June 12, 2024


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Interview with Sam Gill: Each musician creates from a unique position: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Sam Gill. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Sam Gill: – I grew up in Sydney, just north of the Royal National Park: an incredible nature reserve on the East-coast of Australia. I’ve been playing music since quite an early age, but I’d say I became really passionate about it when I was in my mid-teens. Around that time, I started checking out gigs in the Sydney jazz scene and connecting with some really inspiring teachers. I also developed an obsession with collecting CDs when I was quite young, so being excited about listening to recorded music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

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

SG: – I’m in my late 20’s, so I can only speak to ten or so years of development. I think the main change over that time has been a move away from trying to conform to genre conventions or the more prominent stylistic “schools” of saxophone playing that exist today. I haven’t necessarily tried to reject those influences completely, but removing the pressure to do things a “correct way” has given me the space to assess how different influences from my listening and life in general have informed my music making.

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

SG: – My practice routine always starts with some saxophone basics – overtones, long-tones, articulation exercises etc. After that, I do more creativity-based practice geared towards developing my agility as an improviser.  Usually, I set a few musical constraints and then try to find creative ways of dealing with them in real time through improvisation. This is especially true of my rhythmic practice, which focuses heavily on polyrhythms and the ability to move between different subdivisions in a fluent and musical way. Although I approach it very systematically during practice, the ultimate goal is not to consciously use that rhythmic language while improvising, but to be able to access those skills in a creative way that responds to the musical moment.

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

SG: – I try to keep myself open to any influences, musical or otherwise, and not interfere with how they coexist. That process is largely subconscious but will always be expressed through the creative choices I make. When I think about the relationship between any particular influence and my own musical ideas, I’m lead to consider deeper connections that might not be apparent on the surface, which helps avoid any risk of imitation or surface-level similarity.

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

SG: – Maintaining my regular practice routine to be as engaged with the instrument and as relaxed as possible when I perform. That’s an ongoing thing, so it’s not specific to any particular performance. Apart from that, I just try to be engaged with the aesthetic goals & possibilities of any particular performance situation: to acknowledge my relationship to the other musicians and the space we’re performing in, and how those factors can help shape the music.

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

SG: – All music emerges from both, but each musician creates from a unique position. In terms of my own process, I value rigor and systematic repetition when practicing as a way to prepare for being totally present and spontaneous (is this soul?) when improvising. On a side note, I think there has historically been a very narrow and Eurocentric definition of ‘intellect’ in critical understandings of jazz, but that’s too big an issue to unpack here.

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

SG: – I think it’s important to be aware of and open to the transfer of energy in a room when playing to an audience, but I have no interest in trying to work out “what people want” or to play to that imagined ideal. The energy transfer occurs on a deeper level than the stylistic content of the music. The music that I’ve been most moved by as a listener has been made by people who creatively express their own ideas with as much honesty and passion as possible, and that’s one of the most important ideals that I try to reach in my own music.

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

SG: – I went on my first international tour last year, with a band called Microfiche. We played two gigs over a weekend in Sweden that I was really moved by: the first was an intimate house concert in a lake-side town a few hours north of Stockholm, while the following day we played 60-meters underground in a decommissioned nuclear reactor. The two gigs had opposite energies in a lot of ways, but the experience of playing them back to back was really unique and beautiful.

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

SG: – I have no idea, although education on the value of improvisation (in life as well as music) would be a good start. I don’t think repertoire is the reason there is a lack of mainstream interest in jazz though – it’s connected to much bigger issues of what is valued in society. There are so many forms of creative activity, musical or otherwise, that aren’t afforded much public visibility because they can’t be easily commodified; jazz is just one of many examples of that.

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

SG: – What I take from Coltrane’s message is that meaning is found through a continual process of self-discovery: an openness to sitting with questions and being honest in the face of external pressures. How that expresses itself will be different for everyone.

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

SG: – Have music-making more integrated into everyday life as a meaningful social activity, so it’s more accessible and enriching to people as listeners, participants etc.

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

SG: – Too many people to list. Some recent recordings I’ve had on repeat have been Wadada Leo Smith’s “Divine Love”; Ingrid Laubrock & Kris Davis’ “Blood Moon”; Simon Barker’s “On Running 2”; and “Requiem Canticles” by Stravinsky.

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

SG: – Some of my music has specific meaning to me which might be alluded to in the titles I use, but I like to leave the music’s meaning open to interpretation. On a macro level, I hope a message emerges organically from my attempts to be as genuine as possible with my creative process.

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

SG: – The day of the moon landing, but I want to be on the moon when they arrive to experience their confusion at someone beating them there.

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

SG: – If machines (like George Lewis’ program Voyager) can improvise to the same level as humans, what impact does that have on improvised music?

JBN: – I don’t know …

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

SG: – I’m writing lots of music at the moment, since there are less opportunities to gig due to the pandemic. I’m looking forward to playing the new music with my bands when possible!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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