Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer George Kahn. 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?
George Kahn: – Jazz improvisation is an incredible balance of building a knowledge base of scales, chords, “licks” or note patterns, and then being able to GET OUT OF THE WAY and let the creativity flow in the moment. It definitely helps if you know what your end goal is before you get there.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
GK: – I like knowing the set I will play before playing it. Sometimes I wish I was like Paul Desmond, he had 1000 tunes in his head and could just call one and play it! I like to study and practice the material before a performance. Spiritually, I see a performance as a dance between me, the other band members and the audience. I get energized by the interaction.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2020: <Dreamcatcher>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
GK: – Pat Kelley and I started doing live shows in Los Angeles about 3 years ago, and I just fell in love sith the sound and interaction we developed. Pat is also a composer/arranger/producer, so we really joined forces on this project, and it was great to have his talent and feedback, from the choice of songs to the final mastering. We co-wrote “DreamCatcher”, and Pat arranged a couple of the songs (You And The Night And The Music was his idea, for one). I think what I love most about DreamCatcher is that it is just so LISTENABLE. It puts a smile on my face every time I play it.
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?
GK: – My sound and focus from the beginning of my recording career has been to recreate the pure jazz sound and feel of the classic Blue Note, Riverside and Prestige jazz records, but bring them into the 21st Century. My sound eveolves based on the group I am playing with – The Quintet definitely has a different focus than the George Kahn Trio (Straight Ahead) album from 2018, and they are both totally different from the “Jazz & Blues Revue” album of 2014. I like variety, as you can see!
As for DreamCatcher, the band was an organic creation. David Hughes was coming off a long stint of playing with David Benoit, and I knew he had all the elements I look for in a bass player: impeccable intonation, classical as well as jazz training, and great solos. Alex Acuña has played on every one of my albums since “…Compared To What?” back in 2004. Alex treats the drumset as a melodic instrument, and his ability as a multi-percussionist comes out whenever he plays. I just kove that.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
GK: – Absolutely! On the “Straight Ahead” album I took quite a few contemporary pop songs and arranged then in jazz style. I thought it would broaden my audience. But a lot of the feedback I got was that people just want to hear songs that they know, and my target audience is people in the 40-75 year old range. They don’t care if I come up with a creative take on a song by The Weeknd. They would rather hear “Stardust”! So this album was a very conscious decision to create an album that might be called “cocktail music.” What sets it apart, I think, is that you can play it while you are cooking dinner and really enjoy it, and if you just stop an listen to it, you will be thrilled as well.
By the way, I have tested it out numerous times with friends over cocktails, and it works REALLY WELL!
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?
GK: – There is so much material out there, what I do has to be original or why bother doing it? I know everytime I put out an album I am competing in some way with Miles Davis or John Coltrane, so it has to have a lot of “me” in it. That involves composing original songs, arranging standards or just improvising.
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?
GK: – My music has a “feel good” element to most of it. My favorite comment is when someone says “You know, I don’t like jazz, but I really like your music!” Some songs have a lot of pathos – life is filled with all the emotions. One of my favorite songs is “The Hero’s Journey”, do you know that one?
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?
GK: – My life is so incredibly rich and full, I feel blessed every day. I have a fantastic partner in my wife, Vocal Teacher Diana Zaslove Kahn. I have two wonderful kids (Ben Kahn is an IT guy in Beaverton, and Evan Kahn is a professional cellist in the San Francsico area). I can’t see changing anything.
For the future, I look forward to playing live gigs again, hopefully soon! The next music project looks like it will be with the Jazz & Blues Revue again. We just did a 30-minute livestream show in November and we have some great new material to put out. Not sure if it will be an “album”, but the world seems to have moved on to streaming individual songs, so we may just go that way!
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that?
GK: – I get up early, shower, stretch and meditate, do some writing, and then start the day. As I said, it is a blessed life.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan