May 27, 2024

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Interview with Thollem McDonas: Intellect is easier to define, soul is who we intrinsically are: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist Thollem McDonas. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Thollem McDonas: – Music was always an important element in my life. Both of my parents were pianists. My mother raised me and was a very dedicated teacher out of our home. I didn’t know my father very well, so he was kind of a legendary musician in my mind who played and sang Golden Era and Tin Pan Alley songs in piano bars. When I was 13 is when I feel I really woke up to music and being a musician.

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?

TM: – Some of my first memories were climbing up and inside our baby grand piano when I was a kid. I had some great teachers along the way, some that I rebelled against and realized later how much I learned from them, and others like Dwight Cannon and Allen Strange who helped me realize that I could do anything I wanted with music. My most important teacher as a pianist, however, was Aiko Onishi. She instilled an attention to nuance and discipline that will continue to benefit my relationship with music and sound until the day I die. I also feel that I am constantly learning from everyone I hear and am involved with.

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

TM: – I had the privilege to have had many different kinds of musical experiences which has shaped my sound both consciously and unconsciously over the years. I grew up studying the classical piano repertoire, so this is ultimately my most fundamental influence, certainly technically. I also lived in the San Francisco Bay Area so had the opportunity to take in so much incredible music made by people from many different cultures. I heard some of the greatest jazz musicians at a little club in Santa Cruz called Kuumbwa, I played in Lou Harrison’s Gamelan ensemble, and was constantly absorbing the sounds of the Mexican, Vietnamese and Japanese cultures that were and still are an important part of the cultural fabric of San José. I also came of age during the heyday of west coast punk, so that was also a big influence on me. Eventually I moved away from the standard classical repertoire and became more and more interested in 20th century piano music. I played a lot of Scriabin and Prokofiev, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Charles Ives and so on. I’ve been able to travel a lot as an adult musician and I continue to be as curious about sounds and approaches as I ever have. I expect my own sound and approach to continue to evolve for the rest of my life.

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

TM: – I don’t practice so much anymore except if I have a particular idea that I need to work out. Otherwise, most of my ideas and evolving technique happens on stage or in the recording studio. I don’t recommend musicians not practice; I spent hours and hours of my life sitting in rooms in front of pianos practicing, but at some point in my life this became less important to me. That may change in the future! I also have a variety of OCD characteristics and am constantly working through patterns throughout my body and my fingers and I do a lot of practicing in my mind. The most important exercise for me has been to play with as many different people as possible. Fortunately, we live in an age where people are practicing a personal sonic immediacy, what we often refer to as free improvisation, and therefore we have access to each other in such a significant way. I have learned, and continue to learn, so much – rhythmically, harmonically and formally – from this interaction with others.

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

TM: – Often, my music centers around tritones, stacked 7th chords, particular clusters. Often I think more in terms of the shape of my hand than I do about harmony in a functional sense, often my ears are my guides more than my intellect, though there is always an exchange of information between the two.

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

TM: – I didn’t listen to many albums this last year. I do hear a lot of live music, however, sharing concerts with fellow musicians. Even though I make a lot of recordings, I don’t consume them very much. I’m also going to be slowing down my output dramatically and it’ll be more in line with my experientialist nature/life philosophy. I also tend not to think so much in terms of best, etc. but in terms of what music reveals of the humanity of the musicians playing. I think there have been so many developments in music in my lifetime that I can’t possibly think in those terms anymore.

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

TM: – Intellect is easier to define, soul is who we intrinsically are. In an improvised music setting however, I am definitely moved by elements other than my intellect. That is not to say that I’m not thinking, but for me it’s a different kind of thinking. As a composer, I utilize improvisation a lot and then my intellect to help preserve and develop the idea. I think it’s beneficial as a musician, an artist, a human being to be actively investigating all aspects of myself, the better I can participate within the sound.

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

TM: – The first experience that leaps to my mind is the recording session of Molecular Affinity with Nels Cline and Pauline Oliveros. For me, it was a thrill to bring Nels and Pauline together into the same room, as well to play with them, of course. It was a transcendental experience for all of us, I believe. It was also the last published recording of Pauline’s. The next experience that pops to mind was very different. Performing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with my Italian punk band Tsigoti with the films of Martha Colburn. Now I’m touring with a new project that includes her films plus 4 other filmmakers/sculptors/dancers with my live score on a new analog synth. I’ve been fortunate to have had many amazing experiences through music and art.

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

TM: – My collaboration with Stefano Scodanibbio on Debussy’s piano, my 3 albums with Nels Cline, the work I’ve done with Detroit musicians (Soar Trio, Box Deserter Ensemble), Tsigoti, with my partner ACVilla, with Germaul Barnes, Rent Romus, Sara Lund, Brian Chase, Gino Robair, Estamos Project, Rob Mazurek, and Technicolor Grey Zone that is now coming together. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to work with so many amazing musicians/artists.

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

TM: – I think this question has to be answered in a larger context in regards to the erosion of quality and historical context in our overall society. Jazz is a music that has been inextricably interwoven with history, in many ways it tells the story of who we are. Generally speaking, we need to bring music education back to public schools, at least in the U.S. Ultimately, what we are talking about in regards to Jazz is the ability to appreciate music made by people who are masters on these instruments, who are an important part of our history as a country.

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

TM: – Well, music is vibration received, in the beginning there was vibration, everything is vibrating and we are ears. It’s a journey and a meditation on the source of life itself. It’s a process towards living a truer life, of vibrating with others as vessels of empathetic energy. Coltrane spent his lifetime in sonic interaction, deeply interconnected with all aspects of his existence on this plane. A great role model for people of any age or era.

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

TM: – I choose to recognize danger, choose the best path, act and let go of the fear. I think it’s clear that autocracy is on the rise, the global wealth disparity, the value system of commodity over beauty, sustainability and variety of life, the acceptance and encouragement of corruption, the strategic stripping of historical context, deforestation, lack of care and respect for immigrants and native populations and taking responsibility in the west for creating these horrible ecological and geo-political conditions in the first place. These are some of my greatest concerns. I have my own personally, of course (like finances), but I see my experience within the larger context of injustice and suffering throughout the world. It seems as though we are in imminent danger of a rapid decline into an inescapable dystopia.

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

TM: – I would increase everyone’s curiosity and empathy. Structural changes to the industry are not enough, we need a different set of values and interests that goes beyond the ‘feel good’ category of music that our immediate social group agrees to follow as well. Less group thinking, more free will, more collaboration, more realizing that we are all in this together. Expand the slice, stop fighting over crumbs.

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

TM: – I have several collaborative albums coming out the next couple of weeks including two duo albums on Setola di Maiale: one with Gino Robair and the other with Michael Bisio, a trio album with Brian Chase and Todd Clouser on Personal Archives and a solo album on 4 microtonal pianos in collaboration with a composer/piano technician Clem Fortuna on Two Rooms (a new Detroit label). My two main focuses now are Technicolor Grey Zone and Hot Pursuit Of Happiness, which is a new solo project of songs of mine. I’ll be touring the U.S. with these until election day, then taking them to Europe for November and December and onwards for the foreseeable future (depending on what the world looks like at that point).

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

TM: – Certainly there are some similarities in approach and philosophy. Jazz has always been a people’s music that is interwined in the blood, sweat and tears of culture. Of course, it has also developed through leaps of increasingly complex developments, through both wild invention as well as absorbing that in which it comes into contact with. Folk musics by definition do not stray so far from their origins. Jazz has a unique place in our world for this reason I do believe. It’s an important part of its appeal and empowerment.

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

TM: – I have been so involved in making my own albums that there hasn’t been a lot of time or energy to listen to more recorded music. I do hear a lot of live music though and it’s incredibly varietal from one experience to the next. I love finding out about young musicians as well and then older musicians that have otherwise escaped my attention. I see it all as one big tapestry.

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

TM: – Here and now! That’s the most amazing place…otherwise maybe the premier of the Rite Of Spring to know what it was like to lose my mind because of music, or when the Himalayas were created and primates in Africa started walking upright. Maybe this is a time machine we’re in now and when we die we’ll find out we can experience any and all of it, that we chose to have this experience now to broaden our horizons, deepen our empathy. Or maybe it’s all just chance and then it’s lights out.

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

TM: – What are the qualities of the sonic environment you are presently in?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Silence …

P.S. – André Stjames passed away Friday, May 25th. This interview was conducted before his death.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Картинки по запросу André Stjames

Картинки по запросу Thollem

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