May 24, 2024

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Interview with David Restivo։ We are all products of our influences: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist David Restivo․ 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.

David Restivo: – I grew up primarily in New York State, Vermont, and Toronto, Canada. My parents were both amateur musicians, and my mother was a music critic, so I was exposed to all kinds of music growing up, especially classical and folk. At age 4 I heard a Dizzy Gillespie recording, which started a lifelong love of jazz.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

DR: – I started out listening to as much music as I could that was related to jazz—everything from traditional blues and ragtime to the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Cecil Taylor. Gradually, my ear drew me to certain influences—pianists, of course, like Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Lyle Mays, and Herbie Hancock, but also other instrumentalists like Woody Shaw, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, Wayne Shorter, and Alan Holdsworth. I was also influenced by certain European composers, like Bach, Ravel, Debussy, Khatchaturian, Prokofiev, and Mahler, and by rock groups like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Genesis. More recently, I have been inspired by people like Jason Moran, Gerald Clayton, Vijay Iyer, and Sullivan Fortener, so my sound continues to evolve as these influences are absorbed.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

DR: – These days I mostly practice classical music, especially Bach. I also practice improvising, particularly in keys that are more challenging, and to work on specific challenges, like playing block chord solos. I have played drums for most of my life, and I view the piano as a percussion instrument, part of the rhythm section, so my relationship with rhythm is quite strong and it’s not something I work on specifically at this point, although it is incorporated into everything I practice.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

DR: – We are all products of our influences. The way we combine them, filtered through our unique set of experiences, aesthetic choices, and cultural/geographic background and environment is what gives us our own voice, so this is not something I worry about.

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

DR: – Slow warmups and focused, meditative practice. I also try to do yoga regularly, and go for long walks.

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JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

DR: – They are equally present in most of my favourite music, whether it’s Coltrane, Bach, or Joni Mitchell. The intellectual should always be in service of the spiritual and emotional. “Soul” is a hard thing to quantify, but whatever it is I will take it first over pure intellectualism, or being clever for its own sake.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

DR: – If I connect emotionally with what I’m doing, others will too. Perhaps not everyone, but no music is for everyone!

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

DR: – There is a lot of great music happening now that is jazz-related but also connected to contemporary sounds from hip hop, funk, rock, etc., including people like Robert Glasper, Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, Snarky Puppy, Jacob Collier, and many more. This can be a way in the door for young musicians, who hear something relevant to their generation and experience which may lead them to work backwards and explore the tradition that these artists come out of. At the same time, preservationists like Wynton Marsalis continue to repackage these traditions in a way that keeps them fresh and vibrant for new generations. Everyone has to start somewhere…once I said to the drummer Quincy Davis that, if you are a jazz pianist, Bud Powell is like your dad, and when you’re young you never really want to listen to your dad! Only later, after you’ve gained some maturity, can you truly understand the value in what he was saying.

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

DR: – I believe in what Bill Evans called the “Universal Mind”, a kind of collective consciousness that we all can tune into and draw from to various degrees. In that sense, I feel that true art comes through us, rather than from us, and I think that’s what Trane was speaking of.

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

DR: – I would make it easier for musicians and artists to make a living from their craft.

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

DR: – Gustav Mahler, Wayne Shorter, Thundercat, Jason Moran, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Billy Childs, Walter Smith III, Henry Threadgill, Keith Jarrett, Brad Meldau, Brian Blade.

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

DR: – Love, joy, melancholy, honesty, hope.

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

DR: – Back to the 1960s to hear the classic Coltrane Quartet, and the Bill Evans trio with Scott LaFaro. And maybe I’d hang around for a few years to see Jimi Hendrix live!

JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

DR: – How do you see the health of the music business now, especially marginalized forms of art music like Jazz?

JBN: – I don’t agree that there are marginalized forms in jazz, and jazz is not a business for me, but a life, maybe it’s a business for bums like you, who don’t want to take a small part of their modest means to those who do good for them. Don’t say anything bad to Jazz ․..

JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

DR: – I don’t know what the future will bring or when live music will come back as a regular occurrence, but I will continue to work at my craft and try to learn and grow for my own self-improvement, as a lifelong student of this music.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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