Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Nicolas Masson. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Nicolas Masson: – I grew up in Geneva, Switzerland. I’m the only musician in the family but the arts were always supported and appreciated. My mother loved music and always put music on, whenever we were at home or in the car. I suppose hearing Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan all the time made me sensitive to music early on.
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?
NM: – I first started playing guitar when I was about 8 years old. Later on, I fell in love with the saxophone, at around age 14. The sound of the saxophone attracted me first and then the physical sensation of producing sounds by breathing in an instrument got me hooked, it also immediately felt much more natural to me to blow in a mouthpiece than strumming on strings. I’ve had several saxophone teachers but the ones I think about almost daily for what they taught me are Frank Lowe, Makanda McIntyre and Rich Perry. Actually I’m still woking on what they told me 25 years ago!
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
NM: – It’s hard to tell. Finding your sound is a long and never ending process. I guess what I’m doing is trying to find a voice which is in tune with what I am, which of course is not static and also changes over time. I’ve always looked for musicians with a strong musical identity, not necessarily in the jazz idiom, and I’ve tried to understand that identity by playing along their recordings. It can be saxophonists but also violonists, pianists and of course singers.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
NM: – My practice routine always include exercises which are aimed at improving my tone quality, rhythm feel and musical expression at the same time. I try to do whatever I can to keep these three parameters integrated and as part of a whole. For years I used to work on specific problems I would encounter by writing very detailed practice schedules and exercises, but today I’m looking for something more musical in general. I like to practice on music more than exercises.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
NM: – Now I prefer no patterns! They’re very useful to learn to master your instrument and to learn the language, to learn the idiom but after a while, I think it’s also good to let go of this. If you’re not careful, it can lead to a very self centered approach of playing. At some point it becomes counter productive, it’s not helping with communicating with the musicians in the band and focusing on the sound and feeling, at least for me.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
NM: – I have no idea which ones are the best! I’ve enjoyed listening to Yuri Honing’s Goldbrun and Craig Taborn’s Daylight Ghosts for instance.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
NM: – Music is one of the few human activities where intellect, soul and physical execution are used together simultaneously to form a whole and that’s what I love about it. With three elements to work with, there’s always a way to find balance, each of them can be stronger for a moment but then the others need to be there to keep the music together.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
NM: – On two occasions, technical failure during a concert led to unforgettable musical experience. The first one happened in a club with Paul Motian’s Trio featuring Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. After the first song of the concert, the sound system broke down. At first Paul Motian got very angry but then the trio was able to resume playing with Bill Frisell’s amps working perfectly since electricity was still available. After this incident the band played with so much intensity and with a band sound I had never heard before. The second time was during an open air, Summer concert. The band was Charles Lloyd’s with Geri Allen, Bob Hurst and Billy Hart. At some point, the was a general electricity failure in the whole neighborhood. Everything went pitch dark but the band kept playing and without any amplification they sounded even louder than before. That was pure magic.
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?
NM: – Just stay true to what made want to play music in the first place, practice a lot, do everything you can to be around inspiring, creative and positive people, inside and outside of the music world. Read, go out in the nature, practice an other art form!
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
NM: – As far as I’m concerned, in order to stay mentally healthy, I’ve never tried to see jazz as a business … I may be wrong, though!
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
NM: – My first band with Russ Johnson, Eivind Opsvik and Gerald Cleaver, playing with Kenny Wheeler, Ben Monder, my current band with Colin Vallon, Patrice Moret and Lionel Friedli.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
NM: – Jazz is a music which feeds off other kinds of music of its time, so while it’s important to eventually learn about the history and the common language of jazz, there’s no need to start with standards.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
NM: – I don’t think life has a meaning in itself but it’s important to try and live a meaningful life. I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to find where his/her spirit is and make the best out of it. Coltrane’s spirit was in music but it can be anything: builing houses, cooking food, taking care of our families, etc…
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
NM: – My expectations for the future is that humanity find a way to live in harmony with nature and in peace with each other. I fear the opposite.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
NM: – I would love people to go to record stores again and make an effort to be curious about music, to buy a couple of albums, then go home and listen to them from the first note to last one.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
NM: – I would like to be able to be free from my own expectations and just play.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
NM: – Jazz started as folk music and still is in some ways, even if it became very sophisticated over time. At least, I hope it will remain a folk music, in the sense that it’s music made by real people for the sole purpose of expression, entertainment, solace and possibly enlightenment of other people.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
NM: – The wind.
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
NM: – Rampone & Cazzani soprano saxophones (saxello and curved), an old R13 Buffet Crampon clarinet and on tenor saxophone I’m back to my Selmer Super Balanced Action with an Otto Link Florida 11 tip opening. For the recording of Travelers, I was playing a Buescher 400 TH&C with a Lebayle LR III mouthpiece.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
NM: – I would love to go back 20 years ago and go hike in the mountains with my grand father again. Those were my happiest moments in life, before I met my wife and the birth of our children.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself …
NM: – How does music affect your inner life, what do you look for (hope for) in music?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. I live in music and I’m flying in freedom. I’m totally into jazz. And music inspires, enhances, broadens horizens, soothes, excites, brings joy, makes sad days more tolerable, makes special days the best days of our lives. Music is everywhere and everthing is musical in its own way. Music can be serious, michevious, create frivolity or just plain silliness.Music is a language that is universal. You don’t have to know the lyrics, in fact many people make up their own ones! Music itself will tell you to laugh, to cry, to smile, to frown, to be joyful, to hateful by just how its played. It can make you swell with pride or shake with anger.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan