Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Ingi Bjarni. 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?
Ingi Bjarni: – When I improvise I actually don’t know where I am going. Most of the times at least. I always try to not control in which direction the music goes in order to let it flow naturally. So, for me it’s best to let the music itself be in control, and then I just follow on that journey.
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?
IB: – Well, this is an interesting subject. I have actually been a student in five music conservatories across Europe. All quite different. And after a while I realised there is no such thing as a perfect school. It is not possible to meet the demands of every student, and schools need to decide how they structure their education. And sadly, often jazz music education is put into very narrow boxes. In that sense I am actually doubtful about style-specific jazz education. In my experience, there are many problems with it. Maybe that kind of education is even dangerous for the creativity if not approached with caution. Music is such a personal thing, and in music education, it is crucial to find the right material or style for the student to study. In that way, he can blossom and grow into the musician and artist he perhaps already is. When some educational material is forced upon the student, chances are he will not learn with passion and authentic joy of playing music. In my view, everything has to happen organically, and teachers should be there to support in that process. Something that is not organic is not authentic.
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?
IB: – I know this problem. I often get quite fed up with the whole business side of music. What I really don’t like is when being a musician starts to become a popularity contest. For example who has more followers on Instagram, Spotify listens etc. Is that really what being a musician should be about? Sadly, this is a very tough world – and perhaps even more so in this digital age – and musicians do have to think about the business aspect of their music making. It is important to establish good connections. But making quality music should always be the main focus point!
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
IB: – I’m not sure if it’s really possible to completely prevent external influences. We are always a product of the environment we are in. So I don’t know what to answer.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
IB: – Big question. Well in my music I think there is a balance between the two. As a point of departure for the music on Tenging, I tried to look at myself as the ‘creator’ who creates intuitively. Then if I chose to do so, I expanded on the ideas with my theoretical / compositional knowledge as the ‘editor’. Maybe my older compositions used to be a bit more intellectual, that is more “brainy” and predetermined. But I haven’t really thought about it.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
IB: – I play music I like, and hopefully others enjoy it as well. In other words, I am not a pleaser.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
IB: – Once I was at a jam-session where all imaginable forms of artistic expression were allowed. Those who want to participate in the session put their names in a hat, and for each round, three names from the hat are drawn. I participated and ended up in a trio with a singer and some kind of an actor. Let’s call him that. So there I was, playing some free – improv at the piano. At one point while I was playing, this actor comes to me and starts to repeatedly LICK one place on the back of my head for quite some time! Somehow, I couldn’t do anything except to keep on playing. Hard to explain. This was very uncomfortable and probably the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me. During this incident, I felt that I disconnected from what I was doing. The only thing that I was thinking was: ‘What on earth is going on and what should I do?’ Friends and people in the audience (who were unaware of the licking because of the angle) said afterwards that I played great and that the music was happening.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
IB: – The thing is, in my opinion jazz is not a style anymore. Boom… Yes, I said it. Maybe I am totally “out there”, but I don’t care. For me jazz is an approach, a way of thinking, and perhaps simply a feeling. Jazz is daring to do something, while still relating to a certain kind of aestheitcs relating to improvisation and interpretation. I once heard an American flute player say: “Embrace tradition, but don’t be enslaved by it!” – I couldn’t agree more! That’s the thing. But yes why aren’t young people more interested in jazz? I think the problem with jazz is actually the word jazz. Maybe we should stop calling this music jazz and just call it creative improvised music? I don’t know.
JBN: – And lastly, being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?
IB: – No, I have no problems with writing music while also being a teacher. I look at my teaching activity as a totally seperate thing from my artistic activity.
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?
IB: – Having an original approach is very important! Do we really need more people in this world who play exactly like Charlie Parker, Red Garland, Lee Morgan, Bud Powell etc. ?
In general, I believe that a musician should be a composer, a performer and improviser all at the same time. A complete musician. In jazz and improvised music, that is possible.
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?
IB: – This is a question I often think about myself. In my current music I think it is just something to be felt. And the feeling be different from person to person.
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?
IB: – I know that I will compose and produce more music. I have many unfinished song ideas and also ideas for new band projects that I would like to record someday. Also, I hope that I will tour more than I do at the moment. It is not an issue for me travel to other countries and do some concerts! Change in the musical world… Some people treat music like a bag of Doritos, almost as if music doesn’t have any value. Please stop doing that! Love, respect and listen to music!
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
IB: – Different music across different genres. But lately: Altın Gün, Skadedyr, Keith Jarrett, Naïssam Jalal and Lena Willemark.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
IB: – Connection! (Tenging is Icelandic for connection). People are connected to the internet at all times, connected to the latest news and information. But aren’t we in fact losing our primal connection to the Earth, losing connections to our own intuition and to other people?
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
IB: – Maybe it would be cool to see Keith Jarrett play with his European Quartet. So, take a time-machine to the late 70’s and see the quartet play somewhere. I would like to do that!
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
IB: – We usually want music to do something for us. But have we thought what music wants from us?
JBN: – Thanks for answers. Music wants or enhances self-esteem … so that musicians with audiences and critics are will honest!!!
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
IB: – Quite good, I think…
Interview by Simon Sargsyan