June 25, 2024

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Interview with Mareille Merck: Jazz music is still very much dominated by men: Video

Jazz interview with jazz guitarist and composer Mareille Merck. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Mareille Merck: – I grew up on an island in northern Germany (Rügen) and got in touch with playing music already in the kindergarden where every child played the flute. I didn`t like the instrument, but making music in general interested me a lot. So I started to learn the electric piano and also took part in a music school band. I always felt fascinated by the instrument guitar and when I got my first electric guitar as a teenager I started to practice and was sure very soon: I want to do this in a professional way.

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

MM: – I always admired musicians who have their own special sound. I kept asking myself over and over again during the past years: How do I want to sound? I wasn`t able to give myself a clear answer in the beginning, but decided to start this research trip and continued to look for “myself” on the instrument until I reached a point where I played my guitar and started to feel like home, like being myself.

Also before I started to use effect pedals, I tried to find out ways how to create a specific sound and different nuances just with the instrument itself. So when I have a special sound in my mind which I want to create, I try to do it with the choice between playing with fingers or pick, use slide and tremolo technics, open strings, different tunings, flageoletts and more. And effect pedals are there for me if I want to add some special colors to it but I always use them in a very focused way, only if I feel like I really need them right now.

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

MM: – In general I try to listen to music in a very focused way and try to include music or musicians that I didn`t know before and ask myself what I like or don`t like about the music and why.
My practice routine includes also a lot of different things, from free improvisation to technical exercises for both hands, chord forms, improvisation concepts and much more.
Especially for rhythmic skills I transcribed a lot of different solos from other musicians and do different exercises with the metronome.

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

MM: – For me one of the most beautiful things of being a professional musician is that you never stop learning, it is a never ending process. So I think different influences can be chances to improve my own playing.
But one thing I always did because I didn`t want to become an exact copy of someone else but to find my own sound and language and style is that when I listend to or played the music of a specific musician I tried to control myself on how big his or hers influence on my playing is. Some influences can add great colors to your playing but when I came to a point where the influences were so strong that you could realize by listening to my playing who I was listening to or whos music I was working with at that time I forced myself to leave it for some time and work with other music/listen to other musicians and don`t get to focused on just one specific player.

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

MM: – I don`t have a specific routine but I try to always get enough sleep the night before, don`t practice for the gig the last hours before it happens and I like to do some sports or go for a walk right before playing to clear my mind. In the last hour before playing I try to take some minutes for some technical exercises, but they don`t include playing fast, it is more about warming up slowly.

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

MM: – I suppose everybody has to find its own answer to this so I can just describe how I feel about it. For me it is very much related to language. If I have a feeling or thought that I want to express or describe to someone, I need words to to this. And the more words I know, the more specific I can do this. Intellectual things happening in my head while playing or practising are like vocabulary. The more I know, the closer I get to express my musical thought or my feeling in a very specific way.

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

MM: – As a professional musician playing my own music I always have to find a balance between being honest and authentic in my music but also make a living out of it. But when I am composing music I am never thinking about the audience or asking myself if people will like it because I think the only way to reach peoples emotions and hearts is to really mean what you are playing.

I am at the beginning of my career so I don`t know if or when I will reach a point where I can live only from playing my own music, but I prefer teaching guitar students and being a side(wo)man in other projects (which can be a lot of fun and I think it is always good to get in touch with different people and much music because in this way you never stop learning) next to my own music instead of thinking about the audience when composing, because if I would do this and only compose what I think people want to hear, then I can not be authentic any more and in my opinion being authentic is the only way to get in touch with the audience and create a connection with them.

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

MM: – In october 2020 the Montreux Jazz Academy invited me to play together with a guitarist I listend to a lot when I was younger: John McLaughlin. We played different compositions from members of the projects and also one of mine called “Camel”. I was thinking that I would not be able to play a guitar solo right after someone with his experience played his solo and so I asked John if I could start with the first solo to feel safe.
So guess what happend? Right at the end of the head in melody before my solo should start my string broke and my guitar was totally out of tune and it was not possible to continue playing. I had to decide very quickly If I want to stop the music but felt like that would be killing the vibe on stage so I had no other chance than to turn around, give John a sign so he would start to do his solo, grab my backup guitar, tune it and go for the second solo. The stressfull situation kicked me out of my routine and made me stop thinking at all, so I just played what came into my hands and mind in the moment, feeling very free from any thoughts and just doing music, feel the energy and sound and didn`t had any time to think about the fact that I had to play after John. I felt very free. We played the concert twice that evening and honestly my performance in which I was out of my comfort zone and forcet to react quickly without being prepared was the one with the more special energy and expression. So I learned a lot that night: Don`t think to much and just trust yourself and the music!

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

MM: – Well, this is a big question and I don`t think there is just one answer to it.

What I see at the moment is that there are a lot of young musicians who spend a lot of time with learning the traditional kinds of jazz but then bring it together with influences from other styles of music like pop, folk or rock. I think this is something that can help get people interested in this music, because they hear something which is new for them or which they would label as “old” but also things they are familiar with and which they can relate to.

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

MM: – As I spend most of my time playing or composing music, I can very much relate to John Coltranes statement.
For me personally I would add, that it is not only music itself but also especially playing music together with others, that feel the music in a similar way. It is a very special feeling if you play with someone and feel like there is a special connection and energy, like talking to each other without words. It is like a higher level of being connected and communicate with each other.

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

MM: – Jazz music is still very much dominated by men. The good thing is that there are more and more festivals and institutions that are working on this and try to support women to get seen and heart, but there is still a lot of work to do.

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

MM: – Honestly I listen to a lot of guitar music at the moment: Pat Metheny, Julian Lage, John Scofield, Wayne Krantz …

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

MM: – I want to make people open their hearts and minds. Especially in improvised music I feel like going on an adventure with open end. Instead of playing only things that are written down, I can let the music show me where it wants to go, feel the energy together with the other musicians, get out of my comfort zone, take risks and feel free. This is something I think can also be helpful in life, so I want people to come with me on that adventure, feel free from any borders and just let the music show the way. I want the music to help people open up, being able to show their emotions, maybe get in touch with their own thoughts and feelings and even their subconscious.

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

MM: – I don`t know, maybe go back and get the chance to listen to a live concert by Jimi Hendrix?

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

MM: – You asked me what I think is special about the album. So I would be interested in this: For you as a listener, what do you think is special about it?

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

MM: – As everybody knows the last months were not an easy time for musicians. I am very much looking forward to get back on stage with my band and lets see what all the practice and thinking time of the last months will make us sound!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Mareille Merck

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