Interview with Clovis Nicolas: They work hand in hand: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz acoustic bassist Clovis Nicolas. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Clovis Nicolas: – I grew up in the south east of France, in a touristic region called Provence. At home, music was constantly being played, either by my mother on the piano, or on our hi-fi system. So I naturally got interested in it. I started by learning the piano as a lot of kids do, but I soon got into the bass: there is a mystery about that sound that lays below the other instruments, while being the foundation to everything else. I was fascinated by it.

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

CN: – My goal throughout my musical career has always been to get a “good sound,” rather than “my own sound.” I believe that we humans are all unique and that we will always end sounding like ourselves. So I was more concerned about how I could get a solid bass sound, warm, in tune, punchy. I listened to Jazz masters like Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Israel Crosby… and tried to refine my sound accordingly. I must say that moving to New York helped me get more projection, because all the bass players have a nice projection here, so I just learned that from them.

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

CN: – I have quite a few exercises that I have experienced with over the years. I always change my practice routine so it doesn’t get stale or boring and it fits the current needs. I use the metronome most of the time and I try to play with it, I put clicks in weird places, or just one click every two bars.

Lately, I’ve found it very helpful to practice Monk’s tunes: melody, bass lines, solos. These are hard songs, both technically and harmonically, so it really keeps you on your toes. I put together a list of 50 of his songs and play them all from memory.

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

CN: – That’s an interesting question. I don’t mind an influence if it’s a good one! But in this world where everything is available it can be confusing. I pay attention to the reason why I like such and such and if I feel a strong pull towards it then I’ll try it out. I prefer to check it out and leave it later on if I don’t like it, rather than ignoring what is going on around me in order to avoid being influenced by anything.

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

CN: – I listen to music. There are albums that I’ve listened to hundreds of times and every time I do, it brings me back to that sacred place of what I like most and whom I want to be as a musician. Once you’re in touch with that place it’s easy to perform.

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

CN: – They work hand in hand. It’s like a language, if we want to have a meaningful conversation, we need to know the words and the grammar we use, as well as connecting it to what we want to express. In a similar way, we need to know theory while being in touch with our ears and our heart while playing music. It’s not one versus the other, it’s more like left hand – right hand.

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

CN: – Of course. I think what people really want is honesty, spontaneity and beauty. I’m okay with that!

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

CN: – I have a funny memory that relates to this new solo project. When I was 18 years old, a friend suggested that I should play for a music band competition that was taking place in my home town. I told him I didn’t have a band yet, and he suggested I should just go solo! I was bold enough to think “Sure, why not?” And here I was, on a big stage, alone with my bass, playing in front of a crowd and a jury for half an hour. I remember clearly that I wasn’t even scared at all.

It took me many years to find enough confidence to go back into playing solo bass in front of people again.

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

CN: – Young people don’t know that the tunes are half a century old unless someone tells them so. They just need to listen to Jazz music being performed live, or on the radio, and they will probably get into it. What makes the music fresh is not the age of the songs performed, it’s just that they’re performed in the present time by live musicians.

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

CN: – That’s a philosophical question I don’t have a definite answer for. For me, life is a “one take only” song, that you have to learn as you play it.

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

CN: – Streaming musical platforms should pay the musicians and creators better. It is nice to be able to share your music with anybody around the world with the click of a button, but let’s not forget that without us these services wouldn’t even exist. I know we can’t go back now, but just make it fairer to the musicians.

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

CN: – J.J. Johnson – “The Savoy Sessions”; Donald Byrd & Gigi Gryce – “Jazz Lab”; Dayna Stephens “Right Now”; Larry Grenadier’s solo live at the Village Vanguard

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

CN: – One cannot put music’s message into words in my opinion, otherwise it would be literature or poetry. I’d say that there is something I feel, that is bigger than us and even then life itself. It’s a feeling that I cannot explain but that I try to communicate to people through music.

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

CN: – I don’t want to go in the future! Let it be a surprise for me. But I am sure of one thing, the day before I die you will still find me playing, trying, checking some music out, composing… I will always “stay on the upbeat” as Buster Williams likes to say, and I have a feeling I will live a long life.

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

CN: – Would you be able to guess what kind of answers to your questions you would get from a musician by just listening to his/her music?

JBN: – All, because all our interviews are with musicians who have released new records !!!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Clovis Nicolas | Saturday July, 31st 2021 - 6:30 PM @ Sunset | Concert | Paris Jazz Club

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