Interview with Mike Holober: I put craft in the intellect category: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Mike Holober. 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?

Mike Holober: – NO! I think it is best to NOT know where you are going. Having a plan on a solo is not genuine. Fred Hersch says something along the lines of “play a note, then play another, see where it leads you.” You never know what the other players are going to do and that should have a big influence from moment to moment.

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?

MH: – Not at the schools that I teach at – City College of New York and the Manhattan School of Music. There is plenty of academic, artistic, and social room for individualism.

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?

MH: – Young people need patience and an understanding of the difficulties of a life in the arts. Having guidance from teachers or older musicians can be crucial.  Personal maturity should go with artistic maturity.

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

MH: – Why? They should influence what you are doing. We should all be influenced by what came before us and what is all around us. Maybe that will synthesize into something that has some original elements.

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

MH: – This of course is different with every musician. It’s very hard to define “having something to say.” I put craft in the intellect category. I deeply believe that you need craft to express inspiration.

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

MH: – Not necessarily. As artists we hope that audiences are there because what they want is your artistic voice. I’ve come to realize that once an audience is in the door, regardless of how informed they are, they respond best to sincere passionate well-executed playing.

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

MH: – OK one recording story. The first time I played with trumpet master Marvin Stamm was at a recording session. We were to record Body and Soul as a duo.  We played a little and he asked me what I was doing, to which I replied “accompanying you.” He said “don’t play for me, play with me.” That really stuck – the sum of the parts…. This goes back to listening, reacting, and interacting.

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

MH: – Many young people are playing new music and original music – not everyone is having a ‘tunes-based’ existence. I do think learning tunes is vital though, even if doing standards is not going to be the focus of your performing experiences. They train our ears, teach us about melody, harmony, form and overall excellence in composition. They give structure to  our practice routines. They will continue to be a huge hook for young people’s interest. We learn to love the music through certain players, and this is the music they are playing.  It makes us want to learn the music they played and still play.

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

MH: – It certainly has an impact. I’m so used to looking at student scores that I realize I’m being hyper-critical of my own in-process original scores. I have to dial that down! On the other hand, teaching has put me in closer touch with techniques and processes that can at times make me faster, especially arranging other musicians’ compositions.

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?

MH: – I’m not sure what original means, but I don’t consciously copy anyone – at least not for more than a moment. If I do, it will be one element; a harmonic language, a rhythm, or an orchestration. We are all different and a product of what we’ve heard, lived, and what we like.

Certainly being an instrumentalist and composer go together in a symbiotic way. I write at the piano, so countless hours writing go a ways towards keeping my piano playing in shape. What I write may go into my playing and vice-versa.

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?

MH: – I think music should have form and there are so many ways to express this.  Ravel talks about orchestration being a device for revealing form. You probably should have some shape in mind – dramatic intent or dramatic form. I write for soloists to make some of these decisions as the tune develops – I can’t tell them where to go or what to say but I know who they are. I do sometimes write thinking about being sentimental, or optimistic, or passionate.

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?

MH: – More work as a sideman! Although I lead a lot, I really like NOT being in charge. I look forward to sitting at the piano playing other people’s music.  I’d also like to do more performing of all of the music I’ve written in the last few years. There are a few artists I’d hope to collaborate with.

The change in the musical world would be for there to be more of it.  Music programs in public education at every level, music as a part of our home life, economic and political support for the arts – a broad understanding that music makes our lives better.

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

MH: – Since I’ve been working on “This Rock We’re On; Imaginary Letters,” I’ve been studying cello and voice more.  I’ve listened to Samuel Barber “Summer Knoxville 1915,” Beethoven Opus 59 String Quartets, and other chamber music.  I’ve been listening to Jim McNeely with the hrBig Band “Barefoot Dances” and Luciana Sousa “The Book of Longing.”

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

MH: – “This is what I’m thinking and feeling – I hope it does something for you and has rewards.”

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

MH: – This is not a strictly music-related answer for me. I’d probably want to do some hiking and climbing in the 1960s and 70s with some particular adventurers that I admire. Then check out some Bob Brookmeyer, begin writing earlier in my life, and practice the piano more….

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

MH: – What is the history of your passion for jazz?

JBN: – Jazz collector since the beginning of 2000, jazz critic from the beginning of 2001, organizer of jazz festivals in European countries since the beginning of 2008 …

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

MH: – I really enjoy all of my currents musical experiences. The people I work with as friends and musicians are wonderful. I also get a lot of joy from seeing my ex-students develop and prosper and how good they are to each other. I also love working with artists who used to be students – they’ve got it!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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