Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Baptiste Bailly. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Baptiste Bailly: – I spent all my childhood and adolescence in my hometown, Montbrison, near Lyon (France). My parents and my sister were all amateur musicians, and I remember one day, I had to be then 7 years old, we went to see a concert near my home. That evening there was a Malagasy saxophonist named “Nono”. The whole band was already on stage and the show was starting and he was still not there. With one stroke I saw him running to get on stage, catch his saxophone ‘flying’, mount the beak, mount his microphone at a lightning speed, and let go then a solo that left me completely KO It was so full of energy, so direct .. that day I knew I wanted to learn to play too, learn how to capture this energy, and my parents enrolled me in drums a few me later.
It was until much later that I became interested in playing piano when I was 16 years old. I needed then to understand more the music, I wanted to compose, to play what I wanted, and the piano was the best way.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
BB: – Because of my background I played the piano very rhythmically, my playing was very aggressive, and when I was 18 years I joined the faculty of musicology, I particularly discovered classical music and the impressionists. The listening of Ravel, Debussy, Poulenc … was for me a powerful source of inspiration, as much for the musical ideas as for the research of the sound of the piano. Since then I am constantly looking for the softest and most precise sound of the instrument. I think that in general, one way to work your instrument sound is listening to the musicians you admire, trying to reproduce on your own instrument.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
BB: – I worked a lot with the use of the metronome. There are many ways to use it. It would be so technical to go in details, but for example I used to explore by using a very slow beat, as to put at 8 or 10 BPM. It’s a way to feel time in is entirety. This is particularly useful for working the Up Tempo, so you feel the pulse in a total of 4 or 8 measures for example, so you have time ! You don’t have this sensation of stress like when you use metronome at 320BPM for each pulse ! Conversely I also worked a lot by placing it on the setbacks for example … In general when I get out the metronome I make sure that it is not a help but a challenge, that the information it gives me put me in a state of rhythmic awakening and not a comfortable situation.
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?
BB: – Since I was 18, I have not stopped looking at the Impressionists. Today having more skills on the piano I try to interpret pieces to extract harmonic subtleties, which I then try to appropriate in my compositions. Beyond the Impressionists the discovery of Vardan Ovespian and in particular his solo on “Dark Lights” opened me a lot about harmony. I’m currently looking to open the harmony while keeping a melodic logic, it goes through playing notes that a priori would have nothing to do with the associated agreement but the melodic logic in the end always wins . We then have this sensation of sweet and salt, often this feeling that it is neither major nor minor, and I look for this ambiguity.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
BB: – We are only the culture and experiences we are acquiring. But before an external idea becomes its own, you have to turn it in every direction, try it, chew it, mix it up with the rest until the mixture becomes completely fluid and you can not distinguish the new one from the old. Currently I work on the “Nobles and sentimental waltzes of Ravel”, I extract agreements, ideas, that I transpose and reuse trying to make new compositions … but these influences there will be part of me only in for a long time, you have to know how to be patient.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
BB: – I use the intellect to write, to seek new ideas, to find an originality in the artistic intention … but it is the “soul” which makes that the music is alive, organic, that it touches us really .. The ideal balance for me, is use the intellect in the stage of creation, composition, then we have to integrate the pieces sufficiently in order to concentrate only on the “soul”, on the organic energy and the connection between the musicians on the stage. The Spanish and especially flamenco people speaks of Duende … This search of Duende, once playing your instrument is for me the most important, it’s the Duende that makes us vibrate when we listen to music, not the the composer’s intellect …
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
BB: – We make music so we can share it, so yes, in a way we have to adapt to the public. As a musician I think we have a pedagogical role to the public. People are not used to listen instrumental music today so if they come to your concert, you have to integrate them, they have to feel concerned about what’s happening on stage and not just an outside viewer who would attend a demonstration … This allows me to continue to create the music that I want but I try to think my concert by thinking of the audience … the moments I speak, I try to tell stories, the choruses when public sing, the dynamics of the pieces, the durations of the pieces, the different sounds, the duration of the concert, so that it is almost impossible to get bored!
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
BB: – One of the most inspirational people in Valencia is the bassist Ales Cesarini. Ales is a person who speaks all the time of “Piñon” … and since 4 years I try to understand this word step by step.. I could say that it’s kind of groove with Duende … Something that repeats itself, that puts us in a state of trance and at the same time releases us an extremely powerful energy. With him every Wednesday we played in a bar called “Bigornia” in the center of Valencia, little by little we had established a small custom … At the end of the jam the rhythmic session implanted a groove, and I was the musician in charge of invent a short and effective melody. We would then sing it to everyone. I always managed to invent a melody to the Impressionist taste. Once people sang we grew up the energy, loop, loop …. And often we ended up saying “Ostia que Piñon” … we had succeeded in what we wanted … and we had traveled together. Those are unforgettable moments.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
BB: – I think you have to know how to use the jazz standard just as a tool. At least that’s the way I approached this music. Personally I have never been a big fan of “jazz” strictly speaking, but the art of improvisation and aesthetics mixed with jazz have always attracted me. So I use the standards as tools: a melody, lyrics, harmony and for the rest I do what I want! If we see the standards in this way, there are no more aesthetic constraints and therefore no more this impression of playing the music of the last century … What do you want to say with this melody today ?. What do you do with it? How do you use it? In general it is an exercise that I practice with the standards of jazz of course but also with the “Musette” (traditional French) which is a vast repertoire today very old-fashioned … But accepting this challenge we find many ways to express ourselves personally and in a contemporary way through these old melodies.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
BB: – Oh … it’s a complex question, and I do not really know what to say … because it’s not really a question I’m asking myself. I have known for a long time that I want to play music because I sometimes felt extremely strong emotions listening. I want to provoke these sensations and dedicate myself to the music that gives me a maximum of chances to meet and feel these emotions again … I really enjoyed Garcia Lorca’s “Game and Theory of Duende”, and his vision of artistic inspiration … I invite you to read this conference… And I think that waking up this Duende who is in us and waking him in the spectator is the most beautiful thing that can happen. It’s a kind of race to the Holy Grail … and for me it gives a lot of meaning to my life …
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
BB: – I wish we all had more time to listen … to really listen, not looking at the phone, driving, or having prejudices (whether positive or negative) because you know why such artist is known by or that he is doing such a thing … I wish we could have this naive and complete listening. You know that moment when you put yourself in the dark, headphones on your ears and you put a title piece that you have never heard … a shot you start to travel, and it can go very far, you are only focus on the music, feelings, pictures that come into your head… I think that music is made to travel in this way … but it is a fragile art in today’s world because it requires an effort of concentration, because with open eyes, we are quickly distracted …
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
BB: – I currently listen a lot what ECM and ACT propose. Which are two labels of which I particularly admire the work and the artistic direction they take. Following these labels allows me to follow artists that I appreciate and to discover a lot more..
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
BB: – I want to show through my current work that jazz is an accessible, melodic and captivating music, not the complex scaffolding that people often imagine. My arrangements of You’ve Change and Stompin at the Sovoy in the disc go in this direction … In the same way, I approach musette’s waltz in my works, because I aim to revalue this music, the music of my grandparents, music that all have already forgotten.. But the result is that at the end of the concerts, people want to know first if the waltzes are in the disk before buying … Done!
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
BB: – Oh … I would like to be in the 30s … I would love to meet Ravel, Poulenc, Debussy and talk music with them … and in the same way in Spain it is Garcia Lorca that I would like to meet and discuss with him about of the “Duende” …
Interview by Simon Sargsyan