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Ryan Mackstaller : CACP 10 Questions

©Photo by Cybelle Codish

Guitarist Ryan Mackstaller’s JusThis Trio from Detroit played to a captivated audience on April 9, 2005 at Luna in DePere, Wisconsin, highlighted by a Tom Waits-inspired medley that literally left everyone speechless. Look for this name in the future.

1) What have you been listening to lately?

Late 60s Free Stuff—Ayler, Shepp, Sun Ra, and Art Ensemble of Chicago.  I’m planning to do a Don Cherry project this summer so I’ve been re-listening to his recordings, especially the duo records with Ed Blackwell.  I’ve also been checking out a lot of electronic stuff that a DJ friend of mine hips me to; I’m most excited by Matthew Herbert’s stuff. 

2) What is your most memorable live performance?

Probably playing the Toronto Jazz Festival with this band called the Articles.  It was the first touring band I played with and it was the first gig I played where I got the energy and intensity of a packed club.  Plus, I was like 18 or 19, so being that young made it even more exciting.

3) What is your most memorable concert-going experience?

Seeing Ornette Coleman last year in Ann Arbor.  The music was heavy enough, but then Ornette muttered some ten or twelve words at the end of the concert about the light of the universe being inside of each one of us and it intensified the profoundness of the concert to far beyond music for me.  Ornette blew my mind in one sentence far greater than entire books or schools of philosophy.

4) Who is the one musician with which you would most like to play?

Living: Ornette.

5) Who is your biggest non-musical influence?

I’m influenced a lot by books, film, and visual art.  Sometimes I’ve written or improvised music to match images or short scenes I have created in my head.  I find writing or improvising music this way to be incredibly freeing because it is a way to bypass musical clichés and familiarities.  Instead I think more in terms of mood, intensity, density, and development as opposed to chord, scale, etc.  I guess that isn’t a ‘who’, but rather a ‘what’.

6) What is your first musical memory?

At some point I had upgraded from my plastic Playskool records to my parents’ turntable and I remember trying to cut the record like I saw DJs on TV do.  I probably scratched the hell out of Let it Be.

7) When did you know that you wanted to be an improvising musician?

I was 15 years old and my guitar instructor had just introduced me to some serious jazz guitarists via a mix tape.  I think when I heard Wes Montgomery I was blown away by the energy of the music and also it seemed like there was so much joy coming from the musicians.  Plus, I had no concept of improvising outside of the rock or blues tradition so I was like, “Wow, I want to figure out what this thing is all about.”

8) What is your ultimate goal as an artist?

I would like to carve a path where I can sustain a dynamic body of work that reflects on the different stages of my life and artistic development.  The ultimate goal within that statement would be to create incredibly personal music that connects with people.

9) If music was banned tomorrow, what would you do?

I would go back to school to study to be an interior designer.  I would try to get involved with building and designing homes and living spaces.

10) Can music save people, and if so, how?

Well, first off I feel that music can affect people on three levels: emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.  I think if music is going to ‘save’ an individual—altering their perception and understanding of the world—they definitely need to be interacting with it at the later level... But when I think of “saving” people—from poverty, injustice, despair, or even declining culture—art alone is far from enough.  So I guess I feel art and music are more healing forces than saving forces.