Peter Cherches is a vital member of the New York literary scene. Sonorexia, the avant-vaudeville music/performance group he co-led with Elliott Sharp appeared at a wide range of venues in New York City. Peter’s first album as a jazz vocalist, Mercerized! Songs of Johnny Mercer, featuring Lee Feldman on piano, was released in 2016. In his new Bamboo Dart Press book Tracks: Memoirs from a Life with Music, Cherches reflects on the artists and the sounds that have informed his life. It is a fascinating diving board for Cherches to jump from but will not leave the light music listener stranded on the shore as he pairs music history with his own.
The entry on Sam Rivers struck me as a large part of what your book is about. Music as a companion. The entry on the series of shows you saw Jazz artist Rivers perform in his loft could have been a book in and of itself. There is quite a bit revealed about you in this chapter, in what you valued about these experiences as you veered from teendom to adulthood.
You can get a group of three or four hardcore jazz fans together and they’ll happily reminisce for hours about the shows they’ve seen over the years, but it would make for a pretty boring book. When I started writing these memoirs I thought carefully about what I could convey that might resonate with readers regardless of their specific musical interests, and for me that’s giving form to my enthusiasms and trying to recreate the experience of the moment as well as the echoes over a lifetime.
Writing about music is as difficult as writing about dance. It is not a concrete form. A good portion of the book is about your experience in and around the edges of music, but there are passages that delve into the artist and the artist’s work such as your dissecting of Steve Lacy’s Micro Worlds. On writing these entries, did you revisit each work? Leave it to memory?
I think it’s the same for all arts. If anything, I find writing about writing more difficult because one is using the same tools, while with music I feel I have more leeway to find my own entry point via language. In some cases it was to situate the music as a soundtrack to an experience, and in others I was more consciously, in part at least, writing tributes to artists who have inspired me–and in most cases it was music that I think had an impact on my prose writing. I did listen to all the music again. In the case of Lacy, I knew I wanted to write about one of the tracks from that album, but I reviewed the whole thing to decide which track would be the most fertile place from which to riff on Lacy’s art.
A number of entries feature your brother or your grandparents or others acting as guides be it to the store, or from records pulled from their collections.
I feel fortunate to have grown up in a family that had definite musical enthusiasms. My older brother wasn’t especially interested in rock, but he encouraged my interests, whatever they were. I think the essence of the book is the enthusiasms, the specifics being the armature to hang them on.