Jazz interview with jazz guitarist George Cotsirilos. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
George Cotsirilos: – I grew up in Chicago and became interested in music as a child when an aunt provided me with exposure to classical music. I became enthralled to the point where I would spend long hours listening to as many classical records as I could get my hands on. A few years later, while I was still quite young, the same aunt played some jazz records for me, and I became equally enthralled by them. Thereafter, an uncle, who had played with Woody Herman’s band in his youth, became aware of my interest and he took me to see some great jazz artists, including Louis Armstrong. By that point, my interest in music was set.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the guitar? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the guitar?
GC: – Throughout my childhood I tried to study several instruments, starting with the violin, then, for a brief time, the drums, followed by a period with the piano. In each case, something intervened to keep me from really following through, until I started hearing blues guitar. I had always liked the instrument, but at this point I began to see it as one which could “sing” like a vocalist, the way a violin can, but which also could voice chords like a piano. That combination was, and remains, very attractive to me. I began experimenting until I could make some of the sounds on the guitar that I was hearing on records and in my head, something which I had not been able to do on the violin. Consequently, I kept at it and increased my practicing until I taught myself to play blues guitar by listening (very) repeatedly to the great players like B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert King, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and earlier ones like Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, and Bukka White. My interest in jazz resurfaced, I was listening to jazz constantly and I sought the knowledge I needed to play this more intricate music. An acquaintance referred me to Warren Nunes, a great San Francisco Bay Area jazz musician and educator with whom I studied for several years. He provided me with a course of study from which I could gain immediate benefit by way of creating the sounds I wanted to hear, something which was critical to my learning style. During the same years I studied classical guitar for a year or two with a teacher, Malcolm Johnstone, with whom I was connected by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. My studies with Warren, and later Malcolm, provided me with a foundation that allowed me to continue to study further on my own, which I continue to do.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
GC: – My sound is the product of trial and (a lot of) error. For a time I wanted to sound like this or that player I admired and it took years to find something personal that combined the various sonic elements I wanted to hear. While I still listen to a lot of different great players and am influenced by them, I don’t try to imitate them.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
GC: – I practice every day and include exercises for manual dexterity and endurance, if possible, spending time on both the classical and electric jazz guitar. This it to try and keep my hands and ears in shape. I use a metronome to help impose rhythmic discipline. I also try to learn additional pieces while maintaining what I have recently learned. Often, I try to incorporate new ideas and techniques into my playing by way of practice, a slow arduous process. It also helps me to just play a certain amount, to stay in touch with why I am doing this in the first place. Sometimes priority has to be given to getting ready for an upcoming engagement, including applicable repertoire.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
GC: – I prefer harmonies and harmonic patterns that are interesting, but viscerally appealing on some level, carrying with them a beauty that is moving, as opposed to operating on a strictly cerebral level. Modernity and innovation are great goals, but, not in a vacuum. in my view, they can be hollow if the end result is not moving in some way.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <Mostly in Blue>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
GC: – I like the players and the competent spontaneity they bring to Mostly In Blue (it is jazz played like jazz is performed live, and not the product of a tracking process). I also like what the musicians brought to my compositions and the fact that the result is a coherent, distinct whole. By that I mean that, in my view, the CD and the quartet have a sound. To illustrate the point, I recorded a solo acoustic piece that I considered adding to the CD, but, to me, the sound of the group was harmonious and distinctive enough where dropping a solo piece on classical guitar into this CD was jarring to the mood of the record. That told me that, on the CD, I was hearing a distinctive sound that I had been going for and that I did not want to adulterate.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you 2017 year?
GC: – I honestly don’t know. I listen to new things when exposed to them or when they are done by artists I like, but I also spend a lot of time listening to music recorded previously, often by the greats, in which I am always hearing new things. I also am not much for rating music.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
GC: – I have a lot of fond memories (and some not so fond) but none that immediately jump to mind as worthy of singling out as being of particular interest to readers.
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?
GC: – I cannot presume to give advice on the music business, really. I think I could use some myself. Probably the best thing is to keep trying to get better.,
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
GC: – I don’t know if it can be business, but I think jazz just needs exposure. If people get exposed to good jazz, especially live jazz, it will move them.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
GC: – Playing with the late great drummer Eddie Marshall led to a lot of growth for me. Learning to handle the trio format, which is particularly difficult for guitarists to do properly, has been important.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
GC: – First, while they are great, there is more to jazz than just the standard tunes. People are coming up with original tunes all the time – my new CD is mostly original tunes. Second, the great standards are standards largely because they are beautiful. If young people hear them played beautifully, in a variety of ways, I have no doubt that they will love them. For good reason, humanity has not tired of Bach and Mozart and there is no reason why it should tire of classic jazz tunes.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
GC: – I don’t profess to understand the spirit and meaning of life, but I am working on it.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
GC: – While I live in an area of it that is a relative oasis, my country is at a depressing low point. Racism, xenophobia and ubiquitous demagoguery are sources of fear and anxiety.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
GC: – I would like to see many more real jazz clubs, particularly in the areas that lack them, like the San Francisco Bay Area.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
GC: – The frontier of jazz music is broad and provides endless possibilities so if I just keep trying to improve, the next thing for me to work on will likely present itself.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
GC: – Yes. One could argue that jazz is a form of folk music and it will continue to absorb world-wide influences.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
GC: – I listen to a steady diet of the jazz greats—-Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, the list goes on an on, hearing new things in their music all the time; however, I also listen to any new music that comes to my attention, including the steady stream of relatively new good players.
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
GC: – The amp depends on the venue, but, I generally use older Fender amps. The guitar on Mostly In Blue is a Gibson L-5.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
GC: – I wouldn’t mind spending some more time with some friends and loved ones who are no longer around and hearing some great musicians who are no longer with us.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
GC: – Where are you located?
JBN.S: – Editorial offices in Boston – MA – USA, Paris – France and in Yerevan – Armenia, the website is read all over the world. It has 33,409 followers and it is every day visited by more than 57,000 readers by visitor counter Google Analitics!!!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan