June 20, 2024

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Interview with Mads Mathias: Not slam the door, be impolite and serve leftovers from last night: Video

Jazz interview with jazz vocalist and saxophonist Mads Mathias. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Mads Mathias: – I grew up partly in a little town in Denmark called Silkeborg, and partly in Tanzania where we lived for 6 years when I was a kid. During that time I went through my dad’s large collection of jazz records and totally fell in love with the music and the saxophone which I started playing at the age of 11. There were not many sax teachers around, so my dad, who is a clarinet player, taught me the basics and I took it from there on my own. I listened to the records, the melodies, the solos and transcribed it.

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

MM: – Sound is one of the hardest things to practise and establish I think. There isn’t a recipe for getting the sound you want overnight. For me it came down to listening to the players that had a sound similar to what I was looking for, which is the warm, fat, dusty sound with depth and air, and try to approach that sound. So I listened to Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Ben Webster and others that I still have as heroes. I listened to their tone, their way of phrasing, the beat of their swing which is also part of the sound. And by combining the different sounds of my heroes I tried to create my own.

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

MM: – There’s been many different periods of my life where I have practised more or less. The first years were all new and exciting, and I really dug into it you know, but when I got a bit older there was a period where friends and girls were more interesting, until I found out I could combine the two: start a band with my friends and get girls that way…. No, as I got older I found a routine, so I didn’t waste so much time practising stuff I already could play. I think its’ good to remember evolving by challenging yourself to play new things, things you can’t play yet but, will be able to. And the satisfaction of reaching a goal is very rewarding and hopefully makes you wanna go even further.

When not touring, I have themes that I go through daily such as major scales in different ways, tempo, swing. Melodic cells which is a small melody that I move around in keys. Sight Reading for instance itunes over standards. Scales in different ways. Right now I’m finding new ways to lay diminished scales. And I spend quite a bit of time checking out new music for gigs which gives really good practice also.

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

MM: – Oh I don’t see musical influences as a diversion at all. On the contrary it inspires me. If I hear something unusual or something I’ve not thought of before I’ll attempt to use it. There are many other kinds of diversions that bother me like phones ringing og tekst messages that accuire fast action, so I keep my phone turned off when I practise or write music.

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

MM: – To me the recording versus the live situation is 2 very different situations, and therefore I prepare them differently. Where the live situation is much more intuitive and improvised, so to prepare for that I practice the material that we might play, but also keep my ear trained for the unexpected. I do that by training chord progressions that you might meet, and by playing on random things that I don’t know – since I started playing I’ve done that, turned on the radio and just play on top, or if I’m lucky to have a colleague around, just play intuitively together.

In the studio situation I’ll know more or less exactly what we are going to record and can therefore prepare that much more in detail, the arrangement, the feeling of a composition, the phrasing and so on…

I love both situations but not together. Live it’s what happens right now that matters and will never be again. It offers the freedom of the now and seeking and trying out stuff is what it’s all about. In the studio it’s forever, so the urge refine to make it durable is the challenge.

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

MM: – This might sound provocative to some, but It seems to me that historically the European approach to learning something is to read about it,.The African approach is to dance it. I’ve lived 6 years of my childhood and teenage years in eastern Africa and have seen the importance of dancing it or feeling it. Let it be said that I’m a really bad dancer and I mean it more as a metafor. Music to me is more than theory, a story or an exhibition, it’s a feeling, a state of mind. It is a thing than happens between people, together with people. Even when you are alone. A spirit.

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

MM: – I agree very much on the two-way relationship, and I think it’s a very important thing to remember for jazz musicians. The genre nowadays is not as main stream as it once was, which is fine and understandable, but not all people have a long lasting relation to jazz and therefore I think we have a responsibility not to scare people off but invite them in. I don’t mean this in the sence that the audience should dictate the music, not at all, more like being a good host when having guests requires you open the door, set the table, establish a cozy (hyggelig) atmosphere and cook the best dinner possible. Not slam the door, be impolite and serve leftovers from last night.

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

SS: – No memeories, yang man?

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

MM: – It is not a question of how we get the young people interested in jazz, because already then you’ve lost them. It’s not the older generations job to sets the frame and thereby dictate what’s wrong or what’s right. Jazz is freedom to find your own new way, and I think thats what the younger generation does today. I see a lot of stuff happening on the jazz scene today, not least here in Copenhagen, and it is high level stuff. I think jazz today is a much more broad notion, the boundaries have been pushed and is different from half a century ago. So maybe the question is: can We embrace it?

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

SS: – Mads Mathias who lives a meaningless life does not even understand life?

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

SS: – There must be a factor to understand what can be changed, what the emptiness understands?

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

MM: – Right now I’m listening to new danish jazz. The drummer Jeppe Gram takes the past, present and future and creates something you can relate to, something hip and something that makes you wonder. There’s also an interesting Estonian singer and composer living in Denmark called Karmen Rõivassepp.

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

MM: – Music and art is about reflection, discovering new perspectives, to take an chance and go the uncomfortable place outside yourself, just for a while and see how it is. The chance you’ll come back wiser is considerably high.

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

MM: – Ohhh I have a nostaglic urge to go back to the great jazz days, in the 40’ies or 50’ies in New York that we heard so much about and where the scene was at it’s greatest. Sneak in to a dark club with where Miles Davis, Dizzy and Bird would be playing, have a beer and hang all through the night…

Interview by SS – Simon Sargsyan

Mads Mathias - Frokostkoncert på Fermaten, 12. marts 2022

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