February 29, 2024

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Interview with Lucian Ban: The greatest music is always very soulful: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Lucian Ban. An interview by email in writing.

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

Lucian Ban: – I grew up in Teaca, a village in Transylvania, Romania with my grandparents on my mother side. When I was seven I moved to Cluj, the major city in Transylvania where my parents lived, to start school. In the village I listened a lot to traditional carols, wedding bands and folk music. Later, when I moved with my parents, I discovered classic R&B like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and so on, on my father’s old reel-to-reel tapes.

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

LB: – I think I have always been drawn to the piano because of its sound and because the way the instrument looked. A piano looks exactly what it is, an amazing piece of craftsmanship developed over a couple of centuries to become this thing that can produce the most amazing sounds ever. In the beginning I was self-taught, just making up stuff and falling in love with the sound of it. Later on I remember trying to imitate Ray Charles’s piano playing because there was something in it that spoke to me. I did not know at the time what it was but I do know now that is largely what you would call the essence of the blues. At the same time Ray Charles was so influence by Nat King Cole, who is an extraordinary jazz pianist, so his piano playing was so much more.

I got some piano lessons later but my greatest teachers were pianists like Abdullah Ibrahim, Thelonious Monk, Randy Weston, and that’s just to start.

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

One has to live with the instrument constantly to get the sound that he/she wants. I like to think I am still evolving because I still reach for the sound I hear in my head. So basically you have to play the instrument and it’s a lifelong pursuit.

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?

LB: – It is a mix of all these, every jazz musician builds a universe of sounds, devices, ideas that form his/her musical world. It’s also a mix between studying the tradition and allowing your intuition to thrive. Also my harmonic taste changed/evolved with time. For me the greatest shock in regard to piano was Thelonious Monk. A little later I discovered Paul Bley but I always go back to pianists like Monk, Ellington and Randy Weston.

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

LB: – You do NOT prevent them; you allow them in, filter them, steal from them and hopefully come up with your own thing.

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

LB: – The greatest music is always very soulful and the best soulful music has deep intellect.

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

LB: – I say play what you want and bring the people to you. It doesn’t work for everyone though.

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

LB: – Get them to listen to live music, especially live jazz music. There is nothing like jazz  musicians creating music in the moment and I think every listener will be drawn to the  excitement of it.

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

LB: – It’s hard for me to answer this question, but Coltrane’s music is certainly one of the best answers to this question. It is the reason his music, even after decades, speaks so profoundly to so many people. A love supreme is still one of the bestselling jazz albums ever.

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

LB: – Create more opportunities for live music, value more the contributions of the musicians. Getting streaming services to pay more for the music they stream.

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

LB: – I listen to the music of my peers, but I’ve noticed that I always go back to the great masters who influenced me. If I listen to someone like Andrew Hill it never ceases to inspire me.

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

LB: – Music that matters to me is music that touches and I think it has to do with the emotional content. Now this can be articulated trough a very sophisticated language, very complex devices or through a simple melody. Emotional content does not have to be and should not be sentimental.

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

LB: – 1959, Hillcrest Club, Los Angeles, where Paul Bley quintet was featuring two unknown musicians: Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. I would have loved to be witness to that amazing moment of creativity and discovery.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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