May 24, 2024

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Interview with Champian Fulton: Jazz is a perfect mix of intellect and soul: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist and vocalist Champian Fulton. An interview by email in writing. – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music.

Champian Fulton: – I am from Norman Oklahoma, although we moved around a lot when I was younger. My father is a Jazz musician and I always heard Jazz in the house, from him and his band, and also records. I just loved it. He always seemed like he was having so much fun playing and so I wanted to play too.

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

CHF: – I’ve always had an idea that I wanted to be a part of the swinging tradition of Jazz piano. Count Basie, Bud Powell, Fats Waller, Red Garland. Those are my heroes and I want to be in that lineage. When I was younger I spent a lot of time transcribing solos and comping rhythms, and then a lot of time assimilating those into my playing. I do less of that now because I have less time, but I still think about ways I can improve myself, technically and creatively. I listen to a lot of Thad Jones and I think about rhythm mostly. Ways of being more swinging, extending my lines over the barlines, things like that. I hope to always keep improving as long as I can keep playing.

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

CHF: – I’m on the road a lot these days, very rarely at home for an extended period of time, so my practicing has changed a lot. I do some maintenance at the keyboard, scales and songs that I don’t want to forget (like Bird’s “Quasimodo”) at soundcheck, but mostly I am playing everyday so not practicing as much. I make sure to warm up my voice with humming (and cool it down!) on days when I’m working and then when I have a day of rest, I try to really rest it. If I get some real practice time I like to work on new tunes, new arrangements, that kind of thing.

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

CHF: – That’s an interesting question because I don’t know what a stray or random influence might be. I am very discerning with what I listen to and what I allow myself to be influenced by. I only listen to things I want to absorb. I don’t watch TV but of course I hear muzak in the airport or the store, mostly I try not to hear it. I am very artistically sure of what I want to do.

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

CHF: – I really love what I do and I think that helps me stay motivated and strong. I love performing and I don’t get tired of that. I might get tired of changing hotels and traveling, but I don’t get tired of getting up on stage with my band. My friend, Lou Donaldson, once told me that if I’m really tired on the road it’s because the drummer isn’t very good and I think there’s a lot to that. If you’re having fun on the bandstand, you can stay motivated to keep going.

Regarding spiritual stamina; I like to talk to my friends, like Lou Donaldson, and also listen to music that I love. I can be feeling really down but if I put on some Count Basie, then I feel better right away.

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

CHF: – Jazz is a perfect mix of intellect and soul. You learn your instrument, your scales, theory and ideas and then you “forget it all and play”, to paraphrase Charlie Parker. Music is about washing away the dust of everyday life and making people feel better. Ultimately that is the goal. The intellectual aspect must serve that purpose. Creativity before technique.

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

CHF: – Absolutely.

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

CHF: – Lou and I have been friends for a long time and I really wanted to help do something special for him for that birthday.

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

CHF: – Humanity is thousands of years old, 50 years isn’t a drop in the bucket. I don’t think the age of a song has anything to do with how it can engage people. I play Jazz today and now, it is contemporary, and I don’t think the age of the songs matters. I think young people can be interested in Jazz if they are exposed to some real Jazz. That’s what needs to happen.

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

CHF: – For me, I would like to make the lives of my fellow man better. That is my meaning and purpose, and I think it is similar for a lot of artists and musicians. I want things to be better, people to be happy, and I would like my music to give that to them, to give them a break from their burdens, which are many. As for perceiving the spirit, we are all spirits and souls, joined together on earth for a brief sojourn.

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

CHF: – I wouldn’t want to change anything; I’m happy navigating things as they are. If one thing changed, a million things might change! I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi movies about time travel, so I’d rather be careful haha.

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

CHF: – I love Thad Jones and I listen a lot to him. I also just started digging Hank Jones’ record  “Upon Reflection: the Music of Thad Jones” and that is just great.

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

CHF: – To wash away the dust of everyday life and bring some happiness and comfort to my listeners.

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

CHF: – Lots of options here but I’m going to say I would like to play in the Count Basie band circa 1939. Great music, great clothes.

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

CHF: – It was nice chatting! Thank you!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

How jazz artist Champian Fulton plays both and in and out of her time

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