May 27, 2024

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Interview with Ivo Neame: Performing in front of an audience requires a different side of a musician’s personality: New video 2018

Jazz interview with jazz pianist, saxophonist and composer Ivo Neame. An interview by email in writing. 

This little fool allowed himself in Facebook any slander written to my address and after that he just deleted its and do not ask for an apology. We continue the investigative investigation of this musician, there will be responses. In the meantime, as we promised, on our turn we publish interviews.

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

Ivo Neame: – I grew up in a tiny village called Selling in the vicinity of Canterbury in Kent. My Dad always had a strong interest in music and used to play organ in the local church – I suppose this rubbed off on me and then I got very interested in the drums.

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?

IN: – Well it started with the drums around age 5 or 6 mainly because I could make a lot of noise with that. I started learning other instruments too – recorder and piano. I remember I had a very strict music teacher at school when I was 7 years old. He used to chuck chairs at people if they weren’t focused during lessons. You probably wouldn’t get teachers like that today – but actually I learnt a lot from him because he really cared about music. Then of course there are many other teachers I’ve had over the years and the process of learning never stops. I had lessons from Martin Speake, Barak Schmool, Steve Buckley and Geoff Simkins – just a few of the jazz musicians I learnt from – all great musicians and all alto players. At the time I was studying alto sax at the Royal Academy of Music. With the piano I did a lot of work on my own transcribing solos from records and spending time with the music – I never had a dedicated “jazz teacher” for that instrument.

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

IN: – I still practise a lot – a lot of classical piano. I have occasional lessons with a great concert pianist called Wu Qian. I’m trying to incorporate techniques from many different genres of music. In terms of sound on the piano I try to use techniques from classical music because this music has the greatest dynamic variation and expressive possibilities. I’ve transcribed and memorised many solos by amazing jazz musicians like Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis the list goes on. Many piano players too of course – John Taylor, Django Bates. Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett. There’s too much great music out there!! I think it was Clark Terry who said “Imitate, Assimilate, Innovate”. If you feel like you can imitate faithfully and have assimilated the musical concepts of your favourite music, the next goal is to innovate. That journey generally leads me away from jazz to different styles of music – rhythmic concepts from African and Indian music, dynamic and compositional concepts from classical music. I’ve always had a penchant for vintage synths and guitar effects pedals, so I’m exploring sonic possibilities there.

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

IN: – I’m just totally obsessed with music so I just think about it a lot – rhythm in particular. I’ve written a lot of tunes just from tapping rhythms on buses and trains. A lot of people talk about practising away from your instrument. I do this a lot imagining drum kits and playing different patterns with all four limbs – I try to develop that independence. I don’t really do it in a routine way – I just make up exercises and try to nail them. I have a metronome on my phone called metronomics that can be really useful for alleviating boredom on long journeys.

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

IN: – Generally it will be a tune that has a certain melody/root movement relationship. Like Ambleside Days by John Taylor or some of Kenny Wheeler’s music. I don’t really have patterns that I prefer though – I try to have a much more free approach to harmony. I don’t like the way a lot of harmony is taught and the way people get too bogged down with specific scales over specific chords. A lot of the great jazz musicians didn’t think in that way and I think a lot of my development has been absorbing a lot of other people’s harmonic theories and then throwing them away. It’s very important to go through that process of understanding functional harmony of course – but when people improvise according to the rules they learnt in music college it sounds stiff and boring.  I remember doing a gig with Hermeto Pascoal and he was blowing on a II-V vamp. Ab-7 Db7 – something really basic like that. The first two minutes he didn’t play one note from the suggested chord scales that we are all taught. He’s Hermeto so he can do that and get away with it of course! I think it was Miles Davis called him “one of the most important musicians on the planet”.

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

IN: – There’s an ECM album called “Blue Maqams” by Anouar Brahem that sounds great. This features Django Bates, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. I have always been a fan of the oud and all of the musicians featured on this album. I also like an album called “ Never Group” by a Russian alto saxophonist resident in London called Zhenya Strigalev. The core band for this is Tim Lefebvre on bass and Eric Harland on drums. Zhenya is a very eccentric alto player and you never know what’s coming next – he has very strong roots in jazz but his music is a mish-mash of styles and approaches.

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

IN: – I suppose we are all drawn to music because it is one of the most powerful languages. It can express anything from emotions and thoughts to mathematical equations and systems. When one writes music it is an intellectual activity – it has to be considered in that way because of the demands that are made on the composer to have his music performed by other people. Performing in front of an audience requires a different side of a musician’s personality. Live performances are opportunities for the musician to express his or her innermost thoughts to an audience.

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

IN: – I recently had a gig with my quartet at a place called the Verdict Jazz Club in Brighton. Occasionally you play a standout gig where the music takes on a life of its own and some kind of alchemy occurs on stage. This is what I’m always after – but it doesn’t happen every night because the music is improvised and circumstances differ from night to night. I think there is something very special about playing in a small club to a really hungry crowd – it’s a fantastic feeling and those times make the struggle totally worthwhile!

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

IN: – The long term bands that I have been playing in – Phronesis and Marius Neset Quintet – have managed to achieve success and recognition internationally and I have recorded a large amount of music with these two bands. There is a lot of craft and musicianship involved in playing the type of music that we all write; having the opportunity to play a large number of gigs has really helped to hone this craftsmanship. For example, I have improved at playing in odd-time signatures and my command of the piano – it would be a bit weird if these things didn’t improve night after night! Recently I have been working with a fantastic sax player called Julian Arguelles and I have learnt a great deal playing with him over the last 5 years. He is a very experienced player and composer. In my view, the best way to improve as a musician is to play with people who are better than you!

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

IN: – The key is to push bands who are playing original music – all of the bands I play in play original music. I love playing standards but I don’t get to do that very regularly these days. I have played those standards for years and years and they are usually the foundation of most jazz musicians’ music. The difficulty is that the scene has now become very diverse – so there’s lots of stuff going on that I don’t know about. I did have an idea to do an album of contemporary tunes written by friends of mine. In the way that people do with standards or Wayne Shorter tunes. In fact it’s a really good idea because it helps the unity of the scene and gives listeners more of a reference – usually you go and see a gig and the musicians just play their own music. Such bloody egomaniacs!

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

IN: – Woah! That’s a deep one. The spirit is what’s inside someone’s brain I suppose. Everyone’s trying to develop their own voice and be heard and the artist’s voice is directly connected to the spirit. It’s the artist’s innermost thoughts and feelings. For me, the meaning of life is self-improvement and learning. Being a jazz musician forces you to do this and to confront this reality! If we don’t we expire and become irrelevant. I’m trying to learn from my mistakes and to improve personal relationships and become as close as possible with friends and family. It’s not always easy but this is the challenge that life offers.

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

IN: – I hope to play my music to as many people as possible around the globe! I hope to continue to build on the musical relationships that I’ve developed and to continue to record albums and tour internationally. I don’t particularly like getting old physically – I suppose there’s an answer to that and it’s a case of taking good care of yourself because our bodies weren’t designed to last forever! I worry about not taking exercise and becoming a fat bastard!

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

IN: – It would be that more respect is given to jazz and jazz musicians. It’s such an old refrain I know – “No-one understands us!” (sniff! sob!) “What we’re doing is so hard!” (moan moan) “We don’t get paid anything!” (grumble! grumble!). Some people are so much more unlucky than me so it feels churlish to complain about my lot in life because I’m very fortunate!

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

IN: – I would like to record a large ensemble album and a solo album. Two different ends of the spectrum. We recently did a big band album with Phronesis and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and I would love to have the opportunity to write for large ensemble. I recorded an octet album in 2012 called Yatra and I really enjoyed arranging the music and getting into all the counterpoint between the instruments which you can’t really do in the same way on piano. You can come close but it’s not quite the same. I haven’t recorded a solo piano album yet so it’s definitely time to do that. I’ve been practising a lot and doing solo gigs here and there and I feel ready to do it this year.

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

IN: – Some people call jazz America’s folk music – I like that description. A lot of jazz is in this awkward no-man’s land between high art and popular entertainment. In some artists’ hands it’s one of those things; in another the opposite. It’s part of the appeal I think – it’s such an open genre. Of course, that’s the problem with it because all kinds of music gets made and marketed as jazz but it basically doesn’t have anything to do with the roots of the music. In fact that might be what I would change about the music industry – that more things that are actually jazz get hyped and things that are not jazz but get marketed as jazz get called something else. We have yet to develop an effective taxonomic system for music!

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

IN: – I did a playlist for my record label a few weeks ago. It ranged from Paul Simon to New Order, Egberto Gismonti and Kenny Wheeler – I listen to all kinds of weird stuff!

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

IN: – I would like to go to the 50s and 60s to the golden age of jazz and see Miles play with the 2nd quintet and Coltrane with his quartet. That has to be some of the best music ever made. Then I would go to 2500 just to check that the human race has survived!

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

IN: – Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? How does your garden grow? I can only think of nursery rhymes now!!

JBN.S: – Of the big bad wolf must be afraid, because you are not a man and you can not let yourself be ask for an apology when you are wrong and my apple garden grow garden is growing fine!!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan


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