May 24, 2024

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Interview with Tish Oney: Music will continue for me as long as I live: Video

Jazz interview with jazz vocalist, arranger, composer, professor, producer Tish Oney. 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?

Tish Oney: – For me, improvisation is about communicating through music beyond what the words have already said. Yes, I know where I’m going, but I don’t always know how I will get there—it’s different every time. Being open to allowing myself to explore, to enjoy this chord or that motif or this cadence, is akin to taking a nature stroll and stopping to watch a caterpillar climb, or to smell a flower, or to take in the visual balance and beauty of a scene. If it’s truly improvisation, it won’t be duplicated again (as what I experience on a nature walk is never the same), so enjoying what we as a band are doing together at each moment is what it’s all about.

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?

??? – She probably doesn’t perform in the clubs.

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?

TO: – It’s always tempting to quit when things get difficult. Staying the course is the hard work, same as in every aspect of life. For some, moving on to other goals and other kinds of work is exactly what they need to do. Opportunities come in different boxes. Everyone has their own path, their own challenges, and their own guidance, which is why it’s always wrong to compare oneself to anyone else.

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

TO: – I don’t consider that a problem. Everything we listen to influences what we write, record, and perform. That’s how experience works. That said, I work hard to limit what goes into my brain— only high-quality music, art, and literature—so that what I produce is fed by the best artistic nutrition I can give it. For example, I haven’t owned a television in nine years, so the potential for that negative influence has been removed from my daily round.

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

TO: – That is a very interesting Intellectually every musician needs to have a working knowledge of theory and history—how music is structured and where we got our ideas and influences. Pursuing a career in music without these two indispensable pillars of knowledge limits a musician’s potential in a huge way. Soul (or emotion) is the other side of that intellectual coin—a musician must have the ability to express music from an honest place or the music won’t move anyone, no matter how technically precise or historically informed it may be. After technique and knowledge have been attained, sculpting your music into a meaningful arc of beauty can happen through the infusion of heart or soul. When you find a musician who has properly balanced both of these (intellect and soul) as an infusion fueling their work, the music is both excellent and moving, amazing and profound, mentally and emotionally satisfying–a rare combination, indeed.

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

TO: – People want to be moved. You can do that in a number of I don’t take requests because my performances are ticketed concert experiences now. My audience knows what I provide—hopefully a melding of the intellectual/emotional arc we already talked about—and they trust me to provide it. I haven’t failed them yet.

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

TO: – There have been thousands of gigs over the years – so many learning experiences, so many highs and validations about why I chose this career… I once played a wedding reception for Jerome Kern’s grand-nephew. All they wanted us to play was four hours of Kern’s music. That was a memorable gig because you can’t go wrong playing Kern! I also performed at an Ella Fitzgerald birthday concert filmed for PBS and was featured along with Take 6, Natalie Cole, Patti Austin, Wynonna, Nancy Wilson, Dave Koz, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and several other major stars. Producer Phil Ramone’s words to me as he shook my hand after the dress rehearsal have stayed with me: “The future of this music is in very good hands.”

Studio sessions with John Chiodini are always a joy. We find great things to say through our music both in the studio and on the stage, and anyone who has seen us perform together understands that the improvisatory things that sound rehearsed in the studio were not rehearsed. We listen very closely to each other and perform as one voice sometimes, doing some pretty intricate, harmonized things, and performing motivic ideas in canon that just happen because we are in the zone. Both of us are willing to take risks and it’s always so much fun because we trust each other to know how to complement what the other does. It’s a collaboration that is very unique, I think. All of our recordings, Dear Peg, Sweet Youth, Songs From the Heart, and The Best Part, have captured some of these moments.

I had a blast this past summer singing with the U.S. Army Field Band Jazz Ambassadors and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as their guest soloist for four concerts in Detroit. The music was grand and the audience of 28,000 over four days really appreciated the concerts we gave them. I have served several U.S. Army Bands as an artist-in-residence over the past few years and I always treasure the concerts, master classes, and memories we make. They are such incredible musicians!

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

TO: – It’s not hard to get youth interested in jazz. Jazz is tons of fun to play—kids who are not afraid to use their brains can’t help but hear interesting patterns in high-quality jazz. Being careful to expose youth to only excellent music is a way to bring them into a love for this art form. The fact that standards tend to be old is a non-sequitur. Jazz is about taking a tune and making it your own, expressing it in a way no one else has. You can do that with 50-year-old standards or with brand new pop songs (as long as they have enough of a chord progression to make the study worthwhile). Plus, a lot of new jazz is being written every day. It is by no means a dying art form—on the contrary. Jazz is interactive—more so than many other musical styles. Its style draws intellectuals, and not everyone likes their brain stimulated this way when they listen to music. Keeping arts education in elementary, middle school, and high school is an excellent start toward exposing youth to jazz and other musical styles. Encouraging the kids you know to play instruments and pursue musical study outside of school is another great way to fan the flame. We know that playing and singing music builds cognitive brain power, attention span, concentration, teamwork, discipline, and other necessary tools for a successful life, so each of us should do all we can to introduce kids to music— from as young an age as possible.

JBN: – And lastly, being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?

TO: – I’m not sure why this question would be asked. I write a lot of music—I’ve written probably close to 400 arrangements and several original songs, and now scores of concerts tailor-made for different venues, artist tributes, composer tributes, festivals, etc. I have enjoyed a successful dual career as an active performer/composer/arranger and pedagogue, so no, it’s not difficult to write music. I love doing it and I intend to continue doing it to the end of my days.

JBN: – How important is it to you to have an original approach?

TO: – I don’t think it needs Composers should write the music they have inside their mind and heart, and since we all are wired differently, we all have something unique to say. Can you comment on the bridge between being a musician and being a composer? When it comes to jazz, there really is not a distinction between my musician and my composer, because the composer is constantly active whenever I perform. Even when I sing classical repertoire, the composer is mindful of being true to the music at hand. She is finding ways to communicate it to the audience as authentically and respectfully as possible. Moving into the act of composition is simply an extension of the improviser’s craft. And when I’m singing a jazz piece, whether it’s my composition or someone else’s, I’m always exploring ways to deliver it differently than ever before, so that’s the act of composing. For me, the musician and the composer are one and the same.

JBN: – Do you have an idea of what it is you’re trying to say or get across?

TO: – Always. It’s imperative that I completely understand the structure of the music and the meaning of the lyrics before I begin to put my own spin on a song. Only then can I accurately portray what the composer wanted to communicate, and that is ultimately my responsibility. Is it an idea or is it just something that we feel? Yes. Sometimes.

JBN: – What do you see for your extended future?

TO: – Music will continue for me as long as I live. I would like to keep writing music and finding ways to deliver that music to other performers. You know what you have going on? More performances, more artist residencies, more compositions to write, more arranging, and a book about teaching jazz singing are all on the immediate horizon. I’ve been blessed that God brings me new opportunities every year, so I keep moving forward. I plan to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise, when the time comes! If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be? I would point everyone to the Author of all great music and art, our God Almighty. If everyone realized the peace and blessings He grants to those who seek Him, the world would be a much more joyful place to live and work.

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

TO: – I’ve been listening to the various Grammy-nominated artists in jazz, classical, and Broadway styles. I’m in the Recording Academy and needed to listen a lot before casting my votes in 18 categories, so that research has required a lot of my time. I’m most impressed with 2019 recordings by Bublé, Streisand, Gazarek, and Goerne.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

TO: – Mostly my message is one that tries to uplift my listeners. I feel we need ways to be lifted out of Real Life and into a more pleasant experience. My music strives to deliver healing, beauty, and gratitude through artistry and heartfelt expression. I wish to place the songs I sing in their finest possible light and provide the audience with an experience of empathy that they won’t forget. I wish to sing personally to each listener in a way that resonates authenticity, respecting the composer’s work. I aim to contribute something beautiful to a broken world.

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

TO: – I’m content with the times and places in which God has put me. I hope that I have left the world more beautiful than it was before I came.

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

TO: – What impact do YOU wish to leave upon planet Earth?

JBN: – Listen only to classical, jazz and blues musics!!!

JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

TO: – Through making music, teaching, writing, and living, I pray that I would pour beauty into my environment, build bridges, point people to God, and make a very positive difference in this troubled world.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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