February 24, 2024

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Interview with Chris Hajian: When you let the audience into your life they feel close to the music: Videos, new CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz composer and arranger Chris Hajian. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Chris Hajian: – I am a native New Yorker, Born and raised in Queens, NYC.  Music has always been around me since I can remember. My Dad was a professional trumpet player and was a huge fan of Jazz and Classical music. It was playing in our home all the time!  I started to play trumpet at 5 and that was my path. My love for Jazz started then. The spontaneity and level of self expression inherent in Jazz was something I connected with. I was going to pursue a career in performing but I was drawn to writing music. I always wanted to know why the music sounded the way it did. So I explored writing music and taught myself basic Jazz Harmony. I knew early that it was music or nothing for me  but my path took me to composition. While attending Manhattan School of Music I decided to try out for the Composition Department and  I Got In! It was then that I felt I could make this my focus. Most of my professional life as a composer has been about composing music for Films, Documentaries and Television.

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

CHH: – I have such a deep and eclectic musical background and for me this Album has been about  discovering my unique musical language. Ultimately it’s been about self exploration and composing from a deeply personal perspective. Having no fear and trusting my ability to write music that would move people emotionally. There is also a very visual part of my Jazz writing, which connects my film career with my Jazz aesthetic.

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

CHH: – It’s just to keep an open mind into the function of Harmony and Melody. Not being stuck in convention but also honoring melodies and harmonies that resonate with the audience and not just jazz fans.I work hard to not overwrite or to impress and I value space in music which allows room for musicians to take risks and put a lot of themselves into the music.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

CHH: – Oh my in so many ways. Personally in deep ways and that has informed my creative side. It has given me the freedom to keep exploring. I am also really connecting with the concept that composers are observers of life. So many of my best ideas are born from me observing things in life. I then connect them to my experiences and use it as a place for exploration.

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

CHH: – I try to practice self care when I can. Try to rest and also understand that I am at my best when I am in good physical and mental health. As you said, stamina and focus are so important and the musicians rely on me to be present and engaging throughout the session. Spiritually it’s the understanding that things will work as they should because I have done the work to allow the music to blossom during the recording session. Stay open and let it flow.

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

CHH: – Great Question! The musicianship and the sound of the album I am so proud of. The way I selected the players that are featured on each title is something that is so satisfying. But…  What I love most is how the story behind the music resonates with the listeners. So much of my album is about me expressing my lifetime of experiences growing up and living in NYC and the exploration between my Jazz Roots and my film aesthetic. I believe when you let the audience into your life they feel close to the music because they can relate to their own feelings and it allows them to connect emotionally. What I love most is the Authenticity and Honesty in how it was conceived.

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

CHH: – Yes. Casting the album is so important. It was a combination of things. Having certain musicians that I always wanted to work with such as Chris Potter and Eric Harland. Others I had known and worked with before so their sound was in my mind and as I composed I used that  association to guide me. The other important thing is as a producer I like putting certain players in creative situations that might be a slight departure for them. It allows a certain freshness to the performances as the musicians are discovering something new in themselves.

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

CHH: – Soul is all I care about. As a creator and as a listener. I think that intellect is always at play and it certainly adds a lot but I don’t want to hear it.

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

CHH: – Man I love that question. Not only am I okay with it I believe it’s my duty as an artist to express honest emotion through my music.

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

CHH: – There are so many. I think the collective experience of me working in studios in the city starting in my formative years has been profound. I was in my 20’s literally working with the A list session players. What an education that was and I took it all in. There is no doubt how much those experiences have shaped my musical knowledge.

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

CHH: – Well, the Standards are no doubt older but to me there are endless possibilities for how imagination creates new things all the time. Isn’t it interesting how through Hip Hop and R & B we hear so much sampling from classic old jazz and funk albums and people are digging it. All those old Bob James albums for example. They are used all the time and are so cool even in this new context. As far as original Jazz like my album if the listener knows the story behind the music again it will draw them in. For example I have a track called “ A City in Solitude” When the 2020 quarantine lockdown started, I would stay up very late at night, staring out the window, the blinking of the traffic lights the only activity in the dead-quiet, desolate streets. I’d never seen the city like that and I was drawn to capture that feeling. This introspective track I believe is a feeling that anyone could relate to because we all lived through those times.

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

CHH: – I am so inspired by Coltrane musically and spiritually. There is no one else like him and I relate to his connection of Spirituality and Creativity. I’m still on my journey and learning everyday so I don’t  have a definitive answer. I can just say that whatever one feels is inevitable is what you should do and do it fearlessly and get in touch with your own vulnerability. Then you are allowing your authentic self to be seen and heard.

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

CHH: – Probably that we still tend to be in a box. Even though many have diverse tastes there is still so much music from so many parts of the world that we don’t really know. So much to inspire us and make us dig deeper as creators of music. I wish there was more exploration for what the world has to offer us musically.

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

CHH: – I am always listening to Jazz of all eras and genres. Brad Mehldau and Maria Schneider are in heavy rotation. It’s an ongoing discovery. Now a lot of Classical. I can’t enough of the Russian school. Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravinsky.  Ravel and Debussy always. Lately taking a deep dive into Messiaen, Charles Ives and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Film composers, Bernard Herrmann, Thomas Newman and Elliot Goldenthal.  Also Studying and Listening over and over to  the Jazz Arrangers who influenced me so much. Bill Hollman, Gil Evans, Claus Ogerman, Stan Kenton, Billy Strayhorn, Don Sebesky and Oliver Nelson to name a few.

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

CHH: – To be Authentic and Honest and engage the listener by allowing them to experience what is deep in side of me.

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

CHH: – I would go to Paris in the 1950’s and study music composition with the incomparable Nadia Boulanger.

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

CHH: – That’s Awesome! I would ask… “ Is there a common thread that you see in composers and musicians that motivate them to persevere on despite the challenges they face”?

JBN: – Yes, I see especially attempts to reach the soul, not to leave man in our globalizing times. And, of course, there is a problem with some people who change the jazz standards a bit, but name and present them as their own. This is very negative. This is how they treat the works of the elders of classical music.

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

CHH: – I am so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you so much. I’m hoping that this interview leads to more awareness for my album and that more people can discover my music. Having a strong online presence and interviews is so important for publicity and to grow my audience.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

My City, My Story - The Making of a Jazz Album (Chris Hajian) - YouTube

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