May 20, 2024

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Interview with Mario Cruz: If it’s music just for intellect’s sake, it can become gratuitous: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Mario Cruz. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Mario Cruz: – I was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas.  My mother loved music, played violin and piano (self-taught) and always had music playing in the house when I was a kid.   Incidentally, Fort Worth was also the hometown of Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman, Julius Hemphill, John Carter and King Curtis, among many others…something in the water!

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 the saxophone?

MC: – I played clarinet in school bands from elementary through high school.  I picked up the alto sax as a senior in high school jazz band because we were short-handed.  Before that I was playing guitar in jazz band.  Honestly, I’ve found or learned something from every teacher, musician and even student I’ve ever worked with.

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

MC: – Hopefully my sound is still evolving, and I’m sure every other saxophone player on the planet feels the same about their particular sound. Initially, I think players are drawn to another musician’s sound that is most like what THEY want to sound like. Then that player finds their inner-voice…at least for the time being. I also think a musician gravitates toward a “sound” concept that facilitates the music genre they are trying to execute.

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

MC: – Sometimes practicing becomes more “maintenance-oriented” than “discovery-oriented”, depending on the gig calendar!  And there are certainly times when the body and brain need a break.  But even when I don’t necessarily “feel like it”, I try to play a little every day, mostly working on mechanics or finger dexterity that wasn’t making it on the last gig!  Many times that opens up unique personal exercises that help develop my many deficiencies.

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

MC: – I have no preferences for any harmonies or harmonic patterns…you want to be able to execute ANY and ALL harmonic devices anytime at will, right?  Easier said than done.  I tell all my students “You will NEVER learn all there is to learn in music, so you better get started now!”


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

MC: – Forgive me, that is an impossible question for me to answer; I don’t judge great art. Let’s just say I heard a lot of great music last year!

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

MC: – Very deep philosophical question! I hope music is ultimately an examination of one’s soul or feelings.  Illuminating what the soul desires, in a musical form, can be very complex depending on the nuance of emotion the composer (or improviser) is trying to portray.  Sometimes an intellectual or educated musical approach can make the emotion of the music more exact or personal.  And then again, if it’s music just for intellect’s sake, it can become gratuitous.

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

MC: – Too many good memories to share; the bad memories I’ll keep to myself!

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: – Learn and take on as much of the music “business” as you can: promotion, licensing, publishing, royalties and mechanical rights.  At the very least, try to surround yourself with people in the music business that actually know something about music and business.  Social media and the internet have certainly made it a lot easier reach a lot of followers and fans than when I was young!

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

MC: – I thought Jazz was already a business! Anything that sells a commodity could be considered a business, and Jazz is a part of music and music is a business…it just may be more lucrative to some musicians than others.  But I imagine that Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Randy Brecker, John Scofieid, Joshua Redman, Chris Potter and countless others do pretty well!

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

MC: – By “collaboration”I, do you mean working with other artists or musicians on a project? I tend to “fly solo”, meaning that I don’t work with other people at the origin or development of a project…I generally have a good idea of how I want my music to sound.  After that period, I trust the instincts of the players I choose to “tell the story their way”.  So in a sense, that’s collaboration.  If you’re referring to other groups I’ve played with, I consider that more of a contribution rather than a collaboration.

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

MC: – Judging from the number of amazing young musicians at the collegiate level and the “NEW BREED” of musicians, I think plenty of young people are interested.  They’re just playing jazz from a different point of view. And many current and popular jazz records are definitely either original tunes or based on popular music that’s not that old!

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

MC: – Whoa, very heavy! Because I’m not perfect, I get in the way of myself all the time, however, when I can get my mind in a quiet place, I try to reconcile the spirit and the meaning of life as learning love yourself so you can better love others.  Letting that which truly matters become more important than the entrapments of ego.  Music is something I do, but it’s the only thing I do.

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

MC: – I try not to have too many expectations,  I just try to plan for a future that hopefully will provide security and comfort for me and the people I care about. What “gives me fear or anxiety” is that our country is becoming more close-minded about accepting, or at least, trying to listen to and understand different points of view.  The importance of compromise is becoming secondary to rash judgment, hatred and divisive rhetoric.

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

MC: – I wouldn’t change anything about the music world or any other art for that matter. Certainly I have my own opinions but the world of art and artists might be the last bastion of the total freedom of expression.

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

MC: – Don’t know.  It’s a wide open frontier out there and sometimes the planets line up in a particular way that makes the next direction obvious.  You just have to be open in mind and spirit and ready to go in that direction.

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

MC: – It’s all just music, right?  The categories we put on different genres may point the listener to a particular “comfort-zone”, but I feel that sort of segregation deprives that listener of other unique experiences.  Music reinforces feelings but it can also stimulate intellectual thought and transcendence to a different world.

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

MC: – Everything … and that includes people engaging, noise in the streets … you know, the world “doing it’s thing”!

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

MC: – On tenor: Keilwerth “Vintage” sax, Matt Marantz Slant Legacy hard rubber mouthpiece and Rigotti 3.5 “Jazz” and “Queen” reeds.

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

MC: – I’d like to go anywhere 40 years ago…only I’d have a better idea of what I would want to do and would have worked harder!  But it doesn’t work that way does it?  So, I’ll just have to make the most of what I can do now!

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


JBN.S: – Thanks very much for answers. When we found out that you released a new CD: Finding Common Ground, and listened to it.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Фото Mario Cruz.

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