Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Renee Rosnes. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Renee Rosnes: – I grew up on the west coast of Canada, in North Vancouver, British Columbia. My parents were music lovers, and arranged for classical piano lessons for each of their three daughters. I began to studying at the age of three, and can’t recall a time when I didn’t play the piano.
JBN.S: – What teachers helped you to progress to the level of playing you are at today?
RR: – I have had many important teachers along the way, beginning with my first teacher, whom I really bonded with, and also looked forward to our lessons. It wasn’t until high school that I became aware of, and interested in playing jazz. There was a very dedicated and passionate high school band director named Bob Rebagliati who “recruited” me for the jazz band. He gave me recordings of many different artists to listen to and learn from…the first jazz music I heard was from such musicians as Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, the Count Basie Big Band, Ella Fitzgerald among others. I understood from the very beginning that the genre had a magnificent history, and that it would be a lifelong pursuit to become a great musician.
Following high school, I was enrolled at the University of Toronto in the classical performance program. After two years in Toronto, I came to realize that jazz was truly my passion, and I left Toronto to return to Vancouver to study on my own. In 1986, with the aid of a Canada Council of the Arts grant, I was able to move to New York City to live and study — and I never left.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to develop your sound?
RR: – I never really worried about developing my own style, because I just kind of knew that it is a thing that happens organically. When you’re young and just learning, it is natural to copy the sounds or styles of the musicians whose sounds are attractive to you. As you mature, the process of attaining your own sound comes naturally through honing your craft, and continues to develop through practicing, playing and I believe also through the discipline of composition.
I was fortunate to witness originality in many forms from some of the greatest masters of jazz: Joe Henderson, JJ Johnson, James Moody, Wayne Shorter, Buster Williams, Bobby Hutcherson, and Ron Carter, to name some of the leaders I toured and recorded with. I learned many lessons from performing night after night with them, and they continue to inspire me to this day.
JBN.S: – What practice routine have you developed to maintain and improve your current ability?
RR: – At this point in my life, I’m lucky to have an extended period of time to practice, since I’m very busy touring on the road. I am usually preparing for whatever my next project is. When I do sit down to practice, the time goes by too quickly. I also compose on a daily basis. I have many ideas in the works – both large and small.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you from 2017?
RR: – I haven’t had much time to listen to current releases, although I can say that I always love my husband, Bill Charlap’s work. His latest trio album (with Peter Washington & Kenny Washington) is “Uptown Downtown” and was Grammy nominated. I very much enjoyed the vocalist, Cécile McLorin Salvant’s latest recording: Dreams and Daggers. The truth is, I have too many unopened CDs sitting at home that still have yet to be listened to.
JBN.S: – What do you think is the best balance between intellect and soul in music?
RR: – Ideally, fifty-fifty.
JBN.S: – Which collaborations have been the most important experiences for you?
RR: – I’ve had the good fortune of experiencing lots of impactful moments throughout my career. Aside from my tenures with the masters I mentioned above, some other highlights for me have been having the opportunity to record and work with singers Little Jimmy Scott (But Beautiful on Milestone), Tony Bennett (the Grammy-winning CD, The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern on Columbia), the Brazilian vocalist Joyce (Astronauta: The Songs of Elis on Blue Jackel), tabla master Zakir Hussain (my CD: Life on Earth on Blue Note), drummer Jack DeJohnette (my CD: As We Are Now on Blue Note) and the great bassists Neils Henning Ørsted Pedersen (Friends Forever on Milestone), and George Mraz (Duke’s Place on Milestone).
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when many of the standard songs are half a century old?
RR: – When compared with classical music, jazz is still a relatively young art-form, and will continue to grow and develop for a long time to come. The continuation of the jazz in terms of its audience depends on exposure, so it will be important that people — young and old — across the globe will continue to have access to it, through the internet, TV, radio, live performances and recordings. When I perform in various countries around the world, I see many young people at festivals and in the clubs, so I believe that jazz music, regardless of whether the repertoire is old or new — will remain vital.
JBN.S: – Are there any particular memories which you’d like to share with us?
RR: – Back in 1988 when I was in my 20’s, Wayne Shorter called me up to inqure if I would like to make a tour with his band. One of the first questions he wanted to know was: “Have you seen the film, Aliens?” — which surprised me. He then went on to say it was a “prerequisite” to joining the band. A few months later in San Francisco, during our rehearsal period, the band got together one evening and watched the movie. There’s a famous gory scene where the alien creature bursts out of the chest of the actor John Hurt. At that moment, Wayne abruptly grabbed the remote control and stopped the movie and said, “See that!? – “That’s how I want my band to sound!” That was an enlightening moment for me.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
RR: – All music is spiritual, and especially jazz music, which is created in the moment. The music that tends to reach me the most — regardless of genre — is music that contains or exudes truth. I think of something that Bobby (Hutcherson) used to say, which to me, had to do with spirit or a creative force: “Never worry about where the next note is coming from, because it will always present itself if you wait for it.” For Bobby, playing jazz was very much spiritual and also an act of faith. That frame of mind not only fueled the depth of his music, but was definitely felt by his audiences. Bobby also spoke a lot about hearing Trane live, and what a magical experience it was for everyone in the audience to have witnessed such truth and beauty flowing from his horn. He said it wasn’t unusual for audiences members to be crying, they were so touched by the music.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
RR: – It would be heaven to rid the musical world of judgments born of the ego.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
RR: – Currently, I’ve been listening to Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Leny Andrade, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Wheeler, Art Tatum, the choral music of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, and one of my favorite albums by a peer, Donald Brown’s 1992 recording: Cause and Effect (Muse Records), featuring Joe Henderson, James Spaulding, Steve Nelson, Ron Carter, Kenny Washington & Carl Allen. I really respect and enjoy Donald Brown’s writing.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine. Where would you want to go?
RR: – I’d like to take a trip into the future 50 years from now to witness how technology will have changed the world, and also to experience the development of the creative arts. I’d also want to spend a lot of time with my son Dylan, who would be almost 70 years of age by then.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so many questions, now may I have a question from you?
RR: – Are you based in the USA, Europe or in Armenia? What is your background in jazz music, and what makes you interested to write about it?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. I am living and in the USA, and Paris, and my homeland in Armenia, Yerevan? My mission in jazz music be interested to write about new CDs, festivals, concerts …
Interview by Simon Sargsyan