Jazz interview with American musician, producer, singer & arranger Vincent John. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Vincent John: – I grew up in the Philadelphia area. Originally, the radio “Oldies” station playing mostly soul music.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the vocal? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the vocal?
VJ: – Songwriting is what led me to sing. At a young age, after teaching myself some chords on the guitar, I was compelled to write my own songs. I only had a classical guitar my Aunt gave to me and my voice. It was out necessity which led it to become an instrumental part in how I create my music, for myself and for other artists.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
VJ: – A big part of the sound is the Linn Drum. A mentor showed me the machine and I was hooked. Not only could it enable me to make my own records without a drummer (gasp!) but I like the ridgity of it. It reminds me of the Can but electronic. Tight and perfect, loud and tough.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
VJ: – Though I’ve explored other main ingredients for drums, the Linn Drum always makes its way onto the song. My sound is a hybrid of “real” and “programmed” sounds, very much indicative of the time we’re living in: a hodgepodge of genre and style. I focus on the vision to purpose funky, stylish arrangements around a well-written song.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
VJ: – I’m always working and in practice. It reached a point where music is a part of my daily life whether it’s scheduled or not. In terms of rhythm, I always aim to be in the pocket. Nothing should feel “early.” Gotta be on time or slightly behind the beat. I’m really in tune to how a groove feels. It has to be right.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
VJ: – Lately, I’ve gravitated toward starting a chord progression on IV. I like to avoid the I until the third or fourth chord in a progression. But really, I don’t plan out chord progressions. I’ll end up trying a bunch of things once I have a groove that feels nice. I guess there are tendencies, but I’m always aiming to break them in favor of something fresh, pushing boundaries. Occasionally I’ll be working on a chord progression and loop part of that becomes “it.”
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
VJ: – I believe that we are in an everlasting dream. The body is temporary but the soul lives on forever as energy.
I was in an earthquake in NYC with Lee Fields as he was cutting the lead vocal on “Faithful Man”, a song that I co-wrote for his album of the same name. I remember sitting in the control room and the arms started to shake. Then, as I looked over at the tape machine, I could see that it was wobbling too. Lee exclaimed “The floor is shaking!” our whole crew vacated the premises fast. Luckily that was the extent of the incident. Pretty memorable!
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
VJ: – Dismantling the corporate structure that controls what people perceive as “good.” This is probably why Jazz has no place in the mainstream lately. It can’t sell iPhones as well as other kinds of music does. We’re living in a time where everything comes down to marketability and sales, more than ever. I started this project for self-expression, the antitheseis of that.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
VJ: – This week: Glays Knight, Otis Redding, Brazilian Telenova Soundtracks, Pet Shop Boys, Gorillaz, Walyon Jennings, Curtis Mayfield, ESG, Units, It’s all over the place and always rotating.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
VJ: – I’d like to go back in time to attend one of Fela’s recording sessions. Or James Brown, I’d love to have watched him cut a record.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan