Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Wayne Horvitz. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Wayne Horvitz: – My parents were both from New York, but I grew up as a child in the West, mostly California. We moved back East, to Washington D.C., when I was 12. My parents were both music lovers and my father played the clarinet and piano. He was more interested in jazz, my mother loved classical music. On my parents first date they went to 52nd Street and saw Billie Holiday on a double bill with Nat King Cole!
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
WH: – I started very late- I was 14 or 15 when I began to play piano, I wanted to play blues. I loved Otis Spann. I didn’t get serious until college, and then for 1 year I practiced 8 hours a day. I wish I had kept doing that! Otis Spann was a big influence on my sound. Musically I was very drawn to Bartok, and Cecil Taylor, later Messiean. I also loved all electric Miles Davis stuff, late Weather Report and above all The Art Ensemble of Chicago. But the stuff that got me turned on to improvisation and sound were all the psychedelic bands, the music in the late 1960’s, and from that I heard early country music, and folk music, and early jazz and so on. What I am saying is Jimi Hendrix led me to Otis Rush, Miles Live at the Fillmore led me to Kind of Blue.I would say that pianists were not my biggest influence, composers were. One thing I can say for certain, I have always been drawn to understatement. I love early Paul Bley for example. My dad had the Eric Dolphy live at the 5 spot records. I think the way Mal Waldron plays on those records got inside my concept as well.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
WH: – Well this is a difficult question. I probably did not spend as much time working on rhythm as I should have earlier in my life. This is something that is extremely difficult for any musician to admit. But I was the kind of person who would find a harmonic idea and work it, and I often would stop practicing and composed instead. I do think I have strong rhythmic language in my writing. In recent years I have been much more diligent about practicing specifically to develop my rhythmic execution. I work more with a metronome, I work on rhythmic problems specifically, and I play with recordings. I wish I had more hours in the day and more days in the week!
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?
WH: – Not really conscious. I do love harmony, but I am also wary of a certain kind of facile harmonic language I hear in a lot of modern jazz composing, and in jazz pianists. Its very impressive, but often not very compelling to me. I liked to be surprised. Bartok is a great example, he takes the time to constantly reinvent little variations in the harmonic language, and at its best it makes my heart break.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
WH: – I don’t worry about it.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
WH: – That is easy. 50/50
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
WH: – Again I don’t worry about it. In terms of the big picture I don’t tailor my music to an audience, but I am grateful when they like it, and I hope it has meaning to them. On the other hand I do like to adjust the music to the room on any given evening. The acoustics, the vibe of the audience, if it’s a small club, a festival. You need to play differently to accommodate your environment. Even how long you play should fit in with the feeling of the show.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
WH: – Well I am afraid that will have to wait. If I started I would never stop. Let’s just say I have been very lucky to get to do what I do, and especially to work with all the amazing musicians I have had the pleasure to play with.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
WH: – Odd you should ask that. The problem I have with my students is they are ONLY interested in playing tunes that are half a century old. But that is an assumption about jazz, and I am a composer first and foremost, so the music I am interested in is brand new.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
WH: – Wow, big question. I can’t really say, I am a rationalist by heart. But I do know that my sense of space and time is very much transformed when I play music, and often when I listen to music. So it may just be another part of the brain working, it may be a spirit world, it may be both. Whatever it is, it is a great gift.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
WH: – Great pianos in every venue!
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
WH: – Nothing very specific. I went to the symphony last night, I am going to hear Ted Poor’s band tonight. When I got home last night I put on a Paul Butterfield record I used to love-sounded great. I try to keep up with my friend’s and the music they are making. I don’t listen to recorded music a lot, because I try and go out and hear live music often.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
WH: – There are a few moments in history I wouldn’t mind changing if I could. I am sure you can imagine.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
WH: – I don’t have a question for myself, but thanks for offering.
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers.
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
WH: – Get up every day and keep doing it.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan