Sound It Out: “20 Questions” #18 — Brandon Ross

Another installment of the recurring “Sound It Out: 20 Questions” feature on, with an artist answering a survey inspired by the famous Proust Questionnaire…

Brandon Ross, a native of New Jersey who moved to New York City in 1983, has long been one of the most individual guitarists around, thanks to his questing musicality and ever-sensitive touch. Over the years, he has collaborated with a who’s who in progressive music, from Cassandra Wilson, Henry Threadgill and Wadada Leo Smith to Butch Morris, Oliver Lake and Ron Miles, among many others. In particular, Brandon’s playing and arranging for Wilson helped the singer color her jazz sound with folk-blues accents to broad success, with hit albums for Blue Note in the 1990s. Having grown up singing in church, he has also recorded as a singer-songwriter, his songs influenced by the blue-hued example of Joni Mitchell, not to mention his own ideas of “fertile ambiguity.” Brandon’s longstanding instrumental trio with electric bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer JT Lewis – Harriet Tubman – is one of the great New York bands, and the rare power trio as subtle as it is powerful; addressing his playing in that vein, Paris Review described Brandon as “a one-man atmosphere factory, availing himself of all the sounds – cries, squeaks, cracks, fuzz, whispers, organ-like echoes – that an electric guitar, in the hands of a master, can produce.” For exploring intimate sounds on various acoustic guitars and banjo, he has the quartet Blazing Beauty and the duo For Living Lovers with acoustic bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi. Collaborating with Takeishi and classical guitarist Daisuke Suzuki, Brandon has also recorded an album of music by the great Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.

The iconic photographer Ralph Gibson featured Brandon on the cover of State of the Axe: Guitar Masters in Photographs and Words; in this 2008 book, the guitarist says: “I choose to be ‘original,’ an honest musical self. Any guitarist will tell you how great a challenge that can be. Any artist will ask you: What other possible choice is there?” Brandon has performed for Sound It Out twice previously, with For Living Lovers in 2014 and with cellist Rubin Kodehli in 2016. On February 15, 2018, the guitarist returns to the series with his latest ensemble, Immortal Obsolescence, which features Takeishi, JT Lewis on drums and Graham Haynes on cornet and electronics. — BB

  1. What was the first jazz album you fell in love with and stayed in love with?

Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis.

  1. What do you think is one of the most overrated jazz albums ever?

Blood on the Fields by Wynton Marsalis.

  1. What’s one of your all-time favorite non-jazz albums?

A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten, the original Decca recording conducted by the composer.

  1. What’s the last album you listened to from beginning to end – and did you like it?

Body Meta by Ornette Coleman – I loved it! It reinforced the fact of Ornette’s singularity… His musical vision was truly unique and unlike most anything else, in a positive sense. It has to be considered on its own terms. As a result, it endures and stands apart for its inclusiveness beyond a mere stylistic smorgasbord.

  1. What’s your favorite film score?

The Road to Perdition by Thomas Newman.

  1. What was the most recent concert – of any genre – that made you fall in love with music all over again?

There were two: Deer Hoof with Wadada Leo Smith at Le Poisson Rouge, New York City; and “The Music of Julius Eastman,” with Gay Guerilla (for 10 electric guitars and one electric bass guitar) plus Crazy Nigger and Evil Nigger for four grand pianos, at the Knockdown Center, Maspeth, New York.

  1. Which are your very favorite and least favorite venues for live music?

Favorite: the Stone in NYC – music spoken here. Least favorite: the Blue Note, in Manhattan – only for tourists. Honorable mention: The Owl Music Parlor in Brooklyn, the Met Museum and Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan, Porgy & Bess in Vienna. And my least favorite also includes any venue that “passes the hat” to fund its use of the musicians’ art to benefit its profit margin.

  1. What’s your favorite quote about music?

“All music is communication. Creative music is communication, through revelation.” — I think I said that…

  1. If you could have a drink with any late visual artist of the past, who would it be?

Tough one, but lately, I’ve been feeling like I wanted to talk with Jean-Michel Basquiat.

  1. What are the top three tools of your trade?

For electric guitar: the right amp, the right plectrum, the right reverb (pedal). For acoustic guitar: the right strings, the right plectrum, the right space!

  1. What’s your most indispensable piece of technology that isn’t music-oriented?

My Japanese Kyusu teapot.

  1. What are your top media sources of writing/opinion/news about music?

Don’t have one, not currently.

  1. What non-musical/non-technological quality is most important to being an enduringly creative musician?

Unconditional imagination.

  1. What living person do you most admire – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most admire?

My dog… if I had one!

  1. What living person do you most despise – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most despise?

This reminds me of the old joke in psychology circles: “You know, there’s something about that person I just can’t stand about me!” That said, I don’t despise… for more than 17 seconds at a time, if I expend the energy that way. It only always returns to sender, sooner or later.

  1. What’s your favorite place in the world?

Maybe it’s a place I haven’t been yet… But of the places I’ve been, one place always enchants me and lifts my spirit: Tyrol, Austria. The mountains, the Alps, on the way from Bavaria to Tyrol and southward from there, and in Salzburgerland.

17. If you could live in another time period, when would that be?

That would be some time when being in whatever form/body I’d be in would make no difference to my experience of the joy and freedom and loving and goodness of life in that time period.

  1. What book would you most like to read again?

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. 

  1. What film haven’t you seen that you feel like you should?


  1. What aspect of the past do you miss most – and what’s one thing you look forward to about the future that doesn’t yet exist?

I most miss physical record stores… What I most look forward to about the future that doesn’t yet exist is the realized and manifested potential of human consciousness as an inter-dimensional vehicle of transformation/transportation.