Jazz interview with saxophonist Dave O’Higgins. 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?
Dave O’Higgins: – When I improvise the first thing is to have a good groove with the rhythm section. The feel & the sound are paramount, and if that’s right the next thing is to take the time to construct a solo solo it has a beginning, middle & end – not just a torrent of stuff that fits. Obviously the interaction of the band & audience all influence this….
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?
DOH: – Jazz education is big business in itself, which perhaps means more people are doing it in the first place who probably wouldn’t if they had to do it all of their own volition as in days of yore…. Having said that good education gives the talented ones an extra turbo-boost in my opinion, and an excellent opportunity to swap ideas with their peers. The best ones will always find a way to express themselves.
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?
DOH: – This has happened throughout the ages, and the ones with the stomach for it stick at it whatever. If there’s no adversity how can you play the blues?
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
DOH: – It’s natural to be influenced by other things you like, or considerations commercial or otherwise. I try to imagine what my music will sound like in 10 or 20 years and attempt to create something that will stand the test of time.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
DOH: – I guess the intellect is applied while practising & the soul should take over in a live performance situation!
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
DOH: – I think it’s possible to engage and entertain an audience by crediting them with the intelligence and open-mindedness to come on a musical journey with you. If it sounds appealing – beautiful instrumental timbres, not too loud, swinging, memorable melodies & motifs, harmonies utilising tension & release in good balance – what’s not to like?
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
DOH: – Wow there’s been so many! Recently on this tour we did 2 gigs in one day: a lunchtime concert for an elderly crowd (aged 70+) and an evening concert for a packed crowd entirely of 20-somethings, who could not possibly have been familiar with our repertoire. Both went down a storm – the evening gig especially received a raucous approval! We also had a group of music students in Birmingham (UK not Alabama!) singing along with Giant Steps & Resolution!
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
DOH: – I think the main thing is the media gives more of a platform to swinging, tonal jazz that’s well played so as to give young people an approachable reference point to get into it. There is too much emphasis put on “jazzy” pop music (to put bums on seats), or the raucously avant garde (to appease the search for faux-innovation!).
JBN: – And lastly, being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?
DOH: – I have to have a specific project in mind to focus properly on the writing process. Teaching has helped me clarify a lot of details in my approach.
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?
DOH: – As a jazz musician, I feel I am definitely a performer first & foremost. I write in order to create a framework that I can improvise over to good effect, and to unify elements for specific line-ups & projects. I think it was Stravinsky who said: “Bad composers borrow; good composers steal”. Originality, in my opinion, is best expressed by having studiously assimilated existing materials, and owning them to such an extent that your own personality shines through.
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?
DOH: – Sometimes the listener / audience just “gets it”. That’s what we are looking for. And it’s down to us as performers to get it across, too.
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?
DOH: – I have learnt to take it a year at a time, as the music industry is evolving fast in response to technological developments & the way we consume music. I think the one thing I would like to be able to change to make being a musician more viable is that we find a way to stop giving our music away (virtually) for free on streaming platforms so the album becomes a viable business strategy again!
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
DOH: – Walt Weiskopf, Tucker Antell, Eric Alexander, Phil Dwyer, Max Ionata, Ferdinand Povel …
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
DOH: – Peace & Love! Seriously? Beauty.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
DOH: – 1959 New York. Or maybe earlier to see Bird! 52nd St in the early 50s would have been really something!
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
DOH: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
JBN: – Bill Evans, Dave Holland, Kenny Garrett, Steve Gadd …
Interview by Simon Sargsyan