By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
He seems looser these days. True? "No question about it, and more to come," says Carney, who has a casual way of speaking but a voice like a radio announcer. "When we're relaxed, we make our best music. I feel like the potential's always there to let go, and it's up to you to just do it. It's a simple concept, but it really gets in the way of most players."
Well, not everybody can step off the edge like Roadrunner and keep walking in thin air. "Yeah, but once you realize that the worst that's gonna happen is eventually you're gonna die and nobody'll care anyway, then you feel better about it."
CARNEY GOT WHERE HE IS BY GUT instinct. He started at the age of 8 in his native Syracuse, New York -- playing classical tuba, not jazz piano. After a foundation in the local youth symphony, performing everything from Rimsky-Korsakov to Elliott Carter, he followed his love of the Beatles and Pink Floyd into rock; he says he played 1,200 gigs in five years as a keyboardist, both with cover bands and with original-material outfits such as Screen Test. That group's guitarist, Steve "Arty" Lenin, made him listen to Monk and Mingus. It cost the group a member.
Before then, jazz to Carney was Steely Dan and Jeff Beck, but he immediately knew he had to plumb the real thing. He heard that you could find your own sound at CalArts, and enrolled in its music program under director David Roitstein. He learned to compose, learned to play, and graduated in 1990 at the age of 26.
As it happened, Carney emerged into a music world where his natural boundary blurring was right at home -- where former avantist jazz singer Cassandra Wilson could cover the Monkees, Brahms aficionado Brad Mehldau could tap Radiohead, and U2 could dive into electronica. Carney tells the story of a recent question-and-answer encounter with L.A. Philharmonic conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen at a Composers Forum event.
"Basically he said, 'I like all genres, and there are things within each genre I really admire. I love certain things by Prince; I love Radiohead. I think that we're all trying to do the same thing, which is just to express ourselves in a sophisticated and unique way, and hopefully an artistic way that's honest and has integrity.' And I was thinking, 'His attitude is making these 150-year-old pieces sound new. Damn, this is very healthy for orchestral music.'"
It's an epidemic of human health, and James Carney is a carrier.
The James Carney Trio (www. jamescarney.net) performs at Rocco, Friday and Saturday, August 23 and 24; a copy ofThread comes with each $10 paid admission.