Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Steve Cardenas. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Steve Cardenas: – I grew up in Kansas City. My older siblings listened to the popular music of the day, so artists like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Motown artists such as The Supremes and Marvin Gaye, The Band and many more. Once in high school, I was in the jazz band, a big band that rehearsed every day as a credit class. From there I became interested in jazz and soon began to go to jam sessions around the Kansas City area.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
SC: – My sound is not all that different from my early days playing jazz. Like most musicians, I went through phases of listening to and utilizing sounds and concepts from various known jazz artists, but through the years, I’ve had I suppose more of an instinctual idea of the sound and kinds of sounds I prefer.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
SC: – I had more of a practice routine years ago. Anymore, I find it challenging to have a practice routine with the responsibilities of every day life. Though I do find time to work on various areas of music. I usually focus on one area at a time rather than incorporate so many things into a daily session. So, if I happen to be in a place where I’m writing new music, I feel like technical practicing would interrupt that flow, and the reverse is true as well. Also, I’m often immersed in learning new music for the various bands I’m in, as well as any standards or other music I’m interested in learning.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
SC: – I think not overly focusing on listening to one particular musician or kind of music helps with evolving a musician’s personal sound. Diversity is always a positive in music, as it is in most everything else in the universe. Over time and with many different influences, a musician likely moves more and more toward a personal identity.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
SC: – I suppose I never thought as performances as needing stamina, maybe focus is more the idea? Honestly, for me, not over thinking leads me to playing in the most creative way. The less there is between you and the music, the more one can be a vehicle for the music to emerge fluidly and naturally.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
SC: – Again, not letting one’s thinking get in the way of the music is so important. Flow is so much of it.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
SC: – I think if you’re being yourself and playing your music with all your heart and soul, then by default you are giving the people what they want.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
SC: – The first times I played with Paul Motian, Steve Swallow, Carla Bley and Charlie Haden come to mind as they’ve been heroes to me since I was a teenager. One consistent thread with them all was how comfortable it was from note one, how the music flowed without anyone trying to ‘make it happen,’ it just happened.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
SC: – Well, actually the songs of the Gershwins, Cole Porter, etc are from 80 to 90 years ago, and Bebop around 70 years now. From my perspective, I haven’t seen a lack of young musicians being interested in these eras of music. But I also have to say, there is so much great music from later periods, and earlier periods as well. The music of these eras doesn’t necessarily have to be the only focus for a creative improvising musician.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
SC: – For a long time I’ve been very interested in all things regarding the cosmos and science. For me, who, what and where we are resides in our connection and relation to the universe. Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” expresses this idea much more eloquently than I ever could. As does this John Coltrane quote: “The main thing a musician would like to do is to give the listener a picture of the wonderful things (s)he senses in the universe.”
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
SC: – The unfairness of how all musicians are treated regarding improper imbursement from streaming services.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
SC: – I don’t have any one artist or group in particular that I’m listening to currently, which is also the case in general. Some days it’s classic recordings, other days newer music. Not meaning to be at all vague, but once you start naming one or two artists, I feel hundreds are left out that should also be mentioned.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
SC: – There is no underlying message. It’s just music, sound, for anyone who wants to listen.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
SC: – There are so many options, but right now I’m thinking 52nd St, 1948. Can you imagine? Whew!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan