May 19, 2024

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Interview with John Allee: The musical world changes plenty all the time, and that’s the reality: Video

Jazz interview with jazz vocalist John Allee. An interview by email in writing. – When you improvise, you know where you’re going. It’s a matter of taking certain paths and certain directions?

John Allee: – When I scat, I allow myself to be completely spontaneous, with no pre-conceived notions of what to sing. I want to surprise and delight myself from an intuitive place of pure expression.

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

JA: – I hope that I never prevent my influences from coloring what I’m doing. My artistry is built upon my influences. If I’ve been touched by another artist, that’s a feeling I want to tap into. I suppose it’s like walking on stepping-stones in a creek to get to the other side. At first, you’re tentative and deliberate, taking care not to slip into the water. After crossing many times, you instinctively know where to put your toes and hop across with ease, hardly thinking about the steps it takes to get there. Maybe that’s when you find your own sound.

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

JA: – Well, let me address this by including the use of lyrics in music, since that’s what I do. When I composed the songs, I began with lyrics that had been known for hundreds of years, some of which can be tricky to interpret, partly due to antiquated English, but also because of a poetic form that requires a certain amount of willingness to let one’s imagination and intellect be engaged on a deeper level. So, the process of analyzing and interpreting the words is an intellectual one. After that, things get more complicated. Does the lyric take me on a journey, or does it start me off on one? Now we’re entering into the world of feeling, as well as intellect. Do the words sing? Am I intuiting a melodic structure? Does it feel groovy? Once I add the harmonies, from here it’s mostly about feeling, which is an expression of the soul. So ideally when everything is going right, they are in perfect balance – intellect and soul – and perhaps they take turns leading each other.

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

JA: – I make music that sounds and feels good to me. And I have very high standards. I figure if I’ve come close to getting the sound I set out to make, then chances are that others will want to listen. But you can’t be all things to all people. And when you’re making jazz music, you’re already dealing with a niche audience, so you’d better give yourself what you want first. That said, I am a natural people pleaser, so that part gets folded in unconsciously.

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

JA: – When I was recording, I had an idea to tack on a coda for the trumpet, which had not been played during the song. Rather than write out a part, I wanted my trumpeter Matt Von Roderick to improvise around a set of metaphorical images I gave him. We just hit the record button and kept it rolling while he would try something and then I would coach him into another idea or mood and he would try something else. That collaboration ended up producing a real stand-out moment for me on the album.

Mixing a record is very enjoyable for me. The pressure of recording is lifted and you’ve got all these wonderful possibilities in front of you that you can take your time with if you’ve budgeted well. And often it’s the littlest things that make a big impression. 

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

JA: – Keep writing new standards. And play new songs that lend themselves to harmonic exploration.

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?

JA: – I don’t think too much about being original. We are all unique, so expressing yourself to the fullest will be original.

I’ve always been both a musician and a composer, so there’s no bridge. Maybe a two-lane highway…

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?

JA: – So I had a very definite idea of what I was trying to get across. A theme, a mood, a structure, a journey. And it is infused with a great deal of feeling.

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?

JA: – We recently had release event in Downtown Los Angeles with the quintet from the album and we played the whole album straight through (with extended solos). It became a theatrical experience, as well as a musical one, and so much fun to do.

The musical world changes plenty all the time, and that’s the reality.

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

JA: – I’m always listening to a great deal of piano jazz from the ‘50s right up to yesterday. Bill Evans, of course, Monk, Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Barron, Fred Hersch, Michel Petrucciani, Brad Mehldau, Tigran Hamasyan, Vijay Iyer…

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

JA: – Late ‘50s Manhattan. I’d go to the 5 Spot, the Half Note, the Village Vanguard, Café Bohemia and see all my favorite cats – Monk, ‘Trane, Miles, Evans, Cannonball, Ben Webster, Carmen McRae – what a time!

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

JA: – How did you develop a taste for jazz?

JBN: – With my life

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

This musician doesn’t even have a normal video, so let’s listen to fine music:

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