May 27, 2024

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Interview with Søren Lee: My intellect helps me make up new lines and songs and new chord progressions: Photos, Video

Jazz interview with jazz guitarist and composer Søren Lee. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Søren Lee: – I grew up in Copenhagen. My father who worked as a lawyer was a big fan of different kind of music like Jazz, Rock, blues, so many of the classic American jazz and rock and blues records and English rock albums were already in the house when I was a young kid, names like Art Tatum, Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Beatles, Sonny Rollins, Creedens Clearwater Revival, Wes montgomery etc. Listening to this in my childhood was a big factor in me becoming interested in music.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the guitar?
SL: – I heard a Swedish jazz rock guitarist called Bjarne Roupe play when I was around 11 years old. It was like magic to me, it sounded so beautiful. The tones flew out of the guitar like gold rain. I immediately knew this is what I want do the rest of my life, play guitar like that. Even though I at that time had no Idea what it was he was doing it was just magic.
JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today?
SL: – I started taking lessons with this Swedish guitarist I just mentioned for about two years from age 13 till I was around 15 years old. And then for many years I simply just listen to records with all the great ones, like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Weather Report, Mike Stern with Miles Davis, John Mclaughlin, B.B. King and more. Then when I was around 22 years old in 1988 I packed my bags and went to New York and started studying at New School for jazz and contemporary music for a couple of years. That’s where I met the now deceased jazz guitar master Jim Hall. Once a week every week for two years I joined Jim Halls guitar master class and we were only two guitarists in that class. There was the american jazz guitarist Peter Bernstein from New York and then me. Half a year later a spanish guitarist joined the class also. It was from 1988-1990 in that period I also had some lessons with John Abercrombie and later on I once in a while would visit John and we would just jam for hours. I met John Scofield at a workshop at New School he was very impressed with my playing I recall, we ended up having a guitar chase, later on Jim Hall wrote notes to my second trio album simply called “Søren Lee Trio “ with Adam Nussbaum Drums and Jesper Lundgaard bass. I sat in with Jim hall quartet at Village Vanguard in New York and also in Montmartre in Copenhagen.
JBN.S: – What made you choose the guitar?
SL: – I started playing both piano and guitar for many years and practiced both instrument equally many hours a day. But at a certain point I had to join a music workshop in Denmark and there I decided that guitar was my main instrument. Guitar simply felt more natural for me.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time?
SL: – People have told me that I had a very personal sound from very early on and that they could recognize my sound when they heard me play. Then of coarse you hear all these great players on all these great records or in concert and that is great but also a big challenge but then you try stealing a little here and there. I never really sat down and transcribed a guitar solo like many guitarists do. I remember that I by ear learned a Jimi Hendrix intro and some of the solo and also a Jimmy Rainey solo and a little bit of a Wes Montgomery song and also B.B King but mostly to get the feeling and the flow. I mostly transcribed saxophone players like Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker and that I did note by note till I could play it so it sounded like a unison solo guitar and sax. It’s from those two players; I learned a lot about timing and phrasing and flow. I still play a very short phrase from a Charlie Parker solo on Ornithology and that’s almost 38 years ago, that phrase had a particular meaning for my understanding for phrasing.
JBN.S: – What did you do to find and develop your sound?
SL: – I was very determent from a young age to try and get that sound I had in my head out in my guitar. I tried to make my own lines even if I sometimes was not really sure about what I was doing. I still recall when I was young and I played in a famous club and somebody compliment me on the “great chromatic lines” I played in that solo. I wasn’t really sure what he meant, but then because I had developed a very good timing from early on, those lines always kind of made sense anyway, it´s kind of difficult to answer what it is that makes your sound but sometimes it´s also different circumstances in your life that makes you take a different path than you originally thought that you wanted. Sometimes the fact that you cannot play like somebody you admire makes it more easy to play like yourself because that’s actually the only thing that really works for you, so to have some limits is very often an advantage when it comes to making your own sound, it never worked for me to learn some phrases from another guitar player and then go out and play it, it would not feel real for me. It has to be here and now in the music for me to be satisfied with my own playing. Now today I of coarse know what I am playing theoretical at all times but the music gets really magic when I simply let go of everything, the music just takes you to another space and you don’t think about what you are playing or why you are playing it you just play because the music takes you there. To do that you need great players around you. Miles Davis said the music can only be great and exciting if you surround yourselves with other musicians that also can forget about the microphone in front of you. If the music has to take off then you need somebody you can take off with and not somebody that limits you in one way or another.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
SL: – I have been playing duo with different great drummers since I was 15 years old sometimes more than once a week. I recommend for working on your timing in all the different tempos, ballads, medium tempo and up tempo. And it helps you develop a flow on your instrument without having a bass player to support you with harmonies and form.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
SL: – I in general like harmonic patterns that have a melodic development within, if not I sometimes prefer to play with no chords like a modal mode, we have two modal songs on my album Søren Lee Diversity Trio. The song “Diversity” is a long modal journey and also “Fast burn”.
JBN.S: – You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
SL: – I would say sometimes a conscious decision and sometimes as you say just an output of what goes in and what I hear in my head.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
SL: – Yes, that’s a tricky thing. Do you mean other strong guitarists or do you mean music in general? I am always more satisfied when I feel that I am playing 100 percent myself and not trying to something I am not, If I do that I immediately fall a sleep. Of coarse I have references to other guitar players in my playing like anybody has, but I believe its important to try and always go your own way but steal with arms and legs and then integrate and assimilate what you like to keep in your playing and then spit the rest out.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <Søren Lee Diversity Trio>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
SL: – I like everything about my new trio album, and I love the way Linley Marthe and Niclas Campagnol collaborate in all the songs. They are both so very free on each instrument and that makes everything possible. I had never played with Linley before we met in March last year. The track that we opens up on the album called ´New possibility` is actually the first time we all played together. Niclas and Linley knew each other from previously playing and I had played with Niclas a lot before but it was the first time with this combination. When we met that day after I pick up Linley in the airport, we only had 2 hours to run through everything before we started recording around.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
SL: – I would say my intellect is a big help when it´s comes to make new lines and chord progressions. While soul is more present and very much involved when I am playing in front an audience. All my ballads on my new album are written with my soul very present I would say. To me it´s very important to be able to formulate precise what your soul is about in your music. It takes many years to learn that.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
SL: – Again it’s a relationship between the artist and the audience as you say, when I play I try to play music that I myself would like to go out and listen to, and then I can only hope that others feel the same way about the music and that they like it and comes back next time and buy my album.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
SL: – I have good memories from all my recordings. I can remember playing with the great and now deceased legendary bass player Ray Brown on my first album “Søren Lee Quartet feat. Ray Brown” His feeling of groove and everything about him was just amazing to experience up close and in person. That I will always remember and treasure dearly. The ease and joy of playing with Linley Marthe and Niclas Campagnol on Diversity, will always stand out for me.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
SL: – We all as musicians have a big responsibility in that sense. Always try to be fresh and honest when we go out and play, don’t try to be something you are not but try be yourself and true to your heart and soul in what you are playing and choose to play.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
SL: – I agree with John Coltrane and I believe that music and the meaning of life is connected for all us musicians. I personally cannot live without music its such a big part of me that I always think in music and about music. When we play great music our soul comes out and tells a story, and then I believe that god is smiling but I’m also happy when we pay our bills and provide for our kids.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
SL: – I would like more people coming out and listen to creative music and that TV and radio would be more supportive in communicating great music. Also to people who normally don’t listen to that kind of music. I would hope that musicians would get a better royalty when their music is streamed on spotify and all the different streaming services.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
SL: – Right now it´s Bach, but I have in my now 52 years life listened to so much great music in all kind of different genres that my head, body and soul always will be full of lovely great music no matter what even if did not listen to any music for the rest of my life. But all music has my interest, jazz, rock, blues, pop, classical etc.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
SL: – I like many different areas, but maybe the 70th because a lot of great music was invented in those years both in jazz and rock. Just take all the great fusion bands like Weather report, Miles Davis, Earth wind and fire and so on, but I actually like it a lot right now, for me the now is the most exiting moment, not yesterday or tomorrow but right now.
JBN.S: – Where would you like to be in three years from now?
SL: – Playing on all the big festivals and clubs around the world with my trio Søren Lee Diversity Trio that is the gold and I certainly think and hope that will happen.
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
SL: – Keep on playing fresh and creatively, and with joy.
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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