Taylor Ho Bynum: Music In The Moment

“We need to remind ourselves of what it means to be in the moment and not distracted by all the various distractions of the modern age, and what it means to be together and to be human and to be engaged; a group of people coming together to make sound is one of the defining structures of our species,” career musician Taylor Ho Bynum said as he stressed the need for creative music spaces within communities.

This June, in order to create spaces in New Haven that foster the education and composition of creative music, Bynum will be conducting a Creative Music Play-In on the New Haven Green on Saturday, June 18th at 5pm, as well as performing a concert with his sextet ensemble Taylor Ho Bynum & Friends on Sunday, June 11th at 6:30pm at Center Church on the New Haven Green, part of Arts & Ideas' new ALTAR’d Spaces, turning churches into places of performance. Bynum is also providing a rare opportunity to New Haven music students to attend a series of workshops led by him in a creative music practice.

After living in New Haven for 8 years and teaching workshops around the world, Bynum asked himself an important question: Why hadn’t he conducted a community workshop in his hometown? With that question on his mind, Bynum hopes to encourage musicians of all skills levels and backgrounds to join him in a celebration and acknowledgment of the history of improvised and composed music using the creative music rubric, a form of music that has been in New Haven for over 40 years.

The Creative Music Play-In will teach a simplified version of the creative music rubric using improvised conducting, that which is similar to classical conducting, and learning how to take a composed piece apart and put it back together again. Participants will explore simple songs that may have personal or spiritual relevance and use principles of improv to open them up as an ensemble.

taylor_ho_bynum.jpgThe term “Creative Music” is one Bynum uses to describe his personal style of playing music. With roots in classical trumpet and jazz music, Bynum found a home in the uncommon, yet highly crucial category of music/ Creative music is a term that resonates strongly in the New Haven music community; it was first coined by Wadada Leo Smith, an important figure in the growing New Haven creative music scene in the 1970s. A scene that would go on to produce some of Bynum’s heroes like trombonist George Lewis and composer and percussionist Gerry Hemingway.

“His definition of it was, it’s music that demands the personal and engaged creativity of every member of the ensemble,” Bynum recounted Smith’s definition of creative music. This is specifically what Bynum hopes to bring to the International Festival of Arts & Ideas this summer.

The Taylor Ho Bynum + Friends concert on June 11 is an extension of the ensemble work is that impacts Bynum’s life as a musician. Since 2004 he has been working in a sextet with his favorite collaborators and close friends: Jim Hobbs (alto sax), Bill Lowe (bass trombone and tuba player), Tomeka Reid (cello), Ken Filiano (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums).

Bynum has close relationships with each musician in his sextet that date back decades. He met Bill Lowe around the age of 15 when Lowe took Bynum under his wing after Bynum’s school music program was cut. Bynum quickly went “from the classroom to the bandstand” with the mentorship of Lowe. Drummer Fujiwara and Bynum have also been playing music together since high school. “That ensemble has been sort of one of my creative centers for the past years.” Bynum stated.

The Taylor Ho Bynum + Friends concert will include a few songs performed by the sextet as a whole, but Bynum plans to add the high school students he will be workshopping to the performance to form one big band.

Teaching is a part of Bynum’s identity as an artist, in his eyes, teaching is not separate from performing, they go hand in hand. This is why Bynum is conducting workshops with New Haven music students, to pass along the music. Bynum was given a grant by the Connecticut Commission on the Arts to go through with his idea of working with young people in a positive and creative space. Just like his music heroes from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Bynum is bringing New Haven a community workshop after what he feels is a long time overdue. “There’s a need to teach younger people the skills and tools, not just to make music, but to improvise as human beings and understand how to navigate structure, how to find one’s identity and gain confidence and agency. That transcends just performing music, that’s again helping someone become a more complete human being.” Bynum noted.

The creative music practice workshop for music students will get students thinking about improvisation and composition with different varieties of structure rather than conforming to strict music ideas. Students will come away with the ability to incorporate what they’ve already learned with any idea they can imagine, to explore different possibilities as performers, improvisers, and composers. “There’s something you learn playing next to a master practitioner that you can never learn in an isolated class,” Bynum commented from experience, “Opening up that space so we can all work together is something I think is really important.” Educating people on music is an integral part of Bynum’s artistry, everyone, to him, is a student in their own way, including himself. Music gives those practitioners and listeners a safe space to take risks and learn how to take risks. It gives people a chance to experience something Bynum considers “a simple and beautiful endeavor.”

Through his experience Bynum has noticed the music is becoming increasingly taken for granted when music is a necessity that sends a powerful message and has the ability to put people in the moment. “It’s not a luxury, as my friend Anthony Braxton would say, ‘it’s not the dessert, it needs to be a main course.” Bynum said wholeheartedly. He hopes to stir up the power of music in people’s lives as he shares his knowledge and experience with people of all ages and skill levels. Recognition was never something that mattered to Bynum though he has received a plethora, from teaching and performing across the globe to being the executive director of the Tri-Centric Foundation, a foundation that supports and produces the work of composer and instrumentalist Anthony Braxton, Bynum’s mentor and close friend. “What’s meant the most to me is having the chance to get to spend my life doing what I love with the people I love. The opportunity to spend my life in that kind of context is priceless and that is why I stay committed in this field.” Bynum said.

The path of music is paved with risks, but without taking risks, experimenting and creating music, Bynum wouldn’t be able to provide such unique opportunities to New Haven this June. “I think as a culture we’re often scared of the avant garde or the experimental, I think that we should remember, if we can’t take risks in our arts, we can’t take risks anywhere.” Bynum stated. Participating in or attending the events provided by Bynum will leave the participants and audience members with the message that experimenting and taking risks can produce beautiful outcomes, within and outside of the realm of music.

Monatana Telman - Community Engagement Apprentice