Interview with Simon Oslender: The music is just a very expressive language: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz keyboardist Simon Oslender. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Simon Oslender: – I grew up in a village close to Aachen, a mid-sized city in the midwest of Germany. My parents have always been loving and making music (my father is a semi-professional drummer) and from the first day I was born, there was always music around me – even before: my mother would put a music box on her belly when she was pregnant with me. Whenever I hear that particular lullaby nowadays, I tear up uncontrollably – it must have had some impact for sure. I was never really interested in nursery rhymes or music for children – I always listened to my father’s record collection which ranged from early blues records to pop, classic rock and everything in between which I loved. When I was 2 years old, I wanted a bass drum for christmas and started drumming which I still do. At the age of 4 or 5, I experienced a turning point: my father brought home a DVD of a live show of John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. LA keyboard legend Tom Canning was playing the Hammond B3 and I was hooked instantly. I had no idea what that monstrous black box even was but it had me from the first second and I fell in love with the instrument. My family gave me a keyboard soon after and I started playing along to records by ear. That was when I knew I wanted to this and nothing else for all my life.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

SO: – Due to my upbringing with blues and rock records, my playing is (and always was) deeply rooted in the blues. That’s probably the way of playing that will always speak to me the most. I feel that I tend to have a hard time relating to players that have not even the slightest blues influence. Through a couple of friends, most notably my buddy, drummer Jerome Cardynaals, I was inspired to expand my horizon and dive into the incredible world of Jazz and its relatives at a very young age which started a love and fascination that will never end. Also, I have been deeply inspired by a number of heroes like Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Larry Goldings, Lyle Mays, Dr. Lonnie Smith and, most notably, my teacher and mentor Frank Chastenier who is one of my favorite pianists on earth and who was able to guide me on the way to finding my voice and being myself in a way no one else could have.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

SO: – For me, almost everything rhythm related came from playing drums… I’ve never had a dedicated rhythm practice routine on the piano. Other than that, while it’s hard to maintain a technique routine on the road, I always try to expand my musical horizon through transcriptions of solos or songs I love to listen to – that is usually the kind of practice that feels most rewarding to me and helps me find a well of new musical inspiration.

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

SO: – I think it’s important to develop a healthy balance between being very open-minded for new things and staying true to yourself at all times. Always be eager to learn and experience new stuff but keep in mind what you really want and what you feel like doing. Many people will tell you what to do or have alternate „careers“ planned out for you. It’s hard to not let that interfere with your vision – but don’t let it affect you! If you really listen to your guts, it will be fine and you will have the confidence to do YOUR thing – nothing else. That, although certainly being a life-long process, is working really well for me at the moment. Most of us will have to learn this the hard way, but it’s worth it. In my opinion, this is the only path that will make you truly happy as an artist because it makes you feel good and confident about what you do. My belief is that the audience and the people you play or work with will feel that too! If you can maintain that, that’s what I would call success as an artist – and it certainly also applies to many other aspects of life.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

SO: – Most of the time, I might stretch my hands a little bit and keep them warm but that’s about it from a physical standpoint. The spiritual part is a lot more important to me. I like to have a couple of minutes to myself or together with the band before the show to get into a vibe, maybe even meditate a bit. Afterwards, I always strive to just go out there without any expectations and be calm, positive and in tune with myself and the other musicians. There will always be distractions of some kind but you can leave them behind in your mind if you are in the right mood and vibe before you go on stage.

JBN: – Ism is culled from a variety of lives dates with various performers over the course of a few years. Did your sound evolve during that time? And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?

SO: – I like to think that my sound and the way I like to make music constantly evolves with every single note I hear and play, all the time. Whether it’s a jingle you hear in a hotel elevator or a concert that really touches you – everything shapes your taste, your expression and the way you hear and play things. The studio sessions for my album really shaped the way I play because I was finally able to hear what all my compositions sound like when they’re well executed and what they actually need, playing wise. You get so married to your overloaded midi demos and the way you’ve arranged everything that it can drive you mad and make you wonder whether it will actually work. In the studio I realized that all it needed was for me to hear the others play it and suddenly my own songs made so much more sense to me and made it really easy to know what to play – a very interesting process.

I chose the other musicians because they all have their own sound that I love – I was already able to hear in my head what they would sound like together and that’s exactly how it worked out. Also, they are all great friends and people, so I knew that the sessions were going to be a hang which I think you can hear on the recording.

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

SO: – I’m sure many people have many different opinions when it comes to that. To me, music is just a very expressive language. You’ll need some kind of education in how to pronounce things and some grammar knowledge but starting at a certain point you’ll be able to say the things you want – and that’s where it starts to be all about the soul for me. I play what I feel or hear, I really don’t think about it when I play. I might do that when I sit down to compose but even there, I usually just feel it out and write what sounds and feels good and interesting to me. On stage, it’s always a conversation and for me it doesn’t work to look at it from an analytical/intellectual standpoint in most cases. The latter certainly helps me understand and be able to realize what’s happening musically when I listen to something I want to analyse for myself. However, when it comes to just playing or listening to music, that part of me is automatically gone and it’s all about soul and conversation. I like to thing of the intellectual and technical aspects of music as tools that help the soul translate more easily.

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

SO: – The audience is, in fact, what makes our life as an artist even possible in the first place so there is no way I would ever ignore how they feel. Still, you have to follow your guts and chose to give them only what you really want to give. The goal to me is to create a situation where all people, whether on stage or in front of it become one and have a wonderful, touching, time together. So I think giving the audience what they want should not be about having to play certain songs or having to perform in a certain way. It’s much more about creating a friendly and inviting environment on stage, project a lot of positivity and give the audience the chance to just go on that musical journey with you.

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

SO: – There was one especially exciting gig this year. My friend Wolfgang Haffner, one of my favorite drummers of all time, hosts a huge open-air jazz event in his hometown Nuremberg every second year. It features an all-star big band consisting of Germany’s top musicians and some very well-known artists as special guests (Bill Evans, Nightmares On Wax and more). I was blown away by the level of musicianship and professionalism throughout the whole thing and the outcome was mindblowing: almost 70,000 people showed up and enjoyed the show! It was a celebration of Jazz, Funk, Soul, Pop and just general good times! For me, it was a game changer because I was able to see that something like that is indeed possible with real, handmade and challenging music if you give your everything and pursue your dream.

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

SO: – I’m sure that many young people would actually dig Jazz or jazz-related music if they had the chance to experience it in a way that makes it fun for them. Most of the people my age tend to think of jazz as either complicated, over-intellectualized avant-garde music that just seems boring and exhausting to them or a band of 80-year old, white-bearded men playing Dixieland music in a stuffy jazz club – that’s because these are usually the only experiences they make with jazz. And these clichees certainly have their legitimacy. I think it’s important that we as musicians show the world that playing and listening to Jazz music is a fun, interesting and captivating thing that can really touch you deeply if you give it a chance. It’s a timeless art form and it’s incredibly cool if you dive into it! It’s important that we show joy and emotion, spread love and positive vibes. That is something I don’t see often enough. So many musicians play with a different attitude, some of them tend to come across as very serious, self-absorbed and potentially snobby. I can absolutely understand why that might kill someone’s interest in jazz. Sometimes it seems like some of these musicians don’t even want people to get interested in their music! So spread the light, take the people in and keep showing the world how the music and lifestyle that is Jazz can enlighten our lives!!! Another incredibly important aspect for me is musical honesty. In music, you can’t really hide who you are and what you stand for and that’s great. There’s not much sense in trying to impress people, imitating someone else or trying too hard to be especially hip. So the only way is to be honest, be the best version of yourself and play that way – this will always be the most rewarding and genuine path and you’ll be able to touch people, also those who are not (yet) into Jazz music, because you’ll be able to speak to them truthfully.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

SO: – Music is certainly my spirit as well. Music is life and life is music. That’s it for me. You play the way you are and who you are is a result of your life and the things you experience. The other way around, the things you experience through playing and experiencing music will have a big impact on all other aspects of life. It’s all one full circle and it’s a way of living that I just love and appreciate very much.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

SO: – I would love to see a world where the charts are filled with music consisting of more than 3 chords and one kind of drum beat. It’s really sad to me that the general listening habits have deteriorated so drastically over the last couple of years and it’s hard for me to understand how someone could hate a song that has beautiful and interesting harmony or a bridge that lifts everything up through a key change or something like that. Turning the radio on nowadays can cause depression for anyone who takes music seriously and I would love to see a change there. It doesn’t have to mean that there has to be Jazz music on the charts constantly but I would love to see a more open-minded attitude towards music that is a little more challenging and interesting. It hurts to see that many musicians that actually touch hearts and make fantastic music get no recognition at all while one-hit-wonder auto-tune „pop stars“ rule the music world now. We all have to try our best to reintroduce more diversity into today’s popular music and make it possible for people to open their minds to that.

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

SO: – My playlists are usually very diverse – at the moment I love listening to the older Pat Metheny Group records with Lyle Mays, always lots of Herbie Hancock and George Duke. Gotta have some James Taylor every once in a while, too. And one of my new favorites is singer and songwriter PJ Morton! In general I like to listen to anyone who can tell a story through their music in which every note has a purpose – that’s what moves me the most.

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

SO: – I intend to spread love, peace and joy through what I do because that is exactly what music makes me feel – I want to share that with the audience and everyone involved.

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

SO: – Probably a recording session of Earth Wind & Fire, Toto or anything that featured Steve Gadd. I’d love to be a fly on the wall on one of these legendary studio sessions because I admire the way music was made back in the day. The best musicians, engineers and producers, real instruments and a lot of effort and care put into every step of the process. That’s the real deal and nothing will ever beat that for me.

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

SO: – You guys have an enourmous fanbase and you’re really contributing a great deal to the media coverage of jazz music – thank you for that! Have there been any recent news, movements or events that have an especially big impact on your hopes for Jazz music and its future (positively or negatively)?

JBN: – Yes, of course, it is Jazz Rep, it is the bad jazz!!!

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

SO: – I’d like to continue following my heart the way I was able to over the last years. I will try to spread love and positivity through my music and I’ll do my best to make the world a bit of a more peaceful place through it. As an artist, I feel like that is my responsibility in the current situation the world is experiencing. I appreciate every single person listening to my music, I’m thankful for all the support I have received and I would love for us musicians of all kinds to unite a little bit more, lose our prejudices and support and appreciate each other more.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

About Time" le groove naturel de Simon Oslender

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