Jazz interview with jazz drummer Akira Tana. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – What got you interested in picking up the drums? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the drums?
Akira Tana: – Started on piano and trumpet. Gravitated to drums at age 10 when my mother rented a snare drum for me.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
AT: – One’s sound developes over time naturally the longer you play. In my case the sound I produced is dependent on most importantly, the music one plays and the equipment that is played to provide the most complimentary sound to the music—example: the drum sound on a recording I did w. Ruth Brown (A Good Day For The Blues) is totally different from my own CD w. my group, Otonowa (Otonowa, Stars Across the Ocean) or with TanaReid, Rob Schneiderman Trio, or with the Heath Brothers.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
AT: – Most of the practice routine now is dependent on the music that is played, although there was a time when technique was practice for hours. Presently it is more review of techniques when teaching students techniques. The techniques used to practice and teach come directly from studies with the drum master/teacher, Alan Dawson.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
AT: – I haven’t had the time to write compositions recently in the last few years but would like to compose more having had the opportunity to play my own compositions with various groups. Composing more requires more knowledge of harmony and composition which I pursue when time allows.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
AT: – I have to admit that I haven’t been keeping up with the latest releases of 2017 or 2018. I lean toward listening to classical music, the classic jazz recordings and ethnic music from all over the world.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
AT: – This is very difficult question to answer because ultimately, I would like to have the intellect and soul be one entity. It is like attaining a certain kind of Nirvana where there is no difference between the intellect and soul. Musically, the intellect is easily discernable when there is a lack of feeling or soul. Yet I would prefer to hear music that has soul but no intellect in the traditionial sense— no technique based on what is accepted by the status quo. Listening to folk or ethnic music expresses feelings that requires intellect that compliments the soul, unlike certain kinds of music where the intellect dominates and overshadows or hides the soul. Very philosophical topic that requires far more research and discussion!
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
AT: – Please see attached interviews and articles pertaining to my career.
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?
AT: – The most important advice that I can provide is to follow your heart and passion to play music and let the cards fall where they may. Not everyone will become professional musicians but this should not discourage seeking self improvement, creative self expression, and involving oneself in the community of musicians and artists. I have students who are not professionals, older professionals in non musical fields and retirees who remind me how great music is and that is not about “ success” but about appreciating the great artists who have paved the way for young and not so young aspiring artists who are an inspiration to all of us to improve our skills on our instruments. Staying positive in this business can be difficult but remaining focused on why we’ve chosen—or have been chosen- to play will keep us on the path. And the love of music and art is the reason we are all so involved.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
AT: – Jazz is a business. It has always been a business and with the proliferation of jazz eduation worldwide, it has also become more corporate. The danger is that the direction the business side has taken this music may stray from what this music has represented for decades — an urban folk music deeply rooted in the African American Cultural experience.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
AT: – The collaborations I’ve had with the historical figures of this music of which I’ve had the opportunity to perform and record with (see biographical references).
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
AT: – This is a very good question but it starts from exposing youth to this great music that is over a half a century old. Classical music is over centuries old . There should be no difference in how this music is perceived by the younger generation. In this regard, music education is vital. Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the masters of this music should be part of any educational curriculum starting at the pre-school, elementary level.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
AT: – Not everyone can attain what John Coltrane did with his spirit. There are few who do. We can only aspire to the best of our ability to use these models for self improvement and attain the highest of spirituality we can.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
AT: – I have no expectations or illusions of grandeur of the future. I have been blessed with the opporutinty to play music with some very special individuals and recently have been able to perform with younger musicians who appreciate the experience I’ve had in the past. I don’t have much fear or anxiety about the future but grateful for what I have presently.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
AT: – That that pressure to be a success would be eliminated.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
AT: – The next musical frontier would be to be allowed to have the time and resources to write mor music.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
AT: – Jazz is a folk music — an urban folk music and is part of the wide spectrum of World Music. It is unique because it is American with roots in the African American Cultural experience. This music is the most flexible, impressionable of musics because it is open to so many influences.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
AT: – I listen to all kinds of music and try to be open to a generation of music that is steeped in the sound of today’s youth, though I must admit, I find some of it lacking quality- that will last decades. We live in a “throw a away” society and is reflected in the music we hear today.
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
AT: – My set up varies with the music I’m asked to play—from very sparse set up to more elaborate, large drum sets. Acoustic Jazz sounds require sounds different from music that has heavier, electric sounds. I liken my approach to a tympaist who had many different sticks and mallet set ups to play everything from Mozart to Stravinsky.
Jazz is a business. It has always been a business and with the proliferation of jazz eduation worldwide, it has also become more corporate. The danger is that the direction the business side has taken this music may stray from what this music has represented for decades — an urban folk music deeply rooted in the African American Cultural experience.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
AT: – I would like to travel back to the time of Charlie Parker and to experience the music live of that era.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself.
AT: – I hope the answers I’ve provided for this interview have been sufficient. My question is: Is there anything else you need?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Unfortunately, you did not want to cooperate with our website, this is your decision, there is nothing more …
Interview by Simon Sargsyan