Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Franck Amsallem. 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?
Franck Amsallem: – If only it was that simple … But, fortunately, the people you play with are extremely important, and one shouldn’t start a solo with too many preconceived ideas. You should let the music be the master.
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?
FA: – You can get that idea from young newcomers, but it generally won’t last – after awhile they realize that attitude is wrong. There isn’t much money in our music, and it really can’t be much of a business. If you want to become a bona fide jazz musician you’re gonna have to go through the whole sidemen/leader paradigm.
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?
FA: – Well…. let him quit, there are just too many gifted players out there, and our music is made for the long run.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
FA: – You’re going to have to barricade yourself, and not sound like your next door neighbour/pianist. It is not always easy, and we sometimes have to acknowledge other musicians to whom we owe a great deal.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
FA: – It is really a matter of putting the Soul first, cause you don’t always want to hear the Intellect. Soul is paramount, and if the audience can also feel that you’re not dumb that is good too, but it is not my goal.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
FA: – I play for people… and for my own satisfaction too! Playing concerts wouldn’t be possible without an…audience, so yes, the reaction of the public comes into play in the musical result.
JBN: – Please, any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
FA: – Opening for Earth, Wind & Fire in Antibes/Juan-les-pins in the South of France in 98’… where 5000 people were there for partying and not to listen to my trio…! Not easy!!!!! The following night we made a live CD for a national radio show on France Musique….big success!!!!!! We wanted to play so badly!
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
FA: – Mozart is nearly three centuries old, and we still play his music … Bach, Beethoven, the classics will always be part of our DNA …. Gershwin, Cole Porter, too…. Musicians who forget that part of the equation forget where this music comes from. To have a credible view on the repertoire is freakingly important.
JBN: – And lastly, being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?
FA: – No, not at all, I’m a trained composer and pianist. That may be why you like my music.
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?
FA: – Being a composer feeds your view on music. People who don’t write music convincingly aren’t part of the jazz scene anymore. Every great jazz musician is a composer. If you look at your music through a microscope, like what happens when you’re composing, it will have positive effects on your playing.
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?
FA: – The Music has to be let out, just like a source. Often the Music takes you into places you didn’t know existed. To let go of the ego. The audience will feel something truly special is happening.
JBN: – What do you see for your extended future? You know what you have going on? You have life? If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
FA: – To witness my music maturing like an old wine. To be able to export it in front of audiences I didn’t know existed. To see more jazz clubs in major cities. Jazz is by far the most interesting music out there, in my opinion.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
FA: – My colleagues Aaron Goldberg, Matt Penman, their new projects, and as always 20th century classical music, Bartok and his contemporaries.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
FA: – Peace, groove & harmony on earth. Love each other. Protect the planet, we’re only passing by, enjoy the music and let go of preconceived ideas.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
FA: – On 52nd Street, watching over Art Tatum play Sweet Lorraine. For obvious reasons.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
FA: – Who are you, Simon Sargsyan? Were you in Erevan when I performed there with my quintet in 2005? @Aram Khachaturian Hall, the biggest hall I ever performed in under my name. That was a great audience by the way.
JBN: – Thanks for answers. I from in Armenia, but now live in the Boston, MA. I am a Jazz critic … No, I have not been to your concert.
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
FA: – It is exhausting! I need to go play some Bach Preludes and reconnect with the essence of Music.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan