Jazz interview with jazz pianist Fabian Almazan. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Fabian Almazan: – I was born in Havana, Cuba. We briefly lived in Mexico for about half a year before we crossed the border into the U.S. I grew up in Miami, FL from the age of 9 to 18. I became interested in music when I was 7 because my older sister was taking piano lessons. At that age, I wanted to do everything she wanted to do, so I asked my mother to take piano lessons too.
JBN: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today?
FA: – My first teacher was a woman in her nineties who lived around the corner from our apartment in Nuevo Vedado; she went by the name “Cucú”. In Miami, FL I had the great fortune of landing in the hands of Conchita Bentacourt, who graciously taught me free of charge for 3 years as my immigrant parents could not afford to pay for lessons. I owe everything to her. Beyond that, Rudy Brito and Jim Gaisor were my first real jazz piano mentors in New World School of the Arts High School. I spent a year in the Brubeck Institute studying with Mark Levine and then Manhattan School of Music where I studied with Kenny Barron, Gary Dial and Jason Moran.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
FA: – I just keep trying to be inquisitive, disciplined and consistent. I try to keep my ears, eyes and heart open.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
FA: – Because I tour the majority of the year, I don’t have a consistent schedule to work with. I warm up with Chopin etudes and keep a notebook where I come up with and jot down musical ideas and exercises.
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?
FA: – How I said in the previous question, I keep a notebook of musical ideas and observations. I am a big fan of Maurice Ravel’s work as well as Brahms and Stravinsky. I spent many hours during my time at Manhattan School of Music analyzing their scores. Beyond that, I’ve always been drawn to folkloric music from all over the world. I try to be as conscious as possible of my musical choices when I am practicing but when it is time to perform with other musicians or in front of an audience, my goal is to feel rather than think as much as possible. It is a lot easier said than done, but that is my aim. I feel like the spectrum of human emotion ranges from the logical to the absurd and so I try to emulate that harmonically. There are times when I think the music calls for traditional harmony and there are other moments when I feel there needs to be some anarchy if it is to truly reflect abstract emotion for which we have no accurate description other than art.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
FA: – If something feels uncomfortable, it is a worthwhile endeavor to try to understand why. If it feels comfortable, it is also worthwhile understanding why. The gut instinct is usually right. I’ve never been one to cook with specific recipes… it keeps the meals interesting and fresh.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
FA: – I think that varies from person to person. As much as I love music, I understand that it is a tool for humanity. It certainly behaves in a medicinal manner to help us celebrate and cope with loss but in the end, it is the human relationships we have with each other that really matter. Music is the gift that we give each other in appreciation of each others’ company. I believe that music is a lot like architecture… we have to know how the structure can stand without falling over, but beyond that, our aesthetic is something that is very mysterious and we just have to embrace that individuality rather than abase it.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
FA: – Depends who the people listening are. But I view my job as being able to tap into my view of the world and sharing that with the audience. Those who like it will enjoy it and those who don’t, won’t. That is completely ok with me. But I have to be honest in the music I make… I can’t just try to create something because I think people will like it… it has to be genuine.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
FA: – The first time I performed my string music at the Village Vanguard in 2011 was one of the most memorable performances I’ve ever had and I will never forget it.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
FA: – The sad thing is when young people lack the exposure to art to begin with. They never have a chance to even form an educated opinion because they live in a world without variety of expression. If schools are able to equip young minds with the resources to think for themselves, I believe the world will be a better place. Wether they end up liking jazz or not is entirely up to them and I wouldn’t judge them for it. I would just hope that they make their decisions based their own thoughts and criticism rather than emulating others.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
FA: – I just know that I love my family and appreciate beauty… why that is, I have no idea. I don’t know that there is any meaning to life, but here we are so we might as well help each other live full, beautiful lives.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
FA: – I would encourage piano makers to be more open-minded about how they design pianos. There are a lot of possibilities that they have not tapped into because of tradition. If you look at guitars, the sonic possibilities are endless, the same could be true of pianos.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
FA: – With my ears.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
FA: – Empathy and conviction.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
FA: – I would go back to the moment when Anthony Weiner ruined everything. The world political climate would not be what it is today had Anthony Weiner not done what he did.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
JBN: – Thanks for answers, but you should have asked me a question if it’s beaten, and not advertise your label …
Interview by Simon Sargsyan