May 24, 2024

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Interview with Alex Lefaivre: I definitely don’t like my playing or composing … Video

Jazz interview with jazz a bad musician, as if bassist Alex Lefaivre. An interview by email in writing. – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Alex Lefaivre: – I was born in 1982 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I don’t come from a musical household, but I loved music from a young age. I was constantly singing along with the radio. I started guitar when I was 15 years old through friends of mine that had guitars at home. I was self-taught and playing in small punk bands in high school. I also started producing and promoting concerts by the end of high school, so my DIY  (Do It Yourself) spirit has always been there.

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

AL: – I’d say my sound has evolved quite a since my humble beginnings. I consider myself a late-bloomer and I have a very varied musical background. I started my formal musical training at 18 years old, going to a specialized music school for CEGEP (in Quebec we have CEGEP in between high school and university). That’s where I first learned to read music, theory, scales and all that. I was studying electric bass and got into jazz. After about a year of study, I switched to upright bass and focused on classical technique for a few years. I eventually completed a bachelor’s degree in Jazz performance at the University of Montreal. I’ve also completed a master’s certificate in film scoring and a master’s degree in jazz performance and composition.

In 2007, I co-founded a jazz group, Parc X Trio, with one of my best friends who was also my neighbor, pianist Gabriel Vinuela-Pelletier. We lived in the same building in a Montreal neighborhood called Park Extension. I lived on the top floor, he lived on the ground floor and I brought my Fender Rhodes and drum kit in his basement. For a few years, we were basically living and breathing music non-stop. Practicing and jamming all day. Gabriel was a way better composer than I was at the time, he already pretty much had his own original sound right off the bat. I learned a lot from him over the years. We released our first album in 2009 and have since toured internationally and produced 7 recordings. The group is still active today. We started as an acoustic jazz trio and eventually morphed into a more electric/electronic group.

Around 2011, I re-discovered electric bass and began to go back to my earlier influences of popular music styles and experimenting with effects. Another major change was around 2013 when I dove heavily into composing electronic music in Ableton live.

I look at where I am now as the synthesis of all those influences and techniques blended together. I still strive to evolve by practicing and learning new material. It’s still a work in progress.

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

AL: – I still try to practice every day, even though with full-time work for a specialized music school in Montreal, most of my practice is now done early in the morning. I mostly transcribe stuff and work on stuff in all 12 keys. Bebop heads, basslines, chord progressions, etc.

For rhythm, I recently got into some great exercises by bassist Rich Brown off of his Youtube channel. I highly suggest everybody, on all instruments, go check that out. I also worked on quite a few Ari Hoenig courses through My Music Masterclass. I also like taking a bebop lick, and displacing it through the bar. For example, take the first phrase of Donna Lee and start on beat one, then the and of one, beat two, etc.

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

AL: – I don’t really look at it that way. For me, it’s more about blending all of my influences together in an unconscious, organic way and letting whatever comes out exist on its own without any judgement. I try not to directly copy any of my influences, though. I’ve thought a lot about aesthetics, and I believe some people just have a more original sound than others, and that’s ok. I find that I have an original sound, but I don’t try to be original. I just try to be myself and the originality is more of a by-product.

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

AL: – I don’t really have a warmup routine, I just chill out with the band and maybe have a beer or two. Haha. I’m lucky, I’m a very relaxed person and don’t get nervous before gigs. As for endurance, that mostly came by playing a lot of long dance gigs, which I still do pretty much every weekend. I also try to lead a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising to stay inspired, focused and ready to go at any moment.

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

AL: – Good question. I’d say maybe 50/50? A more accurate way to describe it would be that I spend a lot of time in the practice room working out “intellectual” things and when I write or play, I just let loose and don’t think very much about what I’m doing, I just let it pour out. I consider my approach as very instinctive, but I’ve definitely spent a lot of time working on fundamentals to be able to achieve a certain level of freedom. I definitely don’t like my playing or composing when it’s done from a strictly intellectual frame of mind, it always sound forced and stiff.

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

AL: – I’ll be honest, my goal with the music I make is to please myself. I don’t really think about if people will like it or not, or if it will be a commercial success. I consider myself lucky that most of what I do seems to be appreciated, but it’s a by-product of doing what I like.

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

AL: – I’d say some of my fondest memories are touring with my other group, Parc X Trio. We’ve gone to Europe many times and that band is the main reason I got to travel and see the world. I miss that quite a bit. All the cool people you get to meet and fun places you get to see. It definitely broadened my horizons.

I’ve been lucky to open for great musicians such Dave Brubeck, Marcus Miller, Meshell Ndegeocello, Tigran Hamasyan and Joshua Redman, to name a few. Getting to meet artists of that caliber is very inspiring and I cherish every second of it. I’m still a total fanboy at heart.

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

AL: – This might sound strange, but I don’t really think or worry about that. Some people exclusively play standards, other exclusively play originals. I really like both. Plus I like to play a bunch of covers that aren’t jazz standards.

Before the pandemic shut everything down, I had a couple of residencies in bars in Montreal. These were not jazz clubs, so the people that came out to see us were not necessarily jazz fans. I would play a mix of my own music, jazz standards and covers of songs I like such as Jolene, Wonderwall or theme songs from TV shows. It was an honest representation of the music I like to play and people seemed to enjoy it. I think that throwing in some more popular references gave them the chance to appreciate the “jazzier” repertoire.

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

AL: – I relate to that 100%. Music is the closest thing I have to a religion. It’s the most important thing in the world to me and I treat it with tremendous respect. I’ve always told myself that if I take care of music, music will take care of me. I’m lucky that I have a great life and music gave that to me. There definitely were struggles at times, but I kept my faith that everything would work out if my intentions were pure and I just worked on the music. The best thing I could hope for is to live a long life where I can make as much music as I can.

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

AL: – I would make streaming services pay artists what they actually deserve. It’s no secret that streaming totally broke the music industry and made it quite a bit harder to earn a living from making music.

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

AL: – The last albums I’ve listened to are: Donny Hathaway, Prince, Julian Lage.

A few days ago,  I watched Arrival for the 3rd time and then binge-listened to a lot of Johann Johannsson’s work. He was such a great composer.

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

AL: – It might sound cliché, but I’ll say peace, love and unity. I figure my music and how I teach are the two concrete things I can do to try and make the world a better place.

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

AL: – I would want to go hear Bach play. If I could grab a beer with him afterwards, even better. He was so far ahead of his time and seemed to just come out of nowhere so I’d love to get to chat with him and see how his mind worked.

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

AL: – How long did it take you to come up with all of these great questions? This is by far one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever done.

JBN: – We composed the questions with jazz legends!!

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

AL: – I feel like I’m really living the dream and I’m grateful for every second of it. I have a modest but comfortable life doing what I love, in a city that I love, living with the woman I love and surrounded by friends and family that I love. I honestly don’t see how it could be any better than that.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan


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