Interview with Randy Napoleon: Positivity and hope: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Randy Napoleon. 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?

Randy Napoleon: – Improvising is never purely spontaneous. There is a strong element of composition and preparation involved. With that said, on the best nights it can feel like the guitar is playing itself and you find something fresh.

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? 

RN: – I teach at Michigan State University, and I don’t feel that is the case for our program. I good jazz program should give their students a large musical tool kit to help make them more flexible. The goal is always to open their technique and understanding so they are more able to express themselves. My students have gone on to tour with everything from funk to country bands and of course straight ahead jazz. The fundamentals are the same. I would use the analogy of learning how to speak. You need someone to teach you words, grammar, etc. What you say with those words is up to you.

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?

RN: – That can be a challenge most of us face at some time! It’s not the agents or the club owners faults. This is a hard business for them as well, they are trying to keep their club full and their rent paid. It’s tempting to direct your frustration outward, but important to keep chipping away and developing an audience. The thing that keeps me positive is the pure joy of playing music, I will ride the ups and downs of the business for that feeling.

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

RN: – I welcome disparate influences! Jazz has always been a musical melting pot and continues to be a musical sponge, absorbing new sounds daily.

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

RN: – You have to be intellectual to play soulful. It takes a lot of thought and understanding.

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

RN: – I’m a person too! I’m trying to make music that I would like to listen to. I trust that there are others like me. With that said, I try to read a room and adjust sets accordingly and I like to pick some material that is familiar as a way of bringing people into our improvisations.

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

RN: – So many! I’ve been on the road for twenty years now. My first big gig was at the Hollywood bowl in 1999 with the Clayton-Hamiltion Jazz Orchestra. Shirley Horn was a guest with the band. I was twenty two, can you imaging that! She sang “A Time For Love” and I got tears in my eyes.

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

RN: – Young people grow up. They crave authenticity and beauty. Quality is timeless. We will keep on writing new material also, but I don’t think great standards will ever be dated.

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

RN: – My students inspire me and teaching actually helps me write. I wrote some of the tunes on the record with my students in mind. I accept their musical influence.

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?

RN: – Originality is natural if you are authentic in your own self expressive.

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?

RN: – I want the music to feel good, and to be exciting.

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?

RN: – I’m making an active effort to work more with my band. I’m doing less touring as a sideman.

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

RN: – Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery. I listen to all sorts of stuff though: funk, soul, anything my students lay on me.

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

RN: – Positivity and hope.

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

RN: – I’d like to hear Miles Davis’ band w Philly Joe and Paul Chambers !

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

RN: – Thank you for the interview !! All the best.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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