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Charles McPherson on the blues, at the Savannah Music Festival, 3/27/2013

3 May

I was recently fortunate enough to interview Charles McPherson, who told me about the blues, and what it means to him. 

Charles McPherson: The reason why I think the blues are important is because they should be, to me, the essence of what jazz is. It should be always a part of the fabric of jazz, I think. Everybody does not think that. But I do.

(….) The blues [is] a musical form, (….) harmonically and technically, that set a miles for pretty much the full range of human emotions. At least the really important emotions, I think…can be expressed by way of the blues.

To me music is just a metaphor for human emotionality. The human emotions are the real thing. So when you use art, whether in music, writing, or whatever it is! the particular mode of art – whatever the art is – …to me it’s supposed to be able to express the human condition. And so if you play music, then music is supposed to express that. And I think to be multidimentional – and that’s what people are: human beings are multidimentional: they are complex – so I think that the music should be multidimentional in that it can portray all the emotions: sadness, happiness, extreme depression, extreme gaity, and everything in the middle.

And the blues as a form covers a lot of emotionality because there are different kinds of blues: some blues are very dark and almost sad. But some are happy; some are glad to be unhappy – that’s a strange one there, ‘glad to be unhappy’ that’s a dichotomy – but it is a strange emotion that people can feel – and then just happy and/or hopeful, humorous, sexy – not even sexy but also …what’s the word….agape (as opposed to eros). So the blues, besides it being sexy (you know, it can be that), it can be not sexy, but almost reverent.

Because when the blues was first concocted by people, essentially… there was no sexual….because it’s an outbirst of spirituals. It’s like spirituals. And then maybe the blues comes from that. The evolution. But you know the spirituals are really saying “help, help me; ah…you’re all I got.” Meaning the big soul of the universe. So it’s a plaintive. This is you know….And then the blues comes from that. So there’s a part of the blues that deals with not just eros, or sex, or I lost my girlfriend, my love is gone….it’s that too, but it’s also ‘help’. You know. So those things are very interesting. When you have that to use, you have that kind of vehicle, there’s a lot of emotions…if you know as an artist how to do it; so to me the blues….that’s another reason why the blues is important. Because it’s a wonderful vehicle for a lot of different kinds of emotionality that humans feel.

And I will say this too: I travel a lot. I have been all around the world. I play for a lot of different cultures, a lot of different people, languages and the whole bit; and we can play certain tunes and I can tell they can’t truly relate to that. I can sense it; even if they are polite. [Charles is clapping]

But I have never been to any place where we played the blues and they didn’t understand it. I played in places where maybe they didn’t like anything else we did; but when we played that, they got it.

So I think it has a universal appeal. That’s another reason why I think the blues are almost special in a way because they appeal almost universally cross culture, cross race, cross gender, cross tribal, whatever… because in some kind of way, it speaks to a broad mass of humanity. That maybe other kind of jazz/music doesn’t. That one does.

So that’s another reason why I think it’s special and that I play it. It saved us a lot of times. When we weren’t really connecting with the audience, and it’s like ‘okay, let’s play one of these blues…’ and we can be in Ireland, you know, and it works. And definitely it is very American.

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Interview with Jon Irabagon, March 2013

13 Mar

1- What was one of your most challenging but most rewarding experiences, musically/ artistically? Or perhaps you could mention some really fruitful collaborations you have had?

Each musical situation has its own gains and rewards; it’s always challenging to join a band when it has been going on for awhile, when you are filling in or replacing someone, or when the bandleader has played his or her tunes for a longer period of time. I don’t generally like to read music on the bandstand, so the preparation process includes memorizing the music and internalizing cues, tempo changes or open sections, and understanding the parameters of the particular band. The next level above that, however, is more goal driven or even philosophical– do I want to continue playing in the style that my predecessor played in? Do I want to play drastically different? Something in between? How can I add my own angle to the music but respect the original intentions? How does the bandleader feel about all these things, and how much does that factor into my in-the-moment decisions? These are all questions that I go through when I join a new band or situation, which affects how I prepare for the shows.

With that, I’ve grown a lot musically from playing with Dave Douglas recently, as well as a handful of really influential gigs for me with Kenny Wheeler, and also the last nine years with a band that I’ve been in called Mostly Other People do the Killing.

2- When you record an album, do you have a specific audience in mind, or do you record whatever you think you need to record at that particular time, and for artistic reasons mostly?

I think there are several valid ways to approach making albums, and I’ve recorded different albums for different reasons. For me, albums of my music have been most effective when I record music that is in a certain balance of being both prepared and conceptualized but not finished or polished off yet. I like the work-in-progress idea and I like documenting music or improvisations that have started to find their way and personality, but haven’t become a caricature of themselves.

As far as the audience, I feel that if I can make as honest and immediate music as i can at the time, there will be an audience who will be able to appreciate it in some way. I’m not interested in changing the kind of music I would make just to appeal to a wider audience.

3- Who is your audience? (and do you actually care?)

See above, but yes, I care about my audience. I like many different kinds of music, but all of them have some sense of fun and forward motion. I think that most audience members with open minds will be able to find something to latch onto.

4- When, in general, do you feel most comfortable? When you practice? When you perform? When you tour?

Performing with musicians and friends that you regularly play with and hang out with is one of the great luxuries of being part of a musical scene. Coming from the same philosophical backgrounds as your fellow musicians leads to some very challenging and relaxed (and fun) music making, as you can take more risks within the paradigms that are set up for the band. That sense of high wire improvisation is what it’s all about for me.

5- Whom, among musicians you have not played or recorded with yet, would you love to work with?

There are dozens of musicians in almost every genre that I would love to work with and share the stage with. Everyone has their own personality and their own set of inputs for where they are coming from, both musically and personally, and that’s what’s fun about playing with new people.

6- What do you think the role of the music journalist is, or the role of the journalist when it comes to writing about music and musicians?

The journalist to me acts as a conduit between the musician and the interested public. I like fact-based reporting as well as a learned and informed knowledge of the music and where the artist is coming from.  The more control a journalist has of both the language and the theoretical and fundamental aspects of music, the more they are able to convey an artist’s thoughts, if they are approaching journalism from that angle.

2013 Winter Jazz Festival : Interview with Jason Lindner

7 Jan

This weekend, the Winter Jazz Festival will feature a bunch of outstanding musicians, all with different artistic sensibilities, and it should be a delight. I decided I would talk to pianist and keyboardist Jason Lindner about it, since he is getting ready to perform three times on Saturday night (January 12th): He will be playing with Donny McCaslin at the Zinc Bar (82 West 3rd Street), then with Omer Avital and His Band of the East (still at the Zinc Bar) and finally with his own band Jason Lindner Breeding Ground at the Culture Project Theater (45 Bleecker Street).

EP: Jason, What is special for you when it comes to the Winter Jazz Festival? What makes this festival different from others, according to you?

JL: I’ve performed in many festivals around the globe, from North and South America to Europe to Asia. WJF is unique in that of the wealth of talent featured each year, most – if not all – are actually local NY musicians and bands. In 2 days is a concentration of much of what you can experience in NYC over a longer time-span. As a native New Yorker myself, the fact that we have a festival representing our creative community is quite exciting and wonderful.

EP: Do you think the Winter Jazz Festival is a quintessentially New York jazz festival? Why? How?

JL: It is without a doubt quintessentially a NY festival. For many years NY has had the JVC Jazz Festival, which in recent years has ceased to exist. JVC brought so much music to NYC but much was from elsewhere, featuring many big names mixed with a minority of upcoming talent, some of which were local. WJF differs in that it truly showcases NY in all it’s artistic glory. A young festival, each year I’ve seen it grow and improve by way of incorporating a wider range of musical styles, for which it was criticized in the beginning for not doing enough. But the idea of focusing mostly on emerging local talent, plus some established artists, and not without adding some indisputable legends, remains consistent.

EP: Do you think the Winter Jazz Festival adds a cultural dimension to the city which may be different from other exciting January events? Do you think jazz and New York go hand in hand?

JL: WJF is undoubtedly a cultural event. In a city where jazz and so much other music can be experienced on the daily, WJF makes a concentrated event out of (mostly) progressive jazz. Jazz has a deep history in this city. It has evolved here in ways in which were not possible elsewhere, and New York has largely brought jazz to the whole world.

EP: Can you tell me a little bit about your new project?

JL: Breeding Ground was born out of a commission from the institution The Jazz Gallery for their large ensemble series in cooperation with some American grant foundations, and I was specifically involved because of my experience as a big band leader. I built this new 11-member ensemble around my working trio Now Vs Now (with bassist Panagiotis Andreou and drummer Mark Guiliana). I envisioned the color of strings and called upon my Music and Art High School-mate, violinist Mazz, to recruit a string quartet (Curtis Stewart, Carmel Raz, Will Martina). I asked vocalist Jeff Taylor to help write lyrics and perform some verbal ideas which were on my mind. To complete the sound I gathered a horn section of musicians who I felt were in a similar direction to myself musically (John Beaty, Jorge Continentino and Rafi Malkiel).
This combination of artists gelled so well that it immediately felt like a family. We are currently completing our debut album, planned for release this summer.

The festival is quite inexpensive: $35 for on day pass and $45 for a 2 day pass. Considering the quality and variety of the shows, it is a great January investment! Thank you to Kim Smith for helping out.