May 28, 2024

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Interview with Brian Newman: The balance of intellect and soul in music is of utmost importance: Video

Jazz interview with jazz trumpeter, singer and bandleader Brian Newman. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Brian Newman: – I grew up in Cleveland Ohio. I was playing in concert band around 7th grade and kept getting in trouble for improvising during the songs and generally goofing around. I was definitely losing interest. This great band director I had, named Tim Yowell, wisely suggested that I take his jazz class over the summer. It was six weeks learning the Bb Blues. That was really it for me. It was the first time I saw that there could be music that was off the written page. Ever since then I wanted to be a New York City musician.

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

BN: – I feel like a player’s sound always is changing and evolving and I have a lot more to learn, but like most jazz players early on, I emulated my musical heroes. In doing that over and over again and through my influences, peers, and most of all learning from older musicians that have lived their lives in this tradition. Also, performing with the same band for the past 20 years we have cultivated what we like and what we’re going for. We’re always trying to do that better and add to our repertoire constantly. Finding your sound is something that never ends and that’s why I love what I do.

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

BN: – One book that I am always practicing and coming back to from is the Vincent Cichowicz Flow Studies. For rhythmic study, I really enjoy transcribing Woody Shaw. His deliberate rhythmic balance is incredible and always keeps you on your toes. Especially in his odd note groupings. Love me some Woody!

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

BN: – Your 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? Of all the patterns and harmonies that I’ve practiced over the years I try my hardest to forget those when I’m on stage and just play what’s in my heart. That way it’s not just a regurgitation of the jazz language. I hear that a lot in musicians because of what they’ve been taught in school and it’s hard for them to be themselves musically. That being said I always try to be conscious of what I’m playing in relation to what the band is playing. As a trumpet player and singer, it’s my job to lead the band, but also to take cues from them harmonically and/or lead them toward other harmonies and dissonance. In the end, it’s really all about having fun and making good music as a group. If you’re having fun so is the audience. Even if they can’t exactly put their finger on it, an audience member with the least amount of musical training or inclination can tell you’re just going through the motions. On the other hand, an audience member like that is perfect to be a new fan of the music.

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

BN: – I think the best way to prevent disparate influences is to truly always be yourself and be conscious of your surroundings and try not to surround yourself with that kind of negative influence. I was always the type of person that if you said I couldn’t do something I would make it my goal to do just that. When I was in high school, I had a band director tell me that I’d never be a jazz musician. Talk about disparate influence! All that really did was light a fire under me and make me try that much harder to achieve my goals. I guess the bottom line is, if disparate influence is unavoidable take it with a grain of salt and make your own decisions of where and what you want to be in your life. There’s room for everyone and you gotta want it.

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

BN: – I think keeping that balance of intellect and soul in music is of utmost importance. You have to know the changes but you also have to be open to take it chances and use the tools and language you have learned to truly speak to each other in a soulful way. It can’t be forced or learned. You have to feel it.

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

BN: – Without the audience, we as musicians are nothing. It is most definitely a two-way street. We can play a straight ahead standard like Pennies from Heaven or something with more modern chord changes like Marie Antoinette or something with lots of dissonance and complex harmonies like Some Skunk Funk and still keep the crowd entertained. It is all in how you present it to them. I always try to make the audience feel that they are part of what we are doing on stage. I feel like that’s where a lot of people’s ignorance of what jazz actually is comes from. It’s the lack of connection they feel to the music. We are not better than our audience because we have more musical knowledge than them. If we want this American Tradition to live on, we as musicians must be conscious of that. At the end of the day my job is as an entertainer. Nothing more. Once the extremely broad term “art” is interjected, the real reason why music exists is lost. You don’t have to change the content of the jazz tradition to make it accessible to a wider audience.

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

BN: – Some of my favorite memories playing music was making the Cheek To Cheek record with my boys, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Getting to work in the studio and consequently to tour the world with Tony, the last of the great American singers and an incomparable talent and voice like Lady. We all learned so much from Tony and it was an honor to get to be there and bring his knowledge to the next generation.

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

BN: – Honestly, I don’t think it’s just about the youth anymore, it’s hard to get anyone that really digs jazz. I hear all the time, “I really don’t like jazz but you guys are great.” From young and old. We’re not playing a different repertoire than most jazz bands today but, it goes back to what I was saying earlier about making it accessible without changing the content as well as bringing the audience into each performance. If you can connect with them and entertain them while also subtly showing them that the tradition we play has shaped all the music they listen to today. From blues to country, rock, hip hop and beyond. Everything that sprouted from Storyville in New Orleans in that relatively short time, has turned into genre on top of genre that each has its roots in our original American music.

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

BN: – I definitely feel like Mr. Coltrane felt but I also know that the more I work, the I know less about life and music every day. This is by no means a comparison but I’m sure that he may have felt this way too at times. Any good musician questions his own existence. They are always pushing to learn more and grow as a musician to try and connect to your true self, or spirit as it were. I know the band and I have talked about this many times. We go through phases of knowledge where we learn a lot but can’t necessarily execute it just yet. The audience can’t tell and most of the time even the band can’t tell but only you know what you were trying to play or reach for. That can be difficult and maybe it doesn’t always go down the way you want it to but you have to know that you ARE growing and you ARE learning.

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

BN: – The big band era! I really love a great big band. I wish there were more big bands. We’ve been playing at Birdland with our friends the New Alchemy Jazz Orchestra and those guys are one of the tightest big bands I’ve heard in a long time. Plus, they all are fantastic arrangers. That’s a truly lost art and they execute it marvelously.

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

BN: – Aw man really digging Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, The Complete Reprise Studio sessions. I listen to the last chord on Please Be Kind over and over again. Another one is Dr. Lonnie Smith, The Healer. He’s a beast and Backtrack on this album is such a killer. Right in between those two songs is where the band and I like to live. Right in between the classic and modern.

JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

BN: – My message that I hope gets through in our music is that we’re about well-crafted fun. It’s about forgetting the daily trials of life and taking a ride with us. A nice cruise down the strip on a tour of Traditional American Music.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan


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