Kurt Heyl

A Narrative Autobiography – March 14, 2012


Now in Brooklyn for 6 years, and before that for 14 years, my wife and I had been living in the barren hills, twenty miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was written in 2002, while we were still in New Mexico.

It has been a time for me to reconstruct myself, to work menial jobs parttime, and to stumble through different identities, looking for the one that really fits. First I was a house builder, which necessity demanded and I craved. Then I was a painter, using art to organize my feelings and experiences of the process of house building. Then I was a photographer, using photography to install myself deep into this strange landscape. And finally, over-lapping all of these identities, I came to music.

Not last, but during this whole process, and even before the big move onto this land, while I was still searching for land, I found my friends through music, and one of them ended up helping me build the house. In fact, that same friend, Dave Nielsen, recorded with me on our first CD, the High Desert Duo’s, “Inside the Landscape”.

It’s odd to think that music was where I started. At twelve years old I began to study and play the trombone. My whole social world revolved around music all the way through high school and finally with a scholarship to Quincy College. My younger brother Bob was a trumpet player, and my sister, Jay Anne, the youngest, also played trombone for awhile. In fact, my earliest recollection of music was my father singing to me during my baths. From the age of two on, he was in charge of giving me baths. He knew all the lyrics by heart, and he repeated the songs often enough that I learned them all so we could sing them together. Then when we went on vacations, we would all sing in the car. After more than 50 years, I still know the lyrics to my father’s favorite songs.

After one year of formal music training at Quincy, I knew I couldn’t make it, because I hated practicing and my studies, but I loved sneaking out of the dorm after lights out in order to play in an all black jazz band in the black section of Quincy. I failed 2 subjects in my second semester, so my father said no more failing subjects and no more music, so he paid for me to go to art school, where I ended up majoring in photography, and going on for my Masters in Photography and Film at Illinois Institute of Technology – Institute of Design, studying with the remarkable Aaron Siskind.

I was born on February 2, 1942, and with the exception of one year in Quincy, I spent the first 28 years of my life in Chicago. I was married at 21, and had three kids before leaving Chicago, and moving all of us to California to create something new. Even though I was leaving a good job, teaching film at the Art Institute of Chicago; I felt like I needed to be out from under my father’s thumb. It was a time of drugs and turmoil, and I was reacting to my father’s strictness, and to the feeling that Chicago had become a police state. I ended up building a house in the Santa Cruz mountains, where my marriage ended, and our fourth child was born.

For the next fifteen years I dedicated myself to doing internal work and trying to understand how and why I was in such an internal mess, with such chaos, and no guidelines. I found some guidelines through a man named Silo (his pen name), whose writing and teachings became the main focus of my life.

This was thirty years ago, and I am still connected to this man and his teachings, in fact it was through this Movement that I met my current wife of twenty years, Maureen Prunty. Actually, we’ve been living together for twenty years, but only married for two. Twenty years ago I moved to New York City to live with Maureen. My best friend in New York was Sergio Vega, a painter who was also involved in the Movement. Sergio also played guitar, so in the mid-eighties, at my insistence, we began playing improvised music. It was jazz based, but the music had no melody, we just played.

Meanwhile I was teaching photography and video production at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan, and saving money so we could escape for good as soon as Maureen’s youngest daughter had graduated from high school. In many ways, moving to New Mexico, finding land, and building a house, were part of an attempt at repairing the internal damage that was the result of my first failed marriage, and that house building experience. Our plan was to live lightly on the land, off the grid using solar power and a composting toilet, with lots of open space around us and a sky full of stars at night.

So as I built this labor intensive, high maintenance life style; I was trading my energy to keep it going, instead of working a full time job to pay someone else. This allowed me the time to work through the different vocations I had assumed during my life. So slowly but surely music, improvised music, became my main focus. It is a natural result of this improvised life style, building without a building permits, and letting the materials determine how the building would end up looking. I guess I am still somewhat of a reactionary, left over from my youth.

Improvised music is a search for direct expression, for complete communication with fellow musicians, and a simultaneous creation of something new.

I am here, trying to live in the present, and make music that keeps me interested in it. I am making recordings of this process, and working on my fourth CD, which will contain solos, duets, and trios.

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