QUESTION #3 Does playing in a trio provide you with any special musical opportunities which might not be available in other size ensembles? In other words, why do you like to play in trios?
How was the question received by the interviewee?
When answering the third question, six out of nine musicians gave what I would categorize as direct and responsive answers. Rufus Reid was direct and responsive but, much like Hamilton in the previous section, objected slightly to the term "piano trios". He said, “... actually it’s a concept of whereas we have more of equal voices in terms of a trio as opposed to a piano trio.” Chuck Israels was initially direct and responsive but quickly became apprehensive. Later, as the interview became less scripted, Israels gave many relevant comments that are included in this section. Joanne Brackeen was initially responsive but later disagreed with the terminology.
What kinds of answers were given?
The chart on the following page illustrates the frameworks interviewees used to answer question #3. The different categories I have constructed for the musicians’ responses are misleading in that they do not point toward the interconnectedness of the answers. Many aesthetic or functional answers were predicated on a structural reality, so many times these various answers are two sides of a coin.
Five out of nine musicians found the number of people playing in a trio to be special. Fred Hersch said:
And I just think that the combination, that the number three is kind of a magic number. You know, whether it’s triple meter or whatever, I think there is something very special about the number three.
Related to this structural reality is the additional influence members have in a trio. Four out of nine musicians cited their opportunity to influence the music as a chief reason they enjoyed playing in piano trios. Eric Reed stated:
I can interpret melodies exactly the way I want to. I can stop the band. I can make the band speed up. I can go into another tune. I can change keys. I can do all of that just at whim.
Reed’s statement also reinforces the significant leadership role that is sometimes held by the pianist in a trio. Three out of nine musicians cited a functional reason, the way an instrument is played or other performance factor, for playing in trios. Examples include the ability to play more solos and to play a diverse collection of musical material. The relationship between structure and function is evident when Richard Davis said:
Well, a trio provides you with a lot of time and space because [of] some of the things you value by less amount of people. That one or two guys with a solo, we’re blowing into something, something for the saxophone, and in a trio, you’ve got all that space that you can use.
Three out of nine musicians cited some sort of aesthetic value found in trio playing. In Ballard’s statement below, appreciation for aesthetics is a result or is due to a structural reality. Ballard stated:
I enjoy the velocity of thought in trio, in general. But in trio its, again because of less players, there’s room for lots of information, the intimacy allows for nuance to really speak loud and clear. And I’m all about that. I like detail and nuance and subtlety. And trio settings allow for that really to come out…
Fred Hersch mentioned the historical significance of trio playing as a reason to perform in trios. He said, “Well, I like to play in trios because…it is a classic format.”
Many musicians have an appreciation for piano trio playing because of increased influence or responsibility. Chuck Israels gave some interesting comments, which not only express his musical goals when playing in trios, but also the limits of influence from the bass. When asked about the influence of piano, Israels stated, “Oh, so much so that, since working with Bill [Evans] I’ve rarely had situations that I’ve been happy working in a piano trio.” The former Evans trio member seems to acknowledge a unique predicament of one who has found a musical ideal, but is dissatisfied by the inability of fellow trio musicians to fulfill and uphold this aesthetic value. Israels’ solution has been to transfer these musical values into a larger ensemble for which more of the music is notated. His octet is his means of influencing music towards satisfying ends. Many other musicians have commented on the importance of with whom one plays. Jeff Ballard commented:
…It also depends on the kind of players as well. One trio will allow me to really…take advantage of the space that’s provided and play with nuance. And with another trio would like me to play as if I was with a big band in a way where it’s just keep time and really just be obvious in what you’re playing. And it really just depends on who one’s playing with.
Ballard’s comment may help further explain the context specific role of drums. Talking with these musicians, I perceived that many of the playing interactions were more than business relationships. Deep friendships and even family-like bonds were the descriptions given by many musicians of their fellow trio members.
 A big band is an ensemble that was most popular during the 1930s and 1940s usually having seventeen or more members. They typically consist of rhythm, saxophone, trombone, and trumpet sections.