June 14, 2024

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Interview with Tasha Smith Godinez: Hope and Beauty – Out Of The Desert: Video, new CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz composer and harpist Tasha Smith Godinez. 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?

Tasha Smith Godinez: – I grew up here in San Diego, California. It is the kind of city that’s hard to leave – family, the ocean, the mountains and its proximity to Mexico are all reasons I’ve always felt compelled to live here. My musical adventured started very early, at age 3, when my mother started me with violin lessons. I began playing the harp at 8 years old and after that, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know I was meant to be a musician.  There just wasn’t any question in my mind.

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

TSG: – My early studies through college were almost solely based on western classical music.  I was trained and worked hard to play the incredibly beautiful, however much overplayed, standard repertoire for both instruments.  After college, when thrown in to the “real world” of making music, I realized that I needed to find my own musical voice. First I made a foray into avant-garde music and experimental music.  Then I met a musician who introduced me to playing a sort of world/jazz crossover music. Christopher Garcia specializes in an interesting fusion of indigenous music from Mexico, Indian classical music, and jazz. We formed a duo and have been performing together about seven years. It took me a while to get used to his unique blend of styles, however now after years playing together, I find that I see, hear, and play music completely differently. The journey has brought me to where I am now, composing, improvising, and playing a variety of music (not stuck in one ‘genre’).

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

TSG: – The challenge of moving through complex harmonies on the pedal harp, was one of my crutches when I first began to improvise and compose.  I now regularly do exercises of choosing a key or mode and working through chord progressions to gain comfort and speed with pedal changes and using enharmonic notes quickly.  This also sometimes leads to discovering a sound that I like for a new piece.

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

TSG: – As humans we should all be changing over the years.  I think mine has been an overall evolution of myself as a musician.  Me 10 years ago wouldn’t even have dreamed of the musician I am now.  If someone told me a decade ago that I would be composing and even release an album of only my music, I would have laughed in disbelief!

When I was 20 a teacher told me that I should appreciate how I played then because it was all downhill from that point on – that life would get in the way and my playing would never be the same. I decided then that I would prove her wrong. Afterall, what is the point of playing an instrument for a lifetime if we are not growing, changing, learning and continuing to master the art of making music? So, I am always trying to learn something new on my instrument – a technical ability, challenging rhythmic patter, new style of music, etc.

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

TSG: – Making music is a spiritual experience – I find that I don’t need much preparation for that aspect.  As for stamina, playing daily and rehearsing regularly, are truly the best ways to keep my mind and body ready to perform and record.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Out Of The Desert, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

TSG: – I now have 4 albums and an EP released, however Out of the Desert is especially dear to me.  It my first album of original compositions.  I began composing during the pandemic when life had forcibly slowed down.  Up to that point I had always filled my schedule so full between music work and family (I have three children), that I didn’t leave much time for creative exploration. The first song I wrote was Mulatta and then from there I realized I had unlocked a creative outlet.  By mid 2021, I had 13 tunes and decided to make the album.

My current projects include writing new music (hoping for another release in 2023-24), working with my percussion/harp duo Music Beyond Borders (with the incredible Christopher Garcia), as well as creating new music with violist Domenico Hueso and pianist Reggie Woods.

New CD – 2022 – Buy from here

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

TSG: – This was easy. I knew the sound I wanted to create and exactly who could both create that sound and completely understand my vision.  Christopher Garcia is a percussion like no other. I’ve never met anyone who creates like he does, the sound pallets he uses and his incredible understanding of musical expression, are hard to duplicate. Domenico Hueso is a good friend of mine and an amazing musician. He understands my musical mind and knows exactly where to take both the written music and the improvisational ideas.  The result is more amazing than I could have imagined!

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

TSG: – A good musician holds both the intellectual understanding of what they are doing and expresses their soul through the music. I’ve known musicians who lack one or the other and it always affects the music.  Technically masterful players who can dazzle us with incredible physical feats of “music making” and communicatively masterful players who can speak to us through their music and yet are sloppy. The intellect, physical training and soul are the ingredients to truly astounding music – music that moves and inspires.

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

TSG: – Each performance is an interchange between the artists and the audience. During the pandemic, like many musicians around the world, I was doing frequent virtual performances.  Performing my music for an invisible audience. It felt empty and the audience being physically in the space was lacking. I am more than okay with delivering emotion to the audience – in fact, I also feed off their emotion and reception of my music.

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

TSG: – The first in-person concert I played after all the pandemic cancellations in 2020. It was an outdoor show in a private patio and garden. We had all been through so much up to that point at the end of the summer and as we (Domenico Hueso and I) shared our music, something changed in the air.  We could all feel it. It was like the angst and pain from the past 6 months was melting away and the energy completely changed.  We could physically feel people letting go of the fear and challenges they’d been holding on to, at least for the time being, and allowing themselves to be touched by the music.  It was incredible.  I can still feel the ambiance and emotional connection we held with the audience, and it is a true testament to what music can do for us!

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

TSG: – I think getting young people interested in jazz may be similar to getting them interested in classical music.  Many young people I know are intrigued by music of all kinds – once they’ve been exposed to it.  Parents should take their kids to concerts, go to free outdoor music events in the summer, put varieties of music on the radio, etc.  Expose them to the sound of many styles of music and then get them music lessons!

The thing about music is that it is THE great communicator.  We listen to classical music from 300 years ago and somehow understand it’s message. We listen to jazz from 50 years ago and can understand not only it’s significance to the time of its creation but also can feel it communicating about our current existence.

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

TSG: – I certainly can understand Coltrane’s point.  Making music is an extension of who I am – of my being.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been a musician since the age of 3 and never questioned what to do with my life.  As a child, I didn’t dream of the many occupations I could have when I grew up, I just understood that this is what I wanted – needed – to do.  I believe we all must have a purpose to our lives.  I was meant to be a musician, I was also meant to be a mother to three boys, a wife, a daughter, a music teacher.  All of these aspects are the meaning of my life.

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

TSG: – I would like to see our greater society return to appreciating quality music and the musicians who make it.  I know there many people who truly ‘listen’ to music, however it seems that much of the American musical culture is driven by mindless pop music performed by musicians who lack talent or ability.  I see this especially with female musicians whose career seems more based on their physical appearance and sex appeal than the quality of their music or their musical abilities.  Music should always be about the music itself.

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

TSG: – There are a few essentials in my listening repertoire: Dorothy Ashby, Egberto Gismonti, Jan Garbarek, Charlie Haden, Al Jarreau, Chick Correa, Bill Withers and Roy Ayers.  Lately I’ve also found myself listening to harpist/singer-songwriter, Pia Salvia – she’s phenomenal.

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

TSG: – Hope and beauty.  If I can inspire people, through my music, to see the beauty that surrounds us and is within us, I’ve fulfilled my mission.

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

TSG: – 2001 in the music department of San Diego State University, to inform my younger self to go ahead and take the jazz classes.  At that time, I was convinced I would be a strictly classical musician and yet, when I would walk past the jazz classes it just sounded like so much fun.  I was drawn to them but never took the jump.  These are the things that only hindsight can tell us.

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

TSG: – How did you find my album and was it what you expected from a “harp album” or did it surprise you?

JBN: – After Alice Coltrane, it’s just very interesting and pleasant to listen to you. Bravo!

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

TSG: – I suppose the most I can expect is exposure within the jazz realm.  Hopefully more people will become aware of my music and listen!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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