Composer  Charles  Jones

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie

Charles Jones was born in Tamworth, Ontario, Canada on June 21, 1910. At the age of ten he moved to Toronto where he studied the violin and theory. In 1928 he went to New York and studied violin at the Institute of Musical Art (later called the Juilliard School) with Sascha Jacobson graduating in 1932. In 1935 Jones entered the Juilliard School on a fellowship where he studied with Bernard Wagenaar and graduated in composition in 1939. He was then sent by the School to teach at Mills College, California. There he met fellow teacher, the French composer Darius Milhaud. This began a thirty-year collaboration between them, first at Mills College, then at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, and finally at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. Milhaud retired from teaching in America in 1969 and Jones continued at the Aspen Festival as composer-in-residence until 1989.

In 1946 Jones and his wife moved from California to New York. He began teaching at the Juilliard School in 1954 and later at the Mannes College of Music. Two short periods were spent teaching at the Salzburg Seminar in Austria and at the Bryanston School in England. In spite of teaching, Jones considered himself first and foremost a composer. He composed ninety works for many combinations, including four symphonies, string quartets, numerous vocal scores and many others. After composing in a neo-Classical style, he developed a complex mode of expression notable for its chromaticism. His music has been played by the New York Philharmonic, the NBC Symphony, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, the Suisse Romande Radio among others. Charles Jones died on June 6, 1997.

==  Biography from the New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts website [with slight corrections]  

When choosing interview guests to be featured on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, I stumbled onto the use of
round birthdays.  So, when a composer or performer hit 65, or 70, or 75, etc., they would have a special program with recordings and parts of the chat.  This method had the advantage of being color-blind and gender-blind, and relieved me of the pressure to do this one or that one for any other reason.  Yes, when they came to Chicago I would promote their appearances, but these special programs usually fell into that regular pattern.  Then, when the special programs aired, I usually sent the guests a copy of the WNIB Program Guide, which listed the item, along with a thank you note for spending the time with me.  Sometimes I got a reply, and the handwritten one from Jones is reproduced below-right.

Lately, I have been transcribing and presenting these conversations on my website, and it pleases me to give them another life since the radio station was sold and changed format in 2001.

I mention all of this because my guest on this webpage is composer Charles Jones, and since our conversation took place in May of 1987, his
round birthday came up three timesin 1990, 1995, and 2000.  Now, in the first month of 2024, I am pleased to add this transcription to those which appear in this format.  As usual, names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.

His travels took him cross-country, from New York to Aspen, but he did not stop in Chicago.  So, we arranged to
meet on the telephone.

Here is what was said on that spring day long ago . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You’ve been teaching at Aspen since its inception?

Charles Jones:   That’s right.  Yes.  [The Festival was founded in 1949, and the first official class began in 1951, the year when Jones began teaching there.]

BD:   How has the teaching of music, either there or anywhere, changed over the last 35 or 40 years?

Jones:   For me it hasn’t changed, because I have a whole way of teaching, a whole way of building up technique, and then turning the students loose with that.  So that hasn’t changed.  But the use of that, and the understanding of that by students has changed very much.
BD:   Are the students brighter today or just more alert?

Jones:   No, they’re not necessarily brighter, but they have a different perspective based on all the things that are happening around them.  There are more and more things happening, as you know.

BD:   Is there too much happening around them?

Jones:   No, I don’t think it’s too much, but they have a much greater choice.

BD:   Do you feel that music is perhaps expanding in too many different directions?

Jones:   No, I wouldn’t say too many, but it is expanding.  It will finally, of course, sort itself out.

BD:   Are we in that sorting process right now?

Jones:   We’re always in that sorting process.  At some point sooner or later, it catches up with the with the product, if you want to call it that.

BD:   Should music be viewed as a product?  It so often seems to be a commodity these days.

Jones:   When it reaches a point of lasting some time and proving itself, then it’s an art rather than a product.  But perhaps just in the early stages, it’s best to think of it as a commodity.

BD:   [With a wink]  Like pork bellies???

Jones:   [Chuckles]  Yes.  Yes.

BD:   Should we perhaps put composers on the stock exchange and trade composition futures?

Jones:   [Laughs]  Well, the only trouble is that composition isn’t worth anything!  Painters are very different.  They’re in the situation of having a market with quotations and fluctuations and all the rest.  That hasn’t happened to composers.  It probably never happened in history too much, and with young composers, it isn’t even there at all.

BD:   Then what do you feel is the ultimate purpose of music?

Jones:   Of music?

BD:   Yes.

Jones:   You’re not talking about composition, you’re talking about music performance, and symphony orchestras, and opera companies?

BD:   Yes...  [Noting his discomfort]  Let me change the question slightly.  What’s the place of music in today’s society?

Jones:   There’s an entertainment side, and then there’s the very serious side, which comes out of the whole creative process, and that takes a certain amount of effort on the part of the person who is going to understand it.  Perhaps then it moves out of the entertainment category into something resembling art.

BD:   Where is the balance then between the art and the entertainment?

Jones:   I suppose one way is to try to prove the size of one’s audience, or public, or whatever.  With the entertainment thing, to which you don’t have to bring too much, you just entered in, and that’s always going to be much bigger.  That’s going to be pretty large.  For the other thing, it’s necessarily going to be pretty small.  You just have to look at the numbers there to tell the difference.

BD:   What do you expect of the audience that comes to hear your music, or perhaps any new music?

Jones:   I hope they would bring a certain kind of equipment, or at least an open mind.  You don’t like to have people who are annoyed by everything that you think is your discovery, or your important side of the music.  When that turns them off immediately, they perhaps belong in the other category.

BD:   Do you find that audiences are more accepting or less accepting these days?

Jones:   Oh, I think they are more accepting.  The ones who come to hear the serious music I was talking about, are more perceptive.

BD:   Do you like the many new avenues that music is traveling?

Jones:   Yes, I do because they’re there, and just the fact that they exist is pretty nice.  I try to keep up.  I’m not avidly involved with it any more.  I don’t go to all the new music concerts, but I have a lot to do with the young people who are involved with these things.  I wouldn’t say it’s bad at all.  Some of it, of course, will disappear, and some of it may leave an imprint, but you have to have it all in order for this to happen.

BD:   Throughout all of this, do you still encourage young composers to try to assimilate as much of this as they can?

Jones:   [Laughs]  Well, I don’t discourage them.  I don’t really tell them what they have to hear, but they have various degrees of curiosity, and they go right out and find what they’re after.  That’s all right, I think.  The market is pretty wide there now.

BD:   I just wonder if perhaps we’re getting too many people writing music these days.

Jones:   That’s a great problem.  It’s just an economic problem with the schools where I teach, because you can train violinists and pianists, and you know they’re going to end up in orchestras, or as accompanists, or teaching.  But composers have a much harder time making a living, and you feel a little sorry for them.  You don’t want to fill up a school with people who are not going to be able to make any money out of what they’ve learned.  That’s a great concern with the schools where I am, and I can understand it.

BD:   Should there be room in society for composers to make a living just on their compositions?

Jones:   It would be nice, but it’s very, very hard.  You’re not talking about teaching now, but just about composing?

BD:   Just about composing, yes.

Jones:   That doesn’t happen very often.  It really doesn’t.  The only one that I can think of is Stravinsky who did that.  He didn’t teach, and he made his money out of composing.

BD:   Are there any young composers coming along today who you feel are on the same level with Stravinsky?

Jones:   No, but I wouldn’t know that.  The fortunate position with Stravinsky was his connection with the ballet, and his ability to hear what he wrote and know exactly for whom he was writing.  This was a great thing with him.  The pieces were put into production, and the fact that they worked was very much due to what he could do.  But he didn’t have to shop around.  There was always a dance company and a production of the theater things that he wrote.

BD:   Was he fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, or was the world fortunate to have the right person in that right place?

Jones:   I guess it’s a little bit of both because of his long association with the ballet people.  I knew Stravinsky, and liked him very much.  I teach a graduate seminar at Juilliard now on Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  So there’s a lot of recall that I’ve had, and a lot of research, a lot of things that I didn’t know.  That’s why I’m talking about Stravinsky right now, but he’s an example of the composer who does nothing but compose.

BD:   Is he the only example?

Jones:   Oh, he is not the only one.  There was somebody like Francis Poulenc, for instance, but he had a lot of money, and I don’t think he taught.  He just wrote music and lived off a very large income, but that’s another kind of thing.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   How has the music of Charles Jones changed over the last 20, 30, 40 years?

Jones:   I would rather have somebody else to say that, but as you asked me, the general makeup of it hasn’t changed too much.  It’s gone, of course, in the direction where I have found performances possible.  That’s why I’ve written eight string quartets.  That’s an evolution which interests me because I wrote one every five years for quite a while.  I have dropped off a little bit now, but one has the sense of how things are changing and how they’re developing.  I did experiments, and I added certain complexities over all those years.  That was the general thing that happened.  But the world of chamber music is where I feel pretty much at home, because I was trained as a violinist.  I graduated from the precursor of the Juilliard School as a violinist before I became a composer, so I’ve always had my base in the chamber music world.  I’ve written a lot of vocal music too, but that’s less a part of my life than, say, the string quartets, or the trios, or other chamber works that I’ve done.
BD:   Have you basically been pleased with the performances you’ve heard of your music?

Jones:   Yes, because I’ve done them where I had the chance.  Aspen has been a wonderful example of that.  I have had extraordinary performances from Aspen where I’m part of the festival.  I’m going to have a new work played on the first of August.  It is a serenade for solo violin and nine other players, and it should be a wonderful performance because I know everybody involved in it.

BD:   Did you write specifically for them?

Jones:   No, I didn’t, but I knew they were there.

BD:   How do you decide which commissions you will accept and which commissions you will decline?

Jones:   I don’t have commissions.  I just write.  I have had a few commissions, but they’re not worth mentioning.  [Laughs]  I’m a non-commissioned officer, if you like.

BD:   Then how do you decide what instrumentation or orchestration you will use?

Jones:   It’s because I haven’t done it before.  I don’t want to keep doing a series of things.  The string quartet is different because that’s a standardized group.  But I’ve tried to change the instrumental makeup of the things as I went along.

BD:   When you’re working on music, do you work on one thing at a time, or do you have a couple of ideas going at once?

Jones:   I can work on several things at once.  It’s kind of nice, and I don’t mind doing that at all.

BD:   Do you find it refreshing to go from one to another?

Jones:   Yes, I do.

BD:   When you’re writing a piece of music, how do you know when it’s finished?

Jones:   I don’t have any trouble with that.  I plan the structure.  It’s not just a matter of running downhill and stopping.  You don’t plan it in advance, though.  As the piece is progressing, the elements that are there are going to put themselves together to bring about what you think is a successful ending.  You can be hitting for a very lofty, slow, elevated ending, in which case you’re going to start thinking around the middle of a movement how to employ the things you’ve already put in there to do this.  On the other hand, if you’re going to have one of those bang-up loud endings, that takes a different kind of planning.  But the planning is what brings peace to an end.

BD:   Are you ever surprised where the music has led you?

Jones:   I don’t think so too much.  I’m rather pleased that I’m not too surprised.  I know how things are going to sound.  Then, having that picture in my mind, or in my ear, when it comes time to play the piece, I put the piece where I hear it in my head.  I am not doing the opposite.  I’m not looking to say that I’m surprised.  I don’t look forward to that.  It’s controlled right from the page for me.

BD:   So you’re in complete control of the music, rather than it controlling you?

Jones:   Yes.  I might have some wonderful surprises if I did it the other way, but I don’t really look forward to that.

BD:   Let me ask another balance question.  Where’s the balance between inspiration and technique?

Jones:   I don’t know much about inspiration.  The inspiration is in the concept of the piece.  I’ve done a lot of pieces with texts, and I’ve used texts that I was really involved with.  I have done a song cycle on texts of Henry James.  That’s the kind of inspiration that I find.  I did also a work for speaker and 13 instruments on texts of Alexander Pope, setting of The Rape of the Lock.  I’m very involved with Pope.  I’m a kind of Pope nut, so when I work with that, inspiration comes out of my involvement with the text.  That’s the kind of inspiration I can put my finger on.  As for things that are not involved with an outside element like a text, I don’t think much in terms of inspiration.  I want the piece to have a certain sound, and when it has that sound, I give up and that’s the end of it.

BD:   What are the particular joys and sorrows of writing for the human voice?

Jones:   I don’t sing, but I’ve known a lot of singers.  Actually, this cycle that I wrote, called The Fond Observer, uses the Henry James text that I mentioned.  I did that for Jan DeGaetani, whom you probably know.

BD:   Yes.

Jones:   It’s wonderful to work with somebody like Jan.  She knows how to project your music through the text.  Everything works, and that’s marvelous.  I’m not a good pianist.  If I were, I’d be playing with singers the way Ned Rorem and Poulenc do.  People I’ve known have made half of a career out of playing for singers.  I wish I could, but I’m a violinist, so I can’t sit down and play my piano music too well.

BD:   Have you written anything for yourself, such as solo sonatas?

Jones:   Oh, yes.  I’ve written a lot of violin music, including a solo sonata going back very far.  I’m not very fond of the solo thing, but I’ve written a great deal.  This new work is for solo violin with eight other people.  Then I have another new work that was just played here about 10 days ago, a ballad for violin and piano, which had a premiere last summer in Aspen.  That’s a very difficult and complex work for violin and piano, and was played by a remarkable young violinist named Kurt Nikkanen.  He is a fabulous fiddle player.

nikkanen American violinist Kurt Nikkanen is an international soloist of the highest order. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, he began his violin studies at the age of three, later studying with Roman Totenberg and Jens Ellerman. At twelve he gave his Carnegie Hall debut, performing with the New York Symphony; two years later he was invited by Zubin Mehta to perform the Paganini Concerto No.1 with the New York Philharmonic for a Young People’s Concert. He is a graduate of the Juilliard School, where he was a scholarship student of Dorothy DeLay.

Nikkanen regularly receives invitations from the leading orchestras and presenters in the USA and Europe, and has toured Japan and the Far East. In North America he has appeared with the Dallas Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra, and in Europe with the BBC Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, BBC Philharmonic, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Dresden Staatskapelle. He has worked with many leading conductors.

An enthusiastic advocate of contemporary music, Kurt Nikkanen has given numerous performances of the John Adams Violin Concerto, with orchestras such as the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, London Sinfonietta, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Oregon Symphony, Hallé Orchestra and Cincinnati Symphony (all under the composer’s direction).

Highlights of recent seasons have included a UK tour with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, performances with the Gothenburg Symphony and Neeme Jarvi at the BBC Proms, and concerts with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Prague Symphony and RTE Orchestra in Dublin; also with the Bayerischer Rundfunk and Suddeutscher Rundfunk orchestras, both with Yakov Kreizberg, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra with Junichi Hirokami. He has also appeared with the Belgian National Orchestra, Trondheim Symphony and the orchestra of RAI Turin, the Detroit Symphony and Orchestra of Galicia, the Bilbao Symphony, the Malaysian Philharmonic and performances of the Dvorak concerto with the Czech Philharmonic and Vladimir Ashkenazy, both in Prague and on tour in the USA, with concerts in New York and Chicago. In 2011, he was featured as soloist in a performance of the Barber Violin Concerto and Ravel Tzigane with the Turku Philharmonic in a live webcast that was streamed worldwide.

Nikkanen has had many works written for him, including Steven R. Gerber’s violin concerto, which he has recorded for Koch International. In 2009, Mr. Nikkanen performed the world premiere of Mikko Heiniö’s concerto Alla Madre, subsequently recording it for Sony Classical with the Turku Philharmonic under Petri Sakari and released in 2010. His recording of William Walton’s Violin Concerto with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra was released on the Nimbus Alliance label in 2010 and was chosen as “Critics Choice for 2010” in Gramophone magazine.

Nikkanen gave the New York premiere of the Violin Concerto by Thomas Adès in May 2010 and has since performed it in Australia with the Perth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel.


See my interview with Jeffrey Mumford

In addition to his orchestral appearances, Kurt Nikkanen performs regularly as a recitalist both in the US and abroad with his wife, pianist Maria Asteriadou, presenting repertoire ranging from the complete Beethoven sonatas to Piazzolla tangos.

He is the Concertmaster of the New York City Ballet Orchestra and maintains a private teaching studio in New York, where he resides with his family.

==  Biography from the artist’s website (photos and links added)  

BD:   Did you write it to be complex, or did it just turn out to be complex?

Jones:   No, I didn’t write it to be complex, but it just turned out that I wanted sounds which involved a lot of things that I was happy to seemingly invent on the fiddle.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let me ask you about recordings.  Do you feel that concert music works well embedded in plastic?

Jones:   Oh, yes.  It’s fine from my standpoint, of course, but the players have another problem.  They feel that by the time you have made the thing, and worked over it, and gotten all the passage work as you want it, it’s not really a live performance.  But that’s something to do with the performance, the playing of it.  I think it’s great, and I wish I had more things on records.

BD:   Is there ever a case where the music becomes too technically perfect?

Jones:   Oh, I don’t think so, no.  I don’t believe that’s the case.

BD:   Going one step farther, do you feel that concert music works well on the television?

Jones:   That’s something else.  No, because then you’re shooting the camera around, and that can be distracting.  Also, I generally find the television sound is not as good as good radio sound.

BD:   They’re making advances, but it hasn’t gotten there yet.

Jones:   So television is not all that satisfactory, but it will probably improve.

BD:   You’ve written quite a lot of vocal music.  Are there any operas?

Jones:   No, I’m not an opera man somehow.  I wish I could, but when I think about it, I don’t think in terms of the theater.  I’ve done a lot of things with speaking and singing, but no, I doubt that I will ever do an opera.

BD:   Do you enjoy the opera as an art form?

Jones:   Oh yes, indeed.

BD:   Do you feel that opera works well on television?

Jones:   It could work, but again you’ve got to be very careful what you do with a camera.  They usually jump around all the time.  You look at a bassoon player, and then you look at a conductor, and that’s a little bit distracting.

BD:   Maybe we should get another phase of the composer’s life at a university, where they could become technically proficient and do the direction in a television studio for the musical productions.

Jones:   Yes, that would be a thing.  In the early, early days, I used to tell people to learn how to work in a radio station.  I don’t know whether any of them did it, but before the television came around, Tim Page, who was a student of mine, now does a very successful two-hour daily program on WNYC.  He’s into radio very much.  He got into it when he was at college at Columbia, and he ran the radio station there for a while.  That’s how he learned it, just experiencing it in college like a subject.  [Page would soon change to be a writer on music, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 (while at the Washington Post) for his
‘lucid and illuminating music criticism.]
BD:   Learning by doing?

Jones:   Right, learning by doing. 

BD:   Does it always feature American composers?

Jones:   It’s called New, Old and Unexpected.

BD:   Is everything in modern music unexpected?  
[Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interview with George Crumb.]

Jones:   Well, it’s kind of nice when it is.

BD:   How can we get the big orchestras, and even some of the chamber groups, to expand their repertoire?

Jones:   That’s a terrible problem.  I wish it would be possible.  I’ve written four symphonies, but I’ve given up writing for the orchestra because it’s too impossible to have performances.  Usually you have one performance and then no more.  I don’t know what will bring that around.  Subscription audiences are rather remote from contemporary composers, as you probably know.

BD:   At whose doorstep can we lay the blame?

Jones:   Well, conductors, and Boards of Trustees, and orchestras.  They’re not working for us right now.  Some of the conductors are, of course, but I don’t know about the Boards.  They’re trying to have box office work, and the box office works better when they play standard repertoire.

BD:   Should the Symphony Orchestra be made to be a paying proposition?

Jones:   That’s really like education in the music schools.  I don’t think they ever will pay their way.  The thing we ought to look to is radio such as they have in Europe, which is run by the state.  This means the BBC, and the French Radio, and though it’s less now, the Canadian radio.  When Stravinsky discovered that was there, he went up to Toronto when he was about 80 years old and made an awful lot of works with the Toronto Orchestra.  All the rehearsals were paid by the government in order to have a broadcast, and after the broadcast, the recording people came in and made the records.  That is next door to us, but it couldn’t exist in this country.

BD:   As I understand it, a certain percentage of the music on every concert and every broadcast up there must be by Canadian composers.

Jones:   Yes, it probably is.  I was born in Canada, but I came here when I was 18.  My father was an American, so I was always an American citizen.  I’ve gotten pretty far away from Canada, but all those things do exist up there when the government is behind the radio and television.

BD:   Should we try to encourage that sort of thing here, that a certain percentage of concerts and broadcasts be American music?

Jones:   It would be wonderful, but I don’t know how to get at it though.

BD:   The thought always becomes that the government will interfere.

Jones:   Yes, but it’s very hard to put your finger on the outfit controlling any large television or radio groups.  They’re all separate, aren’t they?  There seem to be no chains.

BD:   Despite all of this, are you optimistic about the future of music?

Jones:   You have to be if you like music.  You’re not going to turn your back on it or its future.  I would like to feel that I’m optimistic.

BD:   I assume you enjoy going to concerts.

Jones:   Yes, oh yes.

BD:   Is the act of composition fun for you?

Jones:   Yes, it is.  The whole process is wonderfully involving once the thing has started.  I never write a piece quite in the same way again.  I don’t have a technique that I employ for everything, so I find new technical approaches in the piece that I am working on, and that’s endlessly fascinating.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you find the audiences vary from place to place?

Jones:   They probably do.  I don’t have a big experience with that.  I know the New York audience, and I know the Aspen audience.

BD:   Are they completely separate?

Jones:   Oh yes.  The Aspen audience is a summer audience coming from all over, and the New York audience is pretty much a parochial little group.  The ones who go to modern music are always the same people at all the concerts.

BD:   Is that what’s killing modern music, having just a little group of devotees rather than the Philharmonic audience?

Jones:   Yes, and it’s too bad.  The modern music audience here is kind of a cult thing.  What’s it like in Chicago?

BD:   There’s some modern music on the subscription series of the orchestra, but not a lot.  [This would change and be expanded when Daniel Barenboim succeeded Sir Georg Solti as Music Director in 1991, and when Pierre Boulez became Principal Guest Conductor in 1995.]  Basically, though, we have a chamber music crowd, an opera crowd, and the symphony crowd.  There’s quite a bit of overlap, but they really are quite distinct.

Jones:   Yes, they probably are.

BD:   You’ve also taught on the West Coast?

Jones:   Yes.  I began teaching in Mills College.  That was a long time ago, and it was a girls school.  I was there with Darius Milhaud.  The two of us were there together, though I was there a year before he was.  He came in 1940, getting out of France.  We ran this thing together very, very nicely and very successfully.  Then we moved it to Santa Barbara and the Music Academy of the West, which still goes on.  Then we went to Aspen in 1951.  So it was about 30 years that Milhaud and I were together teaching.  I continue now at Aspen.  The classes I teach are counterpoint, orchestration, and fugue, apart from my composition teaching.  [Laughs]  So I’m a kind of small conservatory.  I find that very nice because I know what I want the people to learn technically if they’re going to work with me, and that has paid off very well.  We’ve had all sorts of people who studied and turned into something for themselves, something quite commercial.  Burt Bacharach was one, and Dave Brubeck was another.  These people learned what was being taught, perhaps by misunderstanding it.  [Laughs]  It didn’t hurt them, but whatever it was, look at the way it has turned out for them.

BD:   In many instances, we seem to be blurring the line between concert music and popular music.  Is this a good thing?

Jones:   It doesn’t really concern me very much.  I don’t think it’s bad.  Brubeck has a very serious side now.  For that, he feeds on the kind of training he had when he was very young.  Two other people who had been in our class in Aspen were Philip Glass and Peter Schickele way back in the ’60s.  We also had Bill Bolcom.  It is a very nice experience.  Walter Paepcke, from Chicago, started Aspen.  He owned the Container Corporation, and he brought Schweitzer to Aspen.  He used to talk about cross-fertilization all the time.  This had to do with his Humanistic Studies Institute there.  The cross-fertilization idea got down to the composition class in Aspen with the kind of thing I’ve just been talking about, and the various people who have come and studied there.
BD:   How far should this cross-fertilization go, or is there really no point in limiting it at all?

Jones:   No, there’s no point in limiting it.  You can use it as you find necessary for you.
BD:   Do you feel that rock is music?

Jones:   No.  This hasn’t anything to do with rock.  I don’t know anything about rock.  I’m not very fond of it.

BD:   I’m just wondering at what point you draw the line.

Jones:   The rock thing is very different.

BD:   How so?

Jones:   I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s so noisy, and repetitive, and uncreative, and actually pretty bad, I think.  I’m against it.

BD:   And yet that form seems to be the steady diet of so many young people.

Jones:   That’s because it’s so accessible and so easy.

BD:   What can we do to make concert music more accessible and easy... or are we back to the old problem again?

Jones:   [Smiles]  We’re back to the old problem again.  Of course, you can easily listen to rock.  You know what happens at rock concerts... the people who are stoned start killing each other.  We don’t want to have that become part of the symphony audience.  We wouldn’t make that something we’d look forward to.

BD:   What kind of reactions do you like?  I trust you don’t want fistfights in the audience as they had at first performance of The Rite of Spring [headline in The New York Times is shown at right].

Jones:   Those are not the kind of things they have in rock concerts.  Those were spontaneous, and they had an aesthetic element.  I haven’t been to any rock concerts, but I think those are just really the kind of mayhem that breaks loose.

BD:   What kinds of advice do you give young composers in general?

Jones:   After they decide that they know their field, and they know how to compose music up to a good serious point, then, if they’re in any kind of large center, they have to get together with other people who are more or less in the same situation and put on some concerts.  Or if there is a group already set up, try to get into the group.  If they can possibly manage to get together with sympathetic people, the way painters used to and perhaps still do, they can form small concerts in art galleries or wherever they could be.  Don’t just sit home in a garret and write music, but somehow show it around to people any way you can.

BD:   What do you feel is the role of a music critic?

Jones:   I don’t know.  There is a quotation from Horace Walpole which has to do with talking back to critics.  It’s always amused me very much because he was involved with somebody who criticized something that he’d written.  He said (and I am paraphrasing now),
You shouldn’t have any contact with a critic because it is like having a contact with a chimney sweep.  If you do go near him, you will be so begrimed that you will be very sorry you have done this, and simply stay away.  He put it in a much, much better 18th century English.  He also continued that the critic will have the last word.  Sympathetic and knowledgeable critics are necessary, but there are the other ones too, the sour ones who hold things back.  But we don’t have too many of those.  I think most of the critics, at least the ones whom I read now, are pretty open-minded, though they may have a few prejudices.

BD:   Has the craft of music criticism gotten better over the years?

Jones:   I think it has, sure.  There’s an apocryphal story of Stravinsky having an audience with Pope.  The Pope asked him,
My son, what troubles you?  Stravinsky thought very fast and said, I could never accept criticism, Father.  The Pope said, Well, as a matter of fact, I could never accept criticism either.  [Both laugh]  So it’s very hard to accept criticism.  You’d like to get constructive criticism, but critics are certainly a special breed.  It’s nice when they know something about their field, and also write well.  Such people are coming more and more.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What is next on the calendar?  Are you going to Aspen in a few weeks?

Jones:   I go to Aspen middle of June.

BD:   You go by train?

Jones:   I go by train.

BD:   Has this been an annual ritual?

Jones:   It’s been an annual ritual, yes.  My wife doesn’t like flying, and I’m not very fond of flying, either.  So we get on the train, and go out there, and spend the summer, and come back here.

BD:   I remember when you told me about that, it just sounded fascinating that you could actually take the time to do that.  Do you work on the train or just relax?

Jones:   It’s only two days, so I read.  I can work on the train, but I don’t generally do very much of that.  I’m sorry, I won’t see you in Chicago.  I don’t have too many friends in Chicago anymore.  I used to, but they’ve all sort of moved away.

[We then took care of a few technical details, and I mentioned some of the other composer-programs which were coming up on WNIB, including Francis Thorne, Irwin Bazelon (who was originally from Chicago), and George Walker.]

Jones:   Oh, yes.  I know Bazelon very well, and also Francis I know.  They’re old friends of mine.

BD:   Have you ever experimented with electronics?

Jones:   No.  I’m very poor with anything that has to do with numbers, or the electronic world.  It wouldn’t be my style.  I know that, so I don’t have anything to do with it.  I don’t object, but it wouldn’t work for me.

BD:   It just sounds like you’re very happy working with what you’re familiar with, and with what you know and understand.

Jones:   Yes.  It sounds kind of smug, but I think that’s probably true.

BD:   No, not smug, but quite the opposite.  It sounds very knowledgeable, as though you’re being able to work with what you know rather than trying things that you don’t have experience with or desire to do.

Jones:   Yes.

BD:   It’s a very admirable trait.  I want to thank you for spending some time with me this afternoon.  It’s been fascinating, and I do hope we get to meet eventually.

Jones:   Yes, Bruce, I hope we do.  
If you want to know anything else, you can call me.  I’m here.

========                ========                ========
--------        --------        --------
========                ========                ========

© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded on the telephone on May 9, 1987.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1990, 1995, and 2000, and on WNUR in 2007, and 2016.  An un-edited copy of the audio was given to the Oral History of American Music collection at Yale University.  This transcription was made in 2023, and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

*     *     *     *     *

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.