May 18, 2024

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Interview with Henrique Prince: Maybe, Jazz, is not for everyone: Photos, Video

Jazz interview with jazz violinist and composer Henrique Prince. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Henrique Prince: – I was born in New York City, in Harlem, when it was beautiful, and later in Queens another part of the City, where tons of Jazz musicians lived. My Father played guitar, and lap steel guitar, two of my Uncles played Saxophone, and a cousin played classical piano. Music was close, I was five and trying to teach myself to read music. I fell in love with the violin the first time I saw it.

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

HP: – When I started playing I learned folk songs all sorts of them all the usual stuff, “Row, Row, your boat,” “Down in the Valley,” I still liked other music and soon figured out that I should work on my technique. I learned mostly from books and later in public school I learned about clefs and reading and scales and whatnot, except there were only Brass and woodwinds available where I went to school so I played Trumpet and Tuba.

There were lots of influences in New York City Classical, Popular, foreign music, all kinds of ethnic things, I might not of tried to play all of them, but I sure enough heard them.

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

HP: – I practice a lot. I’ve come to the understanding that at its best, music actually comes through you not really  from you, so that by learning your instrument thoroughly, and learning the design of music, you allow more and more of it to come to you and through you. I still do scales and various chords and triads and their inversions, and I play some music outside the realm of the Bands music, so that I’m always reaching for things beyond what we do, or just simply keeping in touch with all the permutations of my love for all music. The more music you play, the more you expand your abilities to play anything.

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?  

HP: – The repertoire of the “Ebony Hillbillies,” and the performance of the music present I think an exciting idea. Some of the music goes back to the eighteenth century, but with the addition of a rhythm section.  The bass and percussion allow the Banjo and violin to have more freedom of choice.  The choices though, still are bound to the direction and shape of the tunes, and to some degree within the parameters of older music. Black music even three hundred years ago, was highly rhythmic, and as most of us know percussion was for the most part banned in  North America for most of that period. Revisiting these tunes with the addition of Bass and washboard, or Bass and Hand drums brings forth a new understanding and vision.

Dissonance in modern music comes from many sources, not the least of which is Dominant Seventh theory, which itself uses intervals and movements certainly different from Concerted music of years past. Old Black vernacular music however makes up a significant part of the root of modern music, and reaches forward to the new idea and backwards to the rhythmic support that is basic to both the African and Aboriginal music of the New World. One very mistaken idea about old African music is that it is all, pentatonic, when it is in fact comprised of twelve notes as in other western music’s. The mistake occurs (I think) because the stringed instruments and xylophone types are all tuned to the consonant notes of the scale. The Hillbillies vary musical explorations from very traditional melodies with improvisation rooted in that same style, to revisiting some of those melodies with the more modern and expansive melodic possibilities afforded by the possibilities presented by modern expression. Only in things that are clearly the blues, and therefore much closer to this Century, is there, a chance for dissonance to come forward in our music.

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

HP: – Actually it’s not too difficult to do.  This music is overwhelmingly consonant music, and to the degree that it becomes involved with all the twelve notes of any key, it still does this in a consonant way. Rather than being involved with following and developing harmonies, expansion is always melodically driven.  It is also rare, to quote a musical phrase from beyond the borders of the America’s, although even with that said, anything is possible. I don’t want to start adding musical staffs and written out musical passages to this little discussion, since it would exclude a lot of people and seem both snobbish and aloof.  Let’s just say that it might work to quote a passage from say “Swan Lake,”(Tchaikovsky), Or Mozart, but these instances would be rare, and remember that these are the most consonant of composers.

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

HP: – Intellect is that which you forget, when you begin to play.  To be clear, intellect is there and of the utmost importance, when you practice. You are intent on the distance of each note from the other, or relationships between chords.  But all of this must be forgotten in a sense, when you actually play. The goal here is different. You must try to fit the phrases into the key, and fit the key to the moment if you will, as if the lock and the door are in motion and you must match your motion to them.  This means that the music that was made up of scales and intervals, becomes phrases, sentences actually, the abracadabra of the particular door you are heading for.  This is the soul part, that which translates the pure math of music, into the universal language we talk of which is also the code that opens the door of transcendence. “Them songs, they don’t have no notes, you just play ‘em”. You should strive for the elegance of that old phrase to be present in all you play.

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

HP: – I can’t imagine not doing this. Of course, there are things you cannot know. You can’t know sometimes how some things will be received. There is always that, moment of joy when at the end of the tune, there is the applause of the people louder and maybe more enthusiastically than you expected. I never really reach for this. I’ve learned to be totally involved in the music and not so much on my expectations, which is a form of worrying. Don’t worry just play.  Somewhere, in the long ago past when you first learned this piece, there was a reason for which you did learn it probably you liked it, or it spoke to you, in some way, or something in it intrigued you. Now that you know it and you are playing it, you, are transferring that intrigue to the listener, you’re sharing. Don’t worry.

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

HP: – As a Fiddler, what mostly stands out is what not to do, what equipment really works, what is reliable, where to stand, when to tune,(probably before you walk on, if at all possible).

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

HP: – I don’t know.  How do we still keep an interest in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? What is there still to learn from the now ancient song, “Green sleeves?“ What about Charlie Parker’s performance on “Just Friends’’?  If you are a player and in all the history of recorded or written music nothing in any way inspires you or evokes a feeling of awe or wonder, or just pure love, become a plumber.

Art is a magnificent mountain, as large as a world. It contains valleys and jungles and deserts made up of all that has ever been.  You learn from and pass through all of it, to finally become who you are. The end.

Oh, okay. Maybe, Jazz, is not for everyone. Maybe every musician is not destined or meant to be Coltrane, or Monk, or Bird, or Duke. Maybe they’re not meant to be Freddy Green, who never soloed.  Maybe they’re meant to be a copyist, or luthier.  The point is that the particular type of music we call “JAZZ,” is a calling, and is simply not for everyone.  It is not for mass production, and doubtful if it is for mass consumption.

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

HP: – This question is definitely above my pay grade.  I believe that in any life completely lived you might find out many things, maybe everything there is to know about your life. I believe you could even learn something about other people’s lives, and that if you are perceptive enough you could extrapolate and even formulate

Plans and futures based on your knowledge.  However it would at best only give you a corner of the entire picture. I think one gives one’s self over to music as a place for your spirit to reside.  I believe music can inform your spirit and allow you to carry with you and project around you its logic,beauty,and its perfection of form. That said, Music can only show itself to you, and with it the promise if you will, of what magnificence is.  You, yourself,  must do the realization that makes the promise real. I think.

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

HP: – The business. The business. The business.

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

HP: – I listen to everything, and everyone.  I listen to the radio when I drive, mostly  Jazz stations, but if the Classical station is more interesting, I listen there.  I listen to Old music. Be-Bop, Swing, Hard-Bop, Boogaloo, Doo-wop, R&B, BACH, Corelli, everything.  Lots of times I hear new music in Jazz some of which is very good, full of good ideas. I personally listen intently to the Bop masters, because I’m always learning more.

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

HP: – I think the message of music is untranslatable into spoken language.  How could it be?  If it were translatable, there would be no need for music.  Music expresses, that which cannot be expressed in words. Orgasm, the joy of awakening in the morning, the feelings a baby’s laugh will evoke in you, the feeling when an animal comes to you in trust, the first taste of a favorite food.  Even if I had a thought about my, message, someone listening might come up with something completely different.

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

HP: – Mid 16oo’s, to mid 17thcentury America, if I were still a fiddler, I think I’d do well.  Maybe late 14thcentury, to mid 15thcentury Europe in the same way.  The 1930’s would be great. The greatest music and musicians of all times. but Being Black in America in those years would in many ways be a real drag.

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

HP: – I know now what it takes to get what I desire musically.  I understand the discipline involved, and even have a vision of what I as the individual who is me, can contribute. Whether I can do everything I want to do in my musical life, I am happy that I have a musical life, and most importantly, that I have actual ideas as to how I which to express the music I wish to create.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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