Interview with Chien Chien Lu: Jazz doesn’t mean only jazz standards: Video

Jazz interview with jazz vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Chien Chien Lu: – I grew up in Taiwan. I started to play piano when I was 6 years old, and started percussion when I was 10. I could play a couple children’s songs on piano by myself before I started taking lessons. There is a saying in Taiwan, “Kids who study music won’t be bad”. I think that’s the main reason my mom sent me to study music.

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

CCL: – This is a question I don’t really have the answer to, because I can’t say I already found  my sound. I’m still discovering it. At the beginning I was a 4 mallets player. I studied with Tony Miceli, a great vibraphone player in Philly. He is also a 4 mallets player. I listened to Mike Mainieri and Gary Burton. After I graduated, I moved to NYC. I started to play sideman gigs. But everyone would hire me and a piano player or a guitar player, so I don’t really need to play 4 mallets so I started to play with 2 mallets. I found out that I can express myself so much more. So now most of time I play with 2 mallets. I’m so into Milt Jacksons’ phrasing and I think it’s hard to play his lines with 4 mallets. At least it’s hard to me. Putting a record out helps me a lot to figure out my sound, because I had to really put it together. I had to really know what I was creating. I needed to make my imagination come true.

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

CCL: – I started to play jazz late, so I really need to immerse myself into languages. I transcribe Milt Jackson, Roy Ayers and others. Also I’m trying to focus on the grooves more.

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

CCL: – Set a timer, so I can only work under a limited time.

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

CCL: – I need to do a lot of rudiments to make my hand muscles strong. Then we can talk about music. I always try to memorize the music. Not looking at sheet music helps the most. Making sure I’m not tired. I will always get some rest before the show when I’m on tour.

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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?

CCL: – I was a 4 mallets player when I was studying in Philly, so I was focusing on harmony more than lines. I moved to NYC and started to study with Steve Nelson. He focuses on lines more and I’m always more into 2 mallets players like Milt Jackson, Bobby Hotcherson… The musicians on my album are most from Jeremy Pelt’s band. We toured together and played a lot together. I just asked them to play on my album, only the pianist is different. Shedrick Mitchell provides some gospel sound for my music.

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

CCL: – My heart will always tell me that. If it’s out of balance, I can strongly feel it. I don’t even want to put it out. I don’t want anyone to listen to it.

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

CCL: – I’m ok with that. I think a lot of time I want just like my audiences want. It’s a conversation.

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

CCL: – I think this was in Sweden. I was touring with Jeremy Pelt. This was our first stop of a tour. On the stage he started to play one of his composition I’ve never heard. I was nervous at the beginning. I did an ok solo. Between the sets, he told me just truly memorize the melody and listen. The second set I was happy with the clearity I have when I was soloing. I was listening so hard. And I got the song deep down in my heart.

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

CCL: – Jazz doesn’t mean only jazz standards. I think good music attracts audiences. If we are talking about only jazz standard, maybe try to arrange them?

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

CCL: – I don’t understand the meaning of life but I tend to follow my heart which I believe is the spirit.

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

CCL: – Less divisions. Music would be separated in 2 categories. Good and Bad.

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

CCL: – Jamison Ross, Khalil Fong, Augest Greene, Michael Gordon/Slagwerk Den Haag Timber, Roy Ayers…

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

CCL: – Unity.

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

CCL: – To the future where I think there would be more opportunities for women and less racial divisions

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

CCL: – Is the music you are listening/making truly the music you like?

JBN: – Yes, of course, Jazz is my life!!!

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

CCL: – I just take it one day at a time. Work hard and just keep creating good music and see where that takes me.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Chien Chien Lu And The Roy Ayers Effect

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