Jazz interview with a bad musician, as if guitarist Charlie Rauh. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – When you improvise, you know where you’re going. It’s a matter of taking certain paths and certain directions?
Charlie Rauh: – When I improvise, I always start with intention. If there are lyrics involved I make sure I either have them memorized or at least have a good grip on what they are about. I certainly view improvising as spontaneous composition, so if I am going to do that I need to have a purpose. That includes instrumental music and free improvisation as well : I don’t have an extensive knowledge of connecting scales, arpeggios, etc. so I follow the instincts that lead me to play to the central intention of the music. As far as technicality is concerned, my approach to improvisation is very much harmonically based. That is to say I seem to lean more towards moving chordal shapes around and bringing melodies out of them. In this regard I am very influenced by players like Jim Hall, Julian Lage, and Mark Goldenberg.
JBN: – Do you ever get the feeling that music majors, and particularly people who are going into jazz, are being cranked out much like business majors? That they are not really able to express themselves as jazz musicians?
CHR: – I feel that majoring in music can be as positive or as negative as you allow it to be. There are plenty of players that went to music school and come out with original voices that bring new life to Jazz. Likewise there are those who come out sounding less fresh and regurgitated. Personally I hated music school and dropped out after two years, which was the right decision for me, but there is absolutely a trade off. I was, and am, far more interested in exploring my capabilities rooted in creative identity over pre established technique – but I also very openly admit that I lack certain technical facilities as a result. Instead I shape my own ideas of how to get at the sound I want and I work very hard to develop them. On the flip side, players that take an academic approach to playing can often play circles around me when it comes to bebop and the like. I believe school or no school a player decides if they want to be expressive and pursue originality.
JBN: – What about somebody who is really gifted and puts together a band and just gets upset to the point of quitting because of the business aspects-the agents and the clubs?
CHR: – It is easy to get upset about this! A lot of creative minded people struggle with the business side of working as a musician, and sadly, many people do quit. I believe this comes down to necessity – if you feel you have to create, then you will adapt to even the most frustrating and difficult scenarios because you have no choice. If you decide to stop and try doing something else because you have the option, then that’s not always a bad thing. This lifestyle is not for everyone and if you don’t feel that the difficulties are counteracted in some way, that can be very painful. I can only speak for myself on this topic and say that I know myself well enough now that I clearly have no choice but to make music. I do love it, I enjoy it, and I feel very fortunate to be able to focus on nothing else. In addition, it is also true that I don’t have any backup plan, or any other skill sets to fall back on. Quitting isn’t an option, so I adapt. If I was good at lots of things, who’s to say what my position would be?
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
CHR: – I don’t particularly try to keep any influences from coloring my work. In fact, my music is strongly colored by non musical influences, both positive and negative. If I experience something or think about something, it will be part of my music. One thing I love about art is the inherent safety I feel in making it. I can create music rooted in literally any intention I feel compelled to explore without being in danger. Having an outlet to express feelings like release, glorification, vilification, anger, joy, and grief in the context of art is truly an amazing thing.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
CHR: – I believe that balance is defined by personal foundation. Intellect and soul both require roots, so their balance can be measured by what the creator builds themselves on. Intellect alone will likely not move a listener to emote and relate themselves to the music, and soul without intellect runs a high risk of offering too little to the listener by being focused on the self’s emotions too much to prioritize outward engagement. At what/who’s service does a creator of music place their intellect and soul? The answer differs from creator to creator, and by that nature so does the balance.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
CHR: – Personally, it is of the utmost importance that I present my music in a way that is accommodating to the listener. I don’t feel that my integrity or creativity are compromised at all by this because I make music exactly the way I feel it should be made. When I present it, it is presented with a genuine desire for it to be easily understood and received. I often ask people for feedback on how I can make listening to my music more enjoyable. I have learned a lot from this feedback. Things like explaining what the songs are about, and that I will play a grouping of songs tied together with improvisation. When I started being more vocally engaged with my audiences at shows, I found even the most abstract moments were received with generous curiosity. Too often in modern instrumental music, the audience is abandoned and played AT. I work very hard to learn how I can play FOR the audience better.
JBN: – Any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions you’d like to share with us?
CHR: – I recently finished a cross country tour promoting Hiraeth that was truly fantastic. All of the performances were very fulfilling with wonderful audiences and great venues. Two particular memories from the tour were very much the highlights for me. I had the extreme honor of sharing bills with Mark Goldenberg in California and Cameron Knowler in Texas, and to end both shows I got to perform improvised duets with them. Having been a great admirer of their work for so long and never having played with them, this was just such a treat.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
CHR: – I feel like getting young people interested in jazz means being aware of the world they are coming up in. History is absolutely critical, and the study of it is an important nutritional element for a young musician. On that note, a focus on creating new music is equally important. The writers of the great standards were creating new ideas and sounds. We should be encouraging new ideas and sounds from the younger generations. They will write the new standards.
JBN: – Being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?
CHR: – I find writing music to be effortless. I never try to compose, or feel pressured to. I try to focus on input : traveling, reading, listening. As long as I keep myself open and curious, I will always have something precious to write music about.
JBN: – How important is it to you to have an original approach? Can you comment on the bridge between being a musician and being a composer?
CHR: – I believe that its important to have the drive to be original, but also important to make music the way you naturally feel you need to. Mimicry can lead to original ideas much of the time. For instance I am a great fan of Molly Tuttle’s music. I cant even come close to playing like her, but I absolutely can learn and mimic her melodic approach by making my own versions of her songs. That is to say, I try to sound like Molly Tuttle. I don’t try to avoid it, I lean into it. But since I don’t know how to play like she does it winds up sounding pretty different. I also feel this way as a session musician. When I am working on a record for someone I often pick a reference point ( a player or a record etc.) that I feel would be a cool channel to add to the music. But its still me playing it, so I wind up actually doing very different things than I originally set out to do. Originality to me means being honest with yourself. Allow yourself to do whatever you want – mimic, or deliberately do the opposite. You just have to mean it.
JBN: – Do you have an idea of what it is you’re trying to say or get across? Is it an idea or is it just something that we feel?
CHR: – The central intention behind all of my music revolves around the magnification of overlooked minutia. Regardless of the individual songs’ inspirations, I am fascinated by details. This ties into the music of Hiraeth with songs like : Fanø, the small Dainsh island with its mystical landscape and beautiful folk music, or Eleven Seventeen inspired by the first things you notice about someone you meet : eye color, facial structure, body language. The emotions related to small details and memories are the ones we hold on to and recollect, often without much reverence. I am interested in looking at them very closely, and lifting them up to eye level.
JBN: – What do you see for your extended future? What do you have going on? If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
CHR: – I see myself (hopefully) continuing. Traveling, learning, creating. I am currently performing and touring for the release of Hiraeth as well as teaching and doing a fair amount of studio work in NYC, much to be grateful for. I try not to think about what I would change, Id rather focus on how I can adapt and maintain my identity in the context of change.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
CHR: – I would love to be able to go back in time to Haworth and meet the Brontës, and experience what it would have been like to have their singularly genius work appear in the world in its own era.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
CHR: – Yes! You work tirelessly to expose new music and artists to the world through thoughtful and insightful reviews/interviews. How do you have so much energy?
JBN: – Thanks for answers. From Jazz and Blues musics, becouse itss my life !!! But not that musicians as you.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan