Jazz interview with jazz pianist Nuphar Fey. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Nuphar Fey: – I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel. Coming from a family of musicians, it was very natural for me to start playing music, I was surrounded by it from birth. My grandmother was a pianist and piano teacher, and we were very close to one another, I think it might be part of the reason that I was drawn to the piano. We used to sit and play together for hours.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
NF: – Interesting question. I’ll answer it from two aspects – the aspect of my own sound on the piano, and the sound print of my music.
For the piano, I was a classical pianist from early childhood, and the diligent work on that repertoire was very much around sound and touch. This is very present in my sound.
When I started making my own music, the roots of it were through free improvisation, and then pretty quickly jazz and some cultures of world music. The classical music heritage is always there. Balancing these influences in my harmonic, form, melodic, and band leading approach, with intuition, became the imprint of my sound.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
NF: – I constantly search for new exercises to step out of my comfort zone. Every few months, I naturally want to put the accent on something new, and then I go deeper into that. Lately, I’ve been going deeper into cracking my harmonic approach from a new point of view, as well as investing attention in rhythm. I work with combining rhythmic techniques of different cultures for perspective and ideas, and regularly ask my drummer for exercises that he does, incorporating them in my own practice. I like to invent exercises with inspiration from other instruments, thinking like a sax or bass player or as a drummer. It develops a broader set of skills.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
NF: – I open up to influences as a way to become inspired, it’s a substantial part of my music. However, I also believe that if you are a good musician, then it balances out and sounds like you, not like someone else ever. We live in a pool of influences, and it’s natural.
The beauty in a well-developed voice is that influences combine to become new and unified identity of its own.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
NF: – I try to eat and sleep well, and to keep a well-balanced day routine, so everything is done on time, avoid unnecessary stress. That doesn’t always work, because I tend to make changes to scores at the last minute, but I do my best to relax with that. Before performances, I try to keep my workaholic nature under control, so I have enough raw energy for the stage. I draw a lot of joy from playing with my band, and that definitely fuels my stamina greatly.
JBN: – Ism is culled from a variety of lives dates with various performers over the course of a few years. Did your sound evolve during that time? And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?
NF: – My sound keeps evolving always, but the essence of it developed when I started to make decisions from the years when I transitioned from classical to jazz music.
I choose the musicians I create with by the connection that we have and their ability as humans and instrumentalists to express things in a way that I believe serves the music best. In this album, I had my trio for about a year before the recordings. We were very much together and understanding the music well. The addition of my sister for cello and vocals was an obvious choice for me, I wanted her sound and exceptional level of expression there. A great percussion player joined as well, and I brought him in because he has so much creativity, and I knew the colors he’d bring would add an extra depth to the textures I was looking to create.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
NF: – That’s an interesting question. I believe that music is spiritual, even for the most intellectual people. Without intuition, there is nothing. Intellect is our thirst for knowledge and should be present in our practice. But when creating and performing, ear and soul are center. The balance is found when we dedicate ourselves to following the music honestly.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
NF: – My higher purpose is serving the music, not the people. The way that I see it, the audience participates in this journey. But I believe that people are looking to be inspired and touched. If I succeed in doing that, then I consider it a privilege.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
NF: – A few years ago, I played with a quartet of a world music project. When we started the concert, which was supposed to begin with an energetic piece of the entire band, there was something wrong with the instrument of one of the musicians, and he had to pause and take a few minutes to solve it on stage. We were all already sitting on stage, the audience was alert, and we couldn’t just stop. So without thinking about it, I started to improvise something to keep the energy up, and it turned out to be a totally beautiful piece. It was one of the most intense and inspired improvisations that I’ve played on stage.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
NF: – It’s funny because I spent my entire childhood and adolescence immersed in classical repertoire that is centuries old…! And I never felt that it’s not interesting or relevant because the expression was the focus.
I believe the essence of jazz is total freedom in the moment, and an approach to a certain way of thinking, feeling, and experiencing. We can express it through the standard tunes or through modern music. Any great art is about honesty. The vessel is less important than what flows through it.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
NF: – I identify with this sentence. I believe that we are all here to develop in our spiritual journey, and that expresses through whatever our soul chooses to do in this life, in this body. For me, music is my way of speaking in this life; it’s how I go through my spiritual journey, and it’s how I elevate others and give value in this world. My path with music pushed me to all my life lessons so far, in one way or another. It reflects on all my choices and all my human connections. I think the spirit keeps changing colors, and this is its current one. I guess the meaning hides somewhere there.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
NF: – I would make the creating artist the center instead of the corporations which control everything and also make the most money out of it. Change the balance of compensation.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
NF: – I listen to a lot of Brad Mehldau again lately after some years of absence. A lot of ECM, actually through their playlists, I’ve been discovering truly incredible artists. I also listen to folk and film music, mainly post-classical minimalistic. Olafur Arnalds, the occasional Max Richter, some Sufjan Stevens. That’s my inspiration pallet at the moment.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
I think (and hope) that I bring a message that all emotions are worth speaking out loud, that there is so much beauty, depth, and wideness. To inspire the feeling of strength and freedom.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
NF: – Oi, only one?
I would want to go to a moment when my grandmother and father were still alive, but as I am right now, and just sit down and play my music for them. They never got to hear it, and it’s something that I think about a lot because they were both so important to me. That could be something.
I was contemplating whether I’d like to take a jump to some point in the future, but I rather leave it a mystery.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
NF: – What does jazz inspire in you, that gives you the push to create this magazine?
JBN: – Jazz is my life !!!
JBN: – So, putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
NF: – Breathe, have faith, be in the moment.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan