Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Pureum Jin. 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?
Pureum Jin: – I tend to lose concentration of what other musicians are playing and can’t react quickly to ideas coming from others when I try to think too much on how I am improvising. Therefore, the only conscious I have when improvising would be to recognize where in the music I am playing and focus all my instinct on listening to others and reacting the best way I can to it. I believe improvising is about as much expressing yourself as being in the moment and creating the best possible combination with other musicians at the stage – simply just responding and reacting to great ideas coming from other musicians on the band stand. At times I do think about what kind of solo I want to play, and I’ll create an image of waves and let my phrases follow through them and enjoy where that takes the band to.
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?
PJ: – I think it is hard to generalize. In my case, however, I’ve seen numerous musicians who knew exactly why they decided to become a musician and how they want to develop their music to create their own identity and voice – I was one of them and came to the US knowing what areas I wanted to improve and what kind of experience I wanted to have by getting the master’s degree in the US. In addition, I know great deal of musicians who have amazing skills and ideas to express their philosophy into music. However, I believe it is the ability to make their music ‘relatable’ to their audience; making other aspects of themselves other than music such as their background, experiences, and objects that forms the basis of their music easy enough for broader audience to identify, recognize, like them and start really engaging with them. Additionally, although musically talented, if the musician is lacking in business acumens, it just makes it hard for their music to be heard to larger audience. This is an area where I am working hard as much as developing my music.
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?
PJ: – As mentioned above, I believe it is a critical component for any musicians to develop certain level of business capability for their music to be heard and for them to be successful in the scene. There are so many musicians in New York city who are really gifted in music and puts together a band that play amazing music. However, what makes a successful musician is how they make it relatable and presentable to their audience while maintaining and building relationships with all stakeholders – the agents and the clubs are definitely one of them. I call this a good ‘musicianship’ – becoming a musician who is reliable, trusted, engaging, and relatable. Furthermore, jazz music is not a pop music and it takes certain time for anyone to really create presence in the scene. It’d be so sad for anyone with such a gift to quit. We should all keep playing.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
PJ: – I am open to new ideas and I like experimenting myself on how I react to others on stage. When I’m hearing something that I am new to and I find myself being influenced, I’ll probably try my best to react and make it a part of a band sound while being interested to see where I go with the influence, trying to get something new out of it.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
PJ: – I am more skewed towards soul when it comes to playing and I almost rely 100% on my instinct when on stage, because I believe that my music comes from my heart and can only open other people’s hearts when I approach them first with an open heart. However, when I practice, I think a lot and try to be as intellectual and practice as logically as possible, trying new approaches and working on my weak points. If a musician can start to handle themselves easily, balancing between the two, then I believe it is when a musician can perform while controlling him or herself and the band, maintaining high standard performance in most performing occasions.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
PJ: – I think it depends on different occasions. There are stages where people come to hear you play or just to hear music. I personally feel I can be flexible in providing what the audiences want while maintaining my style of music. I can read and provide the audience what they want and then, using that as an idea, play something that is uniquely mine, communicating with the audience on what I am trying to play and suggesting what voice I have. I believe it is important for any musician to think about what kind of musician they want to be.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
PJ: – I have so many great memories, but if I have to choose one, it will be the time when I shared the stage with Dee Dee Bridgewater. It was on a main stage of Korea’s largest jazz festival called Jarasum International Jazz Festival in 2009, and I was a member of a big band that featured Dee Dee as the vocalist. During the performance, there was a section where Dee Dee and the saxophones did a unison and she stood right next to me when we did it. That moment, I felt like I was on stage just with her as her voice and my sax sound really blended together. It really was a memorable moment for me.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
PJ: – I think we should just keep on playing these beautiful tunes as they need to be heard and be recognized.
JBN: – And lastly, being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?
PJ: – I am more of a performer and composer than a teacher. I write music when I find time to do so and what matters to me is the source of inspiration. It is easy to write when I am inspired, but without the source, it is really difficult to write. I find sources from my experiences and musical ideas. I keep them in memos and in my mind and set it sit and wait for it to all come together, and, when it is nurtured, a tune is created.
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?
PJ: – I believe the core of being a musician and a composer is to understand what I am trying to express as a musician. I believe the start of that would be to understand what I want to tell the audience and what I am capable of. Once a musician can perform what he/she wants to tell the audience, it is easy to put it on paper. I like writing about small events in life or what I felt and thought into my music and I believe it is the source of my originality. Therefore, I really focus on expressing through music who I naturally am and do my best to bring it out when performing to keep it original.
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?
PJ: – Studying the jazz music through its course of history, I felt that the scene was created and maintained in male-dominated environment. I cannot change the past and, considering how it was in the past, I can understand why it was such. However, if I can change something, I’d like to find great female musicians and along with them contribute to create an environment where female jazz musicians can lead the scene while being one of the female jazz leaders.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
PJ: – I have many ideas in mind that I want to realize as my next albums, and I am looking to find inspiration to turn such ideas into new compositions. I really love the sound of blended horns and I am working to lead projects with larger ensembles, and I’ve started listening to albums with such band settings. Lately, I’ve been listening to Gary Smulyan’s Saxophone Mosaic album, saxophone albums with strings, and Dameronia albums, a nonet band that plays the tunes of Tadd Dameron.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
PJ: – It is about empathy and courage. I grew up in a small town in Korea and never knew what jazz was until I was told to play it with saxophone – when I was 15. Although I started late, I still had the chance to release an album in jazz capital of the world, New York, and play in the scene. I am grateful for everything that has been happening to me. While preparing for my album, my son was less than a year old and it was so hard finding time to really focus on music, but I was happy that I still get to play music and have these opportunities. I’ve heard from audiences and fellow musicians – especially female musicians, that they find my story inspiring and found courage. This really makes me feel great and it gives me the courage to keep going.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
PJ: – Because my first jazz muse was Coltrane, I’d like to go to a time when he was alive. I’d like to go hear him performing live and hear and get to know more about his life.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
PJ: – Through the interview, you must have gotten to know more about me. Is who I am similar to what you thought of me. What did you find most interesting about me compared to other musicians, listening to my music and hearing about myself through the interview?
JBN: – Thanks for answers and Happy New Year 2020 !!!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan