Jazz interview with jazz drummer Joe Abba. 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?
Joe Abba: – I think it all began around my teen years. In the 7th grade, I got a cheap used drum set in horrible condition and I fell in love with it. I had been taking lessons in school since 4th grade, but getting a drum set really started sealing the deal for me.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
JA: – Experiencing different styles of music is the main thing that has informed my sound over the years. I started out listening to rock and hip hop, and then discovered jazz, reggae, classical, and Latin music. This not only inspired me but helped me to understand how the drums are played in different musical contexts. I would like to humbly think that this is how my sound is what it is now. It’s an amalgamation of all my influences, and how the other drummers play.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
JA: – I work on a practice pad for keeping my hands strong and am constantly listening to music, reading music biographies, and listening to podcasts about musicians, artists, and other creative types. I practice rhythmic concepts on the drum set all the time and try to work out of different types of percussion and rhythm books. I also work on piano to try to help my knowledge and understanding of harmony and chord progressions. I firmly believe that learning is essential, no matter one’s age nor level of experience. If I stop learning, I will stop evolving, and my playing and music will become stale.
JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?
JA: – I definitely have evolved as an artist and a person. I have learned the importance of balancing life’s challenges, art, my family, and making money. It was something nobody really ever prepared me for at school or at home. As an artist, I feel that I am much more patient, not just with my career, but with my approach to making music with others, improvising, etc.
JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
JA: – I chart out everything in order to have the mechanics and the road maps fully comfortable. I play along to any provided music. I also try to think of what beats and grooves will fit best with each song. If the music involves cover tunes, I research how the original drummer approached the music I am about to play, in order to do it justice, and retain much of the familiarity from the original tracks. If it is original music, I will try to create musical statements that fit well, inserting my personality and style, without being selfish. There is nothing worse than a selfish musician who is trying to serve themselves, rather than the song at hand. If there are recordings of other drummers playing this music, I will check them out as well, but not so much with a desire to mimic or copy their musical ideas. It’s all for inspiration, so when I am performing or recording, I am 100% in the moment.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Joe Abba – Check Hook, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
JA: – I love how these songs I wrote have become so much more than I could have imagined when I first began working on it. I love the product and am very proud of it, and the contributions from all of the amazing artists who performed breathe so much life into it. Currently, I am working on new material for my next album, which will likely be more of a jazz record.
JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?
JA: – The musicians who play on my album are some of my best friends and the people I enjoy playing with the most. I could have hired a bunch of “heavyweights” but the music would not have the love that all of my friends bring it. They know this music; the know me as a person. That means more to me than any group of all stars. Also, I play in NYC, so the level of musicianship is top notch. I don’t need “big names” because everyone I play with is a monster musician, artist, and successful bandleader in their own right.
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
JA: – If you don’t study music, you are not diving deep into it, and will be creating music that may not be as deep as you would want. However, if you don’t have soul, there is no passion to your sound. I believe in being a well-informed artist, but one that takes that intellect and hands it over to the moment, when recording or performing. Intellect is preparation and research. Soul is the emotion, the groove, the improvisation. All of that happens with inspiration. A balance of the two is usually found in my favorite artists.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
JA: – I only wish to offer my music to an audience for their pleasure and enjoyment. How they respond to it and what they get from it is up to them. If an audience longs for an emotion and I am not providing it, that is okay with me. I want an audience to experience my music and drumming. What they do with it, and how it affects them is up to them. I always want someone to enjoy themselves and be inspired by my art, but it is not mandatory.
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
JA: – I remember some of my fondest memories, like playing the Montreal Jazz Festival to 30,000 people. I played with some pop artists early in my career, which gave me many opportunities to play on television. That was very exciting. Recently, my two album release concerts were some of my favorite music making experiences of my life.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
JA: – Jazz needs to become a bit more modern. Jazz standards are important to learn and know, as is the history of the music. However, it is not the only way. Jazz musicians in history were playing songs of their time. We need to do more of that. Artists like Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper, Dave Douglas, Medeski Martin & Wood, and many others are pushing for a modern take on jazz, and I am 100% for it!
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
JA: – I believe we are here on this planet one time, and what you make of your time is how you live your life. I don’t believe in higher powers or the afterlife, but I always use the expression: “Everyone dies. Not everyone lives.” I believe that I fulfill my spirit and give back to others through music and music education. That’s my purpose for being here. Music can be very spiritual and many use it as a way to praise their God’s or to take them into a spiritual state. I would lean on the latter, as that is the effect it has on me.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
JA: – I would put music more to the forefront of society’s mind, so it would not be so dispensable. There is more to life than science, math, guns, government, and healthcare. There is art, and in America especially, art and music are very disposable. Therefore, because people don’t put a value on it, it is very hard for creative people to make a living at it. I would change that mindset and everyone would benefit from it.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
JA: – I listen to a lot of podcasts about music, inspiring people, athletes, and to learn more things. I also love listening to music from all genres. This has been my mantra for years: I am the summation of all my influences. This is what has shaped me and defined my sound. I am no master of one genre; rather I am a mix of all. This theory used to be shunned by many of my older teachers. I refused to accept that notion and this has helped shape my sound and my career. I get called for all styles of music and I love that, because I love so many different types of art.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
JA: – Music is joyful and I am trying to share joy and make people happy from experiencing it. I am not trying to make people think a certain way or feel certain thoughts. Life can be very difficult, and I am trying to bring relief, pleasure, and hopefully a brief respite from the challenges of day to day living.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
JA: – I would want to go back to colonial America and see if I could convince the founding fathers to not employ slavery as a means of commerce and as a way to build this country. On a personal note, I would have chosen to go back to the 1960’s because so much of my favorite music and artists were flourishing at that time.
JBN: – So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…
JA: – Simon, what inspires you to promote jazz music and art in general? Were you or are you a musician or artist yourself?
JBN: – Jazz is my life!!! I am Jazz critic, musicologist, jazz expert.
JBN: – At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?
JA: – I would be eager to have this interview be another means of promoting my art and inspiring others. If they read a little about me and it inspires them to check out my music, then it’s a win-win situation!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan