May 29, 2024

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Interview with Nat Birchall: So practice is intellect, but performance isn’t: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Nat Birchall. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Nat Birchall: – I was born and grew up in a small village in the North West of the UK.

There wasn’t much music around but in my early teenage years I would go to our youth club and hear records by people like Prince Buster, which must have been the first time I heard Jamaican music. They also played a lot of American Soul music and also some rock and pop music. But I gravitated towards the Jamaican sounds and began buying records in early 1972.

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

NB: – As a musician I have tried to absorb the sounds of all different the players that I liked. A big part of this is an unconscious thing, we hear particular sounds and they stay with us, in our ears and in our hearts. They contribute to our individual concept of how we think our own particular instrument should sound. So I believe that my own sound has come from the sounds of, firstly, the Jamaican players, Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso and Cedric Brooks, and after that from John Coltrane (Who also influenced the Jamaican players of course) and people like John Gilmore, Booker Ervin, Sonny Rollins etc. But influence is a very complex thing and we can be influenced by other instruments and also vocalists of course. Not to mention other forms of art, and also many different aspects of life and the universe, everything is related and you leran to see patterns in many things that have common qualities.

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

NB: – Rhythm – wise I try to hear the beat divided in different ways, half, quarter, third, eighth, sixteenth, sixth, etc etc. and to try to make these different divisions sound fluid when played. But also to play very simple rhythms in a particular way so that the notes “sit” well with the other instruments. Or even if you play completely solo, aiming to get the notes to be nicely phrased so that they sound good melodically and rhythmically and so that they stand alone without the support of other instruments.

Lately I have been experimenting with mixing different rhythms, for instance playing a song which has a particular rhythmic basis, 5/4 for example, but playing a melody in 3/4 or 4/4 but making it gell with the basic rhythm of the song. It makes some very interesting rhythms and the phrases resolve in unexpected places. It can be challenging but it gives the music a different type of tension which I like.

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?

NB: – I play mostly in a modal to a free-er kind of style these days. I use chords in some songs, to some degree or other, but the songs tend to still be modal in concept to a large degree. I love melody and as a single note instrument the saxophone can really only deal with melody. So to me having a strong melody is important, and even when we take a “solo” we are really spontaneously composing a melody. So I have tried (and continue to try) to develop my improvising so that the various phrases are related and that one thing leads to another in a logical way. The aspect of “dissonance” is an important one I think, although that term only has meaning in a relative way to me. You can make any note work in any situation, it all depends on how you use it. But music sometimes needs more colourful notes to add to the character of the overall piece, just like a story might need a certain amount of conflict, and also to make the eventual resolution more powerful. But when I play I’m not thinking this way of course, I’m just tryng to keep out of the way of the music happening. But these things become part of our musical concept and manifest themselves when they need to.

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

NB: – By disparate you mean qualities that I don’t want in my own music? Well I’ve always tried to listen as much as possible and glean the things that I like from the music. But also to try to understand why there are certain sounds or styles that I don’t like. Once you have identified the particular quality that doesn’t appeal to you then you can really just “tune it out” and it eventually isn’t a part of your musical world.

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

NB: – Well I think this probably varies from person to person. Personally I think about music pretty much all of the time, until I start to play and then I’m not thinking at all hopefully. The intellect part is when we listen to music and try to understand what is going on, what is it that makes us like a particular sound or phrase etc. Then we try to understand that and learn to do the same thing. Also the structure or arrangement of the music, these things have to be considered with our intellect of course. But then when we come to play we try to be in a place where we are not thinking about what we are doing musically. So practice is intellect, but performance isn’t. The “soul” part is a very difficult thing to pin down, and it means different things to different people, but if you accept that some people play in a “soulful” way then you have to try to figure out why this is, and how it is achieved, and then try to play in a similar way yourself.

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

NB: – The audience is very important of course, in a live concert situation they can be almost a part of the group in a way. Their prescence and how they listen and accept the music is a big factor in how the music develops over the course of the evening. As to giving the people what they want, well this is a complex thing I think. At one extreme there are musicians who play with a total disregard (or even disdain!) for the listener, and are even happy when people get up to leave! At the other extreme there are musicians who play only what they think the crowd will know and will want to hear. Somewhere in the middle of these extremes is the answer, for me at least. I don’t think we should pander to the audience’s tastes, or what we think might be their tastes, but we should act as if they have come to hear the music (even if sometimes they haven’t…) I have tried to make my music engaging so that if anyone listens without prejudice then hopefully the music will draw them in and they will get some kind of satisfaction from it. But this begins with every aspect of playing, from sound production to phrasing and dynamics etc, all of it is aiming toward the production of the best music we can make, both for us and for the listener. It might not be to everyone’s taste but we cannot please everyone, we have to satisfy our own tastes first, this is not being selfish in any way but merely staying true to our musical principles. I was a serious listener before I started to play an instrument and I’ve tried to keep in mind the things that attracted me to the music I love as I’ve tried to develop as a musician.

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

NB: – I can’t think of anything right now, sorry!

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

NB: – I don’t think the age of songs is important, I’m sure many young people get interested in classical music and some of that is hundreds of years old!

It’s more about exposure, jazz is underrepresented in all ways. It is rarely heard on TV or the radio, in films etc etc. In the UK there are radio stations that play classical music all day long, there are stations that play pop music all day long, but only one or two jazz programmes per week, for one hour maybe. The classical music orchestras here are funded and supported to a huge amount, the pop music business is rolling in money and is featured on a weekly, if not daily, basis on TV. But jazz is roundly ignored. Young people aren’t going to get into something that they are unaware of. It’s that simple.

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

NB: – That’s a deep question! I’m not sure I can answer it.

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

NB: – Oh man… I guess relating to question 10, more representation of jazz in the mainstream. Which would also include more venues where people could hear the music of course.

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

NB: – Well I try to listen to as much music as I can, not that I have too much time for that. But I find the greats of the past are of such majesty that not much from today measures up to it. And what I listen to can vary over time, right now I’m listening to a lot of Duke Ellington especially his later works. Apart from that the past few weeks I have been listening to Tchangodei, a French/African piano player, with Archie Shepp, Randy Weston, Albert Dailey, Carter Jefferson, Yabby You, Tommy McCook, Vin Gordon, King Tubby, Billie Holiday, Clifford Jordan…

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

NB: – Musically I’m always torn between Charlie Parker on 52nd Street or John Coltrane at the Half Note in 1965. But I’m also fascinated by the origins of music and would love to hear the first recognisable sounds of music made by humans!

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

NB: – Ok… so how do you think the jazz music of now compares with the music of the 1950s and 1960s?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Now do not compares with the music of the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately!!!

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

NB: – You mean how do I put all these things together that we’ve been discussing? Well it’s a step by step thing I suppose, and permeates every aspect of making music, from the reasons why we do it in the first place, to how we produce and hold a note, to what we decide to play etc. Every day it’s building towards the performance of the music, trying to make everything better end better bit by bit. All of it with the end result in mind.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Картинки по запросу Nat Birchall

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