May 28, 2024

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Interview with Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Music is how I receive and share the spiritual: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Jacques Schwarz-Bart: – Early in my development, music has been my first desirable mean to communicate with other humans. My big brother didn’t want a little guy in his way, and my parents were busy writing literature to really pay attention to me. Only music allowed me to lift the weight I felt all around me, and made me want to live.

I was born in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. During my first 12 years, my parents went back and forth between Guadeloupe and Switzerland, where we lived in a small village in the suburbs of Lausanne. I first picked up the gwoka drums at age 4. At 6 I started the guitar after becoming a jazz aficionado, and absorbing the vinyl collection of my best friend’s dad, who was a psychiatrist.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the saxophone? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the saxophone?

JSB: – When I started listening to jazz -around age 5- I became fascinated with horn players: Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins. But I picked up the tenor sax at age 24. By then I was involved in a carrer in the French Senate, and I could not even dream of being a musician. I taught myself for a couple of years. Then I met a Berklee professor who was playing in Paris, and invited me to sit in on a song at the end of the night in a small club. Upon learning that I had just started played for a couple of years, he said I should really come study at Berklee. So I scheduled a trip to audition in Boston. I got a scholarship and decided to start a brand new life in music.

My teachers at Berklee were Joe Viola, Billy Pierce and George Garzone. They started on a journey that opened the path that I am still traveling today, almost 30 years later.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

JSB: – I think I have evolved a lot in clarity, fluidity, articulation, dynamics and intonation. I want my ideas to come out clearly and convincingly, charged with spirit and electricity, whatever the dynamic level. I think that playing a style of jazz involving intense grooves has pushed me to seek a way to sore over the band effortlessly.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

JSB: – Rhythm have been at the center of a lot of my explorations. The fact that drums was my first instrument must have something to do with it. I always look for syncopation, different approaches to phrasing (on the beat, behind the beat), a variety of rythmic values, and finally a real dialogue with silence. I have developed an array of drills where I place the metronome on accents rather than on the beat. That has helped think outside the box…

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?

JSB: – I love harmony. Even when I look for dissonance, it is in relation with the harmony at hand: an extension of it, a source of tension. I always try to sty true to the harmonic content of a song, which I regard as essential to the composition itself!

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

JSB: – This is one of the most problematic issues… How to build your own language… The first step is to break the box to understand how it works. Once you start having command of the jazz idiom, you need to turn all the vocabulary into aesthetic concepts,  structures, colours and shapes. Once you look at a style as an architect, from the smallest details to the grand vision,   you can build your own house.

Composing helps forge your aesthetic and mold your playing to support your overall artictic vision.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

JSB: – It is important for me to apprehend the world in as many ways possible, through various forms of art, but also astrophysics, philosophy and history. I am fully engaged in the society I live in, even if music connects me to energies that are exist beyond time and space. That balance is what allows me to transmit my experience to my students, and connect with my son and my wife.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

JSB: – When I conceive a project, I need to be built on sacred ground of pure and uncompromising inspiration. I inherited from both my parents a profound respect for intellectual and artistic integrity, and I can’t break my vows. I understand why so many artists choose another route, and calibrate their musical choice to target an audience. But social and material success means nothing to me. I attained it at a young age in my first career. It doesn’t impress me and is not a goal of mine.

I believe that if a sound moves me to my core, it will move another human being sooner or later!

Now, when I am in front of an audience, I often try to stay tuned to its reactions, and I will decide to play shorter or longer improvisations, to pick tunes that are high energy or more meditative accordingly.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

JSB: – Let me tell you about a moment that defined my career.  When I first moved to NY, I was going to all the jam sessions every night. I was sleeping in the closet of a good friend at the time, who was playing piano for Betty Carter. That night he decided to hang out with me. We had just left a latin jazz club in the Village, when someone said that Roy Hargrove and Chucho Valdes were playing around the corner at Bradlee’s. We immediately headed there. As we got closer, I was bewitched by the sounds that came out of the front door. As soon as I got through the entrance, I started unpacking and assembling my horn. My friend Bruce told me with authority. Don’t do it man. You will be blacklisted and no one will hire you in NY. His words bounced off my ears like droplets of a concrete roof. I jumped on stage. Luckily Chucho thought I was a friend of Roy, and Roy thought I was part of Chucho’s cuban entourage. They both nodded my to play a solo. I poured all I had in me. And two weeks later I was on the road with Roy.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

JSB: – We can’t expect the audience to revisit that past. It is up to the us to write new standards, innovate and project our inner light onto the World.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

JSB: – That question is very personal. In the jewish tradition, every man -and now every woman-,is a rabbi in his/her own house. That means that beyond the norms of your faith, you should strive to seek your own answers.

To me, like Coltrane, music is my spiritual path. Music is how I receive and share the spiritual. Through music I feel tethered to any living being, large or small, and ultimately, to the source of life itself.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

JSB: – I would make music education a priority, and I would include the arts as basic human needs essential to the pursuit of happiness in the constitution. That would make defunding the arts and their education unconstitutional.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

JSB: – Coltrane, Moonchild, Thundercat, Miles Davis…

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

JSB: – Right where we are today. Despite the sad Trump episode, we live an incredible era. We are for the first time in history, since the Hubble telescope, aware of the the size of the Universe. We can start answering questions that were left to religions, such as: how did the world appear, how were planets and stars created, how did life came to be, how genes adapt and evolve not only through natural selection, but through our experiences, ect… Also we might be the last few generations who go through aging and mortality… Do I want to look into the past and live slavery, the holocaust? No! Do I want to go into the future where we will make love to robots and virtual partners? Neither!

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

JSB: – What motivates you every morning?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Work, create, develop …

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

JSB: – The key to a meaningful life is passion and enthusiasm! That is exactly how I harness all that!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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