Todd McComb interviews Joe Hertenstein

Todd McComb: Joe, thanks for joining me in this email interview. It'll be great to learn more about you and your approach to music.

Joe Hertenstein: Todd, thanks heaps for your interest in my music and person!

TM: I know you as a jazz drummer from your last couple of albums, Polylemma and Crespect. Have you been involved with different music or instruments? What brought you to jazz and the drums?

JH: You also know HNH - Clean Feed, right!? (TM: Yes, I do.)

JH: Picking up the drums was hardly a conscious decision of mine. Mum put me into pre-school music group when I was four. At age six, I or someone else decided I should try the drums.

JH: Throughout my teenage years I was almost exclusively a percussionist in different kinds of symphony-, symphonic brass-, and new music orchestras and ensembles. And although I have always loved this music, many times I didn't feel involved enough as a timpanist, waiting for half an hour to finally crash them cymbals for the very climax. With improvised music I started around age 20 when my odyssey started by moving to Karlsruhe, Munich, Rotterdam, and Berlin for a year each, looking for this thing called Jazz and finally got accepted by Keith Copeland at Hochschule for Music and Dance in Cologne, where I graduated in 2006. Keith's influence and inspiration was what actually made me want to try New York as more than just a tourist, what led to my application for a DAAD scholarship (German Academic Exchange Service) which I received for 2007 and '08 to complete a MA in Jazz Performance at City University of New York where I studied with Michael Mossman and Gene Jackson. Going now into my sixth year in New York I feel at home and plan on applying for my second artist visa. Practicing the split between New York and Germany for five years now is a crazy life style; 2010 holds the record so far with nine round trips. By now there are musicians on both sides of the Atlantic who I couldn't miss working with and since this art form is a global enterprise anyways, I'm working on being a part of the scenes of NY just as much as of Cologne and Berlin.

JH: Before moving to the US, I was a member of the Cologne-based James Choice Orchestra, which featured most of the great improvisers of its scene like Frank Gratkowski, Matthias Schubert, Carl-Ludwig Huebsch, Norbert Stein, Thomas Lehn, Sebastian Gramss, Thomas Heberer, Dieter Manderscheid, etc. In 2005, still a student in Cologne, Gratkowski asked me to join the ensemble for three concerts at the Moers Festival, which led to the band's first release which came out on the label Moers-Music called Live in Moers with liner notes by John Corbett. In 2007 the JCO performed on a double bill with Dave Douglas' Keystone Sextet at the Triennale-Festival at the Cologne Philharmonie and its second album was released on Leo Records. Working with these musicians changed my way of asking questions about art completely and brought my early classical orchestra experiences together with my formal jazz education and my ambitions of becoming an artist by finding my way of expressing life as I feel it. My doubts started transforming into concepts. Small groups started to form like Norbert Stein's Pata Trio and Quartet with Achim Tang on bass and briefly with Philip Zoubek on Organ (self-released Live-DVD). DADAMAFZ with Achim Tang, Matthias Schubert on tenor and Ralph Beerkircher on guitar. And right when everything seemed to be falling into place, I moved to New York. But not before putting a trio together for my senior recital at the Loft in Cologne with Zoubek and Tang. Zoubek is known for his piano preparations and Tang is beyond all jazz cliches an amazing improviser and free spirit. And I wanted to see what these guys would do to the American Songbook. More than less I had to convince them both to try some standards for my final concert — Achim hadn't played standards in years — and the music we played that night was truly transitional for me, liberating — we hardly played "jazzy" but rather took the flavors of those songs to improvise with. Suddenly I could articulate the idea, my rhyme and reason, my niche, what I will contribute to this art form. If Free Jazz is the accomplishment and now the cliche of a bygone era of politically/socially motivated artists kept alive in today's decadent western society, and when I have to see ten concerts and listen to ten albums of instantly composed and improvised music to get thrilled by maybe one of them, and start to be tired of musicians and impromptu ensembles desperately avoiding any bit of melody or recognizable phrase, ignoring their tiny audiences and lesser known colleagues by feeling pumped of being avant-garde, I wonder what the next step is. I start longing for pieces with a beginning and an end, I start feeling grateful for melody and form and grown bands which care about their attires. But of course I need new creations, new ideas and concepts of combinations, a new artistic game plan; and most of all I need to feel love. Love on the bandstand, love between performer and audience, and interaction based on ears as big as the great gate of Kiev paired with the curiosity of a four-year-old by not only experienced but reflected improvisers.

JH: I want to contribute to the development of this art form, the post-jazz-avant-garde, but not by becoming a specialist but by fostering the chameleon within me. I will sound (very) different on every album I put out. Listeners will still recognize me, I don't worry about that. But let's bring together the art of improvising with and without compositions.

JH: I'm looking for synergy and to achieve this I have developed my catalog of criteria which already led to the albums HNH, TØRN:crespect, POLYLEMMA, and — to be released in April 2012 — JH-Trio:FutureDrone.

JH: And five years after my aforementioned final recital concert in Cologne, Achim Tang became the 2011 Artist In Residence around the Moers Festival, and my piano trio became TØRN and TØRN performed on the main stage of the Moers Festival in front of 3500 people and before Ornette Coleman's quartet.

JH: In December 2008 my second senior recital took place at Queens College, New York, and I didn't feel like playing this concert on a Thursday afternoon in a concert hall in front of just the jury and only a handful of fellow students. So I arranged to give the concert in the college's recording studio without audience, just my two professors sitting on the couch while we play for them and record live to 2-track. And a year later, Clean Feed Records released the music as my first released album as a leader and composer with the support of the amazing Thomas Heberer on quarter tone-trumpet and my years long bass buddy Pascal Niggenkemper.

JH: In January 2011, TØRN:crespect was released on Cologne's LOFT- in-house label "2nd Floor" and in June, Montreal's Red Toucan Records released POLYLEMMA, which became the result of my vision of the combination of trumpet and bass clarinet, and the amazing synergy which Heberer and Badenhorst bring to live. POLYLEMMA just won Stef Gijssel's HAPPY NEW EARS AWARD 2011 for "most innovative listening experience."

JH: Playing in Moers in June 2011 with TØRN led to the beautiful coincidence, that my friend and colleague from the New York jazz scene, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, was also performing there with his trio featuring Barry Altschul, and my idea of bringing together a total improviser like Achim Tang and a jazz musician like Irabagon, who comes out of the jazz tradition — he won the 2008 Thelonious Monk Competition — was the next great chance to follow my path. After a bunch of jam sessions I felt Jon's great talent and potential, his interest and eagerness for freely improvised music was obvious. He's as fearless and as unprejudiced as I know Achim is. Still both musicians are coming from such different places but I envisioned this great match and can't wait for the music to be released. The Monday right after the festival weekend, Irabagon's trio had a day off and I took him and Achim to the LOFT in Cologne and we recorded the album JH-Trio:FutureDrone, which got signed by the Berlin jazzwerkstatt label. We are in the process of mixing/mastering it right now and the music we played that day is the next piece of the musical universe I'm creating.

TM: Do you have some main musical influences, whether in jazz or elsewhere?

JH: Growing up in the eighties with Punk and Grunge, Alice Cooper and Elton John, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, TOP, Guns'n'Roses and The Police, U2, Peter Gabriel, and Queen, Beastie Boys, Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, Bob Marley, Ray Charles, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, I've always loved lyrics and songwriting. I've always been involved in Pop-, Rock- and Funk bands as well as Top-40-Cover bands, in fact I just joined the brand new band "Jetlag" of bass- and Britpop legend Andy Rourke of The Smiths. The fascination of a 1-6-4-5 progression, a back beat, the thrill of poetry and metaphor, the feeling of a guitar around your neck and a mic in front of you has always moved me to the max. That is why I'm also writing songs and perform them with my band Joe Stone.

TM: Any special non-musical influences?

JH: From the top of my head:
My family
My best friends Oli and Juergen
The girls I've dated
Picasso, Richter, Warhol, Kentridge, Klee, Bosch, Dali, Marclay, Schlingensief, Ikeda,
Goethe, Schiller, Tschechow, Beckett, Moerike, Rilke, Hesse, Heine, Fried, Ringelnatz, Jandl, Loriot, Lem, Joyce, Auster, Bukowski, Kinski, Chaplin, Keaton, Monty Python, the Muppets Show, Tarantino,
Mother nature,
Gorbatschow and de Gaulle,
Martin Luther and Martin Luther King,
Galileo and Columbus, Darwin and Polo, Gauss and Humboldt...
Thailand and Cambodia,
The seven cities I lived in,
YouTube and Google

TM: Let's talk about your ensembles, both the other performers and how you interact. I would describe your approach as "conversational." Topics get discussed by the various performers, no one tries to dominate the conversation, and it all seems very civilized and egalitarian. What do you think?

JH: To out-play and out-swing each other on jam-sessions or double-bills, the competitive aspect of jazz, to impress with chops and knowledge of standard repertoire, the vibing and paying dues, the killing attribute of killing musicians had way too often killed the music and purpose of making art for me. I'm looking for musicians who feel the same way, who get the most pleasure by achieving synergy, who live beyond proving anything to anyone; usually they are band leaders themselves, so they have their own outlets already. What I hope we get is pure music, and I hope that's what you are asking about.

JH: To quote music critic Glenn Astarita's review on POLYLEMMA at "At times sparse and roomy, these works signify a hub of cleverly enacted plot conversions. It's an agile unit that can transcend stately themes into loosely organized dialogues with regenerative plot developments. And the soloists' focused interactions intimate a highly artistic game plan that supersedes the tried and true, especially when considering the freer aspects of jazz. In effect, Polylemma makes perfect sense as the musicians unravel all the possibilities and seize numerous opportunities."

JH: Thomas' experiences and what he is working on as a composer and conceptualist are very different from mine and yet we are having this deep connection and mutual interest in contributing to each other's musical development. That our blend on POLYLEMMA turned out to be such a satisfying album and is receiving such great international attention is an amazement. It makes me very happy to see that the world still reacts when you release something that was never intended to impress.

JH: Playing with Pascal goes back to when we first met as fellow students in Cologne in 2001. Since then we have always been working together in many different ensembles, moved to NY more or less at the same time and pursue a similar kind of career. Even in Brooklyn we are living just a block away from each other. Of course this shines through in our music.

JH: I met Joachim in New York about three years ago but we haven't spent much time together. He works in other trios with Thomas and Pascal; I would say that is the main reason why he fit in here so well. A year ago he moved back to Antwerp so we hardly see each other these days and I'm working hard to get this year's European fall tour together. His musicality is exceptional and that of all of New York's bass clarinetists he would work best with Thomas as the two horns of POLYLEMMA was instantly obvious.

JH: Years ago I read an interview of Jack DeJohnette where he explained how he, during his years in duo with John Surman, had studied the breathing of reed players to apply it to his drumming and how he overcame to think and feel in subdivisions to think and feel in absolute time, in seconds and minutes, when he is playing and forming phrases. What an eye and ear opener this was for me. Of course Tony and Elvin, Ali and Cyrille, Oxley and Lovens. But then my rediscovery of Paul Motian with Tethered Moon came along, Masabumi Kikutchi and Gary Peacock turned my world around. And I wanted to be naive and intuitive. I changed my way of practicing and got rid of my doubts on composing. I learned to judge my compositions and improvisations — my music — by only my intuition. This process went from 1999 to 2008.

TM: Regarding the conversational aspect, I hear that in your drumming too, not just in the way you interact with other players, but there's a sort of semantic quality that's kind of a language above and beyond rhythm. Does that description make sense to you? Do you ever think in terms of speech or poetry when you're playing?

JH: That's very well put, Todd!
"A language above and beyond rhythm: The conversational aspect and semantic quality of the music of Joe Hertenstein"
How is that as a title for the article?! Reads like music in my eyes!

(TM: Well, thanks, Joe. I feel like I do pretty well putting words to what I hear sometimes. We'll have to think about that article... it might be interesting to approach technically.)

JH: Conversational: to complement each other, finishing each other's sentences and thoughts, being better together than alone.

JH: Never say never, but I'm not interested in solo drum work. I love Milford Graves' solo work, also Han Bennink's and others, but for me it's all about the exchange of thoughts, to get inspired by each other. Is improvising with myself incest? Do I get bored of myself, can I surprise myself? I need, I'm longing for interaction, conversation, conflict and dispute, tension and release. Of course I can argue with myself, but the results are hardly surprising, and I find that lying to oneself is the easiest way of lying.

(TM: Oh, I very much agree!)

JH: Do you know this funny and exciting, sometimes awkward feeling when you are at a table with a person very close to you, a friend or even your partner, and together you are telling a story to a third person by finishing and/or correcting each others sentences? Depending on who and how, this can also be annoying and embarrassing between the both of you, and gives a quick and deep inside to the third person about the inner dynamics and the intimacy of your relationship — `you guys sound like an old couple', is the standard comment by the third person. Now imagine that kind of intimacy with three or four people at a time - a trio/quartet - are telling this story to an audience, but a story which they didn't even really know or experienced themselves before, making it up in real time as if it has been experienced. That's my fascination.

(TM: Yes, and an interesting part of that is some people feel disrespected if you complete their sentences... it can even feel disrespectful doing it. Yet sometimes it seems to be the perfect thing between people.)

[ (JH: Yes, in a verbal situation when people actually are speaking, some do and can feel disrespected indeed. Also in improvised music there are colleagues who follow a different approach/concept. I just like this comparison from the profane world to our art world. I just use this to try to explain myself, my work and fascination, to people with hardly or no understanding of what I'm doing and why — which is hard enough, and always arguable/polemical. There are many people like this in my world. And when we follow this concept in music it is to be understood completely metaphorically, of course. In the literal world this would be utopia, that when ever you finish my phrase I would thank you: No way I could've said this better. Or: Wow, I never thought of it this way, you are totally right. And I drool over how your comment makes sense out of what I started to say, and your comments including body language add to the meaning of what I'm saying and only put it in a more dimensional context. If you find such a person in the real world you should marry! In improvised music you form a band. Synergy: Labor of love!) ]
[ [ TM: Yes, those connections are very special! ] ]

JH: I used to feel physical pain when listening to myself and could tell what I was practicing at the time. Maybe that's why I need the challenge of interaction with others to get inspired to surprise myself and don't fall into the trap of playing what I know. Whenever I hear an improviser including myself playing something that sounds planned ahead it turns me off.

JH: And then I need the safety net of others to catch me and make sense out of the most naive and intuitive and sometimes weird decisions I make.

JH: Speech and poetry: I love lyrics, and know many song lyrics by heart. I love literature and philosophy. I write lyrics in German and English and perform them, too. And no matter what art form, if there is not a story told, it's not for me. Nowadays many reed and brass players can circular breath and in a lot of improvised music what I'm hearing is a hyper active and competitive wall of sound in my face and I'm not feeling it. I learned early from my mentors that while playing, a maximum of 20% of my concentration should be occupied by what I am doing. The rest is listening, watching, observing, feeling, feeling ahead, arranging, shaping and guiding, playing the whole band, putting yourself into the audience perspective and so forth. This ability of being fully involved and not at all, needs to be trained over years. And in order to achieve this skill one must want to explore the feeling of getting played by the others. Of getting played by the music — how to let go, how to let flow, how to push and direct without force and without planning ahead. And then kick some butt when the music asks for it.

TM: You use tone rows in your music, and serial processes obviously have a European origin. I've also seen it argued that the sort of semantic relation I mentioned above is very European as well, albeit from much farther back in history. Moving from Cologne to New York, what aspects of jazz in 2011 do you see as still distinctly American?

JH: Bach was an improviser and so were many of our classical heroes. But I suspect their improv skills were mostly cerebral tools restrained by their respective method, form, and style of music at the time with the self-conception of craftsmen. BeBop and Hard Bop were the transition phase, still stylistically restrained — jazz police — but gave room for the development of the freedom of truly individual expression without any restraints at all, for people like Ornette and the late Coltrane, Miles, Cecil Taylor, Evan Parker, Anthony Braxton and Broetzmann, Schlippenbach and Mengelberg, to name but a few. All of them were experimenting with tone-rows.

JH: Growing up in my generation it became hard to relate the vast mixture of musical influences to all its right origins. Everyone is influencing everyone. As I said earlier, I played in New Music Ensembles as a teenager sometimes with the composers co-leading the rehearsals, performing premiers and so forth. I grew up on tone rows and serial processes. I studied graphic notations as a student in Cologne. Still distinctly American is the political and social pressure on society, where artists have a greater necessity for expressing their cry for freedom and humanity than artists have in Germany, and I'm sure in Europe overall. Semantic relation in improvisation might be European because without the above mentioned political and social pressures on artists they could simply afford to develop this art for art's sake which is also some kind of luxury. And New York City isn't representative of the USA anyways, but the work-o-holic aspect of NYC is very distinct and for the moment very inspiring to me.

TM: What motivated you to come to New York? Did you have specific goals? Any surprises about being in this country?

JH: First of all curiosity, digging on the roots of jazz, seeing what I knew from records, liner notes, movies, books and stories. Seeking my own development and skinning, breaking out of the grooves of the city and scene everybody knew me as a young student of music, where people knew me as who I was back then. I had no specific goals. That I soon turned into a band leader and composer gradually evolved during the first two years in New York, simply because everybody was doing his own thing, no matter if you are a drummer or bassist — a sideman in the first place. And because the competition in NY is so tough that I didn't want to wait until people call me but I wanted to make things happen myself. And since nobody knew me I had nothing to lose. Anonymity can give you the blues or trigger your most creative energies and mostly they both go hand in hand. I came to New York to develop, and I developed a lot. Between November 2010 and June 2011 I released three albums under my name and my biggest surprise is that after five years I'm still here.

TM: Your email signature mentions being a rainmaker. What does that mean?

JH: Singing, dancing and drumming were the first ways mankind knew to communicate, entertain, pray and heal. I believe that music is a healer. It has cured my heart many times. And when your heart runs dry I will drum for rain; I will sing and make you dance.

TM: It's been 80-some years since Schoenberg started writing atonal music, and a large segment of the audience in both jazz and classical music still flatly considers it unmusical or mechanical. It amazes me sometimes what some of my friends will or won't like, based on what kind of chord sequence might be involved. Is Germany as anti-tone row as the US?

JH: The brain releases endorphins when recognizing things. People tend to make judgments of familiarity — it's easier to agree on. For most people this tendency is stronger than their curiosity. The artist's brain as well as the brain of the lover of art releases endorphins when experiencing progress, development, and finding ways out of one's comfort zones by exploring the unknown, when experiencing one's own or someone else's success in finding a unique and new way of expression, when finding things and being really surprised. And I can say that I have never experienced a higher high on endorphins than when I was jumping out of a plane from 12.000 feet and was free falling for more than a minute. Some are amazed when I tell this story, others call me crazy. Most people are afraid of change, others are restless, on both sides of the Atlantic.

JH: Here I want to quote Aaron Copland:
"Most people use music as a couch; they want to be pillowed on it, relaxed and consoled for the stress of daily living. But serious music was never meant to be soporific."

JH: And analogously Sting's hit formula:
People resonate to a very simple musical formula, which is:
verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus, and a 1-6-4-5 chord progression in either C, F, Bb, G or D major.

JH: To enjoy the arts and their developments you have to be actively involved, it is an enjoyment that demands effort, it's an expensive but rewarding enjoyment. As well as in philosophies and politics, you have to learn about them to see them in their respective contexts and it doesn't come easy. You have to invest time, money, and disappointments, be patient and curious, stay hungry and foolish. You can't expect this from people who don't give room in their lives to explore these things because they feel too consumed by their jobs and problems of every day living. Dealing with the profane matters of live is already far enough for many people, especially when the arts weren't part of their education in teenage years, and have never learned how the arts can soothe your soul — when neither your parents, older siblings, best friends, partners, nor your school taught you the appreciation for music, dance, museums, theater, or literature, foreign cuisines, languages, and cultures when you were young. If you missed out on that you will only like what you know best and object to everything you can't instantly relate to. You will soon have unlearned your curiosity, and the opposite is boredom, which leads to ignorance and chasing cheap thrills, called upon generates aggression. When all you have learned about music is that it helps with hitting on girls, or helps you becoming cool during your teenage years, and later helps you advertising, you will automatically associate purpose to music and at the end to all arts. So are we removing the human element from music by not giving any purpose to it? Again art for art's sake!

TM: What do you say to people who think a tone row removes the human element from music?

JH: Music is an art form. A big part of music is entertainment, another is science, exploration. Music is a metaphor to name the unnameable, intangible. Music makes time audible, time means progression and development. The artist is adventurous, does that make him and his music unhuman?

TM: I mentioned conversation and a sort of egalitarian feel to your music above. What do you see as the role of social metaphors, or even social activism more explicitly, in creative music today? What, if any, obligation does an artist have to the world around him?

JH: Surely, my music may serve as a lodestar and social metaphor of egalitarian feel amongst people and cultures, a lodestar towards self expression. Surely, the western world is satisfied and decadent and obviously capitalism is up against the wall. As I said earlier, decadence leads to boredom and laziness, which leads to ignorance and the under-appreciation of progress, especially creative music. By performing our music we can get people out of their comfort zones and start thought processes, trigger buried emotions, initiate exchange and discussions. An enthusiastic audience establishes an egalitarian feel. The arts bear a unifying power beyond commercialism and 24/7 access to everything, because you can only experience it in real time. And while democracy and human rights, the middle class and the common consciousness degenerate, there will soon be a time when people remember how essential the arts were to get mankind to develop from the dark ages to the point which we take for granted now but are about to lose.

TM: Joe, thanks for sharing so much about yourself and the way your music has taken shape to this point. I'm going to put this here so any future readers will know, but I sent you the previous questions toward the end of December 2011, after we had decided to do an interview together, and you sent me the answers in the first half of January. So that was our time period. I then added a few responses by myself in parentheses above.

TM: I was fascinated to read the details on the origins of your albums to this point, since obviously it's that music that drew my attention.

TM: Besides conversation, which we talked about a fair bit, you also mentioned needing a story in (any) art to be able to relate, and you ended discussing art without a purpose. Personally, I tend to think of story/narrative and conversation a little differently, although both are certainly semantic. How do you see the relation in those ideas? I can also think of some ways a person might describe a narrative as having no purpose, particularly in the sense of the existentialists, but what does that mean to you?

JH: Ok, once I state: Art for Art's sake, which means: no purpose for art. And then I say, art works need to tell a story.
This sounds contradicting to you. (TM: It need not be, of course, but I wanted to ask.)
Well, only if telling a story already means purpose. Of course the art work ought to tell its OWN story and doesn't serve an obvious or hidden second aim. By story, obviously, I mean the artist's intention.

JH: To me, if art tells a story it can simply mean that it talks to me, that it resonates with me, that I feel and think something while, and then hopefully long after, I was exposed to it. This is what makes you remember art, and the moment it inspires or disgusts you it made it into your memory which instantly starts to influence you from now on. Experiencing and judging art (i.e. life) is such a subjective experience, and taste can't be argued only developed.

JH: It's also about the development from realistic to abstract art, from cave paintings to naked angels and stills with fruits on a table to Picasso and then Gerhard Richter. Realistic art is mostly easier to understand, it is direct and often decorative and blunt, simply a (high) craft, mostly commissioned and therefore referring to historical events or serving another purpose. I wished people wouldn't be so afraid of the abstract. The same abstract piece of art has the power of touching and moving totally different people, most likely in different ways, but when moving them in a comparable way it possesses the power of uniting people, because the artist's function is to express life as felt, and not as society/societies, TV and the media wants us to feel. Art/Music/Metaphor is the universal language. Souls can't lie. Love and art are feeding the soul.

TM: Do you have any closing remarks you'd like to make?

JH: And when Jazz could develop within forty years from Jelly Roll Morton to Cecil Taylor, and then on to what are the most current streams in the so called post-jazz-avant-garde of today's creative/improvised music, I'm very excited and impatient to see what music will sound like in thirty years from now, because most likely I will still be around, and hopefully still be working on something.

(TM: Excited & impatient probably describe me too.)

TM: Any questions for me?

JH: You say: "I tend to think of story/narrative and conversation a little differently" How?

TM: Maybe a little like fiction & nonfiction in some sense? But a story or narrative, at least classically, has certain elements... plot, character development, resolution. A conversation might have none of these things. In a conversation we can start in one place, end up somewhere totally different, and not even remember or care where we started. And we can stop whenever we want, without coming to any sort of end. To be continued next time. In modern literature, we see all of these forms blur together, of course, but those are kind of the poles for those terms, as I think about them.

JH: What are you presenting?

TM: In my previous email, I mentioned that I was doing a day-long diversity training. This was involving adults in the community who volunteer for a community leadership course; diversity is one of the monthly class days. My goal in something like that is basically to help the class members discuss the issues around diversity in their community. It is very easy for so-called educated people to think they have all this figured out, that they reject prejudice intellectually, and not realize how the racism/sexism/etc. of their society is so deeply embedded in what they say & do. It is a continual process of discovery for me, and when I can get a diverse group of people to talk about these issues without seeming self-conscious, I feel like I have accomplished something.

JH: This is very true and an important field to be working on. Impressive work of yours, Todd! If we could teach them the language of abstract art, people would have a better understanding for each other. Art teaches humanity! I wish you the greatest success for 2012!

TM: Thanks, Joe. And thanks for doing the interview with me. It's been fun and thought-provoking. I wish you great success in 2012 also, and will look forward to your new album in April.

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Todd M. McComb
17 January 2012