Interview with Jeff Ellwood: Melody is the key: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Jeff Ellwood. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Jeff Ellwood: – I grew up in Southern California and always had an enjoyed music as a child singing songs with recordings. I started playing saxophone at age 10, but didn’t really put much time into studying it until I was age 18. That’s when I decided that music was my life’s path

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

JE: – The key to developing your sound is understanding and developing your tonal imagination. This comes from years of listening and studying. It changed numerous times while I was young, but locked in many years ago. My sound is a combination of many players like Hank Mobley, Trane and Dexter Gordon to modern players like Bob Berg, Michael Brecker, Rick Margitza, Jerry Bergonzi, Dick Oatts and Seamus Blake.

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

JE: – I don’t have specific practice exercises that I work on the focus on rhythm beyond shedding with a metronome. Most of my practice consists of working on melodic fragments in a variety of combinations.

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

JE: – I can only do what I do. I hear things a certain way and I’m confident it that so I try to not let varying opinions effect me or cause me to do much reevaluation. That being said, it’s important to try to learn from different influences as long as it’s healthy and not self-destructive.

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

JE: – I just try to have the material as prepared as I can and then try to not think about other things too much

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?

JE: – I selected the musicians on this album because I’ve had the fortune of playing with all of them in a variety of situations. I played in a quartet led by Alan Pasqua (the bassist Darek Oles was also a member of that group) for many years. They were so supportive musically and played with such sensitivity, I knew that these were the people I was going to record with. My work with Joe LaBarbera was in a big band led by Grammy Winner Bill Cunliffe. I was so impressed with Joe’s feel and sensitivity, but also the driving energy he puts underneath you. Playing with those 3 musicians is just easy.

Bob Sheppard joins me on one track. Bob and I have become very good friends and he has always been very supportive of me and my musical voice, so I wanted him to be a part of this project also.

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

JE: – I feel like the intellect is for the practice room. Get as deep inside the music as you possibly can. Study it, break it down, explore all the possibilities on how to approach it.

The soul is for the gig. Trying to let go and just play what you hear. Always trying your best to make the listener understand the story you are trying to tell.

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

JE: – As an artist, I want to stay true to my voice and not make too many adjustments just to please an audience. However, I am aware that music makes people feel something and I want people to be moved by my playing. I feed off of that energy. It’s important to me that the audience is engaged.

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

JE: – There are too many memories to sift through. I remember doing a performance years are when I lived in Boston. We played a concert at a middle school as a jazz history lesson. We played the evolution of jazz music. We played an Ornette Coleman tune (can’t remember which one) and the kids went crazy. They loved it! They listened without any judgement, they feed off of the energy of the music. It was very moving moment.

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

JE: – Through exposure and education. I am The Director of Jazz Studies and Mt San Antonio College. My goal is to expose my students to a variety of musicians and songs that cover the scope of jazz history. I also teach a lot of Jazz History to non-music majors. My goal is to teach them about the work, dedication and passion that goes into being a jazz musician. I feel like many of them leave with a stronger appreciation for the art form. The key is to make it relatable to them. Play them and old standard and them show them a more modern rendition of the same song so they can see how these songs can evolve.

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

JE: – That question might be too deep for me to grasp. Music consumes every ounce of who I am, it’s what I’m meant to do and ultimately gives meaning to my life.

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

JE: – I wish artists could make a fair living making their art.

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

JE: – The players that most influence me these days are Rick Margitza, Jerry Bergonzi, Seamus Blake and Dick Oatts.

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

JE: – Melody is the key. I believe in developing musical themes like a composer. That’s what most interests me about improvisation. I’m not one that plays a lot of “licks,” I really strive to pull musical motives out of the composition and develop those motives like characters in a movie.

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

JE: – I’d like to go back to the 50’s/early 60’s so I could see many of the musicians I idolize. Charlie Parker, The John Coltrane Quartet, the Miles Davis Classic Quartets, The early Jazz Messengers with the cats like Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham and Clifford Brown.

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

JE: – What are some of the best recordings you’ve heard in the last couple of months?

JBN: – Standard Gonz – Jerry Bergonzi, The Modern Jazz Trio, Tone Poem – Charles Lloyd And The Marvels and GARDEN OF EXPRESSION – JOE LOVANO, MARILYN CRISPELL, CARMEN CASTALDI …

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

JE: – I’m just going to keep doing the same thing. Try to get better everyday and pray that we will be able to be able to play for groups of people again.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Gallery - JEFF ELLWOOD

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