Rarely does one see an interview with a jazz musician, even a free-jazz musician, the chief subject of which is anarchism. How refreshing to discover that Daniel Carter was interviewed by Nils Jacobson of All About Jazz—the interview, which appears to be from 1999, does not seem to be available on the AAJ Web site, though it can be found elsewhere online—whose first question was, “Tell me about anarchy.” And Carter, who has read widely, but at the same time quite candidly and disarmingly admits that he has not read deeply, proceeds to tell him about anarchy at great length, as he engages in what, in the context of this site, might be called a political discourse of improvocracy. In what I gather is the introduction to the interview, titled “Daniel Carter: Underground Anarchist”—it appears after the interview online, but it clearly is setting up the interview—Jacobson writes,
Daniel Carter is not exactly a household name. The saxophonist/trumpeter has been making improvised music for decades, but he still remains largely unknown. Obscurity did not arise because he intentionally kept a low profile. Quite the contrary: he’s worked with some of the most influential figures on the avant-garde music scene, such as Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra. In order to better understand the Carter phenomenon, one must appreciate his commitment to functional anarchism.
Some of Carter’s observations in this interview, strung together for political effect:
There’s this idea that the idea of democracy and anarchism (in its ideal sense) are not so far away from each other. . . . The idea of people freely associating, and deciding for themselves individually and collectively, what it is they want to do, rather directly . . . [this] might even be more of a democracy than democracy . . . as we know it. . . . What we need is more true decentralized grassroots democracy. . . . You wouldn’t have to look to any wild, crazy anarchist who would want to totally innovate the government. Just the majority of the people . . .
On the subject of collective improvisation and the leader/sideman binary that is endemic to mainstream jazz:
I just think that if the music is essentially people improvising—people playing spontaneously—then how could it be under somebody’s name? . . . Most of the groups I’m in are collectives. Sometimes they’ve started out otherwise, and I’ve fought for them to be under a collective name . . . some name that would be inspirational or aspirational for the whole group. . . . It seems to me that spiritually and energetically, it should work better for the group to do it that way.
On the intrinsically jazzocratic Great Man theory of jazz:
I agree with Kwami Ture, [aka] Stokely Carmichael. Like Kwami Ture, I don’t believe in the great man theory, even though I’m talking about these great guys. Because with every great man (and they don’t even hardly allow great women), they don’t seem to have gotten anywhere without thousands and thousands of the so-called “little people.”
And on the inadequacy of local government support of the arts in the cultural capital of America:
Why, in New York City, one of the world capitals of the music, and a veritable nation in itself (New York City has as large a population as some of the smaller nations of Europe) . . . why on earth can’t we get some consciousness in a city like New York, some responsibility on the part of city government, to look out for its musicians, its artists, its writers, its dancers, its painters?!
This last is part of Carter’s discussion of direct musical communication, speaking of grassroots anarchism, in which he recounts his experiences with a collective improvising quartet called Test, whose chief performance venue is the street and the subway.