June 22, 2024

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Interview with Walt Weiskopf: I have come to understand music as a gift in my life: Video

Jazz Interview with jazz saxophonist Walt Weiskopf. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Walt Weiskopf: – I grew up outside Syracuse New York.  I had a false start on piano at age 5; my father is an excellent pianist and he wanted me to play. Unfortunately I was too immature to value the gift being offered and I didn’t take to it. This is still my biggest regret in music; but I guess everything happens for a reason. I played clarinet beginning in the 4th grade in the school music program which was a great opportunity. I advanced quickly and enjoyed it very much. I remember how proud I felt at our first concert; it was a life-changer for me.

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

After playing clarinet for a few years in grades 4-6; I really wanted to play saxophone. I was very interested in jazz; though I had a minimal understanding of what jazz was. At home, my father played a lot – beautiful classical music and some show tunes but he had no experience or interest in jazz so I was left to explore it on my own. My parents finally bought me a VITO alto saxophone when I was in the 8th grade and I was able to join the jazz band in school which I loved.

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

A good question for which I don’t really have a good answer. My own theory is that sound is very difficult thing to teach. I am lucky in that I had very good teachers and I had a pretty natural sound. But – I was taught some excellent exercises to maximize sound and tone quality by various teachers and colleagues. I have codified some of these; mostly overtone based long-tones and a great sub-tone exercise Lew Tabackin showed me years ago (based on Stravinsky’s “Firebird” motive).

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

Rhythmically: I practice a lot with a metronome (great one online at metronomeonline.com). The best is to practice with the beat on 2 and 4 at various tempos. Harmonically: I practice tunes in 12 keys on a regular basis. Example – choose a bebop oriented head like Donna Lee or Confirmation and learn the head in all 12 keys in addition to practicing improvising over the form.

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

I write a fair amount of original music and tend to gravitate toward my own material which is sometimes modal, sometimes conventional harmony and often a combination of both.

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <European Quartet>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

The WW EuroQuartet recording was a pleasure because of the chemistry between myself and the rhythm section (Carl Winther, Daniel Franck and Anders Mogensen) and the rare opportunity (for me at least) to record at the immediate conclusion of a tour. We had a great time playing together and were able to capture the “live” feeling in the studio. We are about to begin a two-week tour to celebrate the release of the recording and add new material as well.

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

I really like Mammal Hands “Shadow Work” and Christian Scott’s “Diaspora”. Have to also steer jazz fans to Posi-tone for whom I’ve recorded my last 4; “Fountain of Youth” was released in 2017 as well as a great one I’m on; Behn Gillece’s “Walk of Fire”.

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

Gig; with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at the Blue Note in Tokyo when Chaka Khan sat in with the band and I got to play a blues with her! Jam; In Paris maybe 20 years ago in the late afternoon at Le Petit Opportune with Renee Rosnes, Dave Liebman, John Abercrombie and Jack DeJohnette; Studio; working on Donald Fagen’s “Morph The Cat” – Lawrence Feldman showed up on the 2nd day with duct tape over his mouth because he felt he had talked too much the day before.

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?

Master your chosen instrument as best you can; write your own music; arrange covers you love and can make your own; and be a great sideman when given the opportunity (this means not talking too much and showing up on time with a smile on your face and a great attitude!)

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

Jazz is an artform, inherently subjective and difficult to categorize which makes it hard to operate as a business. The best way to approach the business aspect of jazz is to represent yourself in the best possible light; be responsive to communication, play at every opportunity as though it could be your last.

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

Having had the opportunity to work with many great musicians; I have had great collaborations with Renee Rosnes (we co-wrote a tune years ago), Andy Fusco (just wrote/arranged 9 of 10 tunes on a new CD for Andy on Steeplechase coming out in 2019) as well as my brother Joel with whom I’ve been collaborating musically since we were children. I also had a great experience co-authoring two books (“Giant Steps: A Player’s Guide to Coltrane’s Harmony” and “The Augmented Scale in Jazz”) with my former teacher and mentor Ray Ricker.

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

The same question could be asked of a literature student (why would a student of writing be interested in classics which are over a hundred years old – often hundreds of years old). A student of the arts comes to understand that in order to create in his chosen discipline, it’s essential to understand what happened historically and why certain books are still relevant and entertaining today, even though they were written (and often because they were written) so long ago. The best “standard” tunes and the best “jazz standards” hold up so well over time because they are great tunes with sound harmony and melody.

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

I have come to understand music as a gift in my life. In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine a life without it. I am more grateful for this gift as each year passes. Music is my “religion”. It is my way of communicating to others in a way that is only possible through music.

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

My expectations are to maintain to the best of my ability the level of my craft and continue to practice and write music in my genre. I am so fortunate to be able to focus on these things, I feel it is my obligation to play at the highest possible level.

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

I would change the accessibility of free music. The amazing resource of the internet has unfortunately turned the recording industry upside down to the point where recording jazz (and other genres with smaller but loyal audiences) is purely a labor of love.

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

To gain more visibility as a bandleader and solo artist.

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

The similarities are these genres have smaller audiences and therefore more narrowly supported and subsidized.

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

Mostly the news!

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

Otto Link metal 5*(star) with a D’addario (formerly Rico) Jazz Select 3S (soft).

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

I would love to go back in time to centuries past in America and Europe.

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

What brought me to your attention? Thank you very much for the opportunity and please stay in touch.

JBN.S: – Your new CD: <European Quartet> which I have. You are welcome …

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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