Interview with Ian Michael Brown: The soul is used most in the performance space: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz pianist and keyboardist Ian Michael Brown. 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?

Ian Michael Brown: – When I improvise I think about the melody of the song.  I have a general idea of what I want to explore and play but I don’t stay rigid and only play what I want.  I am constantly listening to the other musicians around me and listen to what they are saying in their playing.  Jazz is all about conversing.

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?

IMB: – The universities have to get people into them.  If a school is worth anything it will help the student/musician learn how to learn and explore beyond the years at the institution.  I think that only through individual study and gigging with other musicians along with constant listening and fine tuning of what an individual likes can a musician truly express himself.  It helps to live life and let it influence your soul as well.

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?

IMB: – I guess that person doesn’t desire to be a musicians.  It’s either your vocation and what you’re supposed to do and you find a way to make it work… or you let other people beat you down and quit.  Unfortunately lots of people will get in your way, talk down to you, or discourage you.  Find one person that is like minded to you and work with them.  That’s how you can combat those dark experiences.

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

IMB: – Always go back to what you like and hear.  That will keep you honest with what you want to create as a musician.

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

IMB: – I think there is an even balance but you need to allow for one to take control over the other when the time arises.  To me it seems that intellect works best in the rehearsal space and in the practice room.  The soul is used most in the performance space.  If the intellect is to highly relied upon during performance I think the music suffers.

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

IMB: – I believe that if you are making music that you like and connect with others will find your music and dig it.  I don’t think of the audience when I write a tune.  If we give the people what they want… well you see how pop music is today. I think you have to educate people. The finer things in life are not simple, they need to be explored and understood to a certain degree.

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

IMB: – When I was working on the Carnival Pride one of my favorite memories was when my friends and I were playing a jazz set before our scheduled popular music sets.  We were in the middle of the set and someone called Miles’ “So What” tune.  When we launched into the solo section we just started cooking and locked in.  We built intensity and my solo kept growing from small simple phrases to more complex and then more out phrases.  We built the tune into a magnificent arc and had the audience right there with us.  That solo and that moment in time sticks with me.  It helps motivate me to work toward more moments like that one.  Another batch of memories is the rehearsing, recording, and production of “The Beauty of Not Knowing” album.  Hanging out in a nice space in Pittsburgh, Pa recording a record with your brothers, you can’t beat that.

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

IMB: – Write new music. Make it funky, catchy, and fun.  Snarky Puppy is great at bringing people into jazz.  Same with Vulfpeck.  If the music doesn’t move you or intrigue you then you won’t listen to it.  Jazz fusion and blending genres will bring more people over.  The purists are trying to put jazz into a museum and into history books.  We don’t need those people in the forefront we need innovators, creators, and energetic musicians who make music for our time.  Those guys in the 50s and 60s did it.  Jazz needs to continue to develop.

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

IMB: – I am not a teacher.  I only find it difficult to write music when I am not playing music frequently or don’t have good music I’m listening to. Writing music is easiest when you are around musicians who want to create and when you are listening and playing music that causes your ear to take notice and your brain to make it your own.

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?

IMB: – I want to be myself but I don’t mind having other musicians’ influences on me and apparent in my playing.  Being a musician and being a composer is linked closely together.  When we are on the bandstand we are constantly composing when we solo.  Compositions have happened in my head when I am doing something like running or eating.  Then I continue to sing it in my head until I get to a piano or piece of paper. I think jazz music really allows the musician to focus on composing rather than just performing a preordained piece of music.

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?

IMB: – When I’m composing I think about an idea and also an emotion.  When I’m performing I usually think in terms of feeling and the mood the music is putting me in at that moment.

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?

IMB: – Right now I’m still working at getting The Beauty of Not Knowing out there to the most listeners as possible.  One day I hope to be able to travel and perform with a group.

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

IMB: – I enjoy listening to Bill Evans piano playing always.  I just bought the new album from Ben Wendel “The Seasons”. I like how that record sounds sonically. I also enjoy Aaron Parks’ “Invisible Cinema” and Chris Potter’s “Circuits” albums. I’m also really enjoying classical music, choir compositions like Palestrina pieces, and Gregorian Chant.  That stuff really makes you think about and experience God and the divine.

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

IMB: – There is no message in terms of politics or social concerns. It is meant to be art to express the human condition and experience.  People can relate to it how they may. Make good music to make a good noise and cause some beauty to happen in the world.

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

IMB: – I’d love to be around NYC in the 1950s and 60s and be able to listen to all the monster jazz musicians at that time. Then I’d be able to experience the development of the music.

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

IMB: – What sounds/music cause you to stop what you are doing and listen disregarding everything else?

JBN: – Only Jazz and Blues!!!

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

IMB: – By thinking of all of these questions I understand I need to go practice more.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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