May 24, 2024

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Interview with Manu Guerrero: When the same music deeply touches the soul of both the musician and the non-musician: Video

Jazz interview with a bad musician, as if pianist Manu Guerrero. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Manu Guerrero: – I grew up in La Farlede in the south of France next to Toulon where I was born. It is a small Provencal village surrounded by the Mediterranean and the hills of Provence. My mother had a South American folk dancing group with dedicated musicians. They played guitar, pan flutes (zampona), Andean flutes (quena) and all the other traditional instruments of the Andes. Before playing the piano, meaning before I reached 6 years old, the musicians had taught me to play the Zampona (pan flute). Music and the world of musicians fascinated me already. On top of that, our home was filled with music, from French songs to Latin American music and salsa. Music was always present. But no jazz culture. That came later in high school.

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

MG: – Living nearby, I had a cousin of my age who played piano. My father would have liked to take up the piano when he was young, but his father was against it. So I guess that gave my parents the idea to offer me piano lessons when I was 6, without imagining that it would go so far! I started in music schools where I was not too bad, so naturally I gravitated towards the conservatory. There, it obviously became more difficult. I lost my motivation, I felt the system did not suit me. I was an average student, I did little work at home, and I was beginning to dread the upcoming piano class. I regularly wanted to stop music class but my parents always subtly encouraged me to try a little more, to wait until the next year before stopping. I did it to please them but without any motivation nor pleasure. And then one day, when I was 13-14, my cousins decided to set up a rock band and they were missing a bass player. So they asked me to play bass with a little synthesizer and gave me musical scores with tablature and I discovered the chord chart notation system. It just clicked for me. I thought it was great to be able to pick up a sound and write it quickly on a piece of paper. I started rocking with my cousins. We played Police, Toto, Nirvana and all that. Then, at the age of 16, a high school saxophonist friend offered to take me with him to jazz workshops. I was struck by lightning and fell in love with jazz. The teacher taught me the concept of II V I and the basic positions for chords. I was immediately fascinated by these concepts and became obsessive. I only thought about that. I listened to Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, whom I had just discovered, and soon McCoy Tyner. I made the decision to stop the classical conservatory and devote myself to Jazz. As for the teachers, the only regular one I had was from the conservatory, André Millecam. Although I was not a very good student, he gave me concepts and methods of work that I still use and that made sense years later, by working jazz. For example, to work on small passages at a time before moving forward in a piece, to work slowly, to work Bach by transforming sixteenth notes… I was pretty self-taught for jazz. I took manycourses and master classes, taking occasional jazz piano lessons with teachers I had chosen. I owe a lot of what I know to pianists such as Elie Portal, Steve Browman, Manuel Rocheman and Laurent Coq as well as guitarist Jean Philippe Sempere

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

MG: – When I started the piano I was not aware of the sound. Maybe because my piano did not have a good sound and was not well tuned. And then when I discovered jazz, it was a time (the ’90s) when keyboards and technology were very attractive, so I preferred to work on a digital piano. It was only a few years after that, when I was a professional musician, during a tour with a French singer, I played on beautiful grand pianos every night. I then realized that all these years playing on an electronic piano had made me forget the richness and complexity of sound of a real piano. I immediately bought an acoustic piano, started working on my sound and I naturally went back to work on my old scores from the conservatory. I found great pleasure in reworking Debussy, Chopin, Bach whom I had denigrated so much at a younger age. Advancing in this direction, I felt the need at that time to consult a physiotherapist for musicians and that’s when I understood the importance of the body in playing and creating the sound of the piano. I was not aware of it. It changed my life and gave amplitude, subtlety, projection to my sound. And of course, in addition, it solved many problems of fatigue and back pain.

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

MG: – I like to start with a Bach prelude, especially that in C minor, slowly. Ihave fun changing the rhythm, that is, making sixteenth notesswing, or grouping notes. Then I do the same with scales and modes. I make groups of 3 notes or 5 notes and I go up the scale by changing mode. Very quickly, I take a piece that I want to play in that moment or that I have to play for a gig or an upcoming concert and I apply these rules to the piece and the harmonic grid. Or I try to recall the last concert or rehearsal I did, pick out the moments where I did not feel comfortable, and I apply these rules by focusing on small passagesat a time. In fact, I like to improvise by setting a lot of rules and restrictions. It’s all very instinctive, I’m not well organized. I like to invent my exercises just before playing them, according to my needs of the moment.

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

MG: – There is none that I preferin particular. It depends on the moment, the mood. I love the “Coltrane changes” that I often use as a support for my exercises or the harmonies of Windows by Chick Corea or Dolphin Dance by Herbie Hancock. I also like to explore the harmonies of jazz standards like Bill Evans.


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

MG: – It is very difficult to choose the “best” albums as the criteria are very subjective and constantly changing. I loved the Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile album. What a duo! I find that there is a sense of tempo and an incredible rhythmic placement between them. I like the folk and blues accents of this record. Then there is Chris Potter’s album “The dreamer is the dream” that I loved. I also liked Guilhem Flouzat’s album, “A thing called Joe”. A really great trio. Sullivan Fortner, the pianist, was a true revelation for me.Those are the records that left a mark for me in 2017. I was however a little cut off from the internet and the rest of the world this year. I probably missed a lot of good things!

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

MG: – For me the right balance is when the same music deeply touches the soul of both the musician and the non-musician. It is when music becomes universal that the right balance is reached, in my opinion. Music that impactspeople from the music scene as well as the general public and all niches. There lies the good balance between intellect and soul. Thisistrue for most of the great composers and musicians.

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

MG: – I have fondmemories of a tour in China in 2013 with Natasha Rogers. We left for almost 3 weeks and played in incredible places! Major festivals, smaller jazz clubs, prestigious concert halls. I did not know that there was such infrastructure in China, and the public who just recently discovered jazz, is a seeker of this music and curious to hear more. It was a great change of scene and a fantastic experience.

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?

MG: – I don’t know if my advice is good… In any case I think one must be very organized and try to always write everything down. I try to devote a certain amount of time everyday for phone calls and emails. Not all day. And as much as possible, I delegate things to people who can help me such asclose friends orfamily, like for updating social media, writing news letters etc … I will add that you must be very patient, follow up on peopleoften and dividebig tasks in several smaller ones so you can move forward in both the business side of things and the music at the same time. This helps to avoid the impression of having no more time for the instrument or creation. That’s at least what I try to apply to my daily life.

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

MG: – Jazz is above all an art, a music, a way of life, a tradition. But in order to promote this art, obviously Jazz also needs to be a business, like everything that needs to be known. That’s why there are press agents, communication consultants, etc. I think it’s interesting and even necessary, that the business world promotes what an artist, a jazz artist in this case, creates in a completely honest and integral way. We need the business to be able to make an artist’s work known andto meet his public, especially on stage. Without the business side of things, all this remains confidential, unknown.

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

MG: – Without hesitation, those that led to the existence of my first album Nuevo Mundo. Having met Samy Thiebault, Minino Garay, Lukmil Perez and Felipe Cabrera as well as Vincent Mahey, the sound engineer and mixer, was a true gift. Sharing the music with them, giving them the first scores of my compositions and listening to how it sounds, how they interpreted it, how they felt it, was incredible to me. The recording was an unforgettable memory. Listening to the initial recordings, commenting, thinking together, trying different things… it was allvery enriching and moving. It was one of the most important experiences of my musical life.

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

MG: – I think the most important thing is to take children, young people, to concerts as often as possible. A young person is not obliged to discover jazz through standards. The current jazz is so abundant, mixed, varied that there is something for all tastes. There is a very good chance that a young person will discover Jazz through Tigran Hamasyan, Snarky Puppy, Aaron Parks or Danilo Perez without ever perceiving the notion of jazz standards. It is by pulling the strings that the young listener will gradually discover who has influenced these people he just listened to and he will quickly discover the long history of jazz, the great masters who have influenced other great masters, the standards that served as a basis for improvisation. I do not think the fact that jazz standards are more than half a century prevents a child or a teenager from being interested in jazz. Jazz must be taught to young people as a philosophy, a spirit of great freedom, respect for others, a way of improvising and above all an incredibly fun playground, something cool. The desire to know the history of this art will come naturally.

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

MG: – It is the prospect of death that can occur at any time, that gives meaning to life. Life is a privilege, a feat. The soul of a musician is certainly in his music and the music never dies …

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

MG: – I do not expect anything from the future. And to think about it scares me and causes quite a bit of anxiety.

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

MG: – It is not in the world of music that I would like to change something, but rather in the world in general. I would like the teaching of music and jazz to be more prevalent among young people as a building block of their personality. And I would like, in fact, that our future leaders, entrepreneurs or presidents be musicians, amateur jazzmen!

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

MG: – My next challenge is to play live solo piano. I have already been performing as front act for a popular French singer for some time now and I play solo piano in front of a large audience. It is not easy for me but I love it. I had to prepare a lot in a short span of time because I had never done that in public and I was offered this tour, last minute. It was a big challenge to take on! I’ve listened to a lot of solo albums like Chucho Valdes, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau and many others. I like this formula and I would really like to be able to play a whole concert one day and not just those 30 min!

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

MG: – Of course, just as there are big differences. There is a great musical richness common to these three musical genres on the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and composition levels. That’s why they marry. Of course, each have their own codes, but it’s amazing to see how it works so well when they are mixed and it’s because they share a profound sense of melodic beauty, poetry andsometimes, melancholy. There are also similarities in values ​​like freedom, peace, tolerance and sharing. These three worlds are appreciative of each other, they rub shoulders and necessarily mix well.

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

MG: – I love Fred Hersch’s solo piano album that was just released. And also Danilo Perez, Brian Blade and John Patitucci’s “Children of the Light”, Danilo Perez’ “Providencia” and “Panama 500 “, Kenny Werner’s” The Melody “, Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, Pierre de Bethmann’s “Test vol 1 & 2 “, Chris Potter’s “The dreamer is the dream”. I also have been listening to a lot of old records lately, like Thelonious Monk’s “Dangerous Bonds” or “Monk’s dream”, Bill Evans’ “Another time” or “Some other time”  and Bud Powell’s “Live in Lausanne”.

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

MG: – Without falling into nostalgia and regrets, I think I’d like to go back to the ’90s, when I discovered jazz. I would like to study this music night and day, meet my heroes in New York, meet Brad Mehldau, study with Kenny Kirkland, Danilo Perez, Herbie Hancock or Kenny Werner. Live the energy of jazz music in NY at that time. But my journey was totally different from that and that’s what makes me who I am today. So I do not regret anything … unless you prove the existence of such a machine …!

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

MG: – First, thank you Simon for the invitation to answer your questions. The question I would like to ask you is this: What concert have you watched that has struck you the most?

JBN.S: – Thanks very much for answers. Many: Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke duo, Phil Wood concerts in Boston, Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Brian Blade concert in Istanbul, Herbie Hencock, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Richard Bona live concerts in Yerevan, Tomasz Stanko quartet in London, Joe Lovano Classic quartet, Jack Dejohnette quintet in Tbilisi … etc. The concert that most made me feel great was Esperanza Spalding band in Istanbul: International Jazz festival 2011. Most of all I was amazed that as make the program of the concert, that in the end it’s impossible to stand still.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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