5 Questions: Musician Hunter Diamond

Collage portrait created by Marine Tempels

Hunter Diamond is an improviser and composer based in Chicago. Exploring various types of lineage and iteration, Diamond creates work that equally utilizes chamber music style arranging techniques and free improvisation.

Performing primarily on saxophone and clarinet, his current work includes “Broken Music”: a set of compositions that explore the grief and healing processes, “Strange Frontiers”: compositions that set his father Eric Diamond’s poetry to music and video installation, and a forthcoming duo recording with saxophonist and long-time collaborator Artie Black. Diamond and Black have released two full-length recordings with their quartet Black Diamond, both on the Shifting Paradigm label.

Having spent the summer of 2019 in residence with flautist/composer Nicole Mitchell at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Diamond will be performing and recording new works during a composition residency at The Whistler in Chicago throughout the month of September, and recording with a new ensemble in New Orleans in October.

You can keep track of Hunter at his website.

Photo credit: Mikel Patrick Avery

1. What’s been keeping you up at night?
Lately, my mind has been racing with ideas to further develop several new projects that will be premiering in a few weeks. For the month of September, I [will] be presenting a new-works residency at the Whistler on Tuesday nights. Each individual week will feature a new band and a new set of material.

I had an incredibly inspiring experience working with Nicole Mitchell at the Atlantic Center for the Arts this summer, and so I asked Billy Helmkamp at the Whistler if I could use the space to present a series of new work. At the moment, (two weeks out from the first rehearsal) I’m feeling a bit overpowered by the process of getting material and artists together for four completely different performances, and that leads to a bit of uneasy sleep – but I’m very excited to be exploring concepts and settings that are stretching me beyond my normal modes of composition and improvisation. I won’t go into the details on each performance here, but if you’d like to know what’s going to be happening, you can read about it at hunterdiamond.com/performances.

Photo credit: Jeremy Catledge

2. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen or heard lately?
At the beginning of a recent concert, Nicole Mitchell gave a solo flute/spoken improvisation that was one of the most powerful and direct expressions of personal soul-bearing that I have ever witnessed. Unless you were sitting in the right place before the performance, you wouldn’t have heard the exchange between Nicole and one of the staff members of the venue, who told Nicole (as she was being introduced to walk on stage) to get out of her seat because she “didn’t belong there.”

Through the course of her improvisation, Nicole illustrated the weight and depth of this not-so-micro aggression: how it represents the ongoing tensions between people with power and those without, between white folks and people of color, and the ways in which these culturally overarching behavioral patterns manifest in so many parts of our lives whether we are aware of them or not.

It was a moment of pure truth-telling, not to mention the virtuosic flute playing and signature nonchalant laughs and shrugs.

Improvisers are often taught to tell a story when we play. There was no one in the concert hall (including that staff member) that wasn’t completely tuned in to hear Nicole tell her story.

3. What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?
I have a new recording that is currently in post-production that I am very excited to be working. It is a documentation of improvisations by myself and Artie Black, who is an incredible improviser/composer, and who has also been my closest and most frequent collaborator for the last eight years. Together, we have a quartet called Black Diamond. After releasing two recordings of our quartet compositions, we are now producing a record of duets, and the process of editing, layering, and manipulating the recordings has been an inspiring and fresh outlet for our individual and collective creative energies. There is not a release date scheduled yet, but it will be announced on blackdiamondchicago.com when it is ready.

Composer/musician Mike Reed, left, with Hunter Diamond | Photo credit: Liina Roud

4. If you could add anyone, alive or dead to your team, who would it be?
The quality I admire most in creatives/creators is the ability to transcend vehicle/instrument/craft. It’s the element that allows you to immediately identify Coltrane, or Gaudi, or Ginsberg. Strength of vision – strength of voice.
Rob Mazurek is an artist that inspires me a lot, not just because of that identifiable voice and his journey of transcending the trumpet, but also because he is a fearless and tireless creator who extends his vision through many outlets (electronic and acoustic music, visual art, installations, video/projection). I think having someone like him as a mentor and collaborator would be nourishing for all of the most important elements of my creative work.

Photo credit: Mikel Patrick Avery

5. When the movie of your life is made, what will it be called?
Having a lot of life left to go, that’s a tough question!

Maybe “Short, Not Too Long” haha – but ironically.

I acquired this de-facto nickname from Nicole Mitchell while at this residency at the Atlantic Center. Identified as a storyteller by many of the other musicians and artists in attendance, I often launch into tales (both conversationally and musically) that tend to go on…

We did a lot of conceptual work around improvisation, and one of the exercises that we frequently used was playing short (usually two-minute) improvisations while trying to employ whatever idea we were discussing. So, “short, not too long” became a regular guideline for the exercises, but was also aimed at me (with raised brows) from time to time in anticipation of another story haha. The Diamonds are all big schmoozers, and I proudly represent the family.

Hunter Diamond | Photo credit: Marine Tempels