May 20, 2024

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Interview with Michael Whalen: … where your feelings don’t impinge on the music: Videos, Photos

Jazz interview with jazz composer Michael Whalen. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Michael Whalen: – I listened to the Beatles and my brain exploded! I was 4 years old. I started playing drums very young. I started on keyboards in high school.

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

MW: – I have created music for thousands of commercials, TV themes, documentaries, films and videos so I have had a lot of experience developing my sound over 30 years. But I think the biggest thing is to actually NOT listen to other people’s music while I am writing and to be looking for that “sound” I have never heard before.

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

MW: – I will create little rhythm patterns to play with and to practice to – – especially polyrhythm and extended phrasing. This has done wonders for me in terms of writing material across bar lines and not being stuck in traditional phrasing.

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?

MW: – Dissonance is the “spice” of music. Putting in clusters around traditional harmony is awesome and it helps expand the harmonic possibilities of the music.

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

MW: – I think disperate influences are fine. We are all influenced by something all the time. I thionk the key is to create a vocabulary that is original along with the influences.

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2019: <Michael Whalen & The Fire Brigade>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

MW: – I am very happy with the performances from all the musicians. Everyone worked hard on giving me the musical energy I was looking for.

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

MW: – I think it’s 50/50. You got to feel it and it has to be designed in a way where your feelings don’t impinge on the music. Delicate balance.

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

MW: – On my albums, it’s all about me. If I like the music than I am pretty that someone else will like it. I think people who make music for others to like are simply making a product. After creating so much ad music – I know that for sure!

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

MW: – In creating this album, a turning point was getting the bass parts from Michael League (Snarky Puppy). His lines added so much in terms of air, soul and funk that I can’t imagine the album without them. His bass line on “Blues For You” is genius.

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

MW: – The generation are not interested in talking about musical style or genre. So, let’s stop calling in “jazz” and just let the kids have a visceral experience with what they hear.

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

MW: – No way. As I get older, I understand life less and less…

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

MW: – I would make it easier for new music to be promoted and distributed. In a digital world, it’s much, much more complicated than it was back in the CD days.

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

MW: – I am working on a solo piano album and a electronic album so I am not listening to much at the moment.

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

MW: – Fun. Love. A little funk. A lot of heart.

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

MW: – I would want to be a fly on the wall in 1976 when Return to Forever recorded “Romantic Warrior”. I love that album.

Thanks so much for the questions and the opportunity to get the word out.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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