Interview with Gordon Goodwin: … for music to be in balance: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz pianist and saxophonist Gordon Goodwin. 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?

Gordon Goodwin: – That’s a complicated question, but essentially it’s about knowing who you are, and what musical values you want to express. And then having an intuitive understanding of the basic elements of music so that you can express your ideas as clearly as possible.

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

GG: – I don’t believe you should shut out any influences. Listen to everything and everybody and all of those points of view eventually fuse with your own ideas and become your personal style. It takes time, but if you keep listening and learning, it will happen.

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

GG: – I believe that the best music has an equal amount of left and right brain skills. You combine your knowledge of the craft with your intuition. This means your musical education comes from both the bandstand and the classroom. It’s interesting to me that many people pick one side over the other. But not me. I believe one side enhances the other. Both are necessary for music to be in balance.

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

GG: – Not really. I feel that an artist’s primary responsibility is to be honest with himself and write and perform music that is an honest representation of what he believes. An audience will respond to honestly. We will program music that our fans love, but we balance that with plenty of new material so that both the band and audience can continue to grow.

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

Do not memories?

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

GG: – A tough question indeed. Getting young people (or old people for that matter) to understand music of content, whether it’s jazz or classical music, is a matter of going step by step. Expose them to simpler music to begin with – music with melody and with groove. Then introduce music with more complexity. If you start out with late-period Coltrane, then you will lose them. Same for classical music – better to start with Mozart and work your way up to Bartok Concerto for Strings. And finally, I believe we need to rekindle our culture’s respect for past accomplishments. Too many young people tend to think that history didn’t start until they were born! We should defend and cherish the great work of past artists, while at the same time, support and encourage new artists who are trying to find their way.

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?

GG: – I never worry about being original. It’s a distraction. My only concern is writing music that sounds good to ME. And I try to keep learning and growing as a musician. If I end up producing music that has elements of originality, then, fine. But that is never a predetermined goal for me. At a certain point in my career, I made a conscious choice to focus more on composing. I had to sacrifice my dedication to playing to do it. I put my flute and clarinet away because there simply wasn’t enough time to keep my chops in shape, although I still try to keep my saxophone and piano playing up to speed. But in an interesting way, my composing helps me to be a better musician and playing those instruments helps me be a better composer.

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? 

GG: – When I compose I almost always have a compositional destination in mind. Even if I don’t know exactly where I am going, I know a general direction. If you just got into your car and starting driving randomly, you might stumble on to an interesting spot, or you might waste a ton of gas and end up in a bad neighborhood with a flat tire! So I think it’s good to have a plan when you compose. However, as you proceed, have the flexibility to adapt on the spot, because that can lead to some unexpected and effective things.

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?

GG: – I don’t tend to look too far ahead. I just want to continue to have a life in music and to find ways to compose and play music that will hopefully connect with people. I’m not sure how to answer the question about what one thing I would change in the music business. There is much that is distressing about the state of disrespect for music in our culture. Most people don’t believe in paying for music and feel that they are entitled to enjoy it for free and I can’t see how this will lead to anything but the death of certain musical styles, especially jazz and classical music. Perhaps this is the most important issue before us. To spread the word that unless people start valuing intellectual content and supporting it with their money, it will go away. And it’s already started. We need to remind people that love this music that they need to spread the word and to join into the effort to raise awareness of the preciousness of music and how it, over almost anything else, brings healing to the human condition.

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

GG: – I listen to a wide range of musical styles, from Count Basie to Stevie Wonder to John Williams to Dirty Loops to Igor Stravinsky to Pat Metheny to Tower of Power to Miles Davis to many, many others.

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

GG: – I would love to the year 1788 to hear a Mozart’s 40th  Symphony in Gm as played by the instrumentalists of his time, and to 1913 to hear the Paris premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, then go to New York City in 1959 to watch the recording of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, then to Las Vegas in 1966 to watch Frank Sinatra and Count Basie at the Sands Hotel, then back to Dallas, Texas in 1963 to see who actually shot JKF. That would be a good start!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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