July 21, 2024


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Interview with Liam Noble: I like analyzing music, but it has to be kept in perspective: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist, composer and educator Liam Noble. An interview by email in writing.

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

Liam Noble: – I think I got interested in music because it opened the mind up to a wider world, and living in Bromley, a south London suburb just far enough away from London, meant I was hungry for it. I fiddled around on my Grandad’s grand piano because that was the most interesting thing to do at his house, and it was like a door to an inner world somehow.

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

LN: – I think I always had a love/hate relationship with the virtuosity aspect of jazz. It’s great to really burn, and you need to have that ability, but I was more drawn to the strange world of Monk and Ellington at first (having said that, I got to them via Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton, probably as virtuosic as you can get!). So I always loved the introspective players, the faltering awkwardness of hearing someone think before they play. All musicians do that, but it’s the way you can hear it. Miles, Bill Frisell, Paul Bley; that felt like my emotional territory, and it means you can play with people that play more notes and make it work, there’s a point to you being there. I didn’t consciously develop it though; one day you look back and think, ah yes that’s what I sound like mostly. But I had my Jarret, Herbie, McCoy phases too, and I love to play that repertoire too.

JBN: – 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?

LN: – I wish I practised more, but when I do I play Bach a lot, because practice for me is mostly getting my fingers working….plus you get to hear a lot of great lines without having to improvise! It feeds into my improvising, because when you play with a band it’s all so different anyway. I do have a rhythm warm-up which I based around a rhythmic pattern where the two hands work together in a groove, which taps into that pulse thing that runs through African music; it’s all about rhythm for me, rhythm will produce melodies… Harmony; this is a very tricky one…I try to avoid patterns as such but everyone has them, just to get around; I try to minimize the obviousness of them! I think everyone, as you say, outputs what goes in…any dissonance for me is a rhythmic thing, it’s there to change emphasis. A chord sequence, for example, is as much a rhythmic sequence as a harmonic one if you think about it.

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

LN: – If I think someone’s influence is creeping into my music to the point where it’s very obvious, I’ll try and stop listening to their music, and also replace it with something very different in my listening habits. There are points on this new record where I thought “Hmmmm it’s a bit too much like A,B,C whatever, but I left them on because the way we played together seemed more important…”

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

LN: – Well, I guess you have to find your own definition of each, if you need one, and that means for each person it will be different. I think intellect, let’s say that means preparation, organization, perhaps a mathematical side to the process, that can create a very soulful effect, the “out of body” response that everyone would like people to have to their music … so maybe one creates the other? I like analyzing music, but it has to be kept in perspective, like practice … analysis is looking at something after it’s been done, so it may not always help you do it.

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

LN: – I’m always pleased when people like it, and I’m always a bit upset when they don’t. You can’t do much about it though, thinking too much about “the audience” can obstruct the flow, and that’s the worst thing that can happen….then you don’t stand a chance!

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

LN: – There are so many, and every single one is different. It’s often interesting how people’s hidden qualities will come out in their music, a mild mannered person can sprout devil’s horns once they start to play. I know musicians can have dark sides to their personalities, but the darkness often comes out as nothing more than humour…

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

LN: – We have a bit of a crisis on our hands I think. The way the repertoire is taught is great for developing language and expanding on to other areas, but there’s a mistake in thinking that because you can “get around” a tune, you know it … I think standards require a very deep immersion before the beauty of them really hits you, but colleges are a fast track system in a way. We need to tell students, “this is an introduction to the music, you haven’t finished yet…”

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

LN: – That’s too big a question. But I would say this, that playing music is living in a world somehow, and for me it’s easier than the real world I guess. For me it’s as simple as that.

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

LN: – I would like us all to be more patient, to be able to sit down and listen to something properly…but we are bombarded with choice.

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

LN: – I like to put shuffle on my iphone and take a chance. I seem to like a lot of singer/songwriters at the moment….Gillian Welch, Robin Holcomb, Bill Callahan…for me, I need to listen to things that make me want to play, that’s not always jazz because I’ve had years of listening to that and sometimes need a break!

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

LN: – My message is, there’s no message, no saving the world, no inner peace … I’m trying to make something that sounds good to me, and then to find out if others feel the same.

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

LN: – 1927, to see the first Ellington band playing “Black And Tan Fantasy”. That’s my answer for today anyway.

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

LN: – Ok … how far do you think jazz journalism determines trends and tastes in an emerging jazz audience?

JBN: – Thanks for answers. Jazz journalism has many ways to influence the audience, for example, our website has more than 63,000 readers every day, and they follow a lot of our recommendations …

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

LN: – I try not to harness things, a harness is something you put on someone to restrict their movement!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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