Interview with Corey Christiansen: When I improvise I am composing in real-time: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Corey Christiansen. 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?

Corey Christiansen: – When I’m improvising I’m always trying to create a compositional story.  Yes, I’m navigating a harmonic structure or progression but really, I’m trying to create a feeling. At this point I want my solos to unfold like a composition. I want an idea to develop. I want small motifs to be.

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?

CCH: – I think that the academic setting can present some problems with development of a jazz artist, but it isn’t a given. There are lots of great programs and teachers around the world who really get it. I think the main thing is that students need to have the “real life” experience of playing with some mentors that have more experience. Nothing beats learning on the bandstand. But, there are some really great things about the academic setting as well. The exposure to classical music and other genres, learning music history, and many other aspects of a good curriculum. Also, the whole college experience can really be an asset. If a student does it right, they learn how to be a critical thinker and will be exposed to a bunch of other disciplines that will help them become a well-rounded person.

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?

CCH: – That’s a sad scenario. But I think that the passion for the music has to be strong enough to deal with all the negative things that accompany any business. Disappointment and hurdles are not just limited to the music industry. They exist everywhere. A passionate artist will find a way to deal with the negative aspects of the industry and still make some beautiful music and hopefully find a way to make it work financially. I am an optimist and believe that it can be done. Artists seem to find ways to make it work.

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

CCH: – I think you just have to keep focusing on how beautiful the music is and how great the musicians can be when you work with them. Again, the music is the main focus.

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

CCH: – I think each artist has to find their own balance. There is some beautiful music being created by soulful musicians who aren’t academic and some beautiful music being created by those who are more academic and intellectual than soulful.

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

CCH: – I guess I haven’t thought about it in the sense of giving the audience exactly what they want. I try to do my best to put together a great band, have a good time, play well and interact with the audience. I hope that ends up being what they want.

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

JBN: – Do not memories?

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

CCH: – I think education is key. People will like this music if they are exposed to great musicians that play it. There are many musicians who are using current popular music as vehicles to create jazz arrangements which is great, but a good grooving band can win people over even playing standards that are very old. It’s all about education and delivering a really great sound to your audience. If music FEELS good, an audience will love it even if they haven’t heard the melody before.

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

CCH: – I have my times when I struggle to find inspiration, but I find teaching actually helps with that. I have great students and they have brilliant ideas in class and in private lessons that inspire me. That inspiration is then turned into a cool arrangement or an original tune. I’ve come out of slumps in writing many times by helping students understand a concept. I find something I like from helping them solve a problem and next thing you know, I have a great idea for an original tune or an arrangement. Teaching is very important to me, but I also find it’s rewarding in the sense that I really do become inspired by my students.

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?

CCH: – I don’t see a bridge between being an improvising musician and a composer. When I improvise I am composing in real-time. It’s the same thing for me. I think you get an original approach by really studying and understanding several other artists’ approach. I think it’s important to be a good craftsman before an artist. That way the “original approach” will be rooted in something that has passed the test of time.

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?

CCH: – I think it’s just something I hope people feel with this record. The grooves are deep thanks to my amazing band. I want people to feel that more than anything. There are some interesting harmonic moments and some solos that I’m happy with, but the groove is really what I want people to feel and experience on this album.

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?

CCH: – I will be doing some more touring for playing and for teaching. I am hoping to make another record in the next year. Most likely a trio project that involves standards or some sort.

If I could change anything in the musical world… Hmmm.. not sure here. Of course we’d all like to make some money on our recordings, but I think I’d change something else. I’d have it be a world where live music was required in our communities more. Not just clubs, but everywhere. Live music in schools. Live music in the community. All those types of places. I think music brings people together in a beautiful way so I’d want it to be everywhere. And of couse, I would want it to only be presented by qualified musicians who are getting paid a good wage for their art.

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

CCH: – I’m listening to a lot of different things. Most of it old, though. I have been back listening to Wes Montgomery some. I’ve been checking out Coltrane (especially the Soul Trane record). And I have been listening to Monk some as well. You know, the usual suspects.

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

JBN: – What message, just …

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

CCH: – I don’t know the answer to that to be honest. I think I’m happy right here. It’s a great time for music. There are some problems to solve, like how can me monetize our recorded products. But for the most part, it’s a great time. Access to every recording. We can promote our own art very effectively. We have more information about players, composition, improvisation, theory, etc. It’s an incredible time to be alive and be a musician. We do have some hurdles, but as I’ve said before, I’m an optimist and I think we can figure out how to make all these new “business models” work for us as musicians. It won’t be done the way it has in the past, but maybe there is a way to make it work in a different but effective way.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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