Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Avishai Darash. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Avishai Darash: – I was born in Jerusalem, Israel. Although my parents weren’t musicians, there was always music in the house. Classical, Israeli folk and jazz were constantly spinning in our house. When I was 11 I went to visit my cousin that came back from a 4 year trip to India. He had a home studio and he told me about this music style “psychedelic trance”. I was very curious and wanted to listen to what it is. I was blown away. I know it’s not your conventional style of music for an 11 yearly but I was completely taken by the energy and production of the track. I couldn’t imagine that music could make me feel like this. I came back home and started saving for a sound card and a computer. A year later I could purchase some equipment and I started working on cubase. It was my DAW at that time. After some years I felt that I couldn’t break through certain patterns within my music and my mother and father encouraged me to go through conventional music training – piano, theory, analysis etc. I had a great teacher back in Israel – Ittai Rosenbaum – which opened my eyes and ears to many different genres and disciplines. He also taught me to be independent and build my own practice routine. I started playing the piano when I was 16 years old and never stopped since. The psychedelic trance moved to the background until it completely disappeared. I see now that I do incorporate many different influences within my music and psychedelic trance is definitely one of them.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
AD: – It evolved just like any learning curve. I started with classical piano and later on moved to jazz. Jazz in the beginning (when I was still practicing only classical music) sounded off-beat and very unsettled. Like a mess. Classical music sounded very clean and new to me. Within time and experiences I learnt that jazz, what it represented and how it was perceived, was more in line with the music I’m interested in making. It took me by store after I started hanging out more with jazz musicians and the community in israel. There’s a very strong and proficient community in israel. Great musicians that push one another and learn from one another. The real change for me was when I started composing. Through composition I could form my own language and find my own style. I keep learning from different composers and study different styles but composition is the thing where I could really bring all of the knowledge i’ve acquired throughout my career into one pallet.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
AD: – I’m a big fan of scales and basic routine exercises. Through the years i’ve developed two main exercises which i’ve been doing for more than a decade. It encompasses all 7 modes per scale in a cycle and I play it also in different subdivisions. it’s one of those exercises where I can do it for the rest of my life but still feel that I have so much to improve. I’ve translated this routine into the harmonic progressions of “All the things you are” and play it in all keys. I interchange between triplets and all subdivisions up to septuplets. When I spent time in new York, I practiced a lot with a great trumpet player Jonathan Saraga. We were obsessed with translating the beat into as many possibilities as possible. These two exercises encompass a lot of information and simplicity at the same time.
JBN: – How do you keep stray, or random, musical influences from diverting you from what you’re doing?
AD: – I don’t. I have no issue with any type of music. There are of course styles which I relate less to than others but Music is Music to me. I can learn from any style and any musician. Especially those which I don’t “like”. I believe that there’s something to discover there and learn more about myself. As I said before, through my compositions I find an outlet to all these influences and try my best to see and hear the common denominator which envelopes all styles of music – rhythm, harmony, melody.
JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
AD: – I record myself a lot. I listen back to it and see what doesn’t resonate with me. I practice very slow and try and not lose awareness of my body when I do so. It can get very mental – the stuff I want and desire from a recording – this can create tension and unconscious blockages which keep me away from playing the music that is needed instead of the music that I want.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Avishai Darash feat. Marmoucha Orchestra – Andalusian Love Song, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
AD: – I love how everybody played their hearts out. How all were involved and did the best they could do to create such a great record. I wrote the music of course but a lot has to do with the way the Marmoucha Orchestra sounded and how the musicians individually interpreted what I had to say. I’m also very pleased with the production and the overall sound we achieved. I’m very proud of this work in terms of what it did to “world” music in particular and what it did to music in general. I believe we brought many people from different places and languages, so we could speak the one universal language that speaks to us all – music.
We just finished another great production – SAHARA KOYO – which will be out on march 26th. It features one the uprising stars of gnaws music “Mehdi Nassouli”, his compositions and fantastic arrangements from orchestra members – Maripepa Contreras, Arin Keshishi and Oene van Geel. I’m looking forward to seeing and realising more productions with the Marmoucha Orchestra.
JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?
AD: – Through the years and the contacts of the orchestra. We hand picked them in the team and through various projects and experiences, we knew that they would make the right team for the album.
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
AD: – Good question. When music hits it hits. That’s what’s so powerful about this medium. Intellect can take you far but without the soulful aspect of music, which comes from a very raw and primal instinct, it won’t touch people. That’s why with Andalusian Love Song it was important for me as the composer to be able to use complex patterns in a simple manner. That makes the album and other projects of the Marmoucha Orchestra to be more communicative than “elite” music. I see the tendency to go into the “complicated hip stuff” which might get some patting on the back from your colleagues, but it won’t reach a larger audience. People want to feel, not think. Life is complex and demanding as it is, music should be form a getaway from that complexity.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
AD: – Of course. Without the audience and the service we provide as musicians/entertainers, we risk making projects as vanity projects and not as “peoples” projects.
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
AD: – The first time I heard pianist Omri Mor, bassist Omer Avitla, Drummer Shahar Haziza and saxophonist Jay Rodriguez in israel. I knew from that moment on that I want to make jazz and play the piano in a band like this. I couldn’t understand how they communicated with each other on this level. I was blown away. Went back home and picked up the piano without looking back. It had the drive and magic that I was looking for. I saw how people felt during that concert, the almost religious experience that we all went through. I did everything I could to crack that code and try and bring that to people from my end.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
AD: – Type of production, arrangements and overall concept has to be more appealing to younger generations. The music is great and rich enough to be able to be re-imagined again. It has more to do with the way it is being delivered to the younger audiences.
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
AD: – Create. Give. Be of meaning to your community and to those who are need of your gifts and talents. We’re all talented and we are all creative beings. It’s up to us what we do with it and how we help the people around us.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
AD: – Update the university level education to fit the needs of the industry nowadays. Many musicians graduate without a safety net and without realising key components of the business. If I look at the industry, it’s fast growing, fast changing. It needs training within conservatories so students can really consider a sustainable career.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
AD: – Mostly work of the orchestra and the projects that are coming up. I’m neck deep with the art and branding we are busy with. The music reflects all that we want to transpire so I find myself listening to a lot of our work and future work that will be made by us.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
AD: – Connection. Positivity. Peace is a big words but for sure understanding and respect towards where things come from and where are they headed. Music has the power to project and reveal both the past and the future at the same time. I wish to deepen that within my music.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
AD: – March 21st 1960 at the l’Olympia hall in Paris – last tour of the miles Davis quintet with John Coltrane. I would’ve loved to see the reaction of the audience when Coltrane took his solo on “bye bye blackbird”. He already discovered his unique sound by then and did his thing. It sounded so detached from the rest of the band but you could already hear the greatness and the Coltrane which was about to revolutionise the jazz language as we know it.
JBN: – So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…
AD: – I have no questions, I’m just happy that you keep the jazz flame alive.
JBN: – At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?
AD: – I really hope our work will reach as many people as possible – the recording and that we will be able to reach as many people possible on tour.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan