Interview with Ferenc Nemeth: The music that is soulful. That’s what touch me: Video


Jazz interview with jazz drummer, percussionist and vocalist Ferenc Nemeth. An interview by email in writing. – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music? 

Ferenc Nemeth: – I grew up in a small village in Hungary, called Zalacsany. I was born into a musical family, almost everybody plays music and my father was a drummer. Of course he was my main influence 🙂

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

FN: – I think my sound evolved as I was listening to more and more music from all over the world and I incorporated those sounds into my playing. I’ve spent many hours/days/months and years to develop my own sound. I remember one night playing at Wally’s in Boston and as I looked up Roy Haynes was standing in front of me. I was about 22 and almost got a heart attack 🙂 I asked him to sit in and he played a song with my sticks, my cymbals, my drums, sounding like Roy Haynes. That was the first time I really understood that sound is not in the instrument, its in your hand. From that moment, I spent (still do) hours sometimes just hitting my cymbals, one note at the time, listening for the overtones and trying to come up with as many notes as possible. I do this with all my drums as well. On top of this, I incorporate many sounds from around the globe from Africa to India, South America, Middle East … etc.

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

FN: – I am doing a lot of of hand exercises and coordination exercises, I still learn as much as possible, I am watching videos, youtube-s about technique and I also pay attention to my body. I exercise regularly, push ups, stretches and trying to eat healthy. As a drummer, it is very important to be flexible, so you don’t hurt yourself on a sudden move. My regular warm up exercise (that I do about every day) is 35-45 min and includes pretty much everything from quarter notes to thirty-second notes and in between.

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

FN: – I don’t really worry about that. Even though we are all humans, we are all different. So no two person can play the same thing and sound the same. My philosophy is, learn everything and then just play. The more you learn, the more choices you have how you want to play and how you don’t. The problem is when someone knows only one person and try to imitate him/her. When Tony Williams plays, you can hear the influence of Philly Joe or Max, but he still sounds like himself.

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

FN: – Well, the first thing is that I memorize all the music before a tour. Then the paper is out of the way. Thats when music begins. I do a lot of meditation, visualization and other things that allows me to clear my mind before I play, so when I enter to the stage, there is nothing else in my mind, only the music that we will play. And even that, each time, every note that I hear, I try perceive as though it is the first time I hear that. This is something that I’ve learned from the master Herbie Hancock.

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?

FN: – Yes, I would hope my sound has evolved although when I am listening to my oldest recordings, I can already hear the raw sound in my playing, that I still have. Its just more evolved and polished.

I have known Tzumo since he was 14 years old and we played together a lot. I convinced him to come to Berklee to study and recommended him to study at the Thelonious Monk Institute. We’ve been like brothers. About 5 years ago I did a masterclass series in Hungary and asked him to play duo with me. At that time, I knew that I want to do my next project with him. I’ve met Greg about 12-13 years ago and we played many shows together, including tours with my own band. I always loved his playing, even before we met. I knew we have to recording something and his soulful playing and personality perfectly fits in this group.

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

FN: – In my case, I think its 70/30 to Soul/Intellect. I think there is not a formula. I personally tend to lean toward music that is soulful. That’s what touch me. I feel that the intellect should be there hidden, not in your face. Many times when I go to listen to music that is super intellectual, makes me question, why? I need to feel music, not understand.

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

FN: – It has to be a balance. When I write music, I don’t think about what the audience want. But of course I hope that they will like what I write. Who doesn’t? I just can’t write music that I think will please the crowd. What if it doesn’t? Then I have to live with that and have to be responsible for it. On the other hand, if the audience loves one of my songs, I am happy to play for them. I write and release songs that I am proud of and I am happy if people can connect with them.

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

FN: – There are many memories but perhaps one of the most memorable was being in the studio with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, when we recorded Lionel Loueke’s debut album on Blue Note. Spending a few days with them was just incredible. The stories they had, the history they have is just unbelievable. Those moments were definitely life changing. Before we recorded Naima, Wayne was talking about Coltrane all morning. This was his way of giving gratitude to him. Wayne never recorded Naima before and I think its very special what we came up with that day. It was one take only.

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

FN: – I think its not about the songs, its about the interpretation. A song is just a song. How someone plays it, came make a big difference and that can get young people’s attention. I think we can all agree, that for ex Keith Jarrett can play a standard and everyone who listens to it would melt. Beauty is in the player, not in the notes. What makes a difference is being enthusiastic, excited and create something new, every time you play.

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

FN: – Music is bigger than any of us. I feel lucky and privileged to be able to tap into the vast knowledge that is around us. I feel that music can change people, music can take people out of their daily life and transport them into another place where they’ve never been before, they’ve never even knew it existed. Music can make you laugh or cry, can help you forget or remember things. And for us, to be able to tap into that knowledge and pull something out of it, being able to write it down, to play it is almost equals to a miracle.

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

FN: – Even more opportunities to play together. In NY its pretty easy because people are ready and willing to pay sessions, rehearsals…etc. But as soon as you step out of this world, it’s a bit more complicated. I still feel some people are more closed and don’t try to collaborate with others. (Outside of NY)

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

FN: – I am listening to a lot of different things. It would be really difficult to name everyone as I am constantly discovering new people. I am checking out all the new Jazz albums as they come out, as well as I am discovering the history of Hip-Hop and downloaded a lot of those albums, but in the same time I am checking out some classical music like Holst, or classic jazz albums by Andrew Hill, or I am listening to Ali Farka Toure, Bartok, J Dilla, Nat Aderley, Markus Nylund and many other things.

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

FN: – The message is that no matter what color, background, culture, race or religion we have, we are all humans. And at the end of the day, we will be all buried and then nobody cares about these things. So why do we care now? We are all flesh and bone and we only have a short amount of time here in this planet. Why can’t we behave as though we are all the same? We have to respect and treat each other as we would like to be treated. We have to let our ego go and create a better place here where we can live like humans. Love, don’t hate, believe, don’t doubt, create, not distroy! Live the freedom that was given to us.

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

FN: – I honestly believe that we are living the greatest time in our life and I would not want to live in any other time. But of course I would really love to travel back and see Coltrane, Miles, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans and so many of the other great bands, especially back in the 50s-60s.

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

FN: – My question is; What do you feel is your purpose in life, what would you like to achieve and why? What is it that keeps you motivated to make interviews, to run a website and to make noise about Jazz/Blues?

JBN: – I am a jazz critic, JJA, and organize jazz festivals and concerts in Eastern Europe. Jazz and Blues my Life !!!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Listen: Ferenc Nemeth – “Triumph” | Jazz Speaks

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