March 3, 2024

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Interview with Deniss Pashkevich: My goal is the spirit first and then this spirit cooperates with the intellect: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Deniss Pashkevich. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Deniss Pashkevich: – I was born and grew up in Riga (Latvia), so I am a city boy. From childhood I was near and into various art forms (mostly visual, but also an audial too), perhaps due to genetics and family atmosphere. There’s always have sounded academic music in our house, as well as pop music of that time and soul music. My mother worked for Latvian Television, my stepfather was an intelligent person and my father was well-known movie director, thus my inner world was formed by the family. Riga has always been a city of culture, and I always felt interest in this cultural environment. Early as the boy I was doing three things: one thing – sports, I played tennis, went to sport school, second thing – drawing, painting and sculpting, and thirdly – taking music lessons. Thanks to my parents, as they tried to develop my God’s given gift as early as possible, over the years the dominance of music in my life was much stronger than other art forms and I chose to remain a musician. I started to study in music school for children, at that time it was an academic music education, where I learned to play a piano. In the school fight I broke my hand and I had to put aside the pianist’s career, but luckily by accident I started to visit a flute class. As a the boy I wanted to play trumpet, but for the trumpet I was too physically small and weak, so the teacher told me to wait and train abs ;)) (is not a joke). As of 13 years old having academic education, I was already laureate of the international flute competition and I already felt the power and opportunity to speak to the audience. The big change in my 13-14-year-old life happened when I started listening to the jazz: I got a tape with John Coltrain and Miles Davis music, given to me by very well-known at that time saxophonist Vladimir Kolpakov and he told me, “This is what you should listen to” and this music got me infected and I began wanting to play, sound and resonate like Coltrane. Thus despite the fact that I was academic musician and flautist I started studying jazz. And now I can say that thankfully to great providence my life turned this way and I met people who have been my mentors, who put a lot of efforts in me and how I play and am mentally.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the saxophon? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the saxophon?

DP: – Jerry Bergonzi, was and is my mentor. I started to study from Raimonds Raubishko in Latvia and Vil Veski (Estonian saxophonist), then Charlie Mikli from the Grads Conservatory, Boris Gamers from the Ierusalem University jazz department and took privat classes from saxophonist Joe Lovano. Significant meaning in my life had meeting with Charles Lloyd as well. There are many, musicians, not just saxophonists from whom I learned. Of course, my biggest teacher has always been the recordings and concerts I have listened to, performed to and strived to achieve in music. I have always tried limitlessly and soulfully to share it with the audience. These are just some of the people who have undoubtfully influenced me: John Coltrane, Edi Harris, of course, Jerry, one of today’s friends Seamus Blake, Chris Chick, Hank Mobly, Texas Gordon, Charlie Parke, Brian Melvin. Music has so many faces, personalities… Music is such a beautiful world!

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

DP: – There are two aspects here, one is that the sound has a spiritual aspect and the other is the physical sound vibration, the frequency, and the understanding of this knowledge. This is a very interesting question, to be honest, I still work on the sound and look for the sound, and I have not stabilized it. And of course, my sound has its character and righteousness, the sound of me, my hearing, my imagination, and despite the fact that I adore the sound of John Coltrane, I want to have my own sound style and hopefully in a way I have achieved that. In my music I promote free vibration and resonance in the saxophone. So speaking about first aspect: the technical capabilities of the instrument to help musician to create what he has in his mind and imagination, I created in colaboratin with Bernd Schille the RigaWinds Saxophone company designing and manufacturing custom made signature saxophones, made of special metal mix and equiped Marca reeds for whom I am an endorsement artist for more than 10 years. I love the sound of darkness, the thick sound, that is, I strive for a resonance that requires both breathing exercises, proper psychological body regulation and self-control, ability to loosen up, resonate, vibrate and meditate with the sound.

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

DP: – As music consist of the melody, harmony and rhythm, thus significant part of time I train the rhythm to the correct phrasing. For melody there’re a lot of exercises I do both at home, studio, concert or tour breaks, there are long notes, overtones, multi phonics, I train the 3rd register to easily manage the instrument. For the harmony I am spending a lot of time at the piano and I have a lot of interest in harmony, so I practice also the academic harmony parallel to the jazz harmony. I like romantic music very much and of course classics like Bach, Mozart, all of it is part of my world. The rhythmic exercises I actually play with the metronome, there are special exercises that I choose, but I don’t let the metronome work instead of me, I use it as a point of reference and train myself from a simple to the more complicated task. It is better to start with simple exersise excelled to the level of perfection and then slowly grow into more complicated trainings and techniques, to tame your nervous system to a new level, so my body responds perfectly to produce the signal I need without stress control, and so I can manipulate the harmony and use myself as a mean to generate the sound I want. My daily routine consists of long tones, definitely free improvisation, meditation 15-20 min a day, completely free, connecting what I feel whithin my inner world with the fingers in the physical world. I play a lot of legato without tongue articulation and a lot of sequences, as my basic jazz education is bebop, so I repeat the whole material. The saxophone amplitude is my task so I can freely play the instrument and I remind it is better to play slow but correct. Of course I play the jazz standards and continue doing it for 25 years now and it fascinates me. For fun I play bebop themes written for the fast performance as a ballads and one of my last obsessions is Charlie Parker Omnibooks played in a ballad style at a very low pace, which amuses me a lot.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? Youre playing is very sensitive, deft, its smooth, and Id 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?

DP: – I perceive music as an illustrious object, and I do not think that one should be enthusiastic about excessive dissonance. But I analyze and try the balancing tension and release concept, and of course I consider musician has to recognize and perform the harmony as it was meant by a composer. I use hromatic transition notes and technical replacements of the harmonics in order to sharpen, colour or enhance the idea that is in my heart and yes I do that a lot. I do analyze a lot, but I think it is important for the music to be logical so that the music does not overload the listener, but release the tension. So I try to play in a harmony and tonality, but if I do the other moves to reach more intiligent, philosophical, more dramatic effect and to certain point I risk for the music to get more loaded with emotions. But all this goes, of course, in a combination of rhythm and overall ensemble of the performance. I have a lot of wishes that are still not fulfilled or achieved and I’m still learning to be able to express what I feel when I play or hear music. If we speak about harmonious substitutions and harmonious movements, that is true that I try to play with it and sometimes I might get to much fascinated by the overtures and deviations, but I think the hard beat, the clear pulse and the harmonic base are very important for the listeners hearts and the composition. There’re lot of things in the melody: the idea that the composer had, what is the composition plan, how melody will develop to develop, those are not simple chords and there is no simple free play if there is composition, I alway try to stick to the author’s idea.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what youre doing?

DP: – Tone coloring allows the listener to identify the distinct qualities of that sound and the most important here is the balance. I love coloring, as it is my way to express myself and I usually stick to the rythmic structure and harmonic development.

JBN.S: – Whats the balance in music between intellect and soul?

DP: – I think my goal is the spirit first and then this spirit cooperates with the intellect and it is very important not to perform mathematically, do not make music as robot, give it space and breathe into music. Music is definitely a spiritual space and it is primary, then everything in balance: harmony, rhythm, etc. Without this aspect, its inner space there is no value for music, it is just a sound from the tin can.

JBN.S: – Theres a two-way relationship between audience and artist; youre okay with giving the people what they want?

DP: – Definitely yes, I’ve given what people want in a concert, it’s an honor, a joy. However I don’t think much on how to indulge in the audience, but I play the music so that I get into the spirit, the breath and the moment, when the music is created so I can pass it to the audience. And if I have succeeded in passing it on and there is a response from people, it’s wonderful, it’s a gift and a blessing.

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

DP: – The memories from the concerts are very numerous and various, as there are many concerts and music usually leads me to different countries and to different people. Therefore, remembering something unambiguous is quite difficult. In every sense, it is always a great impression playing together with musicians from another country, it is a great emotional experience. One latest memories was a record with the United Jazz Collective, when we could really get together for a tough tour, and the trio with Ganelin and Gotesman, which was a live vinyl recording and had a completely different chemistry and synergy of various generations musicians to perform on one stage, and of course a absolutely colossal collaboration with Christian Frank in Copenhagen, recording completely different aesthetic of both sound and relationship, so each collaboration is unique and special. What I always remember is that only sincere people can play good music and I like to play with them. Of course, this is not all the life of musicians – sweet and beautiful, often you have to get yourself together, overcome the ego and emotional destabilization and go further.

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

DP: – You see, jazz music isn’t just old melodies composed 50 years ago, but jazz music is a state of mind, conceptual thinking and the ability to talk and interact with people. Thus young people have always been interested in development and evolution, and that is what we actually do by creating a platform for them, where we have to be open, loving and initiate co-operation, lively teaching and creative space so that young people feel at home and comfortable, and at the same time to challenge them in a way that they never feel humiliated on the stage. It is one of the ways we can pass music to each other, make them listen to their voices and transfer the world of sound to listeners.

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

DP: – Yes, John Coltrane said perfectly and the spirit of every musician is related to music and unambiguously with God’s supreme providence. And whether we acknowledge it or not, it is up to us, but the joy of life is not just in music, the joy of life is everyday, your eyesight, your reactions, the joy of life is your essence, and I would not want to connect it for 100% to the music. I wouldn’t want to say that it would be the only thing, because life has so many nuances and opportunities, although music in my life has got a lot of space, but definitely no less God and a search for God and a search for the essence. In fact, when you are in a special condition, the right state for music then the balance is likely to happen.

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

DP: – The real world of music is still far from perfect and we only reflect a dazzling glimpse of the creation of a beautiful world that is all about art, creativity and innovation. Therefore, I would not want to change the ideal perfection. The question is more about the social impact and social consciousness and the impact of the music to the social environment, there should be a lot of change, maybe at the very beginning I would like to bring there more love.

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

DP: – These days I listen to Goldberg variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, and Glenn Gould Bach “The Goldberg Variations”, James Galway flute, Bob Mintzer bass clarinet, Erick Dolphy, Net Coleman, Pat Metheny, my friend Seamus Blake, Dony Mccuslin, Brian Blade, Miles Davis, Jon Coltrane, Hank Mobly, Lee Konitz, John Ambercrombie, Keeny Wheeler, Peter Brotzman, Jerry Bergonzi, Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner and so on I can call hundreds of musicians names, however the most important that I try to listen to is the streets, the forest, the nature and heart, people, relationships and voice of the soul.

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

DP: – That would be more of a question if I regret something, or I would like to do something else, but life has been right there where I should be and did exactly what I had to do and I would not take away a second from my life. I am glad that I have been, traveled, sounded, vibrated, met, resonated, and lived all my life, both dark and light, in so many different countries, and of course I only look at the future, it has been just the very beginning.

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

DP: – Difficult question, I can ask myself about the technologies I use, about the learning processes I use, I can ask questions about how we succeeded with Berndt Schille and RigaWinds creating handmade saxophones that carry my name Deniss Pashkevich as a signature Tenor and Alto saxophones. I could talk a lot about it. I often ask myself, “Why am I doing it, why am I playing, why am I writing music, why do I believe in people, why do I trust in them, and the joy of God coming back to what I do why do it and gives me new energy and the ability to go further no matter all the challenges, difficulties or less interesting things. Perhaps the question is whether I ever wanted to quit it and the answer is that of course, I wanted thousands of times, but wanting to live and move forward has been more than the wish to stop, succumb, and thanks to his superior providence that music is my gift and my life, so it gave me the spirit and always brought me joy and ability to create, overcome, inspire and initiate, and it is not my merit, but it is the thanks of life lessons and heaven guidance that I always move on.

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

DP: – There has been a lot of opportunity to quit a lot of times, but I have been trying to get over it and find new sources of inspiration: they are both life, family, children, the heaven and music projects. Living is cool, because you may actually want to make people ideal, you would say it would be difficult, but in fact, any living situation is a problem everywhere, but nevertheless it is a joy of music and cooperation with people. Simply the joy of life is a lot more powerful than giving up, so I can only inspire myself and say “go up and go out and be cool, everything will happen”. And every new project brings so much energy because it is cooperation with people, it is a deal with the situation and it is a great challenge and it is interesting because as I mentioned it is a gift of God, it is beautiful. And to be a musician that is profession full of challenges and not a negative meaning, but positive that it is a good challenge that gives you new strength and the desire to go and share part of yourself, share what you are gifted with through the prism of your being. What seems to me to be very helpful is what you have around, those who help, the team and the synergy between people. And see, I am very inspired by the growth of each of my children, my family, my friends, and my colleagues. That’s what helps me, it’s the spirit of life that helps me not to give up and go and of course ability have to laugh at myself.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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