Interview with Damian Nisenson: I use heart and soul for playing: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Damian Nisenson. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Damian Nisenson: – I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the son of a young architect and painter, whose father was a poet and jewish left-wing intelectual who left eastern Europe some years before Worl War II. Music was always present at home: classic, jazz, brazilian, tango, Beatles. My first contact with a saxophone, my main instrument, was when I was about 4: my father brought home Gets-Gilberto, and a Gerry Mulligan’s recording, Line for lions was stuck in my head ever since. And my mother was, and still is at 87, a great singer.

Playing music seemed the most natural thing to do, from the very beginning.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

DN: – As a young sax student in Switzerland, where I lived as an exil for 8 years, escaping the army governement in Argentina, I thought that sound depended basically on gear, hardware. In every sax case, I started playing alto, then added a curved soprano, later a tenor and a bary, finally a sopranino, I had a number of mouthpieces. When I was in my late 20’s Pharoah Sanders came to play to Buenos Aires, short after I came back from Switzerland, and I had the chance to be his translator during his workshops: he showed us that sound depends fully and completely on the player, if the player has a sound in his head, he will find the way to get it out of the horn, one way or the other, no matter the gear.

That experience was a turning point in my approach to sound production in general.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

DN: – I do play a lot, I mean concerts and rehearsals … when I have time to practise I usually work on sound, scales and improvising … no patterns, never like patterns. I have always had a shy relationship with harmony, basically I hear rhythm and melody, I don’t care much about what happens with the harmony, as strange as it may sound … I did play a lot of percussion in my life, I even worked as a percussion player when I was between 18 and 27, when I became fully dedicated to sax. Rythm, even complicated rythmic structures are easy for me, my body feels them, me ears follow.

JBN: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

DN: – As I just said, I play melodically and, yes, I like to have a little walk outside the harmonic frame, but I feel that my job is to sing through the horn, I don’t really analise, just blow what’s going through my head, like following orders from I don’t know where…

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

DN: – It has always been funny to me that I can be in the middle of a furious free-jazz setting and what comes to my mind are bits of very very melodic and tonal stuff: Caetano Veloso, Joao Gilberto, Beatles or any other rock influence … and it fits!

I don’t prevent anything, I use it!

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

DN: – I use intellect basically for learning and practising, heart and soul for playing, otherwise I just don’t enjoy it.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

DN: – When they come to listen to any of my projects they come for the music, and actually that’s the only thing I’ve got to give, music, pure and simple, so I think everybody is happy. I really believe that music is much more than notes, music is what is living inside the notes, the soul, heart, emotions we pour inside the notes and travel with them. No matter what music you play, not even how good you are, if your notes are inhabited, people will get something.

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

DN: – After 40 years playing professionally and touring…oh, so many, and so many I can’t make public … here is one: 19 year old, young sax student, about to play in a small bar in Fribourg, Switzerland, with other students and an extraordinary guest: Jimmy Woode, former Duke Ellington’s bass player. One of us ask him for the most important piece of advise he could give us, young lions. The huge black man took a deep breath and said, slowly and seriously: don’t ever leave your wallet in the green room…

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

DN: – I don’t really know, but the fact that jazz studying became so normalized … I play here in Montreal with lots of young and not so young students coming out of the music faculties, their playing is solid, fluid … and terribly boring! You know a few bars ahead what they are going to play. Very hard to be creative when you feel obliged to move in such a small, and used, territory.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

DN: – I don’t try to understand the irrational, but I feel it, and no doubt, my favorit spiritual playground is music, precisely.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

DN: – I would take music out of the universities, a priviliged place for scientific thougt, not emotional sensibility.

Dissolve the barrier between professional and non-professional musicians.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

DN: – Funny and unusual: I’ve been listening to my old recordings, which I rarely do I spent two weeks in Spain, working, I’ve been listening to a lot of Flamenco music, which I love.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

DN: – Feel, smile, live.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

DN: – England, early ’60s.

JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

DN: – Why me?

JBN: – Thanks for answers. All in turn 🙂

JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

DN: – I just keep going, music is everywhere, all the time.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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