June 13, 2024

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Interview with Brendan Rothwell: Artists will always have soul, in their own style: Video

Jazz interview with jazz bassist, composer and producer Brendan Rothwell. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Brendan Rothwell: – I was born in the UK and grew up in the Roman city of York, in Yorkshire. Music was a huge influence upon and within my family. My father was one of York’s leading music publishers and my mother is a piano teacher and performer to this day. My early schooling in a choral academy, and learning classical music on several instruments, gave me a strong musical foundation. I moved on to discovering the opportunities that existed in the style and mindset of Miles Davis and, more specifically, Marcus Miller who produced Miles’ “Tutu” album. This introduction in the mid 1980s influences my musical approach to this day.

JBN.S: – How has your sound evolved over time, and what did you do to find and develop your sound?

BR: – I listened to many artists and bands during my teenage years, and landed on the jazz/funk sound that was so popular at that time. As a bass player, this allowed me to develop a technique and sound that proved to be highly transferable across different styles of contemporary music and opened opportunities to working with a wide variety of bands.

Over the course of the last 10 years, I have focused more on my solo work and the creation of two albums under my own name and brand.

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

BR: – I balance a full-time career in business with my passion for music, and so balance is a routine that I exercise every day. Deliberate practice, playing to click-tracks and metronomes was something I started early on, and I use it still. Timing, and recognition of timing, is critical to the feeling, styling and production of music. As Miles once said: “Do not fear mistakes: there are none.”

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

BR: – I’ve been fortunate to have a wide array of musical styles to listen to and have actively engaged with them all! While my music today is being enjoyed by the contemporary jazz audiences around the world, jazz and rock have had equal places in my playing career. I like to include ideas and progressions from the rock world in my current jazz-focused music. Steve Vai, for example, famously uses the augmented 4th in many of his tracks. That’s an unusual interval in the contemporary jazz world, however the Lydian mode has been successfully incorporated into my recent work and received positive airplay and audience reaction. An example of this is “The King” from my first album, Time On My Hands.

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

BR: – There are some significant early influences that are really the foundation of my playing and that positively color what I’m doing every day.

I have to go back some time here! Trevor King (the drumming legend that is “LTK”) was significantly influential back in my home town. Trevor taught me at a young age about the importance of knowing how to show up and present myself in musical circles, how to commit to a goal, and how to learn from valuable constructive criticism.

Over the several years of playing music together, he showed me the values of “active listening”, both musically and socially. Trevor was, and remains, a valuable mentor and influence in my life. Following his teaching has allowed me to stay on-track with my music creation and production.

Some of my musical influences (in no particular order) include Level 42, The Cure, Prince, David Sanborn, Quincy Jones, Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, Wayman Tisdale, and Trent Reznor however the full list would be too long to publish!

Today, I’m working on promoting this new work globally and engaging with new and existing contacts to continue building the brand.

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

BR: – I like the intention of this question. I wouldn’t say that intellect is necessarily the balance point though – it’s more what I would call “commercial savvy”. You see, artists will always have soul, in their own style. Balancing that implicit soulful ability and musicality with understanding of how to commercialize your music is the sweet-spot artists have to strive for. I describe this in my brendanrothwell.com brand – being “Instrumental in the Art and Business of Music”.

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

BR: – I’m ever thankful and grateful for my audience. I also know its important to read the genre that I play, and to read my audience to know what it is they enjoy and will be willing to consume. So yes, I strive always to give them what they are saying they want, all while living my passion for producing my art.

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

BR: – Our recent trip to Sandy Shore’s SmoothJazz Weekender in Carmel in Southern California was an amazing experience. It’s not every day that you get to interact with legends such as Nathan East, Boney James, Rick Braun, Paul Brown, Maysa, and Boz Scaggs!

I will always recall seeing Prince in concert in Calgary about a year before he passed – his sheer technical ability alone was something to behold, and the sound for that gig being controlled by about 16 Macs was synonymous of how the industry has morphed and transformed over the last 10 years.

My early days in the studio with British rock band “Mother Mary” is a time that’s well-documented online…!

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

BR: – That’s a great point! One of the encouraging aspects of today’s jazz scene is that there are many world-class players using those standard tunes and bringing them up to today’s style and sound. Chris Botti would be a strong example of this, and he is someone that the younger audience is listening to.

I’ve also seen an increase in my own audience in the teens-to-early-30s group over the last 6 months or so, thanks to the multiple streaming platforms that are widely used by all age groups. Streaming platforms are not a way for artists to see significant revenue, however they are a great way to widen audience demographics and build the ever-important brand. Note: I strongly encourage readers and listeners to consider buying the music that they really enjoy!

From my time with LTK: Listen to and respect the people who discover you and show support for your work: never forget them! Learn to recognize those folks, as they may well be foundational to your long-term success. Identify the “early adopters” from your audience and build on those relationships. In the music industry, those contacts can develop into and become long-term allies. If you’re serious about your musical career, make sure you get a grounding in mainstream business skills as early as you can.

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

BR: – … “Music is Life.”

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

BR: – The financial return on an artist’s time. The web has made some amazing options available to artists, however industry globalization and the consumer “monthly subscription” approach to music as a commodity has significantly diminished the revenue to the artist.

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

BR: – As I mentioned before, I enjoy a wide range of music and actively keep my ears open to new ideas. In the contemporary jazz world, there are are some amazing young players making their mark and defining the next generation. Looking at the “recently added” section of my music library, I’m currently listening to Fourplay, James Ingram, Philippe Saisse, Robert Glasper, Steve Lukather, Quincy Jones…

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

BR: – One of outputs that I wish for my music is that it brings people together, either through shared enjoyment, discussion, as part of an audience at a concert etc. With the technology we have today, there are so many ways to communicate: unfortunately, communication breaks down for too many people too often. I’ve seen some real instances where my music has promoted active discussion between folks who hadn’t met before, and in a couple of instance has inspired people to re-connect with family and friends. Quite amazing (and humbling) to see that happen as a result of something I created.

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

BR: – Tough question! We’d have to consider the options… back to the 70s to watch the birth and development of funk bass, or forward 20 years to see how the world and its population are treating each other. Let me know when the machine is ready and I’ll give you my decision!

JBN.S: – Any final comments you’d like to add to our Q&A?

BR: – Thank you for the time and opportunity to discuss my music with you and your audience. This is a wonderful new platform for me to engage with, and I’m impressed by the quality of the publication and the wide range of artists that you have interviewed over time.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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