Interview with Chris Dingman: I personally enjoy a wide variety of music: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz vibraphonist Chris Dingman. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Chris Dingman: – I grew up in San Jose, CA. My mother would play piano and of course recordings. From a very young age I was fascinated with the sounds of percussion and piano. I also remember very clearly my mother singing me lullabies while tucking me in for sleep. My first memory of the piano was hearing my mother play ragtime on an old piano at a cabin at Lake Tahoe. I remember trying to find the notes of the songs by ear. I think these things from early childhood all played a strong role in where I’ve ended up!

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

CHD: – I’ve always been very interested in many types of music. Listening to music is a therapeutic and very emotional practice for me. Over time composing, all the different music that I love started naturally coming out. But not according to one genre or the next. Just all at once, in a mix. And that’s where I believe my own sound comes from, at least as a composer. As a vibraphonist, I’ve been inspired by specific players, especially Bobby Hutcherson, dnd more recently I’ve been heavily influenced by the kora music of Malian griot musicians Toumani Diabate, Ballake Sissoko, and others. I’ve followed a typical pattern of emulating the playing of others and eventually coming into my own way of playing with various improvisation approaches. But I owe everything to the music and musicians who have come before me. To paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie, “no them, no me.”

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

CHD: – There are a lot of ways of dealing with rhythm and thinking about it that have helped me, so I can’t point to just one. I studied mridangam and South Indian classical music in college. I also played a lot of Steve Lehman and worked on playing his music for many years. I think that informed a lot of my rhythmic ideas over time. I’ve also spent a lot of time with “limitation” exercises – where you set certain constraints about which rhythm you will use, or what beat you will play on, etc, and that strengthens your rhythmic concepts.

“Independence” exercises too – keeping a pattern going with one hand, while improvising with the other hand.

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

CHD: – I don’t really try to avoid this. I feel that if something I like is truly influencing me, I should let it happen. I think my whole sound is based on that idea. It’s only when it’s something I don’t actually like, that I stop it. But naturally, of course I don’t really want to play things I don’t like. So if I notice an annoying earworm of some kind influencing my music, I just pay attention to what it is, and then consciously move away from that, and back into something I like.

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

CHD: – I have a regular practice of recording myself improvising, that I feel helps keep me in a strong place with performing. Jason Moran had a great way of putting it – just like exercising to stay in physical shape you have to be in “musical shape.” In the constant practice of delving into creative ideas, spinning out new things, executing it and responding in real time. It’s a mental practice as much as, or maybe even more than, a physical one. I’ve gotten into doing long improvisations that push my limits, and found that the more I push them, the more ideas there are.

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?

CHD: – As I learned to play the music on Embrace, yes I would say my playing evolved a bit over that time – from mid-2016 to late 2017 when the album was recorded. I played with a number of musicians, all of them sounded great, but there was something about the energy of combining Tim Keiper on drums with Linda May Han Oh on bass. There was a special lift, a fire that they collectively brought to the music that I enjoyed when playing live and worked out great in the studio.

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

CHD: – I think this is a subjective thing that comes down to each person’s own relationship with music. Some like it more intellectual than others. I personally enjoy a wide variety of music when listening, but I guess when I’m writing and also when improvising, it’s almost always an emotional or spiritual thing, something that comes from deeper within, that inspires it. At the same time, the intellect can help make sense of all that, and organize it in a way that others can understand. There is usually some part of the composition process that is like that for me.

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

CHD: – Depends what they want! Haha. But I always enjoy the interchange with an audience, feeling the energetic shifts that happen with the music, and sharing with people where the music comes from, what it’s all about, and hearing their responses to it.

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

CHD: – The first time I ever played with Kenny Wollesen, at the 55 bar in NYC, we had no rehearsal and he was playing for the first time with a band that I play in regularly. And every time I would take a solo, I felt like he was reading my mind! It was the most electric feeling. He’s an unbelievable player and amazing human. He was one of the drummers I played the Embrace music with quite a bit and I’d like to sent a special shout out to him, the great Kenny Wollesen.

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

CHD: – I can’t really claim to know the answer to this. But I think exposure and education at a young age, at the primary school level, is important. I’m not sure if the age of the tunes matters so much, as long as there are new people creating their own sound using those tunes or others, and educating younger people about it.

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

CHD: – For me, there are more questions than answers now than ever before. But I think, as Coltrane showed us, it’s more about the search and the journey than it is about the answers. Following that spark inside of you, and becoming more and more comfortable and familiar with all of your own inner workings. Music and improvisation, in that way, are a spiritual path. And it’s a long, long path, more than one lifetime long.

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

CHD: – Probably that society at large values instrumental music and actually supports musical artists in a sustainable way. I heard someone say one time, what if jazz was supported and followed on the level of something like the NBA or NFL? It made me think – why not? What’s stopping people? I think it comes down to what people are exposed to at an early age and what the overculture signals to people what is important. But it could be entirely different. Music could be the most important thing overall. And I think we’d have a happier world if it was.

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

CHD: – It’s kind of a stressful time right now with the pandemic, etc, so I’m currently drawn to a lot of fairly soft and peaceful music, I suppose to counteract the stress. Santoor master Shivkumar Sharma is a favorite for this, as is a lot of the Malian kora music, Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal’s Chamber Music. Also just got into this ambient group called Stars of the Lid, really nice. Boards of Canada is also a big favorite.

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

CHD: – I’m not sure if there is only one message, and also I’m not sure if I choose the messages as much as follow them. I choose to be a vessel for whatever messages can come through me, through the music. Those tend to be messages of hope, redemption, transcending limitations, acknowledging what’s painful and letting it go.

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

CHD: – That sounds fun! I think I would want to go to a time before humans, to see what the earth looked and sounded like without us in it.

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

CHD: – Having interviewed so many jazz musicians, what do you feel we are missing in our responses? 🙂 🙂

JBN: – The intellect!!!

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

CHD: – I’m not sure if I understand this one correctly. Can you explain more – what is “that” in this question?

JBN: – It is this interview

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

The Vibraphonists Jason Adasiewicz and Chris Dingman - The New York Times

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