Interview with Carole Nelson: Come with me into my world just for a short while: Video, CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz pianist, vocalist and composer Carole Nelson. An interview by email in writing.

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

Carole Nelson: – I grew up in London. Although neither of my parents played an instrument, my father loved classical music and every morning of my childhood I woke to hear Beethoven and Mozart filling the house. My older brother started learning piano and I followed suit at age 7

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

CN: – At 18 I left a solid classical training behind me and turned to jazz, funk, soul and composing my own songs. This was in the ‘70s before there were jazz courses so I learned from listening to the same records over and over – Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and then Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter. Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Mingus and many more. In my twenties I was playing in bands and learning from the better players around me.

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

CN: – I find that my practice has to always be ‘in flow’ rather than setting myself a mental goal. Every note has to be played with full mindful presence and played slowly for a long time. Its like riding a bike – speed is easy if slow is perfect. Its interesting that you ask particularly about rhythm: I played a long time ago in salsa bands and understood that playing 4/4 on a cowbell demands your whole body to keep perfect tempo. And then I also understood that all Latin players must also be percussionists, whatever instrument you are playing. So I studied Latin percussion and applied that to the piano. Swing is a whole different thing!

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

CN: – It’s impossible to have no influences affecting one at all. Even totally free improvisation has its tradition. I“m happy to acknowledge my huge debt to the truly great jazz musicians of the past – we are privileged to step momentarily into the same river. That said, I listen less and less to other people“s music when I am composing. I try to find starting points and developments that take inspiration from other art forms and from nature.

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

CN: – Meditation – even 5 minutes of focused breathing and relaxing my body and mind can be enough. Then I just look forward to playing so much, especially with my trio musicians, bassist Cormac O’Brien and drummer Dominic Mullan. Musical stamina seems to flow from being deeply happy in what I am doing.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2020: <Carole Nelson Trio – Arboreal>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

CN: – I love everything about it! But I will single out the ease and pleasure we had in the studio. We recorded over two days with a minimum of rehearsal which created an openess in the playing. No one is trying hard to be super impressive.

I wanted to compose music with the theme of the forest running through it. That gave me a thread, a focus. My growing alarm about the climate and ecological emergencies found some expression there too. I wrote with an awareness of the trio potential then provided the guys with road maps but not too many details.

As we went into the Covid 19 crisis I was one of 20 Irish composers invited to compose   and perform a new piece online. However right now I am giving my brain a complete reset by returning to Bach.

My new CD you can buy from here: https://www.jazzireland.ie/jazz-shop/p-82-arboreal.html

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?

CN: – My piano sound has emerged from an injury many years ago that forced me to rethink how I play. I prefer spaciousness and lyricism to high speeds and atonality. I appreciate those qualities but am unashamed in liking music that, to me at least, is beautiful in tone and touch as much as melody and harmony.

I have worked with many wonderful musicians over the years in London and Ireland. Cormac and Dominic have always ‘got’ my music, my personality, and they give themselves fully to this project.

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

CN: – Intellect underpins every understanding I have of harmony and rhythm. But to create I need to let it go and let the soul fly freely. I do sometimes compose from purely mathematical constructs to see how they can play out. ‘Beneath the Surface’ on Arboreal is one such excursion. I hope my music provides both brain and soul food in one inseparable unity.

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

CN: – OK there are 2 extremes: I used to play free jazz in London to audiences that were smaller than the number on stage. It was fun but somewhat disconnected. Then I’ve played for weddings etc, and yes, you give people exactly what they want. When I give a concert with the trio we perform to modest but enthusiastic audiences. We love what we are doing and so do they. At least so far! Our album tour has been cancelled now of  course.

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

CN: – I’ve had a great life in music, lot of great gigs and memories but I think the best time is right now because I feel I’ve harnessed all my past experience and arrived into a  musical self-expression that is free from self doubt, comparison and all that anxiety of perfectionism.

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

CN: – Write new music or find fresh ways to create jazz. I love what Robert Glasper does, his engagement with hip hop and urban music as well as his performances of standards.

Young people find their way to good music of any era in all genres just as us oldsters once did.

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

CN: – I’ll never forget the first time I heard A Love Supreme. I smoked some grass, lay on the floor with headphones on. Blew my tiny mind and I understood that music can be, must be, an endless path, a search. I love the lifetimes’ music of Wayne Shorter who has remained fresh for all these decades. How can we compare Witchhunt with his current Quartet? I believe his spiritual practice as a Buddhist has kept his music fresh and real.

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

CN: – There is a very short moment in a human life when peak physical capacity and emotional maturity happen at the same time.  I’m in it now and would like it to last forever. Or as long as possible … might be more realistic!

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

CN: – Early medieval sacred music and Bach. With jazz I’m going back to albums I know and love – Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, Brad Meldau’s Art of the Trio Vol 1 -5, early Egbert Svenson Trio albums ….

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

CN: – It’s less of a message and more of an invitation. ‘Come with me into my world just for a short while’. There is so much music and so much noise in this world that I feel  gratitude to anyone who accepts my invitation.

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

CN: – To a future where humans are guided by cooperation not competition, compassion not greed. Where there is no racism, sexism or any other ism that diminishes us as a species and where we have learned to live in harmony with nature and our environment!

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

CN: – I read an interview with you that answered any questions! So I only have a wish for your continued success and happiness with Jazz Blues News.

JBN: – Thanks so much !!!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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