Interview with an ungrateful, impolite, dull, unhuman, drawn creature, as if trumpeter Chad McCullough. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Chad McCullough: – I grew up just outside of Seattle, WA in the midst of the grunge era. I was a bit younger, so I just caught the tail end of it. When I was in high school, I was able to hear live jazz music and immediately fell in love. The scene was so vibrant, and I was able to learn from (and play with) many of the top musicians.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
CHM: – I hope that my sound is still evolving. I have distinct and vivid memories of hearing the trumpet played in such a way that it really changed my fundamental perception of the moods that can be expressed by that instrument. I hope I can continue to grow and continue to express those elements in a deeper way.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
CHM: – I have a pretty complex practice routine (I think most trumpet players do) to deal with the fundamentals of the instrument. I try to change it up, and challenge myself daily. I do a lot of work with the metronome – both in terms of placement, and subdivisions. I play a long with recordings of great drummers, and I record and analyze what’s working and what isn’t quite often.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
CHM: – I feel like I enjoy being colored by disparate influences. I enjoy listening to a Malian folk singer as much as I enjoy listening to Miles Davis, and Bill Frisell. The beauty of music is that we are a summation of everything we’ve listened too, and the way it’s made us feel. I think preventing that is a recipe for creating music that “other people” want to hear, rather than creating the art that most resonates with who you are.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
CHM: – Every performance needs different prep work. Physically – relating to the trumpet, I need to be ready for the extremes of the gig (lead work, vs. soft chamber jazz). In these pandemic times, where rehearsing isn’t feasible, it’s been very difficult to work on stamina on the bandstand, and I think both the spiritual and musical aspects are difficult to work on in isolation.
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?
CHM: – I’m not sure that question applies… but I do love Junius’s ISM album. And am always happy to play with him!
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
CHM: – A perfect balance is one that allows both to mask the other. I don’t believe that playing with deep soul and intent ever lacks intellect, but the opposite can sometimes tip the scales too much for me (depending on my mood). I don’t always like feeling lectured to when I listen to music, but I do like to learn – and be challenged.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
CHM: – I think the people want to hear honesty. That’s what resonates and leaves an impact. I’m always trying to play that way. I feel when that’s truly present in the music, the audience will be positively affected. In much the same way that most people know when they’re being “played too” and that rarely has more than short-term benefit.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
CHM: – I’ve been lucky to play music all over the world with many musicians who I can’t speak the same language as – yet we’re able to create amazing music instantly. That’s the power of this art form, and a deep feeling of connection that I wish everyone could experience.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
CHM: – As an educator, for the last 20 years I have seen the number of students interested in some form of this music grow immensely. It’s rare to find someone who’s inspired by the music because it’s a take on a tune from 80 – 100 years ago, or the chord-scale theory. It is very common to find students interested in the music because the freedom, honestly, and integrity of the performance resonates with them. The more we focus on the “why,” the more people can understand the art form. We can teach the “how” but it’s backwards to inspire educationally based on that element of creating.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
CHM: – I think John Coltrane understood more about life and the world and the inner workings of reality than most people ever will. I feel like I don’t understand the spirit and the meaning of life in any way that’s tangible or even clear at this point. I’m just not even close in my search. Hopefully I have a bit more time to explore the world.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
CHM: – I’d eliminate any element that is against the notion that “we’re all in this together” because I feel that’s the issues that hold back any sort of music.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
CHM: – I love hearing new music, but really find myself finding that I go back to the music from the 60’s – specifically Miles and Coltrane, almost daily. Now, more than ever.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
CHM: – Beauty, serenity, comfort, destruction, isolation, horror, joy, peace, terror… it’s all in there somewhere.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
CHM: – I’d want to hear Louis Armstrong play live – just walk into the studio when they’re recording the hot fives. Just be in that moment.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
CHM: – Who is the interviewee that has most shifted your paradigm for how you conceptualize music?
JBN: – Barry Harris, Chick Corea, Joey DeFrancesco, Terence Blanchard, Joe Lovano …….
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
CHM: – I’m not sure I completely understand this question – but I think if it means how I’m able to manifest all of these answers into being a musician / my music, then I would say the answer is by working daily to be honest with myself and the way I approach the music… I’m the only one who has to hear every single note I’ve played. I guess I better enjoy the process of growth as much as possible!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan