June 25, 2024


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Interview with Leonid Morozov: Without soul there is no music, but without intellect … Video, new CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Leonid Morozov. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Leonid Morozov: – I grew up in Russia. Something I’m ashamed to talk about nowadays for obvious reasons. I grew up in a family of musicians with my grandfather Leonid Vintskevich being a jazz pianist and uncle Nick being a saxophonist. Music was always around the house but funny enough I wasn’t really interested in it as a kid.

I remember when I was around 13 years old I was going through my grandad’s record collection. I accidentally stumbled upon a recording of Sonny Boy Williamson. It was very different from the type of music that was usually played in the house: Michael Brecker, Weather Report, Al Jerrau etc. But even though it was very different from what I used to hear around me it absolutely blew me away. I begged my grandad for a harmonica and started playing it all the time. I started checking out more blues masters like B.B. King, Mississippi Fred Mcdowell, Howlin Wolf and others. At 15 I picked up the guitar and heard Lester Young for the first time. It was his recording with Oscar Peterson Trio playing There Will Never Be Another You. It sounded so amazingly beautiful to me, that afterwards I clearly knew music is what I want to do for the rest of my life. So, I guess I owe my passion towards music to the great recordings of the past and particularly that random Sonny Boy Williamson record I found in my grandad’s collection.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

LM: – I can’t say I ever looked for my sound. I honestly believe it is something that comes naturally to you. To me a musician’s sound comes from a combination of what they listen to and encounter on daily basis. There is absolutely no possibility that there is another human being on earth who listened to exactly the same records as I did in the same chronology, order and same frequency. So just by living your individual life and having your individual taste you going to have a different sound from everybody else. Cause we all unique.

But if we talking more musical terms I guess I’m doing a lot of research. I started with the music of the past (20’s – 30’s) then for a while I was interested in more modern music (Coltrane, Chick Corea, Eric Dolphy and others) and then funny enough I went back to studying the past (Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Christian etc.) It was fascinating for me to learn where the musicians came from. Study their bootleg recordings. Cause Coltrane didn’t get his sound from out of nowhere right? So, who did he check out? And who those people checked out? And you just end up going way back and realize that the Coltrane we know is a combination of all those musicians he checked out throughout his life time plus his own ideas.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

LM: – I used to practice 8 hours a day and I miss those days. Now unfortunately I don’t have so much free time. On ideal day nowadays (Ideal meaning I have time to practice for 5 hours.) I would always start with working on scales, arpeggios and other technical stuff, then I would continue with playing classical music. Afterwards I would learn new songs/standards and work on improvisation/transcribing. And if I still have time left I would spend it arranging. Cause I love arranging for a bigger ensemble.

I always practice scales because Barry Harris told me that if I’ll ever think I mastered them than I’m a mad man. Because it’s just impossible to practice them in all the keys, all the possible ways in a one lifetime. I love playing classical music cause it’s great for your hands, harmony knowledge and it’s just extremely pretty in general. I constantly learn new tunes. New tunes bring fresh ideas, and there is just so much beautiful music that have been written over the years how can you not want to learn it? I love transcribing solos because that’s where I fell the closest to the musician that inspire me. I feel like I become one with them.

JBN: – How do you keep stray, or random, musical influences from diverting you from what you’re doing?

LM: – My taste is my biggest filter haha. We all have our own taste. Everyone’s taste is unique and it’s the beauty of it. If I don’t like something – I don’t listen to it. If I like something – I check it out. And as long as I stay true to myself and my taste I’ll be allright. Also I allow my perspective to change. For example the fisrt time I heard Charlie Parker I thought he plays too much. Now I can’t stop listening to him. I give everything a chance and I let it grow on me too. If it doesn’t – well it’s ok. I’m not supposed to like everything anyways

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

LM: – I practice a lot. If I don’t practice I feel weak and unprepared. I try to always practice as much as I can cause it gives me confidence. Spiritually I have a tradition of listening to my favorite musician – Lester Young on my way to the gig. I feel like listening to him always gets me into the right mindset and mood.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: I Wish I Knew, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

LM: – What I love the most about my new album is the line up on it. I was so honored to have such an amazing and extraordinary musician join me on my debut album. Ari Roland and Keith Balla always make it sound swingin’ and makes you want to play for hours. Samara Joy been giving me goosebumps every time she sings from the moment I heard her for the first time 4 years ago. And Jon Faddis? Well that was a blessing. He is an absolute legend of the trumpet. A genius of our time, a superb master. Did you hear that solo on “Sunday”??? How can you not love that man’s playing!

I had an Idea to record a debut album for a while. But this particular album was recorded very last minute. I wanted to record it later in the year but the musician’s schedule kept not lining up. The only opening for all of us was two weeks away. So I went with it. No rehearsals. One day in the studio. I would say we did it in the best traditions invested in us by the musicians of the past.

Right now me and my friends are extensively working on getting our Nonet project out. It’s a Nonet with all original arrangements of jazz standards and original compositions by the members of the band. We already have over 50 charts in the book and at the moment trying to find a venue that would like to have us as well as planning to record a demo.

Leonid Morozov - I Wish I Knew (2022)

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

LM: – It was easy haha. Ari Roland and Keith Balla are the best in the business. They are the epitome of the NYC bebop rhythm section. I know them well through my teacher: Pasquale Grasso. We played a lot together and I would always come out to listen to their gigs as well. Samara Joy is absolutely incredible. I have goosebumps every time I hear her sing and I have no words to describe her god like voice and genius delivery. We also have been musical partners for over 3 years now so calling her was my first and only choice. Jon Faddis appearance was just a miracle and a blessing. I got very close with Prof. Faddis during my time at Purchase College but I still didn’t believe he would say yes. I was shaking while I was calling him and when he confirmed I couldn’t believe it. I’m forever thankful to own a chance of recording with such genius!

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

LM: – Without Soul there is no Music but without intellect you aren’t able to express your thoughts, allowing people to look into your soul. If this music doesn’t move you and doesn’t make you feel anything you probably shouldn’t do it as your career. But if it does but you didn’t spend time to study your instrument and learn about this music than you wouldn’t be able to deliver your thoughts and feeling to the audience through your instrument. All the great masters that I knew and looked up to were an extremely intelligent and very compassionate and loving human beings at the same time. Very passionate about music, art, humanity etc.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

LM: – Yes! All for it! I want to play the type of music that lifts you up when you feel down. Something you want to listen to on a peaceful morning. Something you can dance to. Just like the music I listen to. My favorite musician Lester Young is a perfect example. He can play a swinging tune that will make you smile and make you want to go dance all night. And he can play a ballad so sweet you want to wake up to the sound of it every morning. I read somewhere that Count Basie said that the best applause from the audience is when people start tapping their feet to the music unintentionally and I 100% agree with that statement.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

LM: – We had a gig a month or so ago at “The Django” in NYC. It was Samara Joy’s gig. The band was me on Guitar, Samara Joy on vocals, Hank Allen-Barfield on drums, Phillip Norris on the bass, and Don Austin on Trombone. We were having a good time. Playing Samara’s outstanding repertoire (She always picks the best tunes to play!) And then suddenly during the second set  people got up and started dancing, screaming, having so much fun and they haven’t got back to their seats until the end of the gig. It was so inspiring and so uplifting. Seeing people dance to this music, seeing them smile and have fun. It’s the best feeling in the world. The energy was indescribable. Made me feel like that’s how jazz concerts should be like.

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

LM: – Swing hard. Swing so hard you can’t fight the urge to get up and dance. Play ballads so sweet and soulful tears uncontrollably start falling from your eyes. Never stop mastering our craft. Cause that’s how I got into jazz. When I heard blues for the first time I wanted to get up and dance. I felt and incredible aura of joy around me. And when I heard Lester Young for the first time playing There Will Never Be Another You I started crying and I couldn’t stop. That’s when I knew this music Is the real deal cause it makes me fell things, beautiful things without me even thinking about it.

Also I think it is important to educate kids. Cause I think a person who read poems of Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, Balmont. Who read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, London and others are more likely to understand the lyrics to a lot of this standards and later relate to them.

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

LM: – John Coltrane also said in one of his interview that he wants to be the best man that he can be. And I follow the same idea. Unfortunately I can’t fix everything but I can always work on myself. Work on being better. Not only in music but in everything. Being calmer, more understanding, more compassionate, smarter, open minded than I was yesterday. Same relates to music. Regarding the meaning of life lately I came to the understanding that I just want to be happy and I want to make people around me happy. It’s going to be a good day if I can make just one person smile today.

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

LM: – People greediness. We lose a lot of incredible talent to that. Booking agents, clubs, recording studios do not want to support young talents unless they can make money out of it. Nowadays people unfortunately don’t care as much about how you sound rather than how much money they can make out of you. I saw too many instances of that.

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

LM: – Man sometimes I fell like I listen to the same stuff all over again haha. I constantly discover new music but at the end I still come back to the roots. Cause that’s where it all comes from. Still same names: Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Christian, Nat “King” Cole, Coleman Hawkins and many others. Their music is so incredibly beautiful and influential I always find myself coming back to it over and over again. Just trying to dig deeper. Find recordings I haven’t heard yet, listen for the thousand time to my favorite recordings and find something new in them, while discovering and being open minded to something new as well. .

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

LM: – Let’s have fun. Let’s love. Let’s laugh. Let’s smile. Let’s cry. Let’s enjoy ourselves while we are granted this incredible chance to be on this earth. But also let’s be respectful to one another, Let’s be gentlemen, Let’s teach our kids good morals, let’s be compassionate, let’s not hurt one another.

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

LM: – Probably January 28th 1946 to “Philharmonic Auditorium”  in Los Angeles as part of the Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts. I would do anything to see Lester Young play on the same stage with Charlie Parker. Especially the night Bird played that solo on Oh’ Lady be Good and Lester Playув his solo on After You’ve Gone. Oh my god I would do anything to witness that live!!!

JBN: – So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

LM: – How did you discover my debut album “I Wish I Knew”?

What made you want to interview me out of all the young artist?

JBN: – I have all the new CDs released, so I suggest having an interview with senior, legend and young musicians. Everyone is interested, especially where and how jazz develops. Thank you for your answers!

JBN: – At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

LM: – I don’t have too much expectations. I just enjoyed a great conversation from a knowledgeable interviewer.  Thank you for your incredible questions! Those were really interesting questions some of which circulated in my mind for a long time before this interview. I wish we could continue this conversation in person one day!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Leonid Morozov - I Wish I Knew (2022)

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