Interview with Peter Lieuwen: The intellect to produce the music: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Peter Lieuwen. 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?

Peter Lieuwen: – As a composer, I tend to think ahead musically to arrival points or cadences in the tune in order to create a solo that has an interesting shape. The style of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and many other great jazz musicians who followed their innovations is much more free and fluid. What makes a good solo is to love every note you play.

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?

PL: – I think that being able to express yourself comes in large part from playing a lot of gigs in different situations with different ensembles. Familiarity with not only the music, but the experience of playing live are both conducive to freedom of expression.  I have played with many jazz musicians who seem to get unnecessarily hung up on the theory and at the expense of expression.

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?

PL: – It is important to get beyond the unpredictability of the club scene. The Be-boppers, for example, knew very well about paying the price for artistic freedom. If you have a good with musicians that you enjoy playing with, do what you have to do the keep the band together and good things will happen.

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

PL: – It’s easy the get distracted by the “latest thing”. That being said, I beleive in keeping your ears open and listening to as much diverse music as possible. I routinely listen to a lot of different musicians, from Bach to Bellie Ellish to Robert Glasper. This variety forces you to think in new ways about aspects of your art, and probably come up with some cool new ideas!

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2019: <Big Apple Trio – It’s About Time…>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

PL: – I like the tunes, the musicianship of my colleagues, and the way it was recorded.  We have been together for 25 years. Right now we are playing gigs and enjoying ourselves.

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

PL: – You need to acquire the intellect to produce the music. Whether through formal training in a conservatory or on your own, it is important to be able to harness the theory and structure, without it getting in the way of soulful expression.

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

PL: – You learn very quickly to give the people what they want if you play a lot of gigs. But this does not mean to have to sacrifice your musical integrity. Look at the composer Aaron Copland for example. He wrote beautiful, sophisticated, accessible music that appealed to a large listening audience. Be as creative as possible with your solos, even if you have played a tune 100 times. The beauty of jazz is that the tune itself is not as important as the improvised performance of it.

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

PL: – Probably the most memorable were the events surrounding the Doc Severinsen International Composition Competition in 2014.  Unlike most composition competitions, Doc had a specific vision. He wanted a piece that (1) had a melody, (2) had a dialogue with the ensemble and soloist, and (3) incorporated jazz in to the composition. I was lucky enough to win the completion with my piece “Concerto Alfresco”. Doc then called me and asked if I would write an encore piece for five trumpets for the premiere. I did, and my band, the Big Apple Trio, accompanied trumpeters that included Doc, Allen Vizzutti, and Vince DiMartino on my encore composition “Joy Ride.”

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

PL: – A fair number hip-hop/rap tunes incorporate musical samples from great jazz artists of the past. One of the things I teach in my history of jazz class is how these classics are used to create new music. This seems to generate an interest in older jazz tunes for a lot of young people.

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

PL: – Absolutely not. Students can be a great inspiration. I learn a lot about the current music scene from them. I am very fortunate that my university encourages and supports my creative work.

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?

PL: – The great 18th– century composer Joseph Haydn said “above all, a composer must be original.” This is even more true today due to the vast number of composers and performers working; as well as the speed of information technology.

Many great jazz performers are also composers. In classical music, this is not so common. I compose concert (classical) music and perform jazz, though I hope that the two influences intersect in all my creative work.

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?

PL: – In want my listeners to feel good about the sounds they hear in the club or concert hall. As musicians, we have a gift to be appreciated and enjoyed by as many people as possible.

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?

PL: – I intend to keep composing and performing. The one thing I would like to see change in the musical world is fair compensation for the working musician.

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

PL: – Lately, I have been inspired by Glen Gould’s recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1&2.  He plays this marvelous collection of 48 Preludes and Fugues on piano, with absolutely no pedal…like a giant harpsichord! I am also enjoying Amad Jamal’s new solo album “Ballads”, Keith Jarrett , Chet Baker’s London Sessions, and Monty Alexander.

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

PL: – Peace, Love, and Joy.

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

PL: – It’s got to be the Be-Bop in the 40’s. It must have been quite a thrill to be on 52nd Street when it was all happening

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

PL: – What drives us to create and perform?

JBN: – I think, feeling and spirit …

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

PL: – I am thankful every day for being able to do what I do.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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