Interview with Julian Bliss: I want to be able to evoke emotions within people: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz clarinetist Julian Bliss. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Julian Bliss: – I come from a predominantly non-musical family. When I was 4 I decided that I wanted to play music, but I did not know what instrument. I had the opportunity to try many different instruments and once I found the Clarinet I knew that was the instrument I wanted to play. I never looked back!

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

JB: – It’s all about working on good air production and good support. Developing good techniques from the very beginning gives you a solid foundation. I had always preferred the darker, more rich clarinet sound and so naturally gravitated towards that. I studied in Germany for a number of years and for a while, the focus was on technique and fundamentals. Lots of long notes, legato exercises and articulation exercises. I think it really made a different to my playing in the long term

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

JB: – Practicing with a metronome is always useful. I have done it since the very beginning and I still use it today. Wether that be for exercises, scales or even music. That and sub-dividing while you’re playing are two ways that help me in regards to rhythm. Nothing ground-breaking but it works!

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

JB: – I think it is important to absorb as much music and as many musical ideas as you can. I listen to all sorts of musicians and try and really understand what it is I like about the playing as well as the things that I wouldn’t do myself. That informs your own playing and gives you a stronger identity. I think being open to trying different musical ideas is very important rather than just being solely focused on one way of playing.

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

JB: – Performing does take quite a lot of stamina and fitness. For wind and brass players it’s about managing the air effectively. Practicing regularly of course helps with that, but there is no substitute for just playing concerts regularly.

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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?

JB: – As a group, I think our sound has evolved over time. Understanding the intricacies of how each other plays is something that only comes with time. The more you play together the more cohesive it starts to sound. When I put the band together I went and listened to a lot of concerts in the London area and together with the piano player Neal Thornton we started to ask people if they would like to be involved. It was important to find not only fantastic players, but really nice people too. Getting on socially with your fellow band members is incredibly important and has a huge impact on the music, in my opinion.

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

JB: – I think when we are practicing we have to think about all the things that we are taught. All of the technical aspects of playing including tone, legato, articulation, dexterity, evenness in all registers, knowledge of harmony. But when we step out on stage, we just play what we feel. When you are on stage you should not be thinking about the mechanics of what you’re doing, you should just be trying to express whatever emotion and character is in your mind.

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

JB: – Without and audience there wouldn’t be any live music! I think we should be inclusive and accessible with our music making. As a musician I think it is important to feel and sense the energy of the audience. It can really push you to new areas and make the performance as exciting as it can be.

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

JB: – There are so many happy memories from tours and concerts! One of my favourite concerts in recent years was playing with the band to a sold out Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. We had so much fun and the audience were amazing. The acoustic in there is also incredible.

One of the most memorable concerts I attended was Wayne Shorter and his quartet in London. Wayne is a legend and to see and hear him in real life was a real honour.

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

JB: – I think some people have the impression that improvisation is incredibly difficult and something that they wouldn’t be able to do. Of course, improvising to a high standard takes a huge amount of work, discipline and knowledge of harmony and theory, but anyone can start learning. I would encourage any musician to take their instrument out at home and just play whatever comes to mind. I believe it is important to take every opportunity to perform that you can to build your skills and your confidence.  In regards to standards, allowing ourselves the creative freedom to interpret these standards in our own way, with modern playing techniques and more modern harmonic approaches is a way of bringing these incredible classic standards into the modern era.

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

JB: – As merely a Clarinetist, I am not sure I am qualified to answer the meaning of life! I thrive on the adrenaline I get when performing on stage. When I see an audience really into what I am doing, it pushes me further and really inspires me to keep working hard. In that regard, I think music is my spirit too!

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

JB: – I would want to change the divide between genres. I really like blurring the lines between genres and I think there is so much great music that could be categorised as a few different ones. Take George Gershwin; At times it is both Classical and Jazz. I think if we opened ourselves up to inspiration from different genres of music and collaborated more with musicians from different backgrounds it would be a fantastic thing.

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

JB: – I love listening to Oscar Peterson. For me everything about his playing is just right. The touch, the feel, the journey he takes you on. I could listen to him play all day. One of my favourite new albums is by Lewis Wright (who plays Vibraphone in my band). He composed a trio album and recorded it with Matt Brewer and Marcus Gilmore. It is fantastic.

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

JB: – For me, I want to be able to evoke emotions within people when I play. Music can mean so many different things for each of us, and being able to evoke those emotions through music is a very powerful thing.

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

JB: – 1939 and Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall.

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

JB: – I love a challenge and I really enjoy working with musicians that inspire me. I feel very lucky that I get the opportunity to play great music with great people. It is really a dream come true. Im just going to carry on working hard and continue getting better!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Julian Bliss - Beethovenfest Bonn

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