Mysterious Experimental Music Legend Jandek Comes to St. Louis

Categories: Interviews

"Jandek specified that he is going to be performing an 'experimental blues-rock' set," says Alex Cunningham, who booked the show and generally refers to Jandek and/or Smith as "The Rep." "Like most of his performances, the music will be highly improvisational. Lyrical themes are usually prepared during the days before the performance. I'm guessing that will be the case for this show as well."

Jandek_on_Corwood--Six_and_.jpg
An early Jandek photo.
Cunningham, a Jandek fan since high school, says that the booking process was fairly straightforward. "Without going into too many specifics, I contacted Corwood over the summer about organizing a performance," he says. "We had our first conversation in June and have been in contact regularly since then. There really weren't too many odd requests to speak of, although all dealings have a certain surreal quality about them. This really only comes from the mystique associated with Jandek, rather than anything said in our correspondence."

Based on these initial contacts, Cunningham went about gathering a band. "It was a lengthy process," he recalls. "I was asked to find an 'experimental blues-rock' bass player and a drummer with improvisation experience. The only other specification was that the players should be local and that they had preferably never played with one another."

Cunningham first prepared a list of players in early January who had performed with some of Jandek's past live collaborators. "But this did not suffice, for reasons outside of my understanding," Cunningham says. "I was asked to provide extensive lists of players after this. One of my first lists was passed over, and I was asked to provide another list of musicians. His final choices were selected in late February."

"Alex said he had given Jandek a bunch of local bass players, and he chose me, which was pretty flattering," Coonfield adds. "I didn't know Joe was playing until after I said yes. I've known Joe awhile, and we have played shows with each other's bands for years. But we have never actually played together, so this should be fun."

What can Coonfield and Hess expect? A Texas musician who requested anonymity reflects on his own experiences playing with Jandek a few years ago:

Before the show, the musician says, Jandek held an extended soundcheck that functioned as the sole rehearsal. "The rehearsal was awkward, but fun," he says. "When there are no rules, you have to be open to anything. Jandek's reputation was the overarching unifier in the performance. Everyone was good at listening as well as playing. That helped a lot."

The musician describes Jandek's band-leading style as "very terse instruction by him, followed by comments and questions. The instruction was rather nonmusical, in the sense that there were none of the usual signifiers such as sheet music, tempo, key or usual arrangement terms such as verse and chorus. Because most of us had experience in experimental music, this was not necessarily a problem."

In Cunningham's eyes, Jandek is an entity disconnected from any idea of a "person." "He's definitely committed to upholding his mystique, and you have to respect that level of commitment after all these years."

"There has always been this notion among fans that Jandek is some sort of odd eccentric. This experience has extinguished that idea for me," Cunningham explains. "There have definitely been peculiar moments along the way, but I would never say that he's eccentric. He has an artistic vision in mind and knows exactly what he's doing. The way he operates is simply an extension of that vision."

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Billiken Club at Saint Louis University - Busch Student Center

20 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO

Category: Music

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