Interview with Mike Westbrook: This is what we musicians spend our lives trying to achieve: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz conductor and pianist Mike Westbrook. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Mike Westbrook: – Torquay. Duke Ellington ‘Black and Tan Fantasy’.

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

MW: – I don’t really think about ‘my sound’, I just concentrate on getting the notes, the chords and the rhythm right. I usually write for particular musicians.

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

MW: – No routine. Everything I write I have to play first on the piano. So I play the piano a lot at home. That, plus rehearsing and playing with the band, are the ways I learn and hopefully improve.

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

MW: – I don’t set out to emulate any particular style, but if some music I’ve heard filters through into my writing I don’t try to stop it.

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

MW: – As a bandleader I am usually organizing things   right up to the moment of going on stage. As a bandleader if you get the practical things right the spiritual will take care of itself.

Today I work mainly with a 22-piece band The Uncommon Orchestra and with Kate’s 7-piece group, The Granite Band. I sometimes perform solo.

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?

MW: – I was not involved in the selection of the Swedish Band. I took advantage of the orchestral possibilities of a line up that included French horn and Alto horn, woodwind, tuba etc.

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

MW: – This is what we musicians spend our lives trying to achieve.

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

MW: – I believe that it is possible, especially in Jazz, to combine creative freedom with communication with the public, to be both experimental and accessible, ‘serious’ and ‘popular’.

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

MW: – I’ve had a band for 60 years and have had the good fortune to play in many countries, with wonderful musicians and to record most of my compositions. Kate and I have found ourselves in some amazing situations, too numerous to mention here.

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

MW: – Jazz musicians and composers must be free to use whatever material they like. Anything can be relevant – after all they still play Mozart – why not Cole Porter? I use mostly my own compositions, but have often drawn on the American Song Book as well as anything from Rossini to the Beatles. Jazz is music for grown-ups. Kids can get a lot out of it but they need to work at it.

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

MW: – Spirituality is not some ‘style’ of music that   can be acquired. Charlie Parker said “Music is your thoughts, your wisdom”. Duke Ellington said “Jazz is having fun with freedom of expression”. Music is fundamentally an abstract aesthetic thing and it’s up to the individual how they want to interpret it.

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

MW: – From New Orleans onward Jazz has shown that creative, improvised music can be part of everyday life, a living art serving serving the needs of society. As we need the baker of bread, so we need  the jazz musician. Forget industrialised  global popular music  and big stars, and get back to the individual artist in his community.

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

MW: – I always listen to  the greats; Ellington, Monk, Mingus, Miles, Rollins, Ornette, George Russell etc … I get a kick out of Parker and Gillespie and Bebop but don’t enjoy the ‘house styles’ of Blue Note and ECM. In the classical field I particularly like piano music, from Chopin to Satie, and Schubert’s ‘Wintereise’ impresses me particularly. I don’t really find myself part of the contemporary jazz scene, where I find little genuine originality, but I do follow with the interest the work of friends and colleagues.

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

MW: – Listen to the music that Kate and I have produced over the years and you’ll have the only answer I can give.

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

MW: – I’ll settle for right now, without the Covid 19 pandemic.

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

MW: – Some of your questions suggest that you are not yet familiar with my work. Maybe you only know ‘Love and Understanding. If you know more, as I hope you will, you might describe me as ‘Pianist, Composer, Bandleader’ but not Conductor – that I certainly am not!

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

MW: – Like Duke ‘I’ll probably write another blues’.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Mike Westbrook (foto Alessandro Eusebi) - Musica Jazz

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