Jazz interview with jazz contrabassist Yuri Goloubev. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Yury Golubev or Yuri Goloubev: – Sure. I grew up in Moscow, and both my mother and my grandma had graduated in piano performance, and therefore we had a baby grand at home. As a kid, I wouldn’t miss out on an opportunity to fool around with it – at first, quite meaninglessly, but gradually, my interest started to become always more conscious, mainly steered towards composing though, which would later become one of my primary focuses in my studies for years. I did not happen to graduate as a composer though: the requirement for that was to write a symphony, but by then, I had already been leading the pretty busy life of a professional musician, splitting my time between the orchestra and a vast variety of gigs, so I just did not have the opportunity to lock myself up for a few months in front of a writing desk to compose such a large work. So, in the end, I had to limit myself to getting my degree just in double bass.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
YG: – When I was very young, I used to be somehow attracted to the sound of a fretless bass, which I was in a way trying to emulate on my own instrument. Maybe, in part, this was influenced by a pretty electric sound of Ron Carter, or Eddie Gomez of the late 1970-s… but gradually, I came up with probably what most of us come up with at the end: the most natural sound is the best. Although this may be a fairly easy task in a recording studio, live work may present challenges. I do have various gear to help me with this, but still, it depends on a multitude of external factors as well, one of the most important being the acoustics of the stage space.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
YG: – As for the daily routine in regards to the playing technique, I have always been very much into various exercises, scales and such, and keep recommending this approach to my students, too. And now, with this incredible array of electronic tools, such as iRealBook, drum machines, programmable metronomes, etc., working on rhythm aspects has become not only easier and more efficient, but also much more fun, and you can have all these apps right on your smartphone!
On the other hand, when I moved to Europe in 2004, I started to perform with a number of great European musicians; many of them were pretty much into tricky time signatures and rhythms. At the beginning, plunging into all this felt like a bit of a nightmare experience, but… you do get used to it, and, most importantly, it is a great opportunity to learn. I can mention a few musicians straight away who have “involuntarily” greatly contributed to my “rhythmical growth” – such as sax player Klaus Gesing, pianists Gwilym Simcock and John Law, but also many others.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from colouring what you’re doing?
YG: – This is a good question. Know what? I have actually never been a great fan of transcribing other musicians! I think it is always great to listen and analyse, but there may be a feasible danger of falling into the hidden trap of trying to replicate the language of your «hero». It is great to enhance your playing with the ideas of some people whose playing inspires you, but it is also very important to try and carefully listen to what you truly «hear» inside you, and, therefore, learn to listen to your own voice, develop and apply it.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
YG: – Until not so long ago, I used to be involved in some 120-140 performances a year. This was my job (well, in the pre-Covid era, as we don’t know what’s going to happen next!), and, obviously, you cannot turn every third day of your life into something special. Gigs are a part of your routine, so you should take them as such. However, there’s something I do find important aside from that: working conditions. For example, I’d do my best to avoid a 6 am flight, and would even rather fly the day before the gig, if possible; I’d try and book myself into a reasonable hotel not too far from the venue in case the accommodation wasn’t in the contract, and I would not normally drive home for more than an hour after the gig into the night, opting for a hotel stay. Also, it is good to schedule your day and make sure you distribute your time efficiently and set right priorities.
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?
YG: – I guess my sound has been pretty much the same for quite a few years now, and I am not sure how much working with other musicians can influence that, to be honest. Your phrasing, your way of thinking – yes, and I can name you a few people straight away – both from the classical and the jazz world who have, indeed, been big influences for me in that way (even though I never aimed at copying any of them) – violist Yuri Bashmet, pianist Gwilym Simcock, and if we want to include bass players – John Patitucci and Eddie Gomez. I am very grateful that I’ve had a chance to learn something from these wonderful musicians.
As for the musicians on my latest album – you know, that’s an easy one 🙂 We all tend to play within certain (sometimes – fairly large) bubbles of people that we like both as musicians and human beings. My collaboration and friendship with the wonderful drummer Asaf Sirkis dates to maybe 2001 or so, and together, we have participated in somewhere around 40 recordings to date. Asaf is featured on two of my previous releases as well – Metafore Semplici (Universal, 2009) and Titanic For A Bike (Caligola, 2011). I have known John Turville for quite a while, but it was maybe just 2-3 years ago that we finally had a chance to tour together, and I have been truly enjoying working with this incredibly talented man ever since. Tim Garland has been a friend of mine for a long time, and he is definitely one of the premier European saxophonists and composers, a truly inspiring musician; I am happy to be involved in several of Tim’s projects as well, the latest being the Weather Walker Trio with an incredible British pianist, Jason Rebello.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
YG: – That’s a good question. I believe our music has to reach out to the heart of the listener, as I pointed out earlier, but not at a simplistic level. It is great to try and combine proper composer’s skills with improvisation. Mind you, some people still think that jazz equals freedom, and that one can sort of play whatever! Very far from that; jazz is quite a rigorous art, with lots of fairly rigid frames (such as time and harmony, for example), but the true beauty lies in bending these frames slightly, yet remaining very respectful to them, carefully fitting your expressive abilities and talent into these frames.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
YG: – You know, to be perfectly honest, I do not really think much about the audience when I’m on the stage. I try and set goals instead. My teacher, a wonderful bassist Rinat Ibragimov who served for years as Principal with the London Symphony, once gave me some great advice – one of quite a few, in fact: “When you are on the stage, don’t just play, but practice”. I still follow that, and for me, every performance – be it a rehearsal, a gig or a studio session, is a constant learning experience, and this is one of the things that has been attracting me most in jazz since the beginning of my path in this genre. So I just try and concentrate on the “message” I’d like to communicate with my music on this occasion, as well as on what I’d like to actually improve.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
YG: – Would you prefer something horrible or exciting? Joking. I think, a great gig is when everything sort of falls into place. This depends on a series of factors – primarily, on whom you are playing with, and on the sound. Often such gigs don’t happen to be recorded, and then we say “Oh, what a shame it wasn’t documented”! But sometimes they do. One of them was quite a few years ago in a wonderful trio with Gwilym Simcock and Asaf Sirkis in Muri (Switzerland), and, luckily, almost the entire concert is on YouTube now. Speaking about this band … back in 2005, all three of us were on Klaus Gesing’s record Heartluggage (ATS, 2006). While looking forward to the reunion tour of this quartet (which has now sadly been postponed due to the outbreak), I had a quick listen to refresh the material in my memory. And, while playing Klaus’s Here And Now And You Forever in my car, I was like “Is this really a studio recording, and not a live gig??” There was such an amazing energy on this track, and it is that often that this happens in a studio! I really hope we will finally be able to tour once these lockdowns are finished.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
YG: – I do a fair amount of teaching – both privately, and on the faculty of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, and I must say that there’s actually quite a lot of interest in jazz amongst young people! One may find it strange – bearing in mind that jazz in a way is a “retro art”, but it is true! And it is always nice to see younger faces in the audiences.
However, I think if radio stations played more of all sorts of jazz, it’d be a great help in getting people interested in this genre. I spent many years in Italy, and there, if you turn the radio on, all you hear is pop plus one classical channel (one!) and Radio Maria which is a religious broadcast. That’s it! So people just do not get the chance to find out what jazz is! And, likewise, when someone tells me that they don’t like it, my first thought is that they just might not have had the chance to listen to true jazz!
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
YG: – Well, I think that the Creator gives each of us some talents. Sadly, many never get a chance to discover them. Thus, maybe, a mediocre surgeon could have been an amazing accountant, but somehow, he never had the chance to discover that talent in himself … and vice versa. Therefore, our “mission” is to try and discover these talents in ourselves – whatever they may be, and make them evolve – both to express our gratitude to the Creator, and to enrich humanity.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
YG: – Hm. Can it be two things? If so – one would be the world without money. Money often dictates our choices. Did you ask yourself what choices you’d be making if there were no money as such, and everything were free? And another one (but this applies to some countries more than to the others) – to shift media attention (and that of the promoters!) from big household names towards maybe less known or younger musicians creating something extremely valid, at times more interesting and skilful than what some of the big names present.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
YG: – Ah, it is fairly random. Not anyone in particular, but I always love listening to pianists – Alan Pasqua, Fred Hersch, sometimes Brad Mehldau…or else, it can be any orchestral music…
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
YG: – Just music!
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
YG: – Actually, I’d be curious to do the contrary: bring someone like J.S.Bach into the current time, offer him a car ride and take him to a jazz gig or into a recording studio! I’m sure he’d be able to fully appreciate and enjoy it!
But, if I were to choose to go somewhere, I guess into the 1960-s, maybe 1970’s – the prime time of jazz in it’s more modern incarnation.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from you…
YG: – Ah, that’s a simple one: as a journalist, how do you see the future of music, and jazz in particular, in the post-Covid times?
JBN: – The future of jazz will be fine, if jazz musicians have become more intellectual and honest …
JBN: – So, putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
YG: – Well, right now, we are living in a very strange and dangerous time, with lots of uncertainty about the future and some really scary things like possible rushed mandatory vaccination round the corner, with vaccines that wouldn’t be properly tested for safety or for the efficiency. I wouldn’t like to go into politics or these super big businesses behind that, but I do hope the world would be left with enough mental sanity to avoid doing too much self-harm. Speaking about mental sanity, I find that the best way to maintain it while weathering this storm is to concentrate on work, and try and structure your day. I have set several goals for myself for this period, one of them – producing a series of video tutorials teaching some basics of double bass playing that are often overlooked. My Tutorial 1 is already on YouTube and seems to be doing really well, so 9 more are in the pipeline!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan