May 27, 2024

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Interview with James Brandon Lewis: The relationship with intellect and soul  and or rather emotion is something that all musicians must think: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist James Brandon Lewis. An interview by email in writing. – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

James Brandon Lewis: – I grew up in Buffalo New York , Very eclectic city of  various music styles from Rick James, Juni Booth, Charles Gayle, Goo Goo Dolls, Ani Defranco, Joe Ford and Grover Washington JR to, Soulive. My parents were into music, specifically my mom seeing my interest in music from movies to television and so on suggested i pick up an instrument .

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

JBL: – I feel as though my sound is a work in progress but i feel closer than when i first started playing saxophone. I feel like when your study the greats you get a grasp of the sound platte of the saxophone, and the many ways to attack your sound, example being say you think you sound is coming from low register part of the instrument, well many greats come to mind but one i remember checking out is Dexter Gordon , beautiful low register, i mean there are so many to check out, I once saw a documentary on Dewey Redman, and there is a clip of him playing the major scale i said wow what is that lolololol his sound made that scale sound different, because he had such an amazing sound conception it just sounded like music, and not a scale. So it just depends on what kind of sound can you imagine and striving for that, with the elders being a guide.

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

JBL: – Practicing longs tones with metronome at 40 beats per min, is great stamina builder and a pulse centeredness exercise, slowness gives discipline as well as its a great meditation of centering the mind.

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? 

JBL: – I am not sure if i have harmonic preferences, or patterns for that matter, i think i am in a constant battle with my ear, and it always being so in the box of whats harmonically pleasing , of course yes its natural but its also unnatural to always hear something the same way of and over, i like the dissonance as a choice to revolt against my natural tendency, or building tension tension tension never releasing because sometimes life is like that there is never any give with the trials that come with living sometimes, or at least it feels that way.  I have concluded though that life is both harmonious and dissonant and embracing both is true freedom.

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

JBL: – I just try and focus on my path , and honor it, it makes looking myself in the mirror more agreeable. I can live with pursuing the truest version of myself, rather than focusing on how some one else is driving their car, you tend to get in a wreck that way, so its best to stay focused.

Today i am working on some quartet music for bass, drums, sax, piano, influenced by molecular biology … hopefully make some head way with that in the near future.

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

JBL: – I think about this often the relationship with intellect and soul  and or rather emotion is something that all musicians must think about or should and i say this not from a higher than all knowing place but two experiences come to mind after i made divine travels, a family member said yes this sounds great, and then when i released days of freeman they said yes i can feel this, not sure what you were trying to do on the other  but it sounded too much like art, or complex . Now of course these are opinions but it did force me to think about what those statements mean,and it takes me to a place of reflecting on self and what i am trying to communicate through music be it good or bad whats the value in what i am trying to say musically speaking. I merely try to feel all the music i make and yes there is some of course intellect involved i mean its impossible to separate because its contained in one body. Balance comes from a careful examination of going beyond self when it comes to music, and reaching that place that touches the depth of soul heart and mind , and communicates on a level that is beyond our finite existence within in the scope of this grand design.

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

JBL: – A dance between to parties is important, growing on both sides aware of i get some you get some, a playful exchange never one sided.

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

JBL: – Having recorded with William Parker, Gerald Cleaver, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and Rudy Royston and many others i can say I treasure how professionally present each person was in the studio and invested in the moment, its something i try to bring when asked to participate any other peoples projects. I also have had a great time playing traveling the world with my  with my peers the JBL Trio, Luke stewart and Warren G Crudup III and Unruly Manifesto group with Jaimie Branch and Anthony Pirog. and collaboration is always a challenge but i love the 12 piece poetry and jazz group Heroes Are Gang Leaders that i am co founder off, talk about coming to agreed decisions lol, but yeah its all love.

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

JBL: – I think young people are interested in all music at this point because its so available because of technology. I think age as little to do with but the perpetuations of certain ideas pertaining to jazz that maybe pushes young folk away, but yeah we have many kids still signing up for jazz school so i think its in a decent place.

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

JBL: – I think i am still trying to figure all this out i have no definitive answers but only open questions in hopes of one day knowing or not and thats okay. The spirit is that which dwells in the body, the body just a instrument to the spirit, maybe i am taking a crack at this question and for me the meaning of life, well who knows but an everyday goal should be to find the truth of what this is past a taught understanding of what this is and knowing for self being the greatest tool because you have not relinquished your freedom of knowing for self to the expert.

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

JBL: – Proper infrastructure in place for artist to represented on a governmentally level and see actual benefits of this.

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

JBL: – Lately-  Andrew Hill and Mal Waldron.

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

JBL: – I hope its gives people courage to be who they are, and know its possible.

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

JBL: – I would go and talk with Charlie Parker to really hear how stuff was the details, the thought process rather than the act but what informed creation, as oppose to the things that ended up being myths over time due to idolization.

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

JBL: – I am always curious why people want to know what i think or have to say, because on saxophone i pick it up and always feel like i am that 12 year old in buffalo ny who still does not know anything but trying to find his way ..  why the interview? what is it that maybe sparked a interest to ask me for an interview?

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

JBN: – Thanks for answers. The interview shows your intelligence, thanks to which the audience understands how smart and deep you are.

JBL: – One day at a time, nothing more or less, i use my time wisely and try to make it count.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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