Simpson, Gregg"As I was developing, the music itself was changing. And that can't happen again."
"I was well grounded in hard bop when Philly Joe Jones arrived and I got to sit in with him as he played piano and there I was trying to play my Philly Joe licks to the man himself. It was a great training ground." - Gregg Simpson (AllAboutJazz.com)
From imitating the greats, Simpson went on to pursue highly original projects. In 1964, the New Dimension Jazz Trio was formed, which was comprised of Don French on marimba, Richard Anstey on bass, and, of course, Simpson on drums. Simpson says of the group, "It was a strange instrumentation, but we played pretty interesting things and got out into the club scene and met a lot of players"(AllAboutJazz.com). Simpson went on to join the Al Neil Trio in 1965, which soon moved from playing bebop standards to exploring music that Al Neil would term "inside-outside." The performances and works produced by this ensemble embodied concepts such as indeterminacy and zen space, and often featured the use of toy instruments, as well as various multimedia elements. It was Simpson who came up with the idea of experimenting with turntables, which he describes as "an early version of DJ stuff with a record player."
Performances were held at universities and art galleries, rather than clubs, or at the multimedia studio known as the Sound Gallery. These venues were considered to be more appropriate for the Trio's music, which, by this time, had evolved into what Simpson refers to as "a kind of art music" (AllAboutJazz.com). However, Simpson remembers that Al "liked to perplex other musicians when they asked what all this stuff was" by replying, ""I like to think I'm still playing jazz"" (AllAboutJazz.com).
"We took our West Coast thing to New York." -Gregg Simpson
Like Al Neil, Simpson firmly asserts the connection between his art and the West Coast environment in which it was created, stating that his work "came out of this place." He suggests that there was a certain "softness from the temperate region brought into the music" that differentiated it from the avant-garde sounds of other free jazz centres like New York, Paris, and Berlin.
Simpson stopped playing with Al in 1972, but continued to seek out groups that were in tune with their West Coast rainforest roots. The Sunship Ensemble, started in 1974, was one such project: This group performed "regionally-based music" (AllAboutJazz.com) that incorporated world music influences, in particular Afro-Latin sounds, and free form improvisations. Simpson was also instrumental in the formation of the New Orchestra Workshop Society in 1977, which was revitalized in the mid-1980s and is still active today. The NOW Orchestra emphasizes improvised music.
I am a painter and there is a direct relation with my music there. -Gregg Simpson (AllAboutJazz.com)
From his new-surrealistic dreamscape paintings of the 1970s to his free-form abstractions of more recent years, Simpson has played an equally important role in the realm of the visual arts. His works have been particularly well-received in France and Italy.
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"Gregg Simpson: Avant-garde from Vancouver"
Singh, Taran. "Gregg Simpson: Avant-garde from Vancouver." AllAboutJazz.com. 9 June 2008. http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=22604#2
Gregg Simpson Official Website
Gregg Simpson. Home page. 9 June 2008. http://greggsimpson.com
JazzStreet Vancouver Interview
Simpson, Gregg. Personal interview with Jordan Strom. Vancouver, BC. 29 May 2008.