Willie Oteri and Tony Levin
"I remember seeing Tony sitting on the floor in a lotus position around five in the morning...I think he was playing while asleep."
According to Willie Oteri, It isn’t until something is played note for note, as written, that it no longer contains improvisation. The experience of improvisation has been a cornerstone in his work, and he is always listening for musicians to share that experience on upcoming projects. “All music came from improvisation” says Oteri, “even if just from the composers head and onto paper.” Sometimes the improvisation takes place in the mind before the musician finds some way to record the sound of their imagination. Other times improvisation happens as sounds are discovered and anticipated at the musician’s fingertips. “I think improvising is just the natural way of things. Some musicians get lost in a sea of structure and some can never break free, but others just play free, naturally.”
Tony Levin and Willie Oteri have worked together on the improvised album Spiral Out, and a 45 Hour Super Session in Padova, an event in which musicians from all over the world improvised for 45 straight Hours, live!
It was the desire to improvise with fellow creatives and adventurous musicians that brought Willie Oteri and Tony Levin into a project together. As Oteri tells it:
“After releasing Jazz Gunn - Concepts of MateMaToot I wanted to do another album using a name producer. I put a notice up in an online group for audio engineering and one of the first to respond was producer Ronan Chris Murphy. Within a few days I flew out to Los Angeles to meet him and start work on the production. During the pre-production meeting with Ronan Chris Murphy I mentioned that Tony Levin would sound great on one of the song ideas I had. ‘I can get Tony’ said Ronin, and went and called him. We sent him a demo of some song ideas and a couple of months later we were in a Studio in Austin making Spiral Out. Our song First Light was the very first jam we ever did together.”
Smiling, Oteri recounts a moment that made him nervous during the album’s production, “Spiral Out was intended to be an improvised album, at one point Tony was writing down some ideas and the producer came in and took them away from him.” Laughing, he continues, “It worked out fine.Tony is a great person, easy to get along with and takes direction well.”
Oteri was impressed and grateful for the professionalism of Tony Levin, he says that the experience proved that “Knowing your place during a production and keeping to yourself unless called on for ideas are good practices.”
When asked what made him think of working with Tony Levin, Oteri says, “He has a very big and powerful sound and it fits many styles.”
I couldn’t imagine myself meditating for 3 hours much less playing music live on stage for more than 24 hours and I asked Oteri, “How did you prepare for a 45 hour jam session?”
The adventurous music lover said, “Being slightly mad helps. Chris Boulet and I had already completed both a 14 hour and a 33 1/3 hour jams, so naturally we had to do 45 and someday 78. It takes a lot of musicians who rotate so no one has to play for the whole 45 hours. I have played as long as 12 hours in a row though. Pretty easy for most musicians to get into it, not that different than preparing for any show really. A state of mind, perhaps just crazy.”
Willie remembers some great moments from the 45 Hour Jam and briefly recalled a vision of “Tony sitting on the floor in a lotus position around 5 in the morning.” And Willie said, “I think he was playing while asleep.” Good times!