July 20, 2024


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Interview with Richard Shulman: The intellect best serves the soul: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist, composer Richard Shulman. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Richard Shulman: – I grew up in Niagara Falls NY, USA.  My parents took me to the local symphony orchestra and the nearby Buffalo Philharmonic as a child, where I was enraptured by the sound and feeling.  I remember listening to my father’s classical record collection and playing Beethoven’s 5th over and over again.

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

RSH: – When I was seven, my father was offered a piano if he would just pay the moving charges.  He asked me if I wanted it and I said yes!  My second teacher imparted her love of music to me and showed me that I could improvise as well as read music.  At the Eastman School of Music I was fortunate to study with Chuck Mangione, Marian McPartland (who would play a six-week stint locally each semester) and arranger Rayburn Wright. I studied classical piano there with  Dennis Andal and later while getting my Master’s degree in musical composition at the University at Buffalo studied with Yvar Mikhashoff.  Frank Foster flew in to UB once a week to teach jazz and I also participated in his classes.  While living in Buffalo I learned the most from my experiences playing with great players such as Sabu Adeyola (bass) Bilal Abdullah (sax)  Abdul-Rahman Qadir (drums) Charles Fadale (drums) Gerry Eastman (bass), Bobby Previte (drums), James Clark (guitar) Joe Ford (sax) Richard Tabnik (sax) Jim Kurzdorfer (bass) Greg Millar (guitar) Sam Falzone (sax) and watching pianist Al Tinney and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein.  When I moved to NYC there were innumerable opportunities to learn and improve my playing as well as my writing.

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

RSH: – Listening to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,”  Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way,” Keith Jarrett’s “Belonging” as well as hearing the Paul Winter Consort with the band that included the members of what later became “Oregon” were significant watershed moments for me in the development of my musical language. Also important was a physical injury which opened me to study meditation and create music for healing. This consciousness continues to inform my jazz to this day.  Having a band that could intuit the inspiration behind my music was a great gift to me as a composer and as a player and allowed me to merge my jazz and classical influences in new and heartfelt ways.

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

RSH: – Working to develop my rhythmic ability has been a life-long journey along with development of my melodic and harmonic language. My routine includes meditation, light exercise, a little hatha yoga, the five rites of rejuvenation, practicing selected standards and working on new or original material, sight reading classical music and making up exercises for two hand improvisation.  When practicing standards I like to use the metronome on 2 & 4. This helps me feel the swing more easily.  Recording has been invaluable in helping me develop my rhythmic accuracy. “The tape don’t lie!” When I’m learning new music especially, I have to be intensely honest about my weaknesses, and from that awareness I develop methods to work on and improve those weaknesses.

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

RSH: – I am a tonal composer for the most part. I like to create harmonic patterns which shift when the listener might not expect it, creating freshness.  I also like to take people “home” which means I usually bring the music back to the tonic.

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

RSH: – For me, the intellect best serves the soul.  The music is the expression of the soul and has a grand intelligence which I marvel at.  My intellect best serves as a good secretary to the inspiration.

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

RSH: – When I was at college I had a trio with drummer Bobby Previte and electric bassist, Bill Savino. We were playing a concert of our creative music at the student union and in the midst of a bass solo on the Blues Project’s “Flute Thing” all three of us suddenly knew exactly where we were heading and how long it would take to get there.  From a free flowing section we made it back to the theme in perfect synchronicity as if we were of one mind expressing itself.  The experience of one mind made me want more of THAT and this was a defining moment in my choice to pursue music as a career.

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

RSH: – Standard tunes are great tunes to play on but new music is being written all the time.  Kids can be encouraged to write in addition to learning the music of the tradition.  The University of North Carolina – Asheville has a jazz summer camp for kids from 12 to college age and this year we had a special concert where we in the faculty got to perform compositions written by the kids.  They kids were “over the moon” when they heard how good their compositions sounded!

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

RSH: – The deep desire to express the source of my being in music and life gives my life meaning. The understanding that this source is in me and everyone and everything allows me to relate to THAT in everyone through music and presence.  When I remember this life is beautiful.

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

RSH: – Lately I’ve been listening to John Coltrane as well as Oscar Peterson on Facebook. I’ve also been listening to jazz from NPR on the radio as I return home from gigs.

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

RSH: – I’d like to be more conscious of how I am creating my future….. I’ll see the results soon enough.

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

RSH: – What’s next for you? The Richard Shulman group has two CD release concerts for “Turned into Lemonade” coming up, one in the Asheville, NC area and one in New York City. Sun. Sept 16, 7:30 pm The Richard Shulman Group will be at White Horse Black Mountain, 105A Montreat Rd. Black Mountain, NC

Thurs. Sept. 27, 9:00 pm The Richard Shulman Group will have its official NYC CD release concert for “Turned into Lemonade” at Club Bonafide, 212 E 52nd St. NYC. Admission $15 plus two drink minimum (food or drink).

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers.


Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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