May 19, 2024

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Interview with Michel Camilo: What worries me is today’s world nations political instability… Video

Jazz Interview with jazz pianist Michel Camilo. An interview by email in writing.

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

Michel Camilo: – I was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and I come from a family of several generations of musicians and composers. I was inspired to play the Piano since one of my aunts played Classical music and one of my uncles played Popular music, both sounded great! At 5 I was given an accordion which luckily was in tune, so that’s when my family noticed that I had picked up “by ear” the melodies to “Silent Night” and “ Happy Birthday”. So music has been always a part of my life from early on, then the family would get together every Sunday at my grandparents home and my aunt and uncle would take turns at the piano to play for us. This contributed to my preference for the Piano, and at the age of 9 I went to study piano at the National Conservatory but at that time it was strictly Classical music. At the age of 14, I listened to Art Tatum on the radio for the first time and right then and there I felt in love with it and wanted to learn how to play Jazz!

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the your musical instrument? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the your musical instrument?

MC: – Like I mentioned my first instrument was an accordeon which my parents gave to me as a Christmas present. Then at the age of 9 I asked my parents to send me to study at the National Conservatory of the Dominican Republic, and in 1979 I decided to move to New York in order to continue my music studies at Juilliard and Mannes College of Music, as well as to be “closer” to the Jazz life!

I had the fortune of having several wonderful teachers in New York and in the DR, therefore I always say that I have 2 different piano techniques: the one I learned  in the Dominican Republic was the Leschetizky method, and the one I learned in New York was the Vengerova technique. Nowadays I use them both in my piano playing.

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

MC: – My New York teacher Jacob Lateiner was very demanding about my tone production at the instrument, as well as an accurate phrasing and control of colors, textures and nuances. He literally enriched my perspective and made me a better pianist. Then it also made me listen to how Jazz musicians create tension and release in their improvising, so I think my development came as “awareness” and “at-one-ment” with the piano… I found myself “listening to the message behind the notes” and growing as a “storyteller” within my personal style…

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

MC: – I recommend always practicing with a Metronome. It simply doesn’t lie…Then, when you play with drummers your rhythm will be right on and relaxed. Ideally, I try to practice about 4 hours a day with some breaks in between. Also, besides the Jazz improvisations, I still love playing Chopin, Liszt, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Bach, Scarlatti, Scriabin, Lecuona, Gershwin, etc. There is also a little book by Christoph von Dohnanyi which I think is called “Exercises for the Professional Pianist”, it is an excellent tool for “keeping in shape”. The last thing that helped me was Tae Kwon Do, which I practiced for many years and taught me about mind control over body. Never think that it is too hard or impossible to play!

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

MC: – All kinds really. I think they are all valid and there are still so many possibilities… There is a book called “Chromatic Harmony” which I still study, as well as the Slonimsky Thesaurus of Scales.


JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you this 2017 year?

MC: – To be honest, in 2017 I was not able to listen to so many recordings or to go to live concerts since I was extremely busy finalizing the writing of my “Concerto for Jazz Trio & Orchestra”, since I had to practice and learn my Piano part!  Nevertheless, here are a few albums I did get to enjoy: Vijay Iyer, Miguel Zenon, Christian McBride, Billy Childs, Anat Cohen, and Eddie Pamieri.

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

MC: – There are so many special memories of concerts throughout the years with all my wonderful Trio, Sextet and Big Band sidemen, also playing in concerts with legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Jaco Pastorius, Tito Puente, Joe Lovano, Toots Thielemans, Michael Brecker or Paquito D’Rivera, among many others; or sharing a special evening with Oscar Peterson at the Seville Jazz Festival, jamming with Herbie Hancock in Japan, with Mongo Santamaria at the Blue Note, and Art Blakey in NYC, or with George Benson at the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Puerto Rico Jazz Festival, Dave Holland and Jack De Johnette in Sardinia, or meeting Dave Brubeck, John Lewis, McCoy Tyner, Horace Silver, Phil Woods, Kenny Barron, Thad Jones, Herbie Mann or Cedar Walton. Also, I consider highlights all the World Premieres of my Piano Concertos. Most recently my Third Piano Concerto “Concerto for Jazz Trio and Symphony Orchestra” which was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Leonard Slatkin in April 2017.  Also there have been exciting collaborations with the WDR Big Band, Luxembourg Jazz Orchestra and the Bulgarian Brass Association, the SFJAZZ “Tribute to Ernesto Lecuona” together with Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, the Vienna Volksoper Big Band, Duo pianos with Hiromi at Newport Jazz Festival and Tokyo Jazz Festival, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Danish Radio Big Band  in Copenhagen.

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?

MC: – For me every musician should try to create his/her “own voice”.  Work on developing their unique style, and always practice and strive to be a better player every day, this quest will never stop! To stay positive in this business you must believe in yourself, and as long as you feel that you are doing the best you can with your instrument then you are on the right track. Do not focus on what the business says or whatever…, focus instead on what you know makes you feel “True to Yourself” and follow your Dream no matter what! After all is “Your Dream” and not “theirs”…

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

MC: – For many people in the industry, Jazz has been and is already a business of music…  Sometimes is more “business” than “music”, so the challenge is to always keep positive by nurturing your sense of well-being and creativity.

JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?

MC: – Besides all my different Trios, Sextets and Big Bands, the Duo with my dear friend and wonderful Flamenco guitarist Tomatito. We have been performing together worldwide for the last 20 years and have 3 amazing award-winning recordings: SPAIN, SPAIN AGAIN and SPAIN FOREVER.  Since 2015 I also started doing Duo performances of Piano and AfroCuban percussion with the talented Cuban percusionist Eliel Lazo. And of course the special collaborations I have done several times with Pianist Hiromi, as well as with Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.

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

MC: – Not everything in jazz has to be a version of a standard tune. There are always new sounds and contemporary grooves which are very much attracting young people to jazz.  It is nice to see their reaction when they first get exposed to the passion and energy of an improvised jazz solo.

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

MC: – Music is a universal language which shares our life experiences and emotions with our audience. The difference between an Artist and a Musician is that the Musician just plays the notes, but an Artist is capable of communicating the message behind those notes. We spend a whole lifetime “fine tuning” our spirit, so we can aspire to be able to “touch” our audience’s souls and hearts with our music.

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

MC: – I am an optimist by nature, so for me the future is always bright! I am the kind of person that always sees the glass “as half-full”.

What worries me is today’s world nations political instability…

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

I wish music piracy would not exist. It’s amazing to me that our fans would just copy and bootleg an album after all the time, sacrifice and effort that we put in to be able to share with them our dreams.

What’s the next musical frontier for you?

I am always open to explore new things in music.  I want to keep myself challenged, fresh and interested in what I do in order to keep on growing.  A process of self-discovery that never stops!

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

MC: – Definitely. The first one that comes to mind is that jazz musicians do welcome and get inspired by musical influences from all cultures.

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

MC: – Yu Ja Wang and the music of Nikolai Kapustin.

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

MC: – To 1943, when Art Tatum was performing at the Three Deuces in New York’s 52ndStreet.  I would have loved to meet him and hear him Live!

JBN.S: – So far, I ask, please your question to me …

MC: – What is your favorite jazz Artist and style?

JBN.S: – Jazz Fusion. Joe Lovano, Ron Carter, Keith Jarrett, Bill Stewart, Randy Brecker and etc

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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