Jazz interview with jazz bassist Nicolas Moreaux. An interview by email in writing.
Nicolas Moreaux: – First of all thanks, your questions are really interesting, i wish i had this kind of interview all the time, it’s often very short, i ll take time to develop my thought if you mind.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
NM: – I was born in Besancon a town in France nearby Switzerland, in a area called Jura. My parents were pretty much music lovers and I grew up with a good mix between Bach, The Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Benny Goodman, Stan Getz and Claude Nougaro. I think they mentioned me that I saw a Nougaro s concert in my town (his father was the director of the local theater) when I was around 4, or maybe I dreamt that…
We moved higher in an area close by the mountains when I was 6, i painted very early age, and did some poney ride. At my 7 or 8 birthday I received a tape recorder, and I can see myself recording a lot of music, collecting my favorite tunes played on the radio. I did this all my teenage year I actually think this really developed me the most as a musician, this developed my imagination so much, my relation to music, it was my own world.
I was in love with music but it took me a while before studying it.
Moving again to a town Troyes 200km south from Paris at 9, i have to admit I had the uncomfortable feeling of being moved from a spacy countryside to a tricky middle town. I stayed there till my 20s but i really suffered from that, a happy little child became kind of a more melancolic character, but I kept recording tapes at night, and checked everyday the record store in the super market nearby my house, bought my first vynils like the a best of the rolling stones. On my tape recorder were tunes by Grandmasterflash, Pink Floyd, then later on bands like The Cure or The Smiths.
I didn’t practice an instrument but I could whistle anything by ear.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the contrabass? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the contrabass?
NM: – Around 15 I bought an electric bass, it was a very cheap imitation of a precision bass it was red and black like the James Jamerson s one. I started play sessions with friends at my house, I had a uncle s drums at home so… it was totally improvised session with kids who were not musicians J
Unfortunately the bass felt on a table and the head broke, I put me on despair, and stopped for a while. I then tried different instruments, I was in love with guitar so I started play guitar and sing. I had a band with friends my age and we started to play blues rock or psychedelic covers (from Pink Floyd, Led Zepplelin…). My friend Teddy also introduced me to the music of Miles Davis, Frank Zappa etc… I have to say first of all I was interested in guitarists, so I checked it out. I followed a small workshop and had a few guitar lessons with a great player Mimi Lorenzini.
There was also an alto sax at home that my brother studied, then when he stopped I started practice it for hours, playing along records, something I did with the guitar too.
I had a big personal crisis around my 20s, a regular thing …But I was a lost, and decided to move to my grandmother s to live more freely and find out what I wanted to do away from the family pressure in 1996. My grandma Cecile was a violinist, she was Hector Berlioz s uncle great grand daughter, and there s a big music tradition in her family. She naturally said to me that I could learn an instrument at the classical school she used to teach, they had adult lessons. I went there, with the will to study sax or clarinet, and they gave me choice between tuba, trombone or double bass, so I made this decision to try bass, remembering my fist choice on electric bass, mt teacher was Blandine Lafont Rives who was also anextraordinary contemporary musician. I felt in love with the instrument right away I really have the strong impression that bass chose me.
I painted, did some photo study and practiced double bass during this time.
I went into a deep creative process, stopped smoking,
I stayed only a year at this school, I did not feel very good with the classical method of teaching, and so I had the basics but I didn’t have a bass after that.
And went to another town Chalons where I started working in a photoshop, and followed a jazz workshop with the alto sax there I could start to play standards in an ensemble, and that was a great feeling. Also an old friend of mine Nicolas Pautras whose band I sometimes booked in a café nearby offered me a double bass that he couldn’t use. That s the reason why I became a double bass player, really, if this guy didn’t offered me an instrument i don t know If I would have invest. I owe him a lot, unfortunately he died last year at young age, I thank him everyday for that.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
NM: – I was not happy about my work and went living in an artist community in Besancon the town I was born. Somebody heard me play the bass from outside the building, came in and offered me a weekly gig at the university café .
Jean Marc Blanc played alto and we played quartet tunes from Parker, Monk, Dolphy and Ornette. We played around our area and also Switzerland.
At that time i developed my sound through playing mainly through playing, I didn’t have much references you know.
I moved in a bigger town Lyon around 2000, and there met a more professional community, we played mostly hard bop tunes, and in 2002 everybody wanted to study to newschool in NYC. I was received but didn’t get the grant I was applyin for. Went to NYC 3months and study with great masters like Dennis Irwin, Ben Street, Johannes Weindenmuller… They really helped me out, I could figure out a way to practice that could fit my feelings and emotions about the instrument.
Then I started to become methodical in the my sound development.
Then I moved to Paris in 2004, and there and played more and more and still practised deeply on those things and developed through the playing and the writing.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
NM: – Daily exercices I did was mainly based on playing tunes at very slow tempos with a metronome, singing notes of the chords, 3rd and 7th, changing the key of the tunes, memorizing, playing long tones with the bow, and scales practice, arpeggios, studied few books like Ray Brown s or Botesini etc… very basic things.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
NM: – Today I have to say that I go back to more simple harmonies, I m definitely in love with folk music, I like triads… I am not a pianist so writing down triads gives other musician more possibilities to use their imagination, I like bringing open material instead of defining a chord in a weird way like I used to !
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
NM: – Music is only soul, intellect gives the shape of it but is not music.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
NM: – I will always remember the feeling of recording with Jorge Rossy the first time, it s amazing to discover your sound on the side of a player that you ve listened to for ages, such a great feeling… same with Chris Cheek.
I played last december in Mongolia, it was a strange experience, bringing a cracked bass trought town UB, the bass had no case, and I was making fun warming up in the street like a clown with mitten waiting for the cabs.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
NM: – Music is played in the present, whatever time all great musicians lived and live in the present. Tunes can be written long ago but the playing can only happen in the instant, that s what s magical. It s a language beyond the time, it s a contradiction because timing is also essential to this music. Jazz has set up a language, a tool that everyone can study to express himself through music.
A message to the youngest could be that music belongs to them, I think music is first of all the love of music. So play the music you love. don’t get trapped by styles, don’t get trapped by other s opinions, don’t get trapped by the fear of not being loved. Just follow your taste, and when you work in a band don t get trapped by yourself, be a team player.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
NM: – Spirit is love because love brings the feeling of universality, it is this feeling that keep people together not what divide. The meaning of life? Life is probably a way to love more, if you love more at the end than at the beginning then you win somehow, if not you loose.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
NM: – If I could change one thing in the musical world… I know money is a big thing for everyone and it should nourish art which is essential. I would love that most people active in the music business think more this way. We are all responsible of the reality. People who owns the business should educate people and elevate their sensitivity to art instead of thinking of the best way to earn money, to offer the product that will respond to what they think is what they wait for. At the end they sell music like they would sell soap… Being an artist today is hard because we have so much to do on our own, I am a bass player but also I have to be a photographer, a designer, a manager, a publicist, an agent, a travel manager… Freedom has a price. It could be different.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
NM: – Pink Floyd early Years, Vivaldi Stabat Mater (John Bowman version).
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
NM: – Here and now, not more than less than a second away because there s nothing better than the present.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
NM: – My question is: how would you define the responsibility of a being jazz journalist today in a ethical point of view? How can the press and media s opinion can define an artist s carrier today?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. For me, there are a lot of questions around the ethics of funding and the politics of representation. Who are we representing, who are we taking pictures of or filming, what is the work about? I also have a lot of ecological concerns. I think for a lot of artists, trying to negotiate their position around funding and sponsorship is a minefield. If your work is around climate change, to work with or be sponsored by certain oil companies would be very weird. We can’t fight all the wars, but, if your practice has particular areas that it deals with, then the funding around that has to make sense. Saying that, I don’t think anyone should be working with money that comes from arms dealing. I think the biggest problem for artists is balancing a need for the market with a detachment from it. The demise of public funding and the overbearing existence of large, commerce-oriented galleries that even museums rely on these days, has distorted the capacity of artists to work freely. We are increasingly mollified by commercial obedience. There needs to be plurality again: other ways, more confusion, fewer defined routes.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan