Interview with Miles Donahue: Jazz is such a beautiful art form: Video, New CD cover

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Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Miles Donahue. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Miles Donahue: – I grew up in Watertown Mass outside of Boston –my father was a professional Trumpet player and he inspired me to want to play the Trumpet

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

MD: – I listened to Study in Clifford Brown – and Miles Davis live at Carnegie Hall-and then I tried to achieve a sound similar to their sound

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

MD: – I play with just the drum track from my book –the Jazz Work Book-and also I use the Tama Rhythm Watch where you  can subdivide  the beat into 1/8 notes- triplets or 16th  notes

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

MD: – My musical taste include-Bach- Steely Dan-Hendricks –Stevie Wonder as well as Rollins –Clotrane – Charlie  Mariano – Bill Evans  and Hank Mobley –my writing and playing is colored by all of these peopel and their music –resulting  in a style all my own and hopefully recognizable

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

MD: – I practice many drills to improve   and maintain  my skills as an improviser-I select material and  become very familiar with each song in hopes of being able to transmit emotion and  be free to be creative  in the moment.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2021: Just Passing Thru, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

MD: – It was done differently than my other albums-I had 2 session with the full band –and then overdubbed horn parts – Mike Stern overdubbed from his home in New York –Steve Hunt added piano and organ-Sal Difusco added   the lead line for Ireland –Joey Barbato added accordion to Ireland-and Ricardo Munzon added  percussion .I am very happy with this album for the lack of sameness I hear in a lot of jazz albums .I do not love every song but in  listening  again I am still surprised by the different grooves  and just the idea that I do not solo on every song   it makes me interested  in who  will solo on each song .My thought is a person will want to listen to the whole album because each song is different .I am working on new album now of vocal music –I have written a song  in tribute to Stevie Wonder and a Black Lives matter song. For these songs I played piano and  keyboards  .I have plans for  other songs using a drummer and myself on piano.

Miles Donahue - Just Passing Thru - Amazon.com Music

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?

MD: – Jazz is such a beautiful art form invented in America and it is my good fortune to  have been able learn to play jazz .So many people play jazz without any real monetary reward .Art for Art’s sake  is the epitome for jazz. The musicians  chosen for my latest recording are all  people with musical skills I am in awe of’ They are all natural musicians  who  have something magical about  their ability to play music. at a very high level l .It is never lost on me how lucky I am to write and play music with such great musicians

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

MD: – Music is played  at the highest level when the   aural intuitive skill  and the mathematical  skill result in a mechanical ability to perform music on a particular instrument. Bill  Evans  said he could not learn jazz thru osmosis .Which means he had to learn  to improvise thru understanding the tools used in this art form The soul of music is unleashed because of the intellect  and a understanding  of  the necessary skills needed to express oneself. For myself  the understanding of theory thru numbers has enabled me to learn things I would not have learned otherwise  and I am still doing ear training to help internalize these sounds as we speak.

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

MD: – I think playing a recognizable song is a  way of connecting with an audience and I always play a song that people know although my arrangement of the  that song  may be  unexpected

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

MD: – I remember my concert with Kenny Werner which resulted in my 1st album   DOUBLE BRIBBLE on  the Timeless Label  from the Netherlands. During the rehearsel  Kenny said give me a minute  and then  proceeded to play a difficult song in octaves and everyone in the band was stunned at how quickly and learned a song.

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

MD: – The reason standards are  half a century old is because they are well written and will always be around. When a young person gets interested in jazz they find the songs that everybody has  been playing  for decades   My problem is getting my students to know these songs  .I do not mean memorizing  the song but rather understanding the root motions and how the melody implies the chords of the song .Young  jazz students should have repertoire of songs to  use as vehicles for improvising.

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

MD: – When jazz players are improvising their eyes are closed and  their soul is open to express something positive and  memorable  in the moment.

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

MD: – I would like it if jazz could find  a wider audience thru  exposure to  real jazz music .In the jazz show a couple of years ago at the white house  90% of the music was vocal .It is as though if it was instrumental people would  turn it off .And how is it that Herbie Hancock is reduced to accompanying  Aretha Franklin playing the piano and he does not even get a ten second  solo.

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

MD: – No one in particular. Lately I have been listening  to Keith Jarret trio – to Steely Dan  and Bach.

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

MD: – I am trying to pay tribute to the masters of jazz who have influenced   me and made me want to learn to  play jazz music. Jazz music is complicated and not commercial and I want to try to connect with people by making music that  is  engaging in some capacity ,

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

MD: – Anywhere but today –how about a time when every family had a piano and tin pan alley produced song after song –or the big band era when a clarinet was as popular as the guitar is today-and  during the sixties I played six nights a week in a James Brown cover band –or in the 80’s when the Willow jazz club in Somerville Mass had Jazz seven nights a week  or when the Regatta  Bar in Cambridge Mass had local talent as well international touring groups featured on a regular basis.

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

MD: – My only question is how do you think we can promote jazz  in the world.

JBN: – Yes, of course, if in addition to hanging your head and working in the unknown, you also invest․

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

MD: – I am always trying to be a productive  person in the profession I have chosen .I am a devout musician -practicing – trying to improve  every day and although there is  not much  of a monetary reward  and it is  not possible to play with other  people that often  because of the demise of live music. I am happy with the life I have.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Miles Donahue a veteran horn player composer and educator – The Cuban Bridge

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