Jazz interview with jazz pianist Lynne Arriale. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Lynne Arriale: – I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, about 2 hours north of Chicago. We had a little plastic toy piano, and I would play songs that I had heard on the radio or recordings by ear wen I was 3 or 4 years old. My first connection with music was just playing songs that I listened to, not by reading music. That came years later. I begged my parents to let me study piano, and they contacted a local teacher, and she initially said I was too young, but I kept asking, and eventually, she let me study with her.
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?
LA: – I had several teachers when I was young, and since my natural inclination was to play by ear, they probably were very frustrated with me, because I didn’t pay attention to reading music. Every week, they would use different colored pens to circle all the wrong notes in the music. I was playing what I heard, not necessarily what was written. One teacher would play the songs for me at the lesson and I would play them the next week; and she eventually figured out that I wasn’t learning the songs from the music, but by ear. So, after that, she refused to play the songs for me, so that I would have to learn how to read.
There was no one to teach me improvisation, so I studied with classical teachers. My most influential teacher in classical music was Rebecca Penneys, who was a brilliant concert pianist. She helped me rework my technique and taught me how to sing each line, in order to have a very natural and lyrical approach to playing the pieces. When I began to study jazz, I studied in Milwaukee with Dave Hazeltine and in New York with many pianists, including Richie Beirach, Fred Hersch, Marc Copland, Mike Longo, Andy Laverne and others. I will always be grateful for everything that they shared with me.
I chose the piano because I loved the vast musical possibilities it allowed me. I also studied Flamenco guitar and classical voice for several years in high school.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
LA: – I think my sound developed through singing melodies and lines, with the goal of sounding like I was singing songs with lyrics when I am playing. I also worked a lot with motivic development, especially with Richie Beirach, who helped me become more aware of how we can tell a musical story when we are playing, through developing motives or short musical ideas throughout our solos.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
LA: – I work with repeated rhythmic phrases through songs, with the notes changing, but staying with a particular phrase for awhile, in order to open up new melodic possibilities. I also do this so that I think rhythmically before anything else. It is rhythm and notes that create a melody. Without rhythm, there is no melody, just a sequence of notes.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
LA: – I try to follow my ears and my heart when working with harmony. Harmony can go anywhere; it takes craft and imagination to learn how many possibilities there are.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: “Lynne Arriale Trio – Give Us These Days”, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
LA: – I felt very moved by a line in a poem by Jim Schley, “give us these days,” and I wanted the entire album to convey a sense of gratitude and deep appreciation for the preciousness and fragility of life. I hope the CD allows people a chance to step back from life for a few moments, take a breath and feel the wonder that is life.
It was great to work with Jasper Somsen, who is an outstanding bassist and composer. We co-produced the CD, and he was just wonderful to work with. It is a real gift to have a musical partner and good synchronicity. His organization and input on the project was invaluable every step of the way. I also appreciated the talents of Jasper van Hulten, who did a great job on the CD, and Kate McGarry, who sang “Take it With Me” by Kathleen Brennan and Tom Waits with me.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
LA: – The balance is always in flux, but when we are performing, we have already practiced many days, weeks, months and years, so hopefully, everything can flow effortlessly and the audience will feel a strong sense of soul. Both intellect and soul are essential to great music.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
LA: – I will never forget touring with a group called “100 Golden Fingers” in Japan many years ago. It was a group of 10 pianists: Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Cedar Walton, Monty Alexander, Ray Bryant, Kenny Barron, Roger Kellaway, Harold Mabern, Junior Mance and myself. I learned so much from these giants; I will also never forget how supportive they were.
I also fondly remember recording with and touring with Randy Brecker and George Mraz. They are both icons of jazz, and always elevated the music to another level. I have had many experiences with such brilliant musicians; I’m very grateful that they have shared their gifts with the world.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
LA: – Younger musicians are listening to standards, as many pop musicians are recording albums of standards, exposing a whole new generation to this great music. If that’s how young people learn about these amazing tunes, that’s great—the important thing is that they hear standards; from whichever artists they like. The reason these tunes became standards is because, very simply, they are great, great tunes, that are always compelling and stand the test of time.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
LA: – I believe that spirit is the part of us that is beyond our body and our personality; it is pure energy. This can come through our music and touch people. Ultimately, that is what people feel when they hear great music; it reaches our hearts and minds and can be transformative.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
LA: – I would choose that artists did not have to work on booking their groups and promoting their own careers. I know it’s a necessity nowadays, but there are only so many hours in the day, and it would be nice to have more time for music and for life!
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
LA: – I listen to the sounds around me.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
LA: – I would want the knowledge I have today about music and life, and I would like to go back to when I was around 15 and then continue on with my life.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
LA: – I have no questions at the moment, but thanks for asking!
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan