May 18, 2024

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Interview with Eivind Austad: I think that different types of music brings different emotions: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Eivind Austad. An interview by email in writing. – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Eivind Austad: – I grew up in the city of Stavanger at the south-west coast of Norway. It’s a mid-size town with a pretty vibrant music scene for its size. I think I always had an interest in music, and have been singing and improvising since early childhood, I guess. Since music always kind of attracted me I listened to a lot of different music through my childhood and youth, and I developed a taste for what I liked and didn’t like pretty early. In my childhood I listened to whatever was on the radio and as I got older my interest grew more towards more experimental and progressive rock music. When I started high school I got more interested in jazz and improvised music, especially after I heard my first Keith Jarrett recording.

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

EA: – My sound has always been shaped by my different sources of inspiration and has evolved a great deal over time. Since my childhood I’ve always found myself sitting by the family piano and playing by ear. I´ve had piano lessons since I was around eleven. I took my lessons from a private teacher who worked with my dad as a music teacher for students. He was a great teacher who focused as much on letting me play by ear as reading music. I´ve also been able to remember the pieces I learned quickly, so I could get rid of the sheet music after a few times and play the pieces by memory. I could also listen to a song on the radio or a record and play it back on the piano (if it wasn’t too difficult, of course) in the same key. I later discovered that this was called «perfect pitch», which I don´t think I ever worked to obtain. In addition to this I’ve always had the ability to «hear» music in my head and write it down somehow. I think all of these elements constantly are contributing to shaping my sound. Some of the things that has influenced me over the years is when I hear a musician who is able to transcend a sense of harmony, melody, rhythm and expression that is integrated as a whole. this definitely was the case the first time I heard Keith Jarrett.

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

EA: – The most valuable exercise is to listen a lot to music and really let the music get inside your system. And what exercises I do depends a lot of what I’m listening to at the moment. If I listen to, let’s say Chick Corea, I try to absorb as much of his sense of rhythm, touch, phrasing, space, time, dynamics, use of harmony, improvisation, etc as I can. One particular thing about Chick Corea is his dance-like rhythm and his nuanced touch, which is often very light. At the same time he leaves a lot of space in his playing. If I combine focus on his touch, space and rhythm when I try to pick some of his phrases, I’m getting closer than I used to do earlier. When I listen to a musician like Tigran Hamasyan, whos style combines a unique and incredibly complex rhythmic approach with eastern european tonality, metal and hip hop,  I try to use the same method as above, but constantly have to change it to grasp some of the stuff he is doing. I also have worked a lot with different types of rhythmic frameworks and made myself familiar enough with them to be able to use them in musical performance. part from that, technical exercises, classical pieces, work with touch, time and other piano related exercises. I also try to play as many different styles of music as I possibly can and believe that musical diversity makes me a better performer.

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

EA: – I really don’t know the answer to that question. I am influenced from what I hear around me. Of course I try to avoid letting music that doesn’t speak to me get into my head, but I guess it’s hard to avoid it from happening at times. My influences come from not only jazz, but from church music, middle-eastern folklore, indian ragas, african rhythm, soul, gospel, Bach, Mozart, Schönberg, Ravel, Debussy, electronic music, scandinavian folk music, «the nordic tone», etc…

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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?

EA: – I can answer the last part of this question. I picked the musicians for my albums after having played with them and felt that we’ve had a good musical chemistry  between us. It’s easier to make good music when you enjoy playing with someone. For the New Orleans-album I picked the guys after having played with them on a late night gig when I was invited up on stage with them. And when it comes to my own trio, I’ve played together with the guys for many years. We studied together and have known each other for more than 20 years, which made the recording process a lot of fun. If I brought an idea to them, we could play it through and then record it right away. Some of the songs form the albums are first takes and first run throughs of a tune. When we decided that we had a take, we felt that the recording had a kind of freshness that we could get from repeating it over and over again.

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

EA: – To me there is a two-way relationship between intellect and soul that always exists through music. I try to use this relationship in some of my music, where I combine a pretty complex musical undercurrent with a simpler melodic content. The complexity can come in either the harmonic, melodic or rhythmic framework. One particular thing I like to explore is using a complexity in the rhythmic texture and combine it with a simpler melodic framework and use it to create melodic material people can relate to at the same time that I create polyrhythmic cells. this approach I often use in simpler chord sequences or vamps at the end of some of my pieces. In this way the end of the piece almost is a piece on its own. I also try to put my heart and soul into my playing when ever I perform.

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

EA: – I think that when I play music that comes from my heart, and manages to project my enthusiasm from the stage to the audience, that I’m giving the audience what they want. To communicate with the audience is, there way I see it, an integral part of  my mission as a musician. This counts no matter what music I choose to play, I think the energy and communication between the musicians and their audience is essential in order to create a memorable listening experience. I dont think one has to play certain types of music in order to «please» an audience, but if so – one can make creative adaptions to the music to make it more interesting for the musicians.

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

EA: – I have a lot of memories to pick from. Playing with the jazz xylophone player Ian Finkel back in 2008. Sadly he just passed away. He was a real character, a virtuoso with a complete command of the instrument and a «larger than life» personality. Two years ago I had the pleasure to play with saxophone giant Chris Potter, who sat in at a local gig I had with a jazz quartet. That was a blast! And, of course, it was a great feeling to play with James and Johnny (from the New Orleans trio) the first time at a club in New Orleans.

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

EA: – I think there are many answers to that question. First of all, young people of today are different from earlier generations. They listened en to music in a different way, often connected to different types of social media plattforms like YouTube, TikTok, Spotify, etc. Most youngsters of today listen to music from playlists and rarely listens to complete albums like we used to do. When they are exposed to something new, the amount of time they are focused is probably not more than 15-30 seconds at most. In that way we´ve probably already lost them. But I think we can attract them by making music that

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

EA: – I think being spiritual through music for me is about committing myself to the musical performance and focusing on delivering a musical message to the audience through the music and the musicians. Sometimes I get a special type of energy from playing for a particular audience in a particular venue with a particular type of musicians. And it isn’t something I can predict to happen, it just comes when all the circumstances seems to be there at the same time.  If I get into the flow it just seems like time and space doesn’t matter, everything floats. And about the spirit and the meaning of life I have no solid answers, other than that I believe in God and call myself a Christian. I think my faith also sometimes can help me to focus.

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

EA: – I would make sure thwart artists and composers got a more fair amount of their music when it was streamed at Spotify, Tidal and other services. And I strongly would hope that politicians who deal with arts try to make an effort to understand how much work it is to make a living as a musician today.

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

EA: – I listen to Keith Jarrett (have done it daily for about 30 years), Brad Mehldau, Herbie, Chick Corea, Tigran Hamasyan, Miles, Coltrane and so many more than I can think of right now. I also listen to a lot of music outside the jazz domain. I love to listen to classical composers, gospel music, rhythm´n´blues, neo soul, bluegrass, etc. I like anything that captures my attention.

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

EA: – I have no particular message to bring through my music, but I think that different types of music brings different emotions. Some of my music is really calm and meditative and some is more soulful and energetic. I think I’ve succeeded with my music if it brings out emotions in the audience somehow.

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

EA: – I´d probably love to go to New York and experience the rise of the Be-bop in the 1940´s, I’d love to stay there around 1959 and through the 1960´s when a lot of the groundbreaking bands and recordings came to life. I would definitely listen to Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard, to Miles at the benefit concert i 1964 and to Coltrane and Monk, Ornette at the peak, etc.

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

EA: – How do you pick musicians and artists for your page and for your interviews?

JBN: – We select those who have released a new album for the interview․

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

EA: – I want to thank you for interviewing me for your page. This is my second interview for a jazz magazine or page, and I hope my answers were all right.

All the best wishes for you and your work!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan


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