July 19, 2024

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Interview with Madison Lea Scott: Inspirational Legacy Jazz: Video, new CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz pianist Madison Lea Scott. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Madison Lea Scott: – I have lived in Cambria, California, on the Central Coast, almost all my life.  I have been blessed to live there with my parents.  God has given me a love for music.  I love to sing and play the piano.  I not only love performing cover songs, but I also enjoy composing my own music.  It truly is a gift from God.  I took classical piano for 11 years and voice training for seven years.  Now, I’ve taken jazz piano for the past six years with Charlie Shoemake.  God has given me an eclectic taste in music.  Besides jazz, I also love Hawaiian music, soul, and Christian worship music, among other styles of music.  I’ve also been involved in the worship team at my church.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

MLS: – The short answer is that my mom had me listening to and exploring music from a very young age.  Listening is the key.  The more I listened, the more I wanted to make music myself, both vocally and instrumentally.  When I was five years old, my parents had me evaluated by Grant Horrocks at the Southern California Conservatory of Music.  After a session at the piano with me, he told my parents that I had perfect pitch to an extreme and had a need to have resolve.  He said that if I was fed a diet of beautiful symphonic music, that I would develop an appetite for it and want to produce it myself.  So I listened to classical music, broadway musicals, Christian hymns, and Disney.  Then my parents bought me a piano and encouraged me to enjoy making music.  My mom arranged for me to get piano lessons and learn to read Braille music along with literary Braille.  As a family, we regularly pretended melodramas and added music that I would make up.  I tend toward ballads, love songs, arias, and epic soundtrack pieces.  I was introduced to jazz by my piano teacher and then my vocal teacher noticed that I kept including jazz chords in my music, so she introduced me to Charlie Shoemake.  I’m not sure that I’ve arrived at my sound, but I keep growing in it as I’m introduced to new music that I like.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

MLS: – Charlie regularly gives me jazz piano solos from the jazz greats to practice and then to improvise on these.  He also says that one of my gifts is comping, providing accompaniment to vocalists and other instrumentalists who solo.  In jazz, comping is the chords, countermelodies and rhythms that keyboard players use to support a musician’s improvised solo or melody lines.  It’s like singing the harmony when another sings the melody.  When a bass player is soloing for example, it’s helpful to play chords that omit the root.  When I was younger, I used to play drums on our church worship team, which I’m sure helped develop rhythm on the piano too.  In terms of practicing my piano, my classical piano teacher taught me about practicing scales and arpeggios and chords.  That was foundational for learning music.  I still do that.  I also work on phrases in different keys.

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

MLS: – I apply the “like” test.  Some of my college friends really like playing free jazz, which is an improvised style of jazz characterized by the absence of set chord patterns or time patterns.  I find that very disturbing.  I don’t have much room for disturbing and dark influences.  I love music that sounds beautiful.  Even sad music can be beautiful and make me cry, which is different than when a cacophony of sounds hurt my ears.  Even some classical pieces I’ve heard are just not very pretty.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

MLS: – I pray…  and I shower.  Let me explain.  There is a verse in the Bible where God encourages us to rejoice in Him always.  He also tells us that He is always near, and He encourages us not to be anxious about anything, but to pray about everything and ask of Him.  The promise is that His peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  For me as a musician, rejoicing always includes when I am performing at a jazz gig, playing Hawaiian music for a hula group or worshipping the Lord at church.  If I’m anxious about a gig, I will pray and ask God for help, and He gives me peace and helps me to enjoy the moment.  Also, being clean just feels so good.  It’s hard to enjoy music when I’m feeling sticky or smell wrong.  I also like to prepare for my gigs by thinking through my set list ahead of time.  If I’m the band leader, I often like to think through what I want to say about the music.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2020: <Inspirational Legacy Jazz>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

MLS: – I really love the songs I played on the album.  The melodies are beautiful, the chords are super hip, and the improvisation sounds cool and fascinating.  Two of my very favorite pieces from the album are “I’ll Remember April,” and “Very Early.” I also really enjoyed playing with all the guys I worked with on the album, including Charlie Shoemake, my wonderful jazz teacher.  Charlie suggested the project, after I had done something similar in a Hawaiian album with several popular Hawaiian music artists.  I thought it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to work with all these amazing jazz artists, and it would be a blessing to friends, family and others who enjoy jazz.  Today, I’m working on jazz standards such as Doodlin’ by Horace Silver and Just Friends by John Klenner.  There are still a lot of jazz standards for me to learn.

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?

MLS: – No, I did not select the people who played with me, but Charlie did.  This album was initially his idea to showcase my piano playing, and he thought I would be interested in doing an album with some jazz greats.  I was blessed to work with such amazing talent.  Some of the guys are friends of Charlie’s that he has played with for quite awhile, and others are former students of his who have gone on to become some of the top jazz players in both LA and New York.  They were all very kind and encouraging to me, and I loved working with them.

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

MLS: – Music just makes sense to me.  The theory and improv are fascinating, yet it’s what goes on in my soul that makes me want to be a part of the music.  Music has been my primary go to for play time as a child, my favorite means of worshipping my Creator and how I hope to be a blessing to others.

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

MLS: – I’ve provided background music regularly at restaurants, where I wouldn’t even call those in attendance an audience. What they want is atmosphere, and so I play for them, but mostly for myself as they don’t interact much.  I don’t have any expectations, and often I’m pleasantly surprised when everyone quiets down and turns their attention to the solo jazz piano that is drawing their attention.  At other times, I’ve had the privilege of having a full audience who clap enthusiastically after each instrumentalist solos.  There is an energy between the jazz band and those who are there.  They laugh and give complements afterwards.  I love that they are blessed.  That’s when all the hard work pays off.

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

MLS: – I love playing with people.  I’ve been blessed to be part of a quartet of young college-age jazz musicians, called the Cool Notes, and we have done various gigs together for the past five years.  Playing with them is very fun.  I also love playing with Charlie and other jazz musicians in Cambria and other places in California.  During my recording sessions for my album, one of my favorite parts besides playing with everyone, was the humor of my drummer Paul Kreibich and bass player Luther Hughes.  They would tease me and make silly jokes and puns that made me laugh.  Their humor definitely made my sessions fun.

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

MLS: – I once met a music teacher when I was very little who encouraged my parents to introduce me to all kinds of music.  Some styles I loved right away, like jazz, and other styles I’ve had to get used to, and other styles I just don’t care for.  Many people have different likes and dislikes, and all we can do is simply encourage people to at least try listening to the music, just like we try to encourage them to try different kinds of food.  I would definitely encourage young kids, whether they are in my generation or younger, to at least try listening to jazz and see what they think.  Some might surprise us and say that they totally love it, but others will say they just don’t care for it.  Charlie has told me that some people have said to him, “I don’t like jazz, because I don’t understand it.” Some people are willing to understand it and learn about it, but others just don’t want to.  All we can do is try and encourage young people to at least listen to jazz.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

MLS: – Music is a way to express what is inside you.  It’s not an end in itself.  My vocal teacher used to tell me all the time that if you can’t mean it, don’t sing it.  I’ve taken that to heart in all my music.  So there are some songs I won’t sing if they aren’t appropriate.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

MLS: – If anything, I would want to bring out more beauty in music.  A lot of today’s pop and rap and rock and techno music that kids are into these days, truly is not beautiful or soothing to the ears, especially the ears of those who are sensitive to that stuff, like I am.  I believe that God created music as a beautiful gift to enjoy, and it reflects His beauty.  Thus, I want to reflect the beauty of my Creator in my music and show that to the world.  Whether I play jazz or other styles of music, or whether I write my own music, I want to make something beautiful out of it.  I highly value beautiful and soothing music, not harsh and angry music.

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

MLS: – I’ve been listening to a lot of big band like Tommy Dorsey with Frank Sinatra.  It swings and was foundational to the jazz quintets that developed.  I’ve also been listening to vintage Hawaiian music from the same era that had a similar swing to it.  Melveen Leed and Emma Veary were as incredible in the islands as Ella Fitzgerald on the mainland.

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

MLS: – My faith in God is very important to me.  My goal is not to let fame rule or control my life, but to let God be glorified in my life, even in my music.  I also want to be a blessing to as many people as possible through my music and in my life.  I want to point people to who God is.  He is the One who created everything, including music, and He is everything good and beautiful.  Thus, my desire is that His beauty and glory be reflected in my music, whether I play jazz or other styles of music.

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

MLS: – I would love to take a trip to New York and sit in on jazz jam sessions during the hey days of Birdland with George Shearing, Bud Powell and others.  I would love to connect with them in person and with their music live.

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

MLS: – My question for you is this: Who are some of your favorite jazz musicians?

JBN: – Bob Mintzer, Dave Holland, Chick Corea, Brian Blade, Terence Blanchard …

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

MLS: – My desire is to continue to grow in my music and in my faith, as well as to be a blessing to people through my music, and ultimately glorify God in my music and in my life.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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