June 14, 2024


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Interview with Dan Wilkins: How to achieve balance between melody, harmony, rhythm, and texture? Video

Jazz interview with a bad musician, as if saxophonist, problematic person Dan Wilkins. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Dan Wilkins: – I spent most of my childhood in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, where my family lived since I was 4 years old. Music was always around at home. My father, Skip, plays jazz piano, and from an early age, my sister and I had access to a piano and drum set.  I often heard him practicing, teaching and composing music.  I took drum lessons for a few years, learning some basics, and by age 8, I directed my attention to the saxophone.  My father played lots of music for us, and in particular the ballads of Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon resonated with me early on.  I would sit in at my dad’s gigs, preparing a few songs at a time to play with him, eventually leading to performances together.

I became pretty serious working on my music, and in 2007 my dad took me to a master class, held at the Deer Head Inn, where David Liebman and Marc Copland played a set of duo music, and invited young musicians to get involved.  I loved the rich palette of harmony and expressive elements that they found together, and from there I became interested in composing and exploring the piano to this day.

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

DW: – Imitation and ideation have always been and effective means for learning, especially early on.  Initially, I modeled my tone after Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, expanding from there.  In terms of saxophone, I came to really admire Lee Konitz’s approach, and I feel a strong connection to John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.  I’ve listened to countless hours of music, and all of that has informed what I express today and given me a wide toolset to implement.  In terms of becoming a more mature artist, my focus has shifted more towards considering form, and making musical decisions in the moment.

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

DW: – Practicing has become much more abstract as I grow older.  I have certain routines to address tone and resonance, as well has dexterity and fluidity.  I’m always looking for gaps in my understanding, whether that be detail oriented or shifting my conceptual focus.  In terms of practicing rhythm, I enjoy playing along with records, but the deepest learning comes on the bandstand with a drummer.

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

DW: – For the most part, I feel pretty comfortable these days letting go, whenever I play my instrument.  Psychology can play a big role in stifling progress, and I used to struggle a lot with that.  I started meditating and practicing various breathing techniques, and I’ve found that very useful for re-centering my mind.  This past year, though difficult in many ways, really helped me remember why I love music.  I’m concentrating on keeping my focus on that pursuit, and whatever I can do to share that joy with others.

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

DW: – In terms of stamina, I just need to be playing my instrument frequently.  I make sure to practice some technically challenging, yet attainable, etudes before performances so my technique feels sharp.  Mindset plays a big role, so I try to focus on big picture elements.  Getting overly critical about small detail before a performance can really derail the big picture, so I try to work that stuff out when I have more time to dissect.

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

DW: – Great question. I think about this a lot.  Speaking broadly – Jazz, especially in recent years, has had a tendency to lose audiences, when artists favor overly intellectualized ideas.  Speaking from the heart should have equal if not more importance.  I love theory and mathematics, and I think some of that is reflected in my music.  However, I feel that there’s a necessary balance to achieve between abstractions and clarity.  Whenever I write music, I’m conscious of how to achieve balance between melody, harmony, rhythm, and texture.

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

DW: – I feel the answer to this question carries a similar truth.  I have certain stylistics proclivities that are far from the mainstream, but when I’m connecting with an audience, my output has to match their interest.  When musicians are connected to the audience, they are playing from the heart.  A good set of music invites people in, opens them to their imagination, and provides them with a rejuvenation of spirit.

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

DW: – The house was full of enthusiastic people.  We played our original music, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, in a way I’ve experienced before, only from European crowds.  Good vibrations from everyone in the room.  I’ll cherish the memory.

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

DW: – That’s a tough question. I’m a pretty old soul myself, and I just love the old melodies.  When I teach, I try to meet people where they are, and get kids in touch with their ears and curiosities.  I always share my perspective, and for some, that leads them down a path to explore improvised music.  As far as jazz today is concerned, I believe there’s room for exploration, blending different stylistic mediums.  There’s a lot of varying definitions of jazz, which can be very conservative at times. I believe that encouraging young musicians to explore their creativity, should be first and foremost our goal, in balance with sharing traditions.

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

DW: – I think most serious musicians are in agreement with that assessment.  Music really becomes a lifestyle and mode of transcendence for anyone who’s willing to take the plunge.  I would extend that to experiencing nature and other artforms, as well as embracing the highest human capacities we can access.

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

DW: – It’s a difficult question. The main issue I find is an overabundance of qualified people with limited opportunities.  I learned quite a lot from schooling, but I only learned how to filter and synthesize that knowledge by playing music for audiences.  I feel like there’s so much still to learn from that experience.  I believe that education deserves a lifelong commitment, and fluid kind of relationship between formalized and experiential learning.  I’d like to that attitude change culturally.

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

DW: – I’m filling in the gaps of history, that I’ve missed along the way.  Most recently, I’ve been enjoying Tommy Flanagan’s 1982 trio recording with George Mraz and Elvin Jones.

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

DW: – I just want people to feel openness to their imaginations.

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

DW: – I’d love to be able to witness ancient cultures, in Egypt, India, Rome, Greece etc..  In recent times it would be great to witness the 1960’s and all of the radical music that came out.

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

DW: – How did you come to love Jazz music, and what are your aspirations for the future as a supporter of the music?

JBN: – Jazz is my life and fine!!!

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

DW: – I want to stay connected to history, continue writing music, and connect with audiences regularly.  Hopefully that will take me abroad to other countries, to experience all they have to offer.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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