Interview with Rez Abbasi: I lean towards music that flows between both … Live full concert video

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Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi. 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?

Rez Abbasi: – It depends on the mood that’s being created. If I’m with musicians that promote sustained spontaneity, then I tend to take more risks because I’m being feed new information. But regardless, I’m always aware of the act or desired act of being present, which essentially means I don’t truly know where I’m going because that’s the future. On the other side, since I’ve been playing the instrument for over 30 years, there are of course paths that have been ingrained. I don’t think anyone with a brain can escape that. It’s more about which paradigm feels comfortable and that’s ultimately a reflection of how strong your inner voice is, so it varies from player to player.

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?

RA: – It’s a bit ironic that schools have become a huge part of the jazz business because jazz spawned from a completely different way. That being said, I understand, why not every prospective jazz player has access to the old ways and in fact every year we lose more of that via the passing of historic figures. So there is a place for schools but I think it’s a broken system. If schools are going to have a program for jazz there needs to be realistic attributes implemented. Firstly, the program shouldn’t cost as much as some of the other professional degrees that almost guarantee a position after graduating. Secondly, if they do charge those rates, the faculty better be the most creative players around, not just other players with masters or PHD degrees. Also, I often see faculties that heavily lean towards sidemen who have played with many names. That’s fine, but being a sideman is only one part of the equation, it’s mostly the playing side. Being creative and being a composer is often not emphasized at these types of schools because finding one’s own voice and being a “fine” composer isn’t reflected within the faculty.

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?

RA: – Well, that happens… I’ve been down that road several times but then again, nothing is wrong with having a different source of income, part time job or whatever, so you can enjoy your musical voice. I’ve thought about driving an Uber just so I don’t have to succumb to the business or get drawn in by some of the lamer critics that are the tastemakers for listeners who don’t use their own ears.  Conflating the music with the music business is often difficult.

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

RA: – We all have a filter and some people are well aware of their’s while others not so much. But what I take in emotionally is not something I’m preventing from coming out in my music. I love a lot of different music so it’s all good and I know through my compositional process it’ll ultimately come out in a personal way.

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

RA: – It’s different for everyone but I lean towards music that flows between both. If it’s too intellectual or too soulful it loses me. But again, it depends on how someone’s ears have been trained. I wouldn’t expect everyone to thoroughly enjoy late Coltrane even if they loved Giant Steps or even visa versa. There’s a different balance between intellect and soul during those periods, at least from my listening perspective. It’s not that one period had more or less of anything but it depends on how a listener hears it.

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

RA: – If you’re talking about an arbitrary number of fans that I’m trying to accumulate through watering down the music, I’ve never done that and don’t intend to. I understand if people need to tweak a recording or set of music to include what they might perceive to be more ‘listenable’ but I have to ask, at what expense and how far is one willing to go that direction.

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

RA: – Once Rudresh Mahanthappa’s trio that I’m in opened for Jack DeJohnette’s trio, and with Jack being one of my ultimate heroes, I was both excited and nervous. As soon as I walked in to do our sound check, Jack’s band was finishing theirs. He saw me walk in and called me up to his drum set, sat me down on his set and wanted me to play this electronic drum that sounded like a tabla. It was kind of wild to me that he was that cool. After the gig he told me he listened to our set and really dug it. I love a lot of drummers for many reasons but Jack is my favorite of all time, so this was awesome.

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

RA: – Not by becoming Snarky Puppy or Kamasi Washington. I say that not because of their music but because their success shouldn’t become a formula for other bands. I’m a strong believer that jazz has never been music for the masses, other than the Swing era. It’s great if more people would embrace it but as an artist it must be embraced on its artistic terms. Imagine if Coltrane decided he needed to curtail his music. Standards are only one element that makes up jazz. Any creative artist has gone far past Standards as a means to emote, especially at this point in history when we’ve heard hundreds of interpretations of the same tunes.

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?

RA: – It is important to contribute something to the music that’s personal but it’s an added bonus to actually playing music. Music is good or not so good, depending on the listener and so making music that counts these days does seem to anchor on having a personal sound. If not it can still be good music but perhaps not unique or touched by something deeper. As far as being an overall musician, the only people I respond to or keep coming back to are great players who are great composers. That doesn’t mean they have to have the canon of a Thelonious Monk, because that’s the highest bar for me, but it means that along their musical path they have written stand out compositions. Someone like Sonny Rollins isn’t often enough recognized for composition but he wrote some serious gems, and there are several more players like this.

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?

RA: – I never really have a preconceived idea. My extra-musical ideas usually come after the music is written. The listener will feel however they feel.

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?

RA: – I don’t see the future because it’s most important to live in the presence and plus I don’t control the future. I’m not sure if it’s worth thinking about trying to change something in the music world, I’d rather keep on creating. Now the business or essentially free streaming, I’d like that to go away but it will never at this point.

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

RA: – A lot of solo Keith Jarrett. It’s like hearing a miniature orchestra on the piano.

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

RA: – I can’t really say because the music is beyond words and thoughts, at least instrumental music.

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

RA: – 1960’s when the Coltrane quartet was in full swing, Monk was still playing and Miles groups were happening.

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

RA: – What are you listening to these days?

JBN: – A lot of things, only jazz and blues!!!

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

RA: – All through music…

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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