June 15, 2024


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Interview with Karmen Rõivassepp: If only I knew the meaning of life … Video

Karmen Roivassepp

Jazz interview with a bad musician, as if singer Karmen Rõivassepp. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Karmen Rõivassepp: – I grew up in a tiny town called Valga in southern Estonia with my parents and 4 siblings. Music has always been a part of our family, meaning that all my family members at some point have studied a musical instrument and on family gatherings there is always a lot of singing. Therefore it was very natural for me to get into the same things from really early on.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the jazz vocal? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the jazz vocal?

KR: – If I think back to the journey of my musical path, it almost feels like I didn’t choose jazz, but somehow it chose me. When I was young, I was taught singing and piano in a classical school which was never enough for me. Under the influence of my brothers’ musical taste I was always trying to find my way around the rigidity of classical music and was more curious about writing my own music and improvising.

When I moved away from my hometown to study in high school, I found myself a singing teacher, who for the first time recognized my interest in jazz music. With Ursel Oja I developed the basic skills of singing jazz standards and improvising. It was so freeing to finally be able to do the things I really had yearned to focus on for a long time.

3 years with Ursel had convinced me that I was good enough to pursue a musical career. So I gave up my space in law studies of Tartu University and accepted the place in the Estonian Academy of Music instead. I knew jazz was the way for me, now I just had to get more experience working with music and freedom within the field.

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

KR: – The first year in Estonian academy was really eye-opening, as I realised I had very little knowledge about jazz and music business in general. I just wanted to become a better singer and see where it would take me. With the help of Kadri Voorand (one of the most amazing Estonian singers – please check her out!), I noticeably developed my improvisation skills and singing technique. After a year of practicing I went for an exchange in Aarhus, Denmark, where I live to this day.

It was first in Denmark that I started to really focus on searching for my own sound and writing my own music. The teachers there were really encouraging and pushed me to do things I had never done before. In the first year of being there I already played concerts with my original material and got to experience my own arrangements played by a big band.

As of how I developed my sound – I did it through practising and constant trial and error. I was lucky to find myself an environment where it was ok to try and do a lot of different things (even without succeeding at times), because it all taught me something and added to my experience. However, I’m not done. I will probably never be done developing my own sound and searching for new ideas.

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

KR: – It was actually very recently that I discovered the wide world of possibilities in terms of rhythm. It was 2 years ago, while studying in Helsinki, I began to practise different feels of swing, polyrhythms and transcribe the solos with the main focus on rhythm (rather than the melody). There are also a million things one can do with a focus on subdivisions only. What I like to do is set myself a rule in relation to rhythm that I have to follow throughout a chorus of solo – fx. in meter 4/4 sing half-note triplet, starting from the 2nd triplet 8th-note of the 1st beat. This particular exercise creates an environment where everything you sing continues over the barline.

I have been doing a lot of practice similar to what I described above, and this can also be used on melodic and motivic development of solos. It is these little tasks and exercises that help you develop your musical language and vocabulary.

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

KR: – If I think of the harmonies that I use, I always go for what feels right in this moment. My compositional language is very deeply connected to my emotional self, so a lot of my tunes are based on intuition and feelings. I often end up improvising by the piano, and sometimes I just land on a nice harmonic area that I then begin to develop. Recently I have found myself working a lot with ostinatos, whereas earlier I have written harmonically more complex tunes. But all in all – it really depends on what is the emotion I am aiming to convey in this particular piece.

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

KR: – I don’t think there is use of distinguishing between the two. They both are a part of human experience and in my opinion strongly intertwined. They both serve each other and have an equally big role in creating and making music.

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

KR: – Never have I ever experienced that much joy and love for music. That little club-scene was packed with music enthusiasts and I can surely say it was the most magical night that I will remember forever.

One other thing that I can think of comes with big band music. Everybody knows that working behind a computer for longer periods of time can be extremely monotonous. Therefore there is nothing better than to hear your music and arrangements played by real instrumentalists. It’s the kind of feeling that makes you smile and cry at the same time.

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

KR: – It is true that the origins of jazz are a century old, but I can’t see how that decreases its value for today’s listeners. I don’t think that the time-factor has an effect on whether youngsters get into it, but I think it’s the fact that everything in today’s society is based on quick fix. People simply have no patience to listen through long solos or difficult arrangements.

These days we really have the access to all the music in the world. I think children should be encouraged to listen to a lot of different kinds of music. The more you’re exposed to the idea of there being various genres, the bigger is the chance that one chooses to look deeper from the mainstream productions.

However, it’s important to realise that jazz is keeping up with times and it is evolving and becoming more appealing to wider audiences. Instead of dreading the standard jazz repertoire becoming extinct (which I am sure it won’t), we should maybe look around us and embrace the change. Jazz is such a broad term and it shouldn’t only be defined by the tunes written half a century ago.

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

KR: – If only I knew the meaning of life…

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

KR: – I would give female musicians throughout the history the credit they deserve, so that nowadays nobody would question our musical abilities.

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

KR: – I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I have always kept my ears open for different styles and I think that has also very strongly shaped my own sound. In my playlist one can find jazz records from all eras, big band music, 20th century classical music, neo soul, alternative pop, house, drum & bass etc. It all depends on the mood and what I am currently working on.

For the past few weeks I have been catching up with the latest releases that I have bought, so it has mainly been newer Danish and Estonian music. Earlier in spring I was thoroughly listening to and analyzing Maurice Ravel’s piano music; from the jazz universe I have found myself listening to Cyrille Aimee; and recently I rediscovered Jill Scott and Erykah Badu.

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

KR: – I would like to go back to the 1930’s and attend one of the events at Savoy Ballroom with Chick Webb, Count Basie or Duke Ellington orchestra, and the regular crowd of the crazy lindy hoppers. I have always been fascinated by the virtuosity of these dancers and could really die for hearing one of these orchestras play live.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Картинки по запросу Karmen Rõivassepp

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