May 29, 2024

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Interview with Oren Levine: All that intellectual preparation is needed to make it possible to just “let go” on the gig: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Oren Levine. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Oren Levine: – I grew up in Washington, DC, and was exposed to music from a very early age, mostly from my father who was a lifelong fan of jazz and classical music. He would always play jazz records in the house and made sure to take me and my brother to classical and jazz concerts and shows even when we were quite young.

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?

OL: – My parents offered me piano lessons, and I agreed because it seemed easy. After all, the notes are right in front of you, so how hard could it be? Of course, this was not really true J. The big break came in high school, when I decided to move from studying classical piano to jazz. I am fortunate to have had a series of excellent teachers who helped me develop as a jazz player: John True, Nahum Perferkovich, Frank Wilkins, and Harvey Diamond.

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

OL: – My sound and skills are still evolving of course. I’ve tried to develop those mainly by listening to lots of recorded and live jazz, which first helps develop a sense of what great jazz sounds like. After that, it’s an endless quest to understand the details of how to create those sounds: harmony, rhythm, phrasing, energy. Studying jazz theory has been important too, helping to provide a language to describe and break down the components of the music.

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

OL: – I try to spend plenty of time with the metronome, which can be difficult! I learned an approach recently from a local drummer, of practicing with the metronome sounding on the 4th beat of every measure. That’s been very useful in developing time and swing.

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?

OL: – I do tend to play more “inside” than “outside,” which is partly a choice, and partly due to my still learning more advanced “language”. I’m always looking for new harmonic and melodic tools to add to the toolbox I bring to every performance.

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

OL: – Not sure what you mean in this question. I’m open to all sorts of influences in my playing. I don’t believe that jazz has to be “pure” – there’s plenty of space to include influences from everything I hear.

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

OL: – My teacher Harvey Diamond taught that you need to build your skills through study and extensive practice, but when you perform, you need to forget it all and just play. All that intellectual preparation is needed to make it possible to just “let go” on the gig.

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

OL: – Jazz started as dance and party music, which I think we shouldn’t forget. The energy from the audience is essential in making for a successful performance.

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

OL: – I’ve been fortunate to play in Washington, DC at a time when the jazz scene has exploded. I have particularly enjoyed my years in the house band of the DC Jazz Jam, which invites a local master artist to join the band every week. As a result, I’ve had an opportunity to play with many superb musicians who I otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to play with.

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

OL: – From what I’ve heard from young jazz musicians, the age of the standard tunes doesn’t seem to be a big barrier. I’m always hearing new interpretations of old melodies and lyrics that give me confidence about the ongoing success of the music. There are also plenty of players building from newer popular music and styles, continuing that jazz tradition. I’ve been working with a DC band, The Lucky So & Sos, which combines latin jazz sounds with funk, R&B, and hip hop. The JoGo Project combines more “traditional” jazz with the sounds of Gogo and hip-hop, creating a sound that’s totally new and totally in the tradition.

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

OL: – That’s a big question! My academic background is in engineering, and I still work full-time in a more technical field. I like to say that I sometimes work at my technology job like a jazz musician – trying to apply the skills of collaboration and improvisation in my working day. Of course, I also sometimes may play jazz like an engineer!

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

OL: – I always want to see more opportunities for musicians to play live and get paid for the work.

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

OL: – I’ve been enjoying the weekly playlists that Spotify creates – good chance to hear music from new artists and ones I already know. I also often go back to classic albums I know well or dig in to a specific artist to learn their stuff. I did that recently with the late Roy Hargrove and earlier with Mose Allison.

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

OL: – When I’ve writing lyrics, I always try to include some positive message, even in the ballads. I suppose I’m basically an optimistic person and want that to come through the music.

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

OL: – I’m happy to stay right here, in this place and time.

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

OL: – How did you get interested in jazz? Jazz is so much an American music. I’m always interested to understand how non-Americans find it.

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. I attended the concerts and at the end I got sick with jazz, of course, in a good sense.

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

OL: – Like the album says, I’m “making up for lost time,” enjoying an active life as performer and composer that I never experienced when I was younger. I’m looking forward to continuing to play and write more as long as I’m able.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Картинки по запросу Oren Levine

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