Jazz interview with jazz pianist Amaury Faye. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Amaury Faye: – I grew up in Toulouse, South France. Toulouse has a strong connection with music, especially in Jazz music (it’s the hometown of French jazz singer Claude Nougaro). But that’s not the main reason: we had an old electric piano that my mom kept and I started to play random notes on it, still trying to make music though. She found a teacher for the first year of my musical, learning. A funny thing is that since then she took piano lessons again and she’s practicing on that same piano today!
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the piano? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the piano?
AF: – As I said before, we had this old Clavinova at home. The first teacher I had was called Serge Ducamin. Basically, I owe him everything. I first taught me ragtime, than jazz music. He also taught me how to transcribe, how to use my ears to learn any song. After 10 years with him, I continued with other great teachers, met a lot of legendary pianists by attending their master classes (Kenny Barron, Benny Green, Mulgrew Miller). The most intense learning process was during my time at Berklee, in 2014-2015, studying with Joanne Brackeen. She transformed me. After learning from her, I was not a student anymore, but a real young musician ready to begin his long journey.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
AF: – I’ve always tried to imitate and get as close as possible to my idols. The first one was French pianist Claude Bolling (for his album “Original Ragtime”). I played a lot of ragtime before starting to improvise. The first improviser I’ve tried to imitate was Oscar Peterson, followed by Errol Garner then Thelonious Monk and Kenny Barron. After that, I had a long time where I was influenced by Ahmad Jamal, and since 2011, Brad Mehldau heavily influences me. Those are the main influences, and only the piano players. I should stop there, as almost every jazz musician, I listen to a lot of stuff and the list would be too long!
That being said, I still don’t really think I’ve found my own sound, even if I know which direction I want to take, but to answer your second question, the main things I do to find and develop my own sound is to experiment everything I can at home, and also keep listening to different musicians everyday, transcribing and analyzing their music, reading their interviews and trying to understand their state of mind.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
AF: – To be honest, I don’t have any practice routine. The only thing I can relate to when I practice is my concentration. I can spend 8 hours on the piano a day without being aware of it, but if after 30 minutes I realize nothing is good, I stop and work on something else or do something different (mailing, accountability, administrative stuff…). Since there’s not a real schedule, I adapt everyday my exercises to my mental or physical condition. It took me a lot of time to get to this way of functioning, but I feel way more efficient than I used to be before.
For rhythm, I listen to a lot of drummers, bass players, I sing a lot (when I’m alone, of course!) rhythmical stuff and always try to stay in the form. When I learn some new things, I usually spend a few days trying to understand and practice, then I stop and move on to something else. Most of the time, two or three days after I suddenly feel the stuff I was learning, and I don’t need to think anymore to play it. I think it works the same way for a lot of people.
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?
AF: – I am heavily influenced by classical music, ragtime. One of the most important things to me is harmony. I pay a lot of attention to it. I’m not so much into modal system, way more in tonal system, very attached to the circle of fifths, so you will see almost every time some V-I progressions in my compositions, even though today I try to find new paths. Those paths help me lot to create illusions in my improvisations, I love to stretch my melodies, going in an out all the time, giving this breath that keeps the listener awaken, forcing him (or her) to let go any thought and get transported by the music. If I don’t use dissonance, I might bore and lose the listener, if I use too much of it, I might get the same result, so it’s definitely a conscious choice: try to use the dissonance the best I can, according to my music.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
AF: – For a long time it’s been a real problem: I was afraid of not having my own sound, being condemned to imitate others all my life. I was trying new stuff only to get something new. Then I realized that it was not the good way to do it. It made absolutely no sense and made my music absolutely uninteresting. I understood that I should not question myself so much. Sometimes, it’s necessary to keep moving forward and do what you want, without caring about how legitimate you are. Today, Brad Mehldau heavily influences me. A lot of fellow musician might criticize me for it, but they don’t learn me anything. I know it, I admit it, but I’m still trying to find my own sound, and I see more people telling me that I’ve evolved a lot. I have more public every month, I sell more albums, I get more gigs. Why should I stop? The most important is to keep in mind that I should never stop trying to progress and find my own voice. Will I make it? I don’t know. The objective is less important than the journey.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
AF: – I think it depends on people. For me, I don’t even think that’s it should be a balance. Intellect can feed soul, and soul can feed intellect. I think they are dependent from each other, whether it can be in Jazz, Classical music, African music, Punk, Rock, Hip Hop, etc. Short answer for a pretty tough question!
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
AF: – I am totally okay with that, and I do this with my own compositions or arrangements. I think that you just have to stay honest with yourself. I actually conceive this as a game: I first transform a personal idea into music. Once I’ve got the music, I make a choice: do I keep it as pure as it came out of my head, or do I find a way to present this idea to the public by “making my music fit” to the expectations of the public. This way, I still feel like I have things under control, and at the same time I show myself opened to any interaction with the public.
Giving people what they want is a way to introduce them to your own universe. If you love people, you don’t have any consideration about how you should present them your material, you just create and perform. And let’s not forget that without the public, I would not make a living of what I do.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
AF: – Recently in Paris I came for a few days to jam with friends and meet new musicians. The two first jam sessions were crazy, a lot of fun. But after four days playing and partying with friends, I was very tired. Also, it’s been a while I didn’t work on the old American repertoire. The last night I came to two jam sessions with very cool and amazingly talented young musicians. I played everything wrong and I felt bad for the rest of the night. Even with the tunes I knew I was struggling to make music! After a few tries in different clubs, I decided that it was enough, and I came back from Paris with this souvenir. Thankfully, the guys I played with are very cool and were very comprehensive, so everything is ok, but this is something that we should all expect: you’re never done, you still have a lot to learn, and today I’m thankful that I could experience that once again. First, I know I should go back seriously to that American Songbook, and second, it’s cool to have ego, but you have to know that staying humble is way more important, and the only way to feel it is to live those pretty awkward moments. There’s always something positive to get from it.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
AF: – I think that those standard tunes can still be heard today, it’s more the way to play them which can be adapted (and it’s always been!). We can also grab songs from other repertoires, just like did Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper, Tigran, and many more. Those new generations are pretty successful in bringing young people back in jazz venues.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
AF: – I think my spirit is made of a lot of things, not only music. Music is just a small part of it. Sometimes I even wonder if it’s not just a tool. Maybe I think this way because I’m a European guy. I love and I am fascinated by this music, but I will never have the connection American jazzmen have with Jazz. It’s their music, their history. Thankfully this is not what I’m looking for. Music is a way to express myself without having to be rational. There are a lot of rules, and at the same time you still want to be like a little kid, making instinctive choices. Improvisation would not be so important in this music if we would like everything to be rational. So you have different paths that you can take whenever you want. That being said, music is not my spirit. What I just described, I like to think that I can have this state of mind in other aspects of life. Music is not my spirit, just a part of it.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
AF: – I think I would change the way money is distributed. A lot of people make easy money on hardworking artists, and they don’t have every time the good tools to defend themselves. I know that this problem happens everywhere though, but since the question is only about music…
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
AF: – Kendrick Scott, Braxton Cook, Louis Cole, Aaron Parks, Ben Wendel, Mark Turner, Kendrick Lamar, and this amazing young band that I’ve just discovered last week, Greta Van Fleet!
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
AF: – Right now, the first thing that comes to my mind is a Soviet Cosmodrome in the 60’s or 70’s. Why? My parents work in rocket science, more precisely in surveying the oceans (my mother) and space exploration (my father). In 2003, working on the European satellite that discovered water on Mars (Mars Express), the ESA collaborated with the Russians to send the satellite into the space. My father was sent to Baïkonour Cosmodrome in the middle of the desert of Kazhakstan. When he came back he showed us some pictures of the huge installations, the Soyuz Rocket, even the Russian space shuttle Buran (they tried to copy the American Space Shuttle) that only flew once. All those things made me realize later that we almost don’t know anything about this part of the space race. We have documents and videos, but it’s really difficult to get there, so definitely I would love to see this place, even more during those important moments.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
AF: – Do you think that with all we’ve seen so far in music, combined with the internet revolution, is there any room for new music? Are we able to create something totally new? Or is it just going to be a mix of what’s already exists?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. I think jazz and blues clubs, festivals, etc.
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
AF: – This is one of those moments where I can stop, tell what I think, and try to see a little more of the big picture. Right after that, let’s get back to work!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan