Interview with Mike Pachelli: Music without soul is useless: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Mike Pachelli. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – When you improvise, you know where you’re going. It’s a matter of taking certain paths and certain directions?

I feel the guitar is simply an extension of my voice. I try and sing (in my mind) everything that I play/improvise. So yes, I do know where I’m going but I’m also surprised (somewhat) when I hear it!  I could explain the theory behind what I’ve played but while improvising I simply try to ‘speak’ with my guitar. So for me, improvisation should be an interesting conversation with the band.

JBN: – Do you ever get the feeling that music majors, and particularly people who are going into jazz, are being cranked out much like business majors? That they are not really able to express themselves as jazz musicians?

MP: – Well, that’s sort of the nature of education in general. Ya know, ‘create’ people that are just smart enough to push the buttons, work the machines, be subservient, don’t ask too many questions and certainly they never teach critical thinking! But that’s not jazz. Now on the other hand, there’s no right or wrong way to learn to play music. Some folks need formal education. For others it comes naturally. My thing is, when I hear somebody play do they move me? It matters not how they achieved their musicality. It only matters how they use it!

JBN: – What about somebody who is really gifted and puts together a band and just gets upset to the point of quitting because of the business aspects-the agents and the clubs?

MP: – I can totally understand that. Live music has lost its mystery and appeal probably because of the internet. Everything is available and if you don’t like what you hear, simply go to the next clip. So we’ve become victims of comfort. And live music has suffered. I find European audiences are more interested in live music. But as far as young artists getting to hone their crafts on a live stage – and make a living doing so – that’s a hard row to hoe.

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

MP: – That’s a good question that has a Catch 22 answer! When we develop as musicians it’s good to emulate players we enjoy. But the difficulty is making that influence our own. On the other hand – some things/musical phrases/licks etc. are so PERFECT that there’s no substitute for them! If you’re gonna play bebop, you better be quoting Charlie Parker at times. If you play the guitar, how can you NOT quote folks like Wes Montgomery of Joe Pass at times? It‘s a fine line. But then again, on my previous CD “Impressions” – I pretty much quote my favorite guitarists verbatim for the 1st couple of choruses and then stretch out on my own path via their influence. There’s no right or wrong way of playing. What’s important is that even when quoting another try and make it your own!

What am I working on today? Trying to become a better guitarist!!

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

MP: – I’ll put it to you this way. Music without soul is useless. The challenge is in getting your soul in to your music. THAT’S a lifelong mission!  For some it comes naturally. For others, they need to study, understand theory, substitutions, etc. Whatever it takes – do the work!

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

MP: – That depends on the gig. I’ve worked with some amazing artists over the years. When you’re on stage in front of 10,000 people – playing the artists’ hits – then yea, giving the audience what they want/expect is paramount!  But when I’m doing a jazz or blues gig it’s my hope that the audience will be receptive to my point of view.

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

MP: – Wow – I could write a book!  One that comes to mind is at a gig at the Olympia in Paris when I was touring with Jeanne Mas. After our sound check – I got to stand on stage (where John Lennon stood) and play Beatles songs for an hour! I’m a huge Beatles fan.

Another one that just flashed into my memory was on a gig I was playing with Brother Jack McDuff. George Benson was in the front row. It was intimidating to play George’s songs like “Affirmation” with maestro Benson being only a few feet away!!

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

MP: – Your guess is as good as mine! LOL The jazz music that we love of the 40’s, 50’s & 60’s was (somewhat) the popular music of the day. It’s a different world now. Attention spans are much lower. There’s always gonna be those that appreciate the spontaneous improvisations of a jazz musician but unfortunately that number is diminishing…

JBN: – And lastly, being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?

MP: – Not at all. And not sure why being a teacher would be a hindrance?  To be a good teacher, one needs to study intensely. When you study other musicians your musical vocabulary enlarges. And what is “taste” but “choice?” So if you have plenty to choose from – you’ll be a more interesting player (musical conversationalist) and hence have more avenues to choose from when you compose.

JBN: – How important is it to you to have an original approach? Can you comment on the bridge between being a musician and being a composer?

MP: – Originality is the most difficult musical hurdle to get over. And probably the most important if you wish to have longevity in the music business.

I think being a jazz musician and a composer are one and the same.  To play jazz you must continually be a spontaneous improviser. Composing (if you will) musical phrases on the fly. I guess the difficulty in composing your own music comes from simply deciding which paths to take and how to be original.

JBN: – Do you have an idea of what it is you’re trying to say or get across? Is it an idea or is it just something that we feel?

MP: – I generally have a good idea on how to convey a certain feeling I’d like to share with the listener. And getting the listener to feel something is THE most important thing!

I have spent a great deal of time learning theory. And I’ve been fortunate to have studied with some of the best guitarists on the planet. So I can explain theoretically what I’m saying/trying to get across. The trick is – like Charlie Parker said – to “master your instrument, master the music, and then forget all that bullshit and just play.” And when you play, convey the feeling you wish to get across with the best of your ability by knowing your strengths and your limits.

JBN: – What do you see for your extended future? You know what you have going on? You have life? If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

MP: – Well currently, I’ve just sold my house in Nashville and I’m moving to the South of France. I’ve played a lot in Europe and look forward to making her my home! I’ve lived in all the major music cities in the U.S. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago & Nashville. Love the European audiences and I look forward to playing for them. I have a wonderful wife, son and daughter. My creature comforts are many! I’ll be looking to put a band together in the South of France so any suggestions would be appreciated. Also, if you know of an agent in that area that would dig my noiZe please point them in my direction.

If I could change one thing in the musical world? I guess that would be extending the attention span and curiosity of the general audience. There is a vast amount of very talented musicians on this planet. It would be great if they could be heard!

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

MP: – My ‘go to’ artists haven’t changed in many years. Wes Montgomery, Amy Winehouse, The Beatles, Björk & Jimmy Smith are those that I listen to most.

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

MP: – On “High Standards” I simply want to raise the spirits and cheer up those that listen to my music. These are awful times right now. There’s more corruption in government than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. And it’s all in the open now! The wealth that’s held by the 1% and the struggle of all the rest of us is mind blowing. The fact that today, millions are starving and others hold on to billions of dollars is the single most inequity. So just perhaps (if I can be so bold to say) listening to some uplifting music like “High Standards” might just be a good escape for an hour…

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

MP: – Ha Ha!!  That’s a fun question! Two things come to mind. I’d like to go to a Beatles rehearsal. Around the time they were working on “Rain.”  AND – I’d go to St. Tropez in 1960 and win the heart of Brigitte Bardot!! lol

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

MP: – Why are we so un-empathetic and not generous to the starving people on this planet?

JBN: – Thanks for answers. Because, humanity does not live as a real person. For example, you earn money at master classes, but what do you do for this?

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

MP: – I’m not sure I understand this question. If you are relating it to question 17 – I don’t wish to boast, but I have at least been fostering children through Compassion International and Save the Children since 1984. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and I encourage everybody reading this to do the same!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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