May 18, 2024

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Interview with Alex Merritt: Music can be the souls expressions: Video

Jazz interview with jazz tenor saxophonist Alex Merritt․ An interview by email in writing. – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music.

Alex Merritt: – Hi Simon, happy to be on here- I grew up in Cambridge, UK and was very lucky to have parents who are very interested in music; I was encourage to play saxophone age 9 and was fortunate to have been able to access a brilliant music education in Cambridge from a young age and be lucky to have some very inspiring teachers: Janet Mcleod, Trevor Barlow, Kevin Flanagan and later at music college- Mike Williams, Julian Seigel, Jean Toussaint.

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

AM: – I think sometimes your own sound can grow out of little idiosyncrasies in your approach and little facets of personality that when you become aware of, rather than trying to iron out (in effort to imitate cleaner etc.) you can actually notice and in time even make a feature of as your confidence and facility develops. This can over time start to contribute to your own voice: this and different research has helped me- I am always looking into different harmonic and conceptual approaches; often exploring things from contemporary classical music or maybe just trying to get deeper into my favorite records also.

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

AM: – There are lots of time games and metronome exercises that I like to play, as many people do- one thing that has been interesting time wise for me over the last few years has been working on my internal pulse and doing things away from the horn, as a drummer might to strengthen this. Harmonically, I have ongoing things I am investigating, but in terms of maintenance I haven’t found anything much more useful than transposition and putting things through all keys and in different areas of the horn.

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

AM: – I don’t see this as necessarily something I have to manage; if you get to a point of focus with what you are going for it is all welcome after a while- I tend to be pretty open minded but often come back to a relatively pool of things I find ultra inspiring! ????

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

AM: – I like to internalise the music to be played as much as possible to feel free with it, and really be able to explore in the moment. After this, I make sure I stay quite engaged with the music: sometimes taking a broad focus or sometimes a more focused in approach: depending on what feels right at the time. I try and pace myself and also do other nice things for wellbeing and life- seeing family, friends and nature.

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

AM: – I think music can be the souls expressions, this is certainly something we are all reaching towards. The intellect helps us organize the material we chose to use to realise this to the best of our abilities.

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

AM: – After all, music is a social pursuit and without an audience you lose a massive element of this (as we all experienced no doubt through 2020-2021)- it is a two-way relationship as you say. Being out to perform for live audiences again and be able to feed off their energies is such a special thing which no doubt the time away from live performance has allowed musicians globally to remember and cherish.

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

AM: – I think many young people are finding ways into the music through more modern avenues and mixing jazz with electronic music/ programming, Hip Hop etc. in very interesting and creative ways. Much as I have learnt from the traditional route of learning jazz repertoire and standards and listening to classic albums I think that many young people don’t feel as connected to that which is entirely valid- jazz should embody the spirit of change and innovation, not just preservation certainly. Though I think the richness of the tradition for those that want to delve into that world will never be able to be negated- as it is such a massive and important body of modern cultural work over the last 100 years.

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

AM: – I would say that if you can find something that makes you happy and you do it to the best of your ability, it may well develop to something that has utility and could even grow to inspire others to be their best selves also.

John Coltrane also said I believe that he wanted to be a force for good, if we can recognize this ability in all of us, and try and be good people too acting in accordance with this then we shouldn’t be going too far wrong.

In terms of the spirit, I think it is fair to say that the spirit longs to be expressed, and when we are truly still and honest we can hear that voice that guides our choices and longings- the more attuned we can get at listening to that, the more we will feel we are living our truest life with integrity and honesty.

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

AM: – Instantaneous live performance online would be very cool and handy but I can’t imagine it is physically possible..Ha! One thing I have been talking to people about recently is to what degree social media is useful for artistic development. Is a 1 minute Instagram clip really testament to validity of content, self expression and the communication of music and its ability to transport and transform, on a regular basis- discuss?! ????

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

AM: – I’ve been listening to a wonderful ‘supergroup’ album, which is really fantastic: the Griffith Park Collection which features Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea, Lenny White and Stanley Clarke; there are two volumes and it really is ridiculously good! I adore Joe Henderson; his endless invention, musical wit and intelligence and warmth and sensitivity. Amazing UK sax player and friend Iain Ballamy put me on to these records and I have been really enjoying them! ????

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

AM: – Well, as we have said, you would like to aspire to give people a chance to see beauty, look beyond their worries and strifes.

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

AM: – I would like to have seen The John Coltrane Quartet European tours! ????

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

AM: – I have enjoyed engaging with your questions Simon, thank you very much.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Bio | Alex Merritt

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