June 13, 2024

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Interview with Thomas Morgan: I think jazz may be unique in its readiness to take influence from any kind of music: Video

Jazz interview with jazz contrabassist Thomas Morgan. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Thomas Morgan: – I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.  My mom taught me beginning piano when I was six.  Soon after that I switched to cello, joining a beginning strings class with the local youth orchestra.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the contrabass?

TM: – I heard Todd Sickafoose play in the faculty big band at a music camp where I was a cello and electric bass student. His sound got me interested and I started playing in a matter of weeks.

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today?  What made you choose the contrabass?

TM: – My main teachers were Dr. Allen Gove for cello; and Cindy Browne and Harvie S for bass.  I’d consider musicians I’ve played with to be teachers too.  When I chose the double bass, at some level it represented freedom to me. I had been playing in orchestras and
singing in choirs, but the role of this instrument in jazz was pretty much to improvise all the time, so it seemed like a much more personal role to play in an ensemble.

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

TM: – Playing different basses on tour is an education.  Where there’s a strength in an instrument or a particular register, it produces a sound that you might aim for later. Where there’s a weakness, you’re forced to find a technique to compensate for it, and that technique might enrich your playing on other basses where it’s not a matter of necessity.

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

TM: – I don’t have any routine but when there are challenging rhythms in the pieces I’m asked to play, I usually practice them by clapping and sometimes singing.

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

TM: – As a bass player it’s interesting to look for the places where a different bottom note can be substituted, changing the color of
the harmony above it.

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album: <Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan: Small Town>, how it was formed and what you are working on today. Next year your fans like we can wait for a new album?

TM: – Bill can go so many different directions so you never know what’s coming, and he goes deeply in every one of them so you know it’s going to be good.  We do have a new album coming out next year: more music from the same week at the Village Vanguard.

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business.  Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

TM: – From the perspective of a sideman it’s important to hold yourself to a high standard, to try to be aware where you’re lacking musically or in your professionalism and make it a priority to improve.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

TM: – It’s encouraging that open minded audiences seem to respond to it even if they don’t necessarily have prior knowledge or experience.

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

TM: – Good music can remain relevant and inspiring for a very long time; I don’t see the age of the standard tunes as an impediment. There’s always new interpretation. There’s also a lot of new music being written or improvised.

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

TM: – I wouldn’t claim to understand the meaning of life but I hope music brings me a little closer.

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

TM: – It’s worrying how fascism is spreading in the world, but I’m hopeful that it will become obvious to the majority that it doesn’t produce good results.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

TM: – Sometimes I work on generative computer music, but I don’t know if that will end up being a private or public pursuit.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

TM: – I think jazz – to whatever extent that genres really exist and are definable and distinct – may be unique in its readiness to take influence from any kind of music. That’s one reason there are similarities.

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

TM: – Lately I’ve been listening to some Brazilian musicians, like Gilberto Gil and Guinga.

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

TM: – A mid-20th century German bass, Thomastik Superflexible Solo strings, David Gage Realist pickup, and an Aguilar AG 700 amp.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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