Q&A: Nate Wooley

Nate Wooley has become one of the leading thinkers in trumpet, improvisation and composition as well as being first call for any number of leading composers when it comes to solo trumpet premieres.

A busy September (2023) has Wooley just back from Europe continuing long term collaborations with Ken Vandemark and Paul Lytton. By months end he will present new Mutual Aid Music, in the form of a record release party for the Four Experiments box set on September 26th at Roulette. Then he closes out the month with the world premiere of Martin Arnold’s Straw for solo trumpet at Bergen Brasswind Festival September 30.

CS: What has been inspiring you lately?

NW: I saw a concert of Jurg Frey’s music in Geneva a few months ago. It was a piece called I Listen To The Wind Again. The ensemble put together a concert of arrangements from composers that inspired the piece, mostly renaissance and early music. I was struck by the power of monophonic composition and the lack of symmetry in all the music that night. It stuck with me, and I have found that it has affected the way I am thinking about all music now, from my improvising to my composing to my listening. I want a feeling of natural growth over set forms, music outside the grid, and a reliance on the power of melody and song.

CS: Favorite musicians, artists, thinkers and why (current or general)?

NW: Magnus Granberg and Martin Arnold have been big composers for me lately (along with Frey listed above). I am always indebted to Annea Lockwood and Éliane Radigue as well, and I think of them every day. My reading has changed lately, and I can’t get enough of a certain era of American ecological writer: Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez, Rachel Carson. I’ve been reading and re-reading Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain and am slowly figuring out Derek Parfit’s first treatise on ethics, both of which combine rigor and a feeling of connection, like “Hey, this is just some shit that we all know. It’s tricky to write it down, but you feel it, right?»

CS: Favorite record no one else has listened to?

NW: I always push the music of Ron Miles. Especially Witness and My Cruel Heart. What he’s doing on those records is radical on a technical, compositional, and emotional level. No one has touched it, but because he lived in Denver and didn’t tour a lot due to his health complications, he got buried under a lot of music that wasn’t nearly as profound.

CS: Dream trio/quartet/quintet with historical figures?

NW: Marcel Duchamp, Simone Weil, Dr. Cornel West. They can play whatever instruments they want. I know this isn’t what you were asking for, but any combination of musicians I would come up with would just be a recombination of something we’ve already heard; it would create music we can imagine. This trio would be truly surprising—definitely awful—and original.

CS: Record you most wish you had played on?

NW: Every Steely Dan record. If I had been on them, maybe they would have never come out. That’s a grenade I’d be willing to fall on.

CS: Recording people would be most surprised you listen to?

NW: I’m a lifelong fan of Vangelis and Randy Newman. That’s my best answer, although I’m surprised when people are surprised by that. I’m glad you used the word “surprised” over the term “guilty pleasure,” because I feel no guilt at all about listening to anything. I save my guilt for other unmentionable foibles.