Jazz interview with jazz trombonist and composer Peter Nelson. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start withwhere you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Peter Nelson: – I grew up in Lansing, Michigan. I was fortunate to be surrounded by a wide variety of music stemming from the heavily multicultural community I was immersed in. I was always singing and playing around on the piano as a child so when it came time to start music in school it felt only natural to participate formally.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the trombon? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the trombon?
PN: – As a kid, I was fascinated by the slide as opposed to the buttons that seemingly all the other instruments had. I quickly fell in love with the sound of the trombone and when my step dad brought me a J.J. Johnson recording I was immediately hooked. I’ve been fortunate to have had some incredible teachers and mentors— Michael Dease, Vincent Chandler and Nick Javier to name a few.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
PN: – Sound development is such a personal thing. I’ve found that that the closer trombone playing gets to the sensation of singing, the closer my sound gets to what I hear in my head. I always focus on vibration and resonance and am much more interested in WHY I’m playing rather than HOW I’m playing. Sound will always evolve with taste and preference which, for me, seems to consistently lean towards the sound of the voice.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
PN: – The majority of what I practice these days is in my head. Early on I began to understand that my relationship was with sound and music and that the trombone was just the catalyst. Melody, Rhythm and Harmony are just components of the greater language of music. The more I learn to improvise and create with them in my head, the more natural it becomes on my instrument.
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?
PN: – I think of harmony as the setting and environment of a story. It should support the story line (melody) but not unnaturally draw attention to itself. I like using harmony as a tool to pull listener’s emotions around with blocks of sound that are tonally related but feel somehow different (i.e. “To the Water, My Eyes”).
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
PN: – This is a constant battle. We want to foster and nurture relationships with our audience, band mates and mentors but it’s easy to let our self esteem become contingent on the perceived opinions of those we love and respect. I am constantly experimenting with different improvisation and composition exercises that allow me to cultivate a space of non-judgment and flow. This has been of the utmost importance not only as an artist but as someone recovering from dystonia.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
PN: – Everything “intellectual” in my writing is in service of the “Soul” of the music. I think the two are linked together. I am, as every artist is, a sum of my influences. The intellect allows me to process and define those influences, the soul allows me to fuse them together with my own experience and create new, honest music.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
PN: – For me, music has always been about community. I came to music in a community, I learned to play music in a community, I grew because of the support of musicians in my community, I share music in a community – with the musicians on the band stand as well as the audience. It’s all about community and heart communication.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
PN: – Playing with Orrin Evans taught me so much. Every night the energy was a little different and the music always represented that. To be both mailable in one’s creativity and firm in one’s musical resolve is truly a difficult task to tackle. I learned so much about trust from playing in that band. It was a marriage of reckless abandon and serenity.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
PN: – People of all ages want to communicate, cultivate relationship and to be understood. Jazz represents putting all of those things into action on the bandstand every night, creating with the language of music rather than spoken word. When people start to understand that they begin to identify with the music. I’ve found this to be the most effective way to get younger people excited about jazz.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
PN: – My perspective on this is ever changing and constantly evolving. For me, the space that my soul is fully expressed is through music. I believe people are constantly searching for their own space like that, but it’s as much internal as it is an external endeavor. We search for the connection, for the oversoul that binds us together while also honoring without judgement our individual selves.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
PN: – I would get rid of genres. Too often we rely on the world or marketing to tell us what to like rather than search for music we can develop real relationship with.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
PN: – I’ve been listening a lot to singer/songwriters. Nick Drake, Elliot Smith, Cold Specks etc … I love musical storytelling and these artist really captivate me.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
PN: – 1960’s Not only was there incredible social revolution happening but the music was such a relevant extension of the world is was created in. Also, I love Miles Davis 2nd Great Quintet.
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
PN: – Music has never been just internal or just external for me. It’s a constantly evolving pendulum of relationship with people and with myself. I hope that we can continue to move forward collectively away from fear. I feel strongly that music can be one of the vessels that takes us there.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan