May 18, 2024

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Interview with Shawn Purcell: 180 is referencing that major shift … Video, new CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Shawn Purcell. An interview by email in writing. – 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?

Shawn Purcell: – I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA.  My entire Father’s side of the family are/were professional musicians, so I think I was destined to pursue music as a career path.  I started playing gigs when I was 15-16 years, and I think I knew that this would be my career path even earlier than that age!  I started playing piano at 5 years old, and then I picked up the guitar at 12.  I was deeply passionate about all things rock ‘n’ roll at that time!  I would say that even at that young age I always envisioned myself as a professional musician.

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

SHP: – My main preparation is essentially practicing the tunes.  Really trying to get inside each tune and figure out things like the best way to play the melody on the guitar, or practice  improvising over a certain progression that is challenging.  I can say that “Fond Illusion” was especially challenging for me as an improviser, so I spent a lot of time working on those harmonies.  “Cat and Mouse” is a very challenging melody, so extra time spent making sure I could play it at the desired tempo.  It’s also nice to have a tune such as “180” as the melody isn’t overly taxing and the

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: 180, how it was formed andwhat you are working on today?

SHP: – I love the band! Pat, Jason, Darden and Ben are some of the best musicians on the planet, and getting to record and perform with them is truly an honor and joy!  I continue to say that I had the “best seat in the house” when we recorded!  I’ve always wanted to do an organ trio recording as players such as Pat Martino, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Dave Stryker, George Benson and Peter Bernstein were my biggest influences.  These guitarists performed and recorded in this format, so it was natural for me to want to perform and record in this setting.

Right now we are starting to work on a new project for my wife, Darden.  Darden is a wonderful jazz vocalist and also director of jazz studies at George Mason University, just outside of Washington DC.  We are considering a project including vibes, a sound we both love!  We’re hoping to record spring 2023 for a fall 2023 release!

JBN: – Why 180, what is 180?

SHP: – I actually just thought it sounded cool J The tune, 180, is one of my favorites on the record.  I was thinking that if folks just listen to one tune on the record this one in particular captures the overall sound I wanted with the organ trio format.  There is also a decisive shift in instrumentation between 180 and my first record (on Armored Records), Symmetricity.  Having the Hammond Organ is such a distinct flavor, and it affects all of the music in a very big way!  It has an enormous dynamic range!  So, 180 is referencing that major shift from traditional Guitar, Piano, Bass and Drums to Guitar, Organ and Drums.  I also employ more wordless vocals on the new record as well as trombone in place of saxophone.

New CD – 2022 – Buy from here

Shawn Purcell 180 (Origin 82856)

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

SHP: – Pat played for about a decade with my biggest hero Pat Martino. I loved Pat’s playing with this group as well as on his own records.  The organ was the main focus for the record, so having Pat was a really easy, yet quite important, choice! I played with Jason when Darden and I lived in Illinois. I always loved his intensity and the way he propelled the music forward.  Darden is my favorite vocalist in the world, and her voice is so perfect for the wordless vocal sound.  I am already planning to write more of that color for my next record!   She is also sings ballads in such a beautiful way, so I wanted to feature her on “A Time for Love.”  Ben Patterson has been one of my closest friends and musical cohorts.  He is a true trombone virtuoso, so I had to get him in there on “Soul Blue.”

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

SHP: – That’s a hard question to answer. I think it is different for every artist and is a very personal thing. This balance obviously has a huge impact on the overall “sound” of an artist. I hope to strike a balance between the two, but I know that I struggle with perhaps too much intellect. I continue to work on both!

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

SHP: – I would say absolutely. Maybe more so with my writing than improvising. But I’m not trying to pander to the audience.  I’m trying to write music that I like, tunes that are fun for the band to play, but I do consider how the audience will react. I am always contemplating what type of emotion(s) a composition might provoke.  I truly hope to take the audience on a musical journey. So, if I want to exude an aggressive vibe, I write a tune like “Cat and Mouse” which is fast and intense. If I want to present more delicacy, I compose a ballad like “LTG (Little Tori Girl).” I really work hard to have variety in the tunes; I don’t want everything to be one-dimensional. The order of the tunes on the record is also equally important when considering taking people on a journey. Opening the record with something super fast and intense get folks excited about what’s coming next. But, too much of this and the audience can tune out and get bored. In a way it’s like riding a rollercoaster. The drops are intense, but the real anticipation and excitement happens when you are being ratcheted up the steep incline. You’re not completely sure what’s going to happen next, but you can’t wait to find out. I want each tune to give the listener that feeling of anticipation and excitement of what’s next.

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

SHP: – I’ve taught at the University level for over a decade and I can say that there are a lot of young people interested in this music!  They are also excited about the standard repertoire.  Young musicians will always be interested in jazz, it’s the general population that should be more of the focus.  To the question of getting the general public interested in jazz; that’s a difficult question.  I wish I had that answer!

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

SHP: – No more streaming 🙂 It would be wonderful if artists could still generate income from recordings, but that seems to be a thing of the past.  It would take 4,500 streams to earn $15; the price of 1 CD sale!  Putting out a record is expensive, and if more income could be generated by sales, artists could release more recordings.  Streaming is super convenient and I’m guilty as well as I have an Apple Music account.  My hope would be that if folks find a record they really like on their favorite streaming service go and purchase that record!

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

SHP: – I’ve actually been going back and revisiting my early jazz heroes! Mike Stern, early John Scofield, Pat Martino, Allan Holdsworth, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Pat Metheny, Doug Raney, Joshua Breakstone, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Michael Brecker, Joey Calderazzo, Yellowjackets, Charlie Parker, Hank Mobley, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Rick Margitza, Peter Bernstein, Dave Stryker, John Hart, etc.  These are the artists that truly shaped who I am as a musician!  I try to listen to as many new artists as I can, but there are so many incredible musicians it’s challenging to keep up!  I dig listening to Mike Moreno, Cecil Alexander, Adam Rogers, Oz Noy, Sonny Clark; there are so many great musicians!

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

SHP: – I don’t really have a specific message. I try to pay homage to the history and lineage. I guess I would let the listeners decide on a message.

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

SHP: – These are great questions! Very thought provoking! I don’t really have any specific questions. A possible question would be, who was your most favorite interviewer?

JBN: – Barry Harris, Pat Martino, Marc Copland, Joey FeFrancesco … more

JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career?At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

SHP: – My main full-time gig is as jazz guitarist in the Navy Band Commodores jazz ensemble in Washington DC. As we are funded 100% by tax dollars, all of our concerts are free and open to the public. So, the answer is yes! But, I’m still being paid to perform even though the concerts are free. I’ve also performed free concerts as a freelance musician, but I’m always paid whether the performance is free or not. I can’t remember the last time I have performed for free.

I honestly didn’t have any expectations from our interview! I’m just thankful to speak with you about music!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Music Review: 180 by Shawn Purcell

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