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Aram Shelton : CACP 10 Questions

Alto saxophonist Aram Shelton is an emerging voice in the Chicago creative music community, having already released a handful of records since moving to the Windy City in 1999. And his opportunities only seem to be increasing on the strength of both local and national praise for his work with the likes of Jason Roebke, Matt Bauder, and in the groups Grey Ghost and Dragons 1976. His latest disc Arrive (482 Music), a quartet date with bassist Roebke, drummer Tim Daisy, and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, highlights Shelton's instrumental and compositional skills in an ensemble that works within the tradition of Jackie McLean's classic Blue Note groups, yet expands on that sound with a highly modern and more expansive vision.

CACP 10 Questions developed by Mark Patel of the Center for Artistic Collaboration and Performance.

1) What have you been listening to lately?

Lots—some variety I suppose: Harry Partch recordings—his self-made instruments and the time period are nice. Susie Ibarra group—the album Flower After Flower—beautiful writing and playing. Afrika Bambaata—some of the greatest beats ever—gets people dancing. Animal Collective's Sung Tongs. Just watched the Jazz Casual DVD with the Coltrane Quartet—I have a deep respect for John Coltrane. Lots of mixes of groups I'm in that have recently recorded—Dragons 1976, Rolldown, Grey Ghost.

2) What is your most memorable live performance?

So many spring to my mind—shows on big stages with lots of folk in the crowd, shows in small places with no one in the crowd. It's hard to say what is the most memorable. The surprising thing though is that the best music always happens at unpredictable times. You never real know when the music is going to get to that next level, but it's pretty amazing when it does.

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

A show at the space 6Odum in Chicago. The group Joan of Arc was playing, I won't forget it because it was the summer and in the 6Odum space it was tremendously hot with no ventilation. The music became all-encompassing—if you didn't concentrate on it you would just get overwhelmed with the fact that you were drenched in sweat with many other people sitting around you also sweating. This wasn't the only time I'd sat sweating in a Chicago performance space. I think it's due to the fact that the winters are so cold—places just don't think they need air-conditioning if it's only going to be hot for a few months...

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

Not sure—I've had some experiences with musicians who I have deep respect for that didn't turn out in as positive a way as I'd hoped. It seems that with most of the musicians I respect I'd rather if we played at some time that would be naturally occurring. It seems that certain people are meant to play together, and some aren't. So, I've tried to concern myself with who I can play with and who is available rather than picking someone and trying to figure out how to play with them.

But, seeing as we're in a hypothetical situation I'd say Don Cherry. The way he played trumpet was beautiful, and his sensibility in playing with others and writing his own music was top-notch.

5) Who is your biggest non-musical influence?

Again, tough to narrow it down to a singular person. I feel I'm influenced by many authors. The way a novelist can portray different kinds of people, different characters, is quite powerful. It allows a reader to really get into someone else's head and get an understanding for other viewpoints. I think it helps me musically as i can understand where different types of music are coming from and while that other music may not be a direct influence on me, I feel it gets involved with the more collective influence which guides the way I make music.

6) What is your first musical memory?

Singing in church when I was small. My family would go on Sundays and I enjoyed singing the hymns.

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

I had always improvised in some way or another since I started playing saxophone at age ten. In terms of thinking of being an improvising musician, it took me a while. When I had gotten out of college I felt in a strange spot with music. I got out of school without any real job opportunities for playing so music became even more personal to me than before. I started improvising more freely and this really opened things up for me. I think from then on I knew what I wanted to do. 

8) What is your ultimate goal as an artist?

I've felt for a while that if the music I was involved with making wasn't fulfilling I was really missing the point. I could probably make more money by playing a different kind of music. But for me, making music that is personally fulfilling is much more valuable.

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

Banned in the US? Well, then it'd really be time to move to Canada.

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

Saving people, hmm. I think it can definitely help people from time to time. Music has an undeniably strong emotional power for the player and listener. It can help amplify good times and get folk through tougher times, and from time to time it can change your emotion directly. I suppose it depends on the music you listen to. If you're in a mood to jump off a bridge and listen to the wrong thing, then you might end up in the river. If you put on a different record, things might turn out differently.