Jazz interview with jazz pianist, organist Matthias Bublath. An interview by email in writing. Matthias Bublath is a composer, pianist, organist, and keyboardist based in Munich, Germany.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Matthias Bublath: – I grew up in munich, Germany. Listening to my parents record collection got me interested in music. I was mainly interested in blues and boogie woogie piano at the time. A live recording by pianist/singer Blind John Davis was my first influence I would say. Later I was very much into Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Ray Charles and Dr. John. People like Ramsey Lewis and Oscar Peterson turned me towards 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?
MB: – We had a piano at the house and i started playing by ear at an very early age. None of my family members played, so I had to figure it out by myself. My father is a scientist, so he liked the mechanical parts of the piano (that’s the reason why we ad an old piano) I formed a band with some friends when i was about 14 years old. Playing gigs with local bands and older, more experienced musicians helped me a lot to get better. I didn’t really have a teacher until much later when I was studying music at the conservatory in Linz, Berklee College and Manhattan School of Music. Joanne Brackeen helped me in terms of harmony and made me transcribe a whole lot of jazzsolos (which I hadn’t done at the time. )Jeff Palmer was the first one who introduced me to the hammond b3 organ. I played organ before, but not really with the footpedals, both manuals and so on… I also had the opportunity to study with jazz legend Kenny Barron. Just to watch him, and play with him was a great experience!
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
MB: – It took a lot of time. Mainly listening to music, playing along with records or just sitting at the piano for hours trying different things. Playing with other musicians was the most important thing for me: when I was living in boston and nyc, i always lived with musician roommates. We had jam sessions at our house almost everyday – besides playing gigs at night. That’s how I met tons of new musicians from different countries with different influences from all over the world. That’s also when I really started writing music, because we could try a lot of things in a band setting.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
MB: – I like playing classical music on piano, to keep and improve my technical ability and to get new ideas. I also like to write my own etudes, which usually end up being so hard, that I can’t play them myself! On organ it took a while to get the independence between the 2 hands going in order to be able to play basslines and solo simultaneously. Of course learning the footpedals took some time as well. By playing organ I really learned how to lock, react and interact with drummers: there were so many great ones among my peers while I was studying at berklee. I don’t think I would have learned that by not picking up the organ. Lately I started playing different instruments like drums, electric bass, guitar and harmonica. (Although I used to play gigs on Bluesharp back in my teens – I just got a chromatic harmonica which is very difficult to learn but a lot of fun! I also record myself, and try to do the “one man band” thing. Rhythmically I used to practice a lot of odd meters. Maybe I should do it again in the future…The most important thing to me is the groove and feel of the music. I love to listen and play groove oriented music especially funk.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
MB: – Hard to say, when writing a song there are just so many possibilities harmonically. I always have many solutions and it’s hard to choose one. We studied very advanced harmony back in college with Dave Liebman and Phil Markowitz. Everybody in the class (including myself) ended up writing super complicated music with extended forms, 12tone harmony, polychords, counterpoint and so on – just the craziest things you can imagine! It was a great experience, and we definitely learned a lot – but sometimes the simple stuff is emotionally more appealing to me. Maybe it’s the combination of simple and complicated – tension and release. I can say that I love 2-5-1 progressions – although it’s not considered the hippest thing these days.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
MB: – I don’t really listen to complete albums anymore. I mostly go to concerts or look for stuff on youtube. I like what Jason Lindner and Cory Henry are doing. Also Joey DeFrancesco (I had the pleasure to open up for him once..) There’s just so much great music out!
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
MB: – For me the feel and groove are the most important things in music. After that comes everything else. (like putting complex harmonies on top for example) That’s why I love blues and root music so much. But I also like the intellectual side. For me it really depends what mood I am in. Sometimes i really want to listen to BB King and maybe to Schönberg the next day..
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
MB: – I especially remember the jam session run by organist Seleno Clarke at the American Legion Club up in harlem on 132nd street every Sunday night. That was the real deal! I met so many great musicians there. Unfortunately Seleno passed last december which made me very sad. We will miss him.
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?
MB: – There’s maybe one thing I could say: We put all our energy in the music by playing, practicing, transcribing, recording – just anything to get better, play more gigs and finally to be successful and make a good living. So there’s a lot of stress. It’s important not to forget to do other things besides music to keep a healthy balance. I like to read, ski or do other sports to get my head free and think about something else. Also learning other things might help improving your musicianship – I started studying musical science and languages at the university which gives me a total different perspective. Musically speaking we shouldn’t worry too much about the music business. (especially since there have been so extreme changes) I have worked with a few artists back in the day, who were trying to optimize their music as a product – just like some kind of shampoo you are trying to sell tailored for customers. Of course we all want to sell our music, but musically it has to come from your heart. If you do what you believe in and stay true to yourself hopefully things will work out.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
MB: – I think it’s most important to get new audiences interested to jazz or improvised music. Bands like snarky puppy or vulfpeck are doing the right thing, by spreading their music through the internet and not to solely depend on labels or managers.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
MB: – I have a bigband project with my original tunes, which I’m very excited about. For me it’s a dream coming true, since I always wanted to arrange my music for bigband. The band is called “Eight Cylinder Bigband” (like my 2014 Album) we played our debut gig in December and there will be more coming this spring, maybe an album. Infos will be on my website.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
MB: – One thing is taking new influences to the music. So many musicians are doing it already. Look at Robert Glasper, who’s melting hiphop with jazz – just for an example. There are so much more possibilities in jazz besides playing standards. Although I love playing standards! The other thing is, that there need to be much more interesting, hipper venues where young people actually like to go. Munich for example has just one jazzclub – which is not a lot for a city that size. I have some sax player friends who do shows with DJ’s for really big crowds. That concept could work also with the right kind of band. I see a lot of young people at my gigs and many of them are not jazz students…so there’s a desire, it’s a matter of marketing: getting more exposure in the media (and not only in jazz magazines cause the readers are already jazzfans) among other things.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
MB: – Music is a very deep way of communication. Our ear is a much more sensitive organ then our eyes for example. So people are moved emotionally very strongly by music. As musicians we can express our feelings directly through music. So if we live – with all the happy and sad parts, the up and downs – we can play about it. Like a writer for example who tells stories, musicians tell stories. I think we should be very happy as musicians to have that kind of a gift.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
MB: – I want to keep working with my projects and be able to play the music I’m excited about. If that’s the case, there’s nothing else I can ask for.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
MB: – There should be much more possibilities for musicians to perform live. Classical music is subsidized here Germany, it would help if there would be more support for jazz and improvised music.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
MB: – I played a few solo concerts last year and it was a lot of fun! To be out on stage just by myself was and always is a new challenge for me. I’ve been working on solo piano concepts all my live now and finally I’m bringing it to the stage. There are also thought’s about an album. So, my goals for 2018 are the bigband and the solo piano thing, which is kind of funny: the largest and smallest instrumentation you can think of!
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
MB: – In my opinion you can combine jazz with almost anything. I love almost all kinds of music as long as it’s “good”. Sometimes I have the feeling, that things are combined just for the sake of creating something new: If it’s forced and unnatural, or mainly done for business reasons – then I’m not too crazy about it.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
MB: – All kinds of music. I love Latin music, Funk, blues, Soul, R & B, Gospel, Brazilian music and of course classical music. It doesn’t has to be with piano or keys. For some reasons I’ve been influenced by electric bassplayers a lot. Maybe it’s because I’m left handed and think up from the low end of the piano. I still love transcribing solos and tunes, just to see how things work and to keep learning..If you want some names from last month: Michel Petrucciani, Avishai Cohen (the bassplayer), PJ Morten, Elis Regina, Cesar Mariano, Ivan Lins, Tipica 73 (I used to study with their pianist Sonny Bravo), Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Djavan, Jason Lindner, Tim Levebvre..
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
MB: – I have a lot of different setups for different kind of gigs. These days i mainly play hammond organ, fender rhodes, wurlitzer and acoustic piano. I own all the vintage instruments and they are setup in my studio ready for recording. (I often record tracks for various artists right in my studio!) I try to use the “real” instruments them live as much as I can – but It’s sometimes difficult especially with the hammond as you can imagine. I’m getting more into synthesizers lately as well, combining analog synths with my other keyboards. I also love playing left hand bass, so I’ve been trying lot’s of setups for the past 10 years or so. I didn’t find the perfect one yet, it’s often a combination of organ bass pedals and my moog or Korg MS10 run through a big bassamp…Sometimes I end up also bringing my electric bass.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
MB: – New york city in the 1950’s and 60’s would be something. It would be great to watch all the music which was going on at the time. How many jazz clubs did they have back then? Although I don’t regret to be born in our time, with all the possibilities and influences in the music which we have today!
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself …
MB: – Who is your favorite hammond organ player and which are you favorite organ records? The question might be superficial but I’m just interested how people feel about the organ in jazz …
JBN.S: – Jimmy Smith, Brian Charette, Joey DeFrancesco, with you I only acquaintance, which I already heard, great. A favorite organ records: Jimmy Smith – The Cat, Cherokee, Lonesome Road, The Sermon!, Bashin, Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo … In jazz without an organ one can not imagine !!!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan