MS: I was at Juilliard for a while and during that time I discovered that string players actually played other kinds of music. I guess I grew up under a rock in some ways! I took a leave of absence to “learn how to play jazz” but I got very discouraged and eventually quit the violin altogether for about two years. I left New York and traveled around for a while and eventually landed on a farm, a commune in Texas. They had just started a band in the community, and they said “We only improvise.” It wasn’t jazz, and it wasn’t free, it was more like rock, like a jam band. I started to play with them, but it was very challenging at first. My experience up to that time emphasized preparation and perfection. It was very hard for me to accept what came out when I didn’t know exactly what I was going to play. At the same time was a really fun atmosphere and everyone was very accepting, so it ended up being a really positive experience.
Eventually I came home to New York, and I started playing in the subways. I first did it on a dare, but then I found I could make some money, so I kept doing it. I would mostly just improvise, but then an Irish fiddler talked to me and told me about Irish music sessions in the city. I started to go to these sessions and learn some Irish tunes and eventually I was doing that all the time.
Eventually Greg Tate, who was one of the founders of Burnt Sugar, asked me if I would join the band. He gave me a CD of this crazy, far out music, and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to join. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, said “No, you need to do that.” So, I did, and that’s where I really began to grow as an improviser. It was a huge band with a conductor and lots of unique voices, and people from all kinds of backgrounds play in it. We eventually played in Italy, which is where Lalo heard me. This was about five years after I left Juilliard.
MS: I suppose that it is. I know that it is, but I still don’t feel like I can feel comfortable calling myself a jazz musician. In some ways, it has always been a part of me. My dad listened to lots of jazz at home. I feel that it’s maybe a second language that I’ve picked up but never actually learned properly; maybe I’m good enough to get the accent right, but I’m not a native speaker. But, I do think it’s a stronger interest now than it ever has been.
MS: It’s been great. Its good to be able to switch back and forth between different styles, and to understand each one well enough that you can pull it off. It’s sometimes very challenging to go back to playing straight classical music, it’s hard to get that kind of technique going again when you do other things. But, my focus always is to have a great sound, and great intonation. These are important in every kind of music, and they are always important to me. As long as I focus on that, I don’t lose anything when I switch to a different situation.
MS: I love the album, and I’m so glad it’s finally out! It’s been two years in the making, and I’m very proud of the recording, and of the direction that the band is taking. It’s good to have captured this collection of music, what we’ve done so far, so we can move on to different things. I’m looking forward to more music with this group!