May 20, 2024

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Interview with Chelsea McBride: I would not be able to live without music in my life: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Chelsea McBride. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Chelsea McBride: – I grew up in Vancouver, BC – I’ve been around music since I was a kid. My dad, when I was born, was on the air with a local radio station and so I listened to everything that was cool in the 90s and before. I started playing piano really early, around the age of 3, and from there everything progressed pretty naturally – I had great teachers that encouraged me along the way and I started singing and eventually picked up woodwinds as well.

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?

CHM: – Honestly? Lisa Simpson, probably. But I also just thought the saxophone was different, and it sounded cool, and I didn’t want to be like everybody else, so I started on alto and eventually switched to baritone sax and then tenor to play whatever was needed in my high school jazz bands.

I’ve had a lot of excellent teachers along the way, but special mention goes to my late high school band teacher Jeremy Hepner, who encouraged me to double on other woodwinds and try whatever came along. Also to Mark Promane, the head of the woodwind department at Humber College, for believing in me and letting me experiment with writing for big band; to Mike Allen, my first saxophone teacher, who taught me how to be way more relaxed about the process of learning to play; and to Daniel Jamieson and David Occhipinti, who helped shaped my whole concept of composing and arranging. There’s no way I would make it as a musician if I had not had teachers along the way that were pushing me to be better than I was yesterday.

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

CHM: – A lot of long tones! I’ve listened to a lot of saxophone players, too, and tried to cultivate in my own sound the parts of others that I like, but I’m not trying to sound like anybody else. The luxury of being part of the jazz scene in this day and age is having the ability to pick and choose; I do that in my writing as well – take what I like, leave the rest. What ends up happening is that the composite of my choices becomes what I sound like, and the choices that I make wouldn’t have been anyone else’s.

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

CHM: – My practice routine mostly focuses on having the dexterity and speed to play new music that I encounter – I am busy playing a lot of different projects, so being able to internalize new music fast is a very important skill to me! I have been working through a few patterns, though, in different subdivision: permutations of the scale with a slowly increasing metronome (generally 80-200bpm), going through major triads in triplets or patterns based off the major triad in sixteenths. I’m planning to eventually work through more minor sounds, but the focus right now is definitely major scales and patterns.

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

CHM: – In my writing I’ve been exploring more melodic minor sounds. My ears tend towards major, very tonal sounding things, and I shift key centres a lot to change the colour of the piece (it’s very rare that I have a song in one key only the whole way through). So I’ve been exploring more maj7(#5) and diminished sounds, as they relate to the melodic minor scale, and how I can write them into other things I know.

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

CHM: – This one’s tough! I have a couple lesser-known favourites to mention: John Cheesman Jazz Orchestra’s “The Wooden Hill” is a Toronto recording of one of my favourite local big bands – and the fact that this record was completed at all (John had a severe stroke during the post-production process) is amazing. It’s a beautiful record, top to bottom, featuring many incredible local jazz musicians (including some of my former professors!). Also in local recordings, Ori Dagan’s “Nathaniel: A Tribute to Nat King Cole” is an incredible tribute to one of the greats – and it’s a visual album, so you can watch and listen! And a frequent member of my jazz trio, Chris Platt, released his debut album “Skyglow” with his trio just a few months back. A bonus mention on the large ensemble side, Jenna Cave’s Divergence Jazz Orchestra albums (while not 2017 releases) made their way to my door this year – I’m so inspired to hear of other women doing the big band thing internationally. It’s great to know I’m not alone!

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

CHM: – Not a specific story, but just something kind of beautiful and timely (considering I’m writing this just a few days after my birthday): I’ve spent…6 of the past 8 birthdays playing music, including three with the big band. And each time, the big band has surprised me with a cacophonous, hilarious version of Happy Birthday. The feeling that I get when that happens is the same feeling I had at the very end of two full days of recording; it’s beautiful. The room is full of love and good vibes and it’s just the warmest, most amazing thing.

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?

CHM: – You need to network. I personally always find this difficult – I can be extroverted at times, but at heart I’m an introvert, and awkward, and I struggle with my mental health. So the trick is that however you do it – make sure you and your art are out there, always. Make sure you’re doing something. It’s not always glamourous, and maybe you fake it until you make it, but staying out there and known and making sure you are top of mind wherever you can be will get you pretty far!

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

CHM: – Jazz is already a business – it has to be. We have a whole genre’s worth of international festivals with the money to choose who gets performances; there are publications dedicated to jazz, or partially so; radio shows, charts…a little bit of everything. And consequently what kind of jazz you are gets marketed and sold in different ways – my big band doesn’t sound like the big band of old, but it’s still big band or large ensemble jazz, and my small groups are “too” jazzy to be anything but. If we need to label art a certain way to sell it to make money, it’s already become a business of its own.

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

CHM: – I have had some excellent mentors through my life, but one person I should mention specifically is Daniel Jamieson. I’ve been working as his executive assistant for a long time – doing everything from proofreading and formatting written words and music and helping him produce the Toronto edition of the Coltrane Ballads concert, to studying arranging and composition with him. I’ve learned a lot about the business, about music, and writing, and tried to pick up whatever other wisdom that I can from him along the way. He’s definitely been a huge influence on my career so far.

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

CHM: – This feels like the wrong way to think about it. There are all kinds of modern creators putting their own spin on jazz – just look at the generation of musicians playing and working in New York. The standard tunes might be old but there is so much to dig into there, that still remains fresh and hip. And I really can’t stress enough that good art doesn’t need the label; it’s just there for convenience. There is a lot of good music out there that rides the line between jazz and rock and hip-hop and electronica and more, and that fusion and blending of genres is so key to the survival of the genre. There’s always going to be a place for Dixieland, and swing, and bebop – but there needs to be space for new music and new genres, too.

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

CHM: – That’s a big question! I’m not a particularly spiritual person. But I’ve known for a long time that my relationship with music provides me with some kind of solace or comfort completely separate from the rest of my life. I don’t know if I would call it my spirit, but it’s essential – I would not be able to live without music in my life.

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

CHM: – I just want to keep moving up. I have plans for more albums with all my projects – I’ve been planning mostly the Socialist Night School’s sophomore release, but I know there will be more along the way. As for what brings me fear or anxiety about that, though; every artist fears they won’t be good enough, or that they’ve peaked, and I have those thoughts probably twice a day at minimum. It’s now at the point where I can push through that, though – because I know that when I am creating, I have an incredible band and partner and family that will all support me, and that the only person I need to approve of my art…is me. The plan is just to keep creating, and everything else – everything else sorts itself out along the way.

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

CHM: – LIVING WAGE FOR ARTISTS. That’s all.

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

CHM: – That – I don’t know. I still feel like we just made the last record, and we’re just preparing the next one – I don’t know what’s going to come after until we’re much closer to the end of the production process. And even then, it’s usually a surprise to me.

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

CHM: – There’s a lot of room to cross over. Folk music from around the world incorporates sonorities and rhythmic concepts you might not encounter outside of jazz (or in it), and world music is just a very broad catch-all label for “music you aren’t familiar with if you didn’t grow up there”. There are similarities across a lot of genres; we use similar systems for harmonic motion, for rhythm, for tone and pitch. And even in trying to reconcile disparate genres, there’s room to find a common thread. Really, the beauty of the language of music is that we can find that common thread…no matter where the sounds come from.

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

CHM: – I’ve been catching up on my Ben Folds and Laura Marling (two artists I’ve been meaning to dig into for a long time) checking out some more Canadian large ensembles: Beth McKenna, the Liberte Big Band, Fat Kid Big Band, and the Sonuskapos Jazz Orchestra. All emerging artists, all fantastic – all with Canadian ties (mostly Toronto and Montreal).

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

CHM: – Saxophones (all but soprano): Otto Link 7* mouthpiece, 3.5-4 Rico reeds, Rovner ligatures. I play a Reference 54 alto, a P Mauriat Le Bravo tenor, and a Yamaha 62 baritone saxophone. My soprano is just a stock mouthpiece, 4 Rico reeds, and a cheap horn I got online. Nothing fancy.

I also play a Pearl piccolo, an Armstrong flute, a Vandoren mouthpiece on clarinet and bass clarinet with 4 reeds on the Artley clarinet and a 3.5 Legere reed on bass clarinet.

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

CHM: – I would go hang out with Coltrane, and talk about that spirit question. I feel like that would be the most enlightening thing.

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

CHM: – What do you think jazz should sound like? What’s your concept of the future of jazz? 🙂

JBN.S: – My personal concern is that we have crucially given up some of our precious values and diluted the essence, the African-American element, in the process. The tradition of jazz music, the very substance of it, is an incredibly rich and multi-layered weave of musical elements, highly sophisticated techniques and expressive devices that embodies a rare cultural treasure in the history of humankind. Jazz musicians have in time developed a highly advanced and unique language of improvisational communication, a tradition that does not exist in any other musical style.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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