May 24, 2024

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An interview with Soweto Kinch: Jazz’s ability to stay relevant … Video

Jazz interview with jazz alto saxophonist Soweto Kinch. An interview by email in writing.

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

Soweto Kinch: – I was born in London, and grew up in Ladbroke Grove and then Wandsworth. Moving to Handsworth, Birmingham at 9 years old was pivotal however – I started playing the saxophone the same year.

Its hard to pinpoint what exactly sparked my interest in music – my Father is playwright and my Mother an actress, so I grew up in an incredibly creative household. Moreover both Ladbroke Grove and Handsworth are extremely culturally vibrant – being focal points for the British Black experience – so grew up very aware of the power of art to transform perceptions.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the saxophone?

SK: – I went to a workshop at the ‘Culture Centre’ in Handsworth when I was 9 years old. The assortment of shiny keys, and gleaming brass enticed me. Because I’d started on clarinet it wasn’t a massive leap, I knew it would eventually sing back at me instead of squeaking.

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the saxophon?

SK: – I had teachers at home (musician friends of my Dad) and school help me through grades. It wasn’t until I met people like Denys Baptiste, Jason Yarde, Courtney Pine and especially Jean Toussaint that I started to get more stuff together. I think I progressed both through a mixture of lessons, and busking – playing on the street.

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

SK: – Long notes, long notes and more long note. Seriously though, busking and playing regularly with people who were also trying to get their playing together really helped me develop a signature sound.

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

SK: – Jean Toussaint and Courtney Pine gave me specific exercise books to get to grips with – and I exchanged things like the Charlie Parker Omnibook, and Yusef Lateefs book of Patterns with peers such as Shabaka Hutchings.

How I developed a rhythmical approach is hard to specify. But I think my experience as an Hip Hop MC, has alerted me to rhythmical nuance and how important beat placement is.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

SK: – Well I try not to limit myself… But at various times I’ve been drawn to triadic improvisation, Lydian concepts and Coltrane’s Giant steps progression. I’m trying to scramble it all up even more now.

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

SK: – Develop an autonomous and personal sound, and hopefully the phone will always ring! If everyone’s turning right, maybe consider turning left- beware of fashion and fads, and instead let your ears lead you to what nobody else is playing yet.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

SK: – It already is a business! It was the pop music of its era – and made the George Avakian’s and Alfred Lions fantastically wealthy by any standards.

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

SK: – The major scale, and well-tempered piano is at least as old as Bach – yet nobody is tiring of exploring it. Jazz’s ability to stay relevant depends on musicians getting into it – not turning a baseball cap backwards and trying to using a Rhianna song just for the sake of it. Young people are interested in anything that’s played well, and is fresh.

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

SK: – I like the really simple questions you ask (sarcasm)…

I think answering that question involves a lifetime of searching and exploring. I think all living beings are reaching towards their creator, approximating perfection and not quite attaining it. We are supposed to reflect and explore all the mysteries and wonders of creation, and sound/music is an invaluable way of exploring.

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

SK: – I’m planning on a large new work that commemorates the end of the 1st World War, and the black soldiers that fought in it. I’m excited about exploring some new sounds in jazz – perhaps my only fear is that Theresa May will sink the UK into the ocean and Brexit will ruin everything… But I still think music and art will find a way all of the sickness and division that we see around the world.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

SK: – As well as the WW1 project, I’ll continue to experiment with melding Hip Hop and Jazz. Doing more public performances like the Fyover Show.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

SK: – Perhaps all these forms of music would have been called the same thing if they were ‘discovered’ at the same time. To European ears, early jazz would have sounded like ‘World Music.’ I believe a more powerful phenomenon than ‘genre’ is traditions – Jazz was founded on traditions such as the Blues, and syncopated marching music that in turn harkened back to African (world/folk) traditions.

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

SK: – A lot of great musicians: Shabaka Hutchings, Logan Richardson, Will Vinson, Kebbi Williams and many more!

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

SK: – I’m playing a Selmer Reference 54 (Mark 6 replica) – which has had the laquor taken off. And I play a short-shank Selmer soloist which is a D (opened out to an E). Take care …

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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