Jazz interview with jazz baritone saxophonist Keith O’Rourke. 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?
Keith O’Rourke: – My approach to improvisation is to practice many options and paths before a recording or gig, and then to try and play in the moment to engage and interact with the band, or to follow any inspired choices as they come to me.
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?
KOR: – There are certainly some majors that are not fully able to express themselves yet as they leave university or college music programs, but I’m more inspired by their passion to follow their dreams to make a living in music than I am critical of their expression. I myself am quite the late bloomer when it comes to my career. I received excellent advice and direction from teachers, but it took a while for it to all come together. As I’ve gathered life experience it has helped me to have something more to express and I’m sure many of the talented musicians graduating from schools will find their path as I have.
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?
KOR: – The business of music has taken its’ toll on so many gifted musicians. I naively pursued music because I had, and still have, a passion for it. The business aspects are honestly something I’m still trying to master. What I hold onto and recommend to any player struggling with the business side, is to focus on why you play more often than the agents, booking clubs/festivals. The business side is a hurdle we all have to overcome, but we just need to remember that it’s not why we are musicians.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
KOR: – To be honest, I try not to worry about my influences colouring what I am doing. I am the sum of all my experiences including the musicians that I aspire to be more like. If someone says they hear references in my playing from musicians I admire, I take it as a compliment. My playing will still be unique to me, because how I put together my personal ideas in combination from all my influences is hopefully as unique to me as my fingerprint.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
KOR: – For me the balance is in where and when. Intellect is for the practice room and with the learning of the material so completely that you can lose yourself in the moment when you get to the gig. Soul happens once the preparation is complete and in the act of letting go of preconceived ideas and playing in the moment.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
KOR: – I’m okay with giving people some of what they want, but I’m also there to challenge my listener to take the journey with me and the band as we play. I hope that when we present our songs that we give our audience enough information to what inspired the composition so that they can close their eyes and imagine the piece with our viewpoint in mind.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
KOR: – The memories from gigs and sessions that I keep with me are the comments from my idols, peers and audience members. The standing ovations when we first presented the band outside of Calgary at the Montreal and Ottawa Jazz Festivals last summer were deeply moving. As are the compliments from people I admire mentioning that they like my sound, my compositions and my approach. It’s also deeply moving when a random member of the audience comes up and mentions that my song spoke to them.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
KOR: – I think we need to keep evolving jazz. The wonderful thing about jazz is that it is able to adapt new repertoire and styles and blend it with the tradition.
JBN: – And lastly, being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?
KOR: – I don’t think being a teacher makes it difficult to write music myself. The biggest thing that holds me back is that I can be a bit of a perfectionist with compositions and will often not share new works until I have over thought it.
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?
KOR: – I’m not too concerned about having an original approach. I’m more concerned with being a better version of me every day and I’m quite happy to be influenced by other musicians. The blend of all that is what make me, me. With jazz there isn’t much of a bridge between being a musician and a composer. It’s been said many times that composition is similar to improvising, the only difference is the composition can be edited and the improvisation is a once in a lifetime thing every time.
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?
KOR: – Yes, I have an idea of what I am trying to say and get across. Sometimes it is a moment in time that I am trying to convey as a musical portrait, other times it is more of a raw emotion that I am trying to get across to the audience. For instance, on the album, Port NOLA was written as I reflected on my experience in New Orleans in Mardi Gras back when I was 26 years old. It’s a little chaotic, a little wild, a bit happy go lucky which is how I think of my experience there. For I-Yor, it was much more of a mood that I’m trying to convey. It was a grim and grey February day when I was writing it and I was just trying to share the melancholy feeling with the song.
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?
KOR: – If I could change one thing in the musical world it would be the payment to recording artists for streaming. It is wonderful that artists everywhere can share their music, but it would be great if it we were paid more fairly for what we contribute. The rate of return on how much it costs to record is staggeringly low if you’re not a big name artist and that needs to change or the music that gets recorded will be less and less diverse.
My extended future is more of a mystery to me. I’m working on getting the band more tour dates, but that is still a work in progress. My life is always a delicate balance between playing, teaching and time with family and friends. I’m always looking to experience new things as that is what inspires me to play and write.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
KOR: – My listening is a mixture of classic recordings as well as newer recordings. I love Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and so many other legends of jazz. I also try to seek out new music to hear what other musicians are doing. Some of these musicians are Seamus Blake, Joel Frahm, Anat Cohen, Ben Wendel, Ben Markley Big Band, Chris Potter, Kirk MacDonald and many others.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
KOR: – I am just trying to say this is who I am and how I have lived. Hopefully people like that.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
KOR: – It would be amazing to hear Coltrane live or to be on “the bridge” listening to Sonny Rollins practice.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
KOR: – I could ask you all of the same sort of questions you asked me, such as the future of jazz etc…
JBN: – As the future of jazz? FINE !!!
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
KOR: – I’m very much trying to stay in the moment both in playing and in life. I focus on doing the work every day more than thinking of the big picture. I hope at the end of the day I have harnessed that effort into a career and legacy in music.
Intrerview by Simon Sargsyan