February 29, 2024

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Interview with Lee Heerspink։ It’s one thing to have chops and another to play musically: Video

Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Lee Heerspink. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Lee Heerspink: – I grew up in Holland, Michigan, and shared a nursery room with a player piano (it was loud!). My parents would play old piano rolls when I would get upset and it would put me back to sleep. In elementary school, I trained as a classical pianist and upright bass player before transitioning to the guitar in high school. Originally a pop/rock/folk guitarist, I became passionate about jazz when I was exposed to the music of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers while studying at Hope College.

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

LH: – I’ve made a living as a versatile guitarist who can play many different contemporary styles and genres. I became very good at imitating other guitarists for various gigs. I eventually found that writing/composing music helped me find my own voice. It slows my mind down and forces me to think about what I like rather than what is expected.

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

LH: – I focus primarily on fundamentals, and I practice them slowly!

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

LH: – Whether I’m improvising or writing music I’ve learned to trust my gut. If I relax, focus, and listen to what’s happening around me, the right musical choice usually presents itself.

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

LH: – Whenever possible I try to memorize the music I’m playing. This provides better awareness of what’s going on around me and allows for better communication on the bandstand. On the day of a performance or recording, I also try not to improvise too much. I like to save fresh ideas for the performance… ideas that haven’t been tampered with earlier in the day!

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

LH: – On the guitar, it’s really easy to get accustomed to improvising using finger patterns that you’ve memorized over years of practice. It can be a challenge to make sure that you’re hearing the notes BEFORE you play them. It’s one thing to have chops and another to play musically and hear the notes before you play them. It takes time and practice to get to that point.

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

LH: – Absolutely! This life is a tough existence, and I look at music as one of the great healing forces available to us. The older I get, the more I am in awe of what the power of music can do.

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

LH: – This is a great question! At some point, I think we need to stop calling it jazz and start calling it “improvised music” or something of the sort. Defining jazz is a real mess, and I think it can confuse and frustrate younger musicians getting started. I think we as teachers need to place a greater emphasis on teaching fundamentals and let students decide what to do with it.

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

LH: – I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers here Simon! I will say that I try to take things one day, one performance, one song, one note at a time. I do my best to let my higher power work through me, whether that’s an improvised solo or in everyday life moments. I’m just the vessel.

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

LH: – Stop vibing people! I hate to see more seasoned “jazz” musicians creating a toxic environment for the next generation of players. Yes, Miles Davis was an amazing musician… but that doesn’t mean everyone should act like him. Every musician has value. Every musician has something to say right now. We’re all learning and growing, and that needs to be celebrated and encouraged.

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

LH: – Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Stanton Moore, Charlie Hunter, Will Bernard, Joey Defrancesco, Dr. Lonnie Smith (may he rest in peace), Soulive, and Organissimo. I also continue to listen to a lot of John Scofield and Pat Metheny.

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

LH: – I want people to feel alive. Get off the screens and feel something that is real and in the moment!

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

LH: – I love history, so I would probably travel to Europe during the renaissance period and take in all of the beautiful sites and sounds. What a dream!

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

LH: – What keeps you motivated to continue reaching out for interviews like this in your publication?

JBN: – Jazz is my life! You won’t understand that, because you only teach at the amateur level, and you don’t even have a video on YouTube. You’re empty and a bad musician, probably․․․

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

LH: – I hope the questions listed above are what you’re looking for! Thank you so much for thoughtful questions!

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