Jazz interview with a bad musician, as if guitarist, problematic person Adam Moezinia. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Adam Moezinia: – I’m originally from Los Angeles, the San Fernando valley specifically. My parents forced me to take piano lessons around age 6 but I absolutely hated it. Later when I was 9, my mom told me that my older brother was going to take a guitar lesson and asked if I wanted to tag along. I reluctantly said yes, but after the first lesson I was hooked, mostly because I was just so excited to be able to play some of the rock songs that I was listening to at the time. I was messing around with all types of music from punk rock to country from then until about 14 when I was introduced to jazz and became obsessed with it. My guitar teacher was a country/rock player but also kind of a jack of all trades. We went through a bunch of different styles… I thought I could play them all decently until we got to jazz. Whatever I was doing just did not sound right at all! I kind of got deeper into it initially just for the challenge, but eventually it kind of just took over.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
AM: – I ended up going to a great arts high school in LA called LACHSA (Los Angeles County High School for the Arts), kind of like LA’s LaGuardia. At that point I was really just interested in getting the basics down, which to me was bebop and straight-ahead jazz. For the most part, I kept that mindset until a few years ago. I had always been interested in other styles and always listened to a wide variety of genre’s but tended to keep them very separate, especially in terms of playing. Throughout high school and college I played mostly jazz but was always doing a sort of folk/singer-songwriter thing on the side. For some reason, around the age of 25, the barriers started to come down and I started playing/writing a lot of music that was a sort of fusion of sorts, blending jazz, folk and rock in a way that seemed taboo to me before that point.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
AM: – That’s an interesting question because it’s only very recently that I’ve started working on my rhythm. Something Pat Martino said in an interview a while back has always stuck with me… I’m paraphrasing but it was something like “you can’t work on your rhythmic feel, that’s something that you just have naturally. You can only really work on your time or playing more sophisticated rhythms”. I find that to be very true… That being said, I have been working on more complex rhythms recently; playing in different time signatures, transcribing rhythms from tunes or solos that are foreign to me. I’ve also dabbled with some of the exercises that Ari Hoenig has developed. I’m usually not into that sort of thing but he’s kind of a guru when it comes to that stuff.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
AM: – I don’t at all! Whatever ideas come in to the brain are natural and there for a reason. I don’t usually tend to channel music that I don’t like. The sort of awakening that I had a few years ago was basically about letting myself be more open to other sounds/styles and to not have such a rigid, contrived view of what jazz is or is supposed to be.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
AM: – I’m not sure I have a method for this yet, haha! I just try to make sure I have everything I need for the gig and that I’m prepared musically and in terms of all the logistics. And I’m still working on that too. Once the music starts, you just have to let it flow. I never really get exhausted in that sense… I could play for hours.
There could be talk or advertising about your CD
JBN: – And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?
AM: – I actually did try mixing and matching a handful of different people for the band. It’s a really tricky thing, finding the right people for the music. I was at Juilliard with Dan (bass) and was always very impressed with his virtuosity, adaptability and melodicism. He’s kind one of those naturally gifted musicians who can just play anything. I did a few rehearsals and gigs with him and it seemed to be a good fit. Although I didn’t overlap at Juilliard with Charles (drums), we were actually on an amateur basketball team at the time I was looking for a new drummer. I had seen him play a lot and got the sense of where he was at stylistically… When we did get together initially to rehearse, he was really into the West African stuff that I had brought in which was definitely a plus. His mother is from Haiti and he’s interested in that music as well as other “world music”, so there was definitely some overlap there. We also just seemed to have a similar idea of where to go with the music. Some people in the “straight-ahead” jazz scene in New York are quick to turn their nose up at more contemporary music or fusion, but Charles was on board from the start. He was very encouraging even when my pedal board started to get bigger, haha! Dan, Charles and I ended up doing a week at Dizzy’s club (Jazz at Lincoln Center) in 2018 and by the end of the week, everything really clicked and I knew I wanted to keep playing with that band.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
AM: – That’s an interesting question… I find that everyone has to find that balance for themselves, and for some people, it goes more one way then the other. It’s very personal. Each person knows deep inside where that balance is for them, they just need to tap into it and recognize it. In my opinion, a lot of modern jazz tends to get too intellectual while some of the straight ahead stuff can get boring, in the name of “soul” ha! But either way, if it’s genuine, it can still be great. I just try and create something that I’d want to listen to. When you’re writing/arranging, it’s very easy, especially as a trained Jazz musician, to get caught up in the details and get carried away with the technicalities. I think it’s important to take a step back, listen to what you have and be honest with yourself about it. Much of the time, at lease for me, I’ll need to resist the temptation to make things more complex while writing or revise things later when they sound too frantic, but like I said, the process is different for everyone and it’s very personal.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
AM: – That’s a tough question. Of course I want the audience to dig what we’re doing and I want them to come back and buy the CD’s and all that, but I also want to play my music in a way that’s genuine and dignified. It’s a balance; If you’re only playing for the audience then you might just end up playing Katy Perry covers and if you don’t care about them at all, it could get “out” very quickly. I think that has a lot to do with restraint and indulgence; there’s got to be a balance there. That being said, I have written/arranged a lot of music, and I don’t present all of it to an audience. The ones I do choose to perform are tunes that I think are unique to what I do, tunes that I think my band and I will play well, and tunes that I think will go over well with the audience. We play Bob Dylan and other covers, and yes, part of that is because I know the audience will be able to latch on but the main reason I do it is because I love those songs and I hear them in a different way that I think needs to be heard.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
AM: – Oh man, I suppose there are a lot of great stories, especially after being in NYC for over 10 years now. I got to play and travel a bit with the great pianist/singer Freddy Cole (who passed away somewhat recently) which was a learning experience for sure. One of the coolest things to observe there was just how close of a personal relationship he had with each tune, so much so that he could take it in a totally different direction but still retain the integrity of that song. He grew up with those songs (American songbook standards) and had been singing them for decades so that’s hard to achieve, but I strive to bear some semblance of that with the tunes I pick.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
AM: – Write new tunes, haha! I mean I love standards and I love old music, especially jazz, but that’s not the case with a lot of people. And I get it. Sometimes when I hear certain types of music, it does sound antiquated to me, not necessarily because it’s old but because of association. As a kid, I remember hearing classical music in only very formal settings or in TV/movies when they were trying to portray some sort of uptight aesthetic, and to this day it’s hard for me to shake that. But either way, there’s nothing wrong with changing the tunes up. Arranging them in different, more contemporary ways. I love doing that. Also just writing new music! My heroes played standards, sure but they were also playing loads of original music as well! Wayne Shorter, Wes, Chick Corea… We all use standards as a common template for us to play together but that shouldn’t be the end. Jazz is all about forward momentum. Like Dizzy said, “one foot in the past, one foot in the future”.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
AM: – Well I don’t know if I’ll ever feel/hear music anywhere near the level Coltrane did but I dig what he’s saying there. We all have to find meaning in our lives somehow. For professional musicians, I would hope that music is a large part of that, and that connects to the spirit. Everyone also has a different relationship to “spirituality” especially these days… I would say that music is one of the biggest parts of my spirit and definitely the thing that gives me the most meaning in life, but like I said, that situation is different for everyone.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
AM: – Oh man, I’m not sure how to answer this one… I guess it would be nice if there was a bigger audience for jazz. There are so many great artists out there, of my generation and others, that don’t get the exposure that I think they deserve. But that’s just the market.. it reflects the tastes of the people. Although there has been talk of the 2020’s being the second coming of the “roaring 20’s” in the sense that it will become “pop” music again, haha! I hope so. We’ll see….
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
AM: – Ah, lot’s of stuff! I’m trying to listen to a lot of new music, new to me at least. I was deep into Jazz from the 50’s and 60’s for a long time so I’m just trying to check out some different stuff these days. I’ve gotten really into Ben Wendel’s music recently. He released a record called “High Heart” last year that featured one of my high school friends, Michael Mayo, so I got really into that and then kind of dug into his whole discography. He’s doing some really cool stuff with the music, especially in terms of what I was talking about before with fusing different styles and creating contemporary but accessible sounds. I also was listening to Gerald Clayton, especially his first couple albums for a little while. He’s kind of just a natural. And I’ve also kind of become obsessed with Mike Moreno’s playing over the last couple of years. He just has such a beautiful, lush, dark sound and balances the modern with the tradition in such a natural way. I also got deep into Wayne Shorter over “quarantine”. Talk about a brilliant composer. And every fall I go through a Joni Mitchell phase, haha. Funny, there’s some overlap there… Wayne is on a record of hers that I absolutely love called “Travelogue” from 2002. They sound beautiful together.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
AM: – I’m not sure If there’s a tangible message there… I like to leave it open to however people relate to it which is funny because sometimes people will tell you after a show that they dug the music in a way that sounds so strange, but that’s just their experience, and who am I to judge that? I remember talking about Bach at conservatory and how his music was supposed to bring it’s listeners “closer to God”.. I don’t personally relate to his music in that way but that doesn’t mean that it’s not great. Each person has their own connection to the music they love and that’s a special thing.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
AM: – That’s a hard one… But I think the Jazz scholar in me would have to go back to NYC in 1959; 52nd street, Birdland, all that Jazz (pun intended). As contemporary Jazz musicians, we talk about that era a lot; what the scene was like, what the musicians were like and how they related to/talked about the music. It really would be something to get to see that with my own eyes.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
AM: – What’s your relationship to jazz and what would you like to hear more of from contemporary artists?
JBN: – Jazz is my life, your question is even offensive. The swing!!!
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
AM: – I’m just looking forward to creating more new music, playing with people (as that’s starting to pick up now), and getting better at my craft. I’m always on a constant uphill battle to get better and improve my playing, band leading and the music I put out. Hopefully things will keep picking up and get back to 100% soon so us musicians can have more outlets to do what we do!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan