Jazz interview with jazzfusion guitarist Noshir Mody. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Noshir Mody: – I was born and raised in Mumbai, India used to be called Bombay back then. My father was also a musician. He played the drums and harmonica and had an extensive collection of Jazz records. I remember there always being music in our home. When I was a kid I was forbidden from playing his records since I could barely reach the turntable and probably scratched a few of the vinyl albums; but I remember sneaking and playing them anyway.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the guitar? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the guitar?
NM: – I must have been about nine years old or so and I was in a music store with my mother and I begged her to buy me a guitar. I had never even held a guitar until that point but I was convinced that I would be able to teach myself how to play it. She refused, I teared up and offered to use all my saved up money from Birthday’s and family gifts – it was 300 rupees, approximately five dollars. She finally gave in and we bought the cheapest option – this awful pink acoustic which had “Teacher’s Pet” written on it. I was ecstatic and when I came home I began to strum aggressively and ended up breaking 3 of the strings. That broken down guitar sat by the side of my bed for many years and I kept picking at it every now and then but it was not until I heard Al di Meola’s “Elegant Gypsy” that I was hooked. I am self-taught on the guitar. Over the years I’ve had musical mentors but they all played instruments other than guitar.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
NM: – I came to the US in 1995 to the New York area. I was twenty-two years old at the time and was very fortunate that I immediately began to play with local musicians. Some of them were a few decades older than me and world class musicians. They would give me a hard time because I was still struggling playing the instrument but never to the point where they stifled my creativity. I guess I’m very grateful that in their wisdom they gave me the space to find my own sound. Then a few years later I did this residency for about eighteen months in a small café, called Sweet Dreams in Madison, New Jersey. That place had a great scene and vibe. We would play for hours, unrehearsed and improvising and soon had a who’s who of top musicians come and sit in with us. Those sessions were instrumental in developing me as a musician and allowing me to define my voice. Even today there are only a handful of venues that I’m aware of in the New York area whose ownership is hands off allowing you to develop and mature a new sound with a group. There used to be Somethin’ Jazz in midtown Manhattan and currently we have Shrine and Silvana in Harlem and the ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
NM: – I practice with a looper. I currently use the RC-300 from Boss but have owned a number of them over the years. I lay down a percussive beat with the guitar, layer it with a harmonic progression and then perform the melodies and improvise over those looped tracks. This helps me to rhythmically groove while performing and is also a big part of my composing and arranging methodology.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? 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?
NM: – From a harmonic perspective I’ve always gravitated towards an open sound. I favor suspended and diminished chords. I also love dissonance but you’re right it has to be used judiciously to elicit an emotion or feeling. In general though while composing I’m not consciously thinking about any music theory, it’s more a function of inspiration and me listening and feeling the music as it comes to me. All the theory and knowledge kicks in later while I work to transform that moment of inspiration into a finished work.
JBN.S: – How do you prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
NM: – I find that my best work is achieved when I’m centered, quiet and capable of listening. It’s a meditation for me and I approach it in the same manner distancing myself from the chaos and noise around me. That doesn’t necessarily mean that my physical surroundings have to be quiet and calm but more that I can retreat into a quiet place within my thoughts.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <A Burgeoning Consciousness>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
NM: – I feel very fortunate that this project was able to attract and retain this remarkable group of musicians. The chemistry is palpable and thematically we are all in sync. We take risks throughout and are able to pull it off due to the high level of musicianship. We also had the right engineers lined up; guys who are committed to making music better and they both kept at it until we got it right. The ensemble has a great live sound and we needed to capture that in our recording. The album itself is comprised of six tracks that cover narratives of discovery, disillusionment, introspection, reconciliation, resurgence and revelation and together they give rise to the album title A Burgeoning Consciousness. These are all phases of a universal human experience. We live in a world that continues to divide us based on physical, social and spiritual boundaries and we need art to inspire us to be better. That’s what this album aspires to do and I love that.
As for my current projects I’m composing for my next album, which is a bit of a departure from my last two albums but still too early for me to predict how it’s going to finally take shape.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
NM: – For me, the intellect serves the soul. Music should ultimately make us feel and experience emotions. The intellect provides us with an informed path to go about achieving these results.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
NM: – I believe audiences want authenticity, whatever the artist’s style and narrative. The whole paradigm gets murky when artists try to mold themselves to be the flavor of the day. I’m focused on developing my own voice and style and what I offer is an honest and compelling expression of how I perceive the world.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions, which you’d like to share with us?
NM: – A little inside story about the making of A Burgeoning Consciousness. After our first recording date, our drummer Yutaka got into a car accident where he was banged up pretty bad; but he still kept the remaining two recording dates and performed with cracked ribs. He’s an absolute hero in my eyes and when you hear his performance on these long tracks, especially the song Weaving Our Future From The Past, which opens with a two and half minute drum solo, one would never imagine that he was performing under these circumstances.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
NM: – To me, jazz is the logical outcome of pursuing any musical art form developed to proficiency levels where the artist can create in the moment over propulsive rhythmic structures. Creating in the moment with clarity of purpose and an effective musical vocabulary is an amazing experience to behold. It’s magical and people, young and old, are inspired and interested. Even though the common perception may be contrary, in my opinion, the standards by themselves are not jazz and jazz is not just playing standards.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
NM: – I keep it simple – show up, do your best and be a fair and decent person. There are no higher purpose accolades bestowed on guitar virtuosos, neurosurgeons or materially accomplished professionals. I believe the liberating factor is living a life in harmony with your values with few or no regrets.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
NM: – So I’m a firm believer that art makes the world a better place. I would love to see artists’ income be nontaxable up to some reasonable and practical limit. We need to incentivize the arts in a meaningful way.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
NM: – I’m currently enjoying Black Light by John McLaughlin, Mulgrew Miller’s Live at Yoshi’s, Vol. 1 and Michael Hoppe and friends’ album Amistad.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
NM: – I don’t know if I want to go anywhere. We are at a remarkable time in history with technology opening up new frontiers, culturally we are awakening to demand fairness and decency and together we are shaping our world. To me right now is when it’s most interesting …
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
NM: – I’m so interested in this Blockchain technology – a decentralized and trusted way for doing business. With all the musicians and industry folks that you speak with, have you heard of any viable developments for our industry?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. No, of course, we are not interested in it …
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
NM: – Just taking each day at a time and giving my hundred percent to what’s at hand. My belief is that all the small successes will eventually add up.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan