May 24, 2024

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Interview with John Van Tongeren: Jazz is so rooted in the history of the genre … Video

Jazz interview with jazz organist and keyboardist John Van Tongeren. An interview by email in writing. 

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

John Van Tongeren: – I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona USA.

At 16, my neighborhood band was in need of an organist so I figured, why not! I played accordion at age 9 to 10 but did not pursue after that. Baseball was my love then. So my dad and I built an organ from a kit, and that’s how it started.

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

JVT: – I am basically self taught, aside from a seminar or lesson here or there.

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

JVT: – My interests in music were constantly shifting. Starting with rock, then progressive rock, then into jazz and jazz fusion, then classical / film scores.

My style is a culmination of my musical explorations throughout my life. My current interest in jazz and jazz organ is fairly new, 6 years or so. I never played organ in a jazz style growing up and didn’t really play much jazz at all throughout the years. It was more fusion music.

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

JVT: – My time is limited with all that is going on with my career, film scoring being still prominent in my life, so practicing is basically playing the piano or organ for an hour or so daily and getting comfortable with tunes and my own compositions.

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

JVT: – The more extended the better, haha!

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

JVT: – Hmm, they both go hand in hand with us, but I believe the soul needs to be there first and foremost.

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

JVT: – Trinom3 did a brief California tour and couple years back and we got so much better as a band playing nightly. We did a gig in Oakland in a very small listening room, playing at a more quiet level than usual and were amazed at how much fun it was to play with an intense energy, yet very quietly. That was an informative experience.

My crowning experience as a musician/composer would probably be working with Tony Williams, the amazing jazz drummer, on his last album WILDERNESS. He invited me in to write some orchestral interludes that he placed throughout the record and also had me perform some synth work as well. The crazy part was his band: Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker and Stanley Clarke. Having those musicians performing on your music was so amazing. Also the hang in the studio for that time, from rehearsals to the sessions was priceless. And as quickly as that experience with Tony came about, we lost him soon afterwards. Thanks Tony!

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

JVT: – Good question. Jazz is so rooted in the history of the genre, and that fertile time period produced so many classic, amazing songs that it’s hard not to want to still base jazz in that timeframe. That being said, creating a “new standard” has been difficult and I guess my opinion would be as soon as the songs match the level of the 30’s-60’s, we will see a shift. There are many jazz artists that respect that past but want to forge ahead with an original style and of course that is happening a lot. So there is a wide gamut here for young listeners to take in which makes jazz music exciting, right?

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

JVT: – Well, I would selfishly say that musicians and composers should be paid commensurately with the amount of joy and emotion music provides. Currently this is not happening and listeners will eventually run the risk of not having new music to listen to, since the motivation to create it will lessen. People need to be aware of what is going on, be more knowledgeable of the actual process and how the creators are not getting rewarded as they might think to make music.

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

JVT: – Oh man, that would take an hour to list!

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

JVT: – I think from a musical standpoint only, it would be the early 1900’s in Europe. The music of that time is so relatable to me, the art as well, Art Deco, etc. I know the living conditions were way more extreme, but what an amazing time for music. I guess my love for classical shines through with that answer.

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

JVT: – What drives you to support jazz music?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Jazz is a fine and best music !!!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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