the Manchester Music Festival. I have my
Skype set up and I’d love to do some online
lessons. I know a lot of people teach flute but I
just haven’t found any students so that is something
I would like to do. If there is anyone out
there that would like to study with me, write me
on Facebook at Facebook.com/
redhairedstepchild. I have all the social media
except Twitter because I never used it and don’t
know what the point of it is. I also don’t have a
cell phone. But I’m on YouTube, Facebook,
Soundcloud, Google +; I can be reached on any
of those. I post music and gig announcements so
feel free to add me or check in.
JI: Would you like to elaborate any further on
any specific ones that you’re working on now?
CP: A friend is coming from Holland in October,
Mark Alban Lotz. We’re going to do duo
flutes at Downtown Music Gallery on October
19. It his first time in New York so I hope a lot
of people will come—he’s a wonderful flute
player and it should be some amazing music.
JI: I know that you have a very special place
where you practice [laughter] in your apartment—
your studio—which is your bathroom.
CP: Yes, the acoustics are wonderful! Les Paul
always went into the bathroom to record so I
figured why not?
JI: What do you practice?
CP: I think it’s important to play every day. I
like to warm up and keep my emboucher strong
and work on ideas.
JI: How long do you do that for?
CP: I try to do at least an hour and a half two
hours every day. I’ve been doing that since I was
nineteen. As a matter of fact when I had my lip
surgery, I was playing with stitches in my lip, I
just never stopped. If I could play, I was playing
and I recorded Inside Dialogue with stitches as
well. I think it’s a really healing thing to do. So I
was composing, trying to play and recording
during that whole process in 2010. I love to play
every day. If you can make scales musical, I
think that’s really important too. It’s not just
rudiments. There’s music in everything.
JI: I agree. I also agree with the fact that the
music healed you and your instrument healed
you. I believe that music is the ultimate healer
because it comes from the source, the highest
CP: It was wonderful to play in that situation
and I figured, why not? I knew I needed to keep
playing so I said, “Here we go.”
JI: You went through the fire and the rain. What
are your thoughts about women in jazz? Is that a
cause that you are particularly passionate about?
CP: I don’t know how I visualize myself. I think
it’s important that everyone’s voice should be
included and I’d really like to see that. I’d like to
see a lot of different people and influences in the
groups. I think that just adds to the creativity. I
think it would be great to see more of it. And, I
think that we are seeing more of it, just as with
everything in society, it’s an ongoing process
and you have to stay on top of it and you have to
be in the situation and play as well as you can
and that’s all you can do. Keep being as visible
JI: Do you find that there is a disparity in the
numbers of women that are performing that
could be getting gigs that aren’t?
CP: I think that in every situation there are problems.
It’s not a perfect world and it’s not a perfect
jazz world either. There are lots of things we
all need to work on. I don’t have a solution for it.
I’m just trying to be as strong a musician as I
can. I think that that says more than anything
JI: Do you support or belong to any organizations
that are actually working toward that end to
bring awareness to these issues especially for the
younger female jazz musicians today and to
address the “glaring disparity” of female musicians
in well known orchestras?
CP: I support Ellen Seelings’ fight to get more
women in the big bands and she’s doing a really
great job. But I prefer to personally lead by example.
If I’m visible and I’m out there playing
and other younger women musicians see that, I
hope that will inspire them to do their own bands
and do their own record companies. Just get out
there and do the work because nobody is going
to do it for you. I feel really lucky to be included
in a new book by Chris Becker, Women In Jazz.
I think that there are more people noticing that
there are really great musicians of all ethnicities,
of all sexes, of all persuasions—whatever it is, I
think human beings are very creative and women
hold up half the world so it’s good to hear their
voices as well.
JI: Wouldn’t it be ideal to refer to everyone
regardless of sex as a “jazz musician” instead of
having to differentiate by saying “women in
jazz” or female saxophonist, bassist, pianist….
CP: Yes, that’s what I feel like but not only that
Nora, I feel like just a musician. I love playing
so much, improvising is a very special thing to
me, but there’s other music that touches my
eart just as much. I think it’s important to just
be a musician and be as creative in whatever
way you can.
JI: Do you have any advice for young women
who may be grappling with the idea of having a
career in the music?
CP: Just to practice as much as you can, to learn
as much as you can and play with as many different
people as you can. Explore as many different
styles of music and then take all those
elements and sit down with them year-after-yearafter-
year and put them in a way where you play
how you hear it. I think that’s how people find
their voice. It’s not regurgitating how other people
sound but taking all those elements and making
it your unique way. The magic of jazz is that
you can do and you can add your special kind of
take on it. The first thing is to learn an instrument
and then book a gig when you feel you’re
ready or even when you’re not quite ready. I did
some jam sessions in San Francisco when they
had the loft jam sessions and I’m sure I just
stepped on it all the time but I got up there and
that’s the biggest thing…you have to try. For a
while in the beginning you probably aren’t going
to sound too good but if you keep trying, you’ll
learn and that’s the important thing because it’s a
process it’s not about the final thing. There is no
end to it. You’re always learning from whomever
you play with; you’re going to learn some
different new thing. I think what’s most important
is to keep an open mind and just try.
JI: I agree with you one hundred percent. I think
that goes for all young musicians coming up
playing and even for those who have been
around for some time. The thing I love most
about music is that it never ends—only when
you end does it end. But other than that, it’s a
process. To have something that you can sink
your teeth into, to grow from, to turn to and enjoy
your entire lifetime is a gift and a blessing.
CP: It’s an amazing journey and I feel lucky to
be on this road.
JI: Regarding mind, body and spirit, do you
subscribe to any spiritual philosophies and how
important is spirituality to you? Do you practice
any health regimes like exercise, nutrition, meditation,
any or all of the various modalities.
CP: Yes, I do all that. I try to stay healthy and
eat right. I meditate. It’s another process—the
learning and trying to stay centered and balanced
in life. Just as you try to be balanced and centered
in the tune that you are playing, so it applies
to the day you are living. There are always
trials and lessons, just try and stay centered,
balanced and as healthy as possible.
JI: What about discipline; I’m sure you have to
incorporate a lot of that in your day to day?.
CP: Yes, I’m pretty organized. I try to make
time to work out, to relax, to make dinner, to
practice, to work so I can pay the bills. I try to
organize my life the way I’d organize a composition.
JI: I love that concept. What if anything do you
want that you don’t currently have?
CP: I have everything I need. I live very simply.
I’ve always lived in a small apartment. I have
my music here, my books and the recording
equipment and that’s it—the bed, the kitchen—I
don’t need anything. I think the culture has been
a consumer culture for so long but I don’t need
stuff. [laughter]. We just did a jam about “stuff.”
We have a lot of stuff. We have too much.
JI: But do we have the right stuff? [laughter] Is
there such a thing?
CP: I have the right stuff. I don’t have a T.V.
and I’m cool.
JI: I don’t know if you project this far into the
future but where do you see yourself in five
CP: No clue. The veil hasn’t been lifted on that
one yet so I don’t know. I know that if I’m still
here, I’ll be playing music. That’s all I can tell
you Nora. I’ve been on this road since I was
nineteen and I’m sixty-one now and that’s not
going to stop.
JI: So you are still going to be on the road in
five years if there is a road for us to be on. Before
we tag it out, I just want you talk briefly
about improvisation. How do you approach it for
those who have difficulty allowing themselves to
CP: First as I mentioned, you have to do the
work so you know the changes, the form and
then depending on who you’re playing with you
have to let go of all of it. Forget your ego and
how nervous you might be and just tap into
what’s in your heart/intuition and play something
creative that you’ve never played before.
Sometimes it works and sometimes you try
things and it doesn’t work and that’s the joy and
terror of improvising. You never know what’s
going to happen and that’s the wonderful thing
too it can be just amazing music.
JI: Who decides if it’s good or bad? Do you
believe there are such measures?
CP: I think a lot of it is intrinsic. It’s just what it
is. That’s for other people to say. I think you can
tell when you listen to certain things what
touches you but it’s different for everyone; I
can’t say what’s the best thing for somebody
else. All I can say is—”Wow, that really moves
JI: May I then presume that you don’t take
much stock in critics or “reviews”?
CP: That’s not true. We’ve had a lot of CD reviews
and there are some wonderful people who
write them for instance Gregory Applegate Edwards.
I think it’s wonderful that these writers
can express themselves so well when they listen
to the music. When I read them, I can’t even
imagine, but it is really wonderful that some
people can write that way and be creative that
way. I’ve just chosen to do it with the flute and
other people do it with creative writing. Everybody
is different, we’re not all the same and it’s
all valid to me. You can have an opinion. We all
should have opinions on what we like. Hopefully,
maybe something I like will be something
someone else hasn’t heard of and they’ll be able
to explore that new thing and maybe like it to.
JI: Where can people buy your music Cheryl?
CP: There are some things on CD Baby and
iTunes but you can order direct from me on any
of the music social websites and just write me if
you want to order mp3’s or CDs.
Interview by Nora McCarthy- with Chery Pyle
Jazz Inside Magazine Oct 2014