It is rare to hear a band with an original and unique musical philosophy that inspires creativity, not only in the musicians who are part of the group, but also within those who listen to the music. Long Island’s very own Hidden City, an experimental, improvisational, and ambient jazz group, is one such band. In an attempt to discover the true and visceral roots of the music they play, Hidden City has fleshed out of their creative philosophy.
The group has somewhat of a revolving door of a roster, with members constantly appearing and disappearing for various shows and recordings. This creates a unique dynamic within the band, as its sound is constantly evolving in a completely organic way. Luckily, HiFiveMusic.com recently had the opportunity to chat with two of the group’s most consistent members: keyboardist George Cork Maul, who prefers to be called “Corky”, and Terry Keevil, who plays oboe and an Armenian woodwind instrument called the duduk, for the group.
HFI: Where does the group’s name come from?
Corky: I was jamming with a guy named Daniel Carter on the Lower East Side and he said the way improvisation is now, it’s like everybody has to have another job, everybody has to have another life, and they’re doing it on the side, it’s like this hidden city of people who have a whole other life. And that just stuck with me, so that’s where it came from.
HFI: Does the fact that you guys have a rotating roster of members have anything to do with it?
Corky: Yes, that plays into it also because it’s always been about who’s available, who can come, who can show up, you know, who can’t be there. At this point we have 30 or 40 people that have come and gone. Jay, we haven’t played with Jay in two years and he just came out from Stony Brook and could make it [for this show] so it was wonderful.
HFI: How does Hidden City keep in touch and communicate who’s playing when?
Corky: It’s really pretty loose, I guess. It’s just word of mouth, mostly. Sometimes somebody’s right next door and we don’t even know they’re there. That has happened on occasion. Also, if we know someone’s in a particular area we’re playing in we’ll go and look for them.
HFI: This is a difficult question to ask such a large group, but who are your biggest musical influences?
Corky: Oh, that’s so tough. It’s so different for everybody involved because everybody has such different backgrounds. I mean Terry’s got his DMA (Doctorate of Musical Arts) and he’s probably spent a great deal of time with Mendelssohn and I only have a very peripheral idea of Mendelssohn. But for me it’s always been about improvisation mostly, so musicians like Ornette Coleman, just the free music improvisers and times when I would play music in the kitchen with an accordion. My influences go back to when I was five or six years old now and at this point that’s forty or fifty years ago. So I just think, well, I better admit I’m doing it.
HFI: Does everybody in the group have similar musical backgrounds?
Corky: Well, I’ll tell you what’s similar: a relationship with music where it’s part of your life by no choice of yours. You’re stuck with it. It’s a form of healing; it’s a place you’ve gone when you’re overwhelmed. It’s about keeping yourself healthy. We’ve discussed that. We’ve asked ourselves ‘How the Hell are we together?’ and we realized that was it; just having a personal relationship with music that keeps you healthy.
“A relationship with music where it’s part of your life by no choice of yours. You’re stuck with it. It’s a form of healing; it’s a place you’ve gone when you’re overwhelmed.
HFI: So are you the leader?
Corky: It seems that way, but I don’t get any more money than anyone else! But really, it’s completely egalitarian, all for one and one for all. There’s no real structure to it and that’s always been good for the music. Everyone is playing their own music. We’re all equal partners in music, so how can it be anything else?
HFI: When Hidden City is playing a song like “Waterfall”, because there is such an emphasis on improvising, is there a central idea you start with or is it entirely improvised?
Corky: It’s actually one hundred percent improvised. We’ll have a mood, but we’ve done some of these when it comes out entirely different. Does it have the same mood? Yes, and it usually has the same tonal center. The only thing that happens is if somebody likes what I’m doing, they go to that, and then I’ll go to what they’re doing. It’s a law of attraction kind of thing. It keeps changing because, if somebody hits a high point, you go there and stay away from the other stuff. Every note is a choice, and every time you make a choice, you’re choosing who you go with.
HFI: What are you guys thinking about when you’re improvising? Do you think about music theory, or just the mood?
Corky: Thinking is the wrong word. It’s like a zone. It’s about going to that special place where you’re open, sensitive, and staying there and keeping everybody else there. You can get there, but it’s hard to stay there. It’s like an altered state. You’re sensitive and ready and able, but you’re not afraid.
We’ve asked ourselves ‘How the Hell are we together?’ and we realized that was it; just having a personal relationship with music that keeps you healthy.”
HFI: As you know, HiFiveMusic was created with bands like Hidden City in mind. We want to help create exposure for bands like you guys and get your music to people who love hearing it, but have a hard time finding it. What’s one thing you want HiFiveMusic fans to know about your music?
Corky: I think what’s going to happen to music is (and I hope it’s in the near future, I hope to get see it), is that the definition of music is going to change. I’m not talking about the music business; I’m talking about music itself. Whatever definition you use now, we are coming to a place in our culture where music is going to have more meaning in our language somehow. I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but I can’t wait to see it. And that’s the way Hidden City is going.
HFI: Rumor is that you guys have new music on the way?
Terry: Yes, we [Corky and I] just finished up some sessions. We’ve been working on them and we just got the final versions. So hopefully these recordings will be available very soon. We’ll definitely be sending some more stuff over to HiFiveMusic.
HFI: What are your thoughts on what HiFiveMusic is trying to do, connecting artists with listeners all over the world to music they would not have been able to find otherwise?
Terry: I think it’s great! I think what HiFive is doing is kind of at the forefront of developing how music is heard today. It’s creating a great new way bring the fans together with musicians. I have great feelings about it.
Well, just as Terry Keevil has great feelings about HiFiveMusic, HiFiveMusic has great feelings about Hidden City. Originality and creativity begin to describe the heart and music of Hidden City and we’re eagerly anticipating the new releases from this stand-out band. Keep an ear out for Hidden City and keep up with HiFiveMusic to make sure you don’t miss out on what is sure to be some exciting new material from an exceptional group of music veterans.