May 23, 2024

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Interview with Larry Simon: The vibe is, happy, loving, soulful, creative, compassionate, fun … Video

Interview with Blues guitarist and composer Larry Simon. 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?

 When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of? 

Larry Simon: – I grew up in Brooklyn, NY (Brooklyn Heights). As far as what got me “interested in music”- I believe people are born, “interested in music”. It is part of human nature. If anyone is not interested in music something traumatic happened to knock it out of them. Seeing the Beatles the first time they were on the Ed Sullivan show is actually what first got me inspired to want to play guitar. I started piano (at 12 years old), then switched to guitar  (at 13). I was passionate about it and I even decided early on I wanted to study music in college. I never assumed I could make a living at it and was only intermittently able to do so without teaching or doing millions of other assorted jobs along the way. Right out of college (1979) I was asked by drummer Philip Wilson to play in a punk/funk band with him.

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

LS: – My sound evolved by always having an open mind to everything around me, not just music (in all its styles from all eras and all localities) and as I’ve grown as an individual my music has grown- myself and my music are the same thing. A crucial thing is to be aware of what you sound like, note just thinking about the notes you play and the theory behind that.  And, perhaps most importantly, to develop a truly high standard for yourself ( something That Lennie Tristano really opened my eyes to).

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

LS: – Don’t start at the beginning and play to the end. Really thing about what the difficulty truely is and work on that, make an exercise out of that moment or concept. Try to play every day. Play with other people, listen to them and learn from them.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

LS: – Melody has become more and more important and I’ve gotten better at creating them as I improvise and having my improv relate more closely to the song. I also still like playing in a “free” style. The older I get the more I realize this is the hardest style to play and really create something of value, without being self-indulgent.  You have very little (or no) guiding structures to work with so you have to summon your utmost creative resources and technical abilities.  I almost feel as though I have to play in a very conservative frame of mind to produce something worthwhile, the polar opposite of my attitude 40 years ago when I’d do free improv or free jazz.

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

LS: – This is difficult, especially with recording. I think too much about the permanence of what you do in a studio. This can inhibit my playing. All I can say is, be in the moment and relax.  Live, it really helps if I think of friends that are in the audience. I love to share my music and thinking about that, and that recording and performing is the only way to share what I do, also helps.

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

LS: – “Soul” is the guiding  force. If intellect takes over I don’t think the music will be of much interest.  It would be like hearing a lecture about a fireplace rather than sitting in front of one and feeling its warmth. But intellect is a crucial ingredient.

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

LS: – It depends on what emotion they long for. If I was kidnapped and brought to a Trump or NRA rally – I really doubt I’d be okay delivering the emotion they long for- I wouldn’t even be capable of it. But assuming an audience has some idea of what they are coming to hear when they see me, then all is good. The vibe is, happy, loving, soulful, creative, compassionate, fun…

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

LS: – Playing at the Blues Estafette in Utrecht, Netherlands for a NYC blues show that I organized. It was amazing. We had Bob Gaddy, Larry Dale, Jimmy Spruill, Noble “Thin Man” Watts, Dr. Horse (aka Doc Pittman), and Bobby Robinson as our emcee.

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

LS: – Just play it for them, they’ll like it.  I know, I’ve done it. Play some B.B. King, Muddy, T Bone walker, Rosco Gordon. Kids love it. I find that the biggest reason most people don’t listen to a bigger variety of music is not because they are incapable of appreciating it, but because they are lazy! Most people just listen to what is fed them by the corporate structures that feed us mainstream music.  But if given the opportunity, people are actually quite open and appreciative of all sorts of unique and creative music. Even music that is considered “difficult” or obscure.

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

LS: – I believe in a creative force. That is my religion, as vague as that is. And music is part of my spiritual/ religious observance of the creative force. A game pretty much all children play is to keep asking “Why”? continuously, even after you keep answering the never ending string of “why’s”.  I’ve thought about this.  It seems to me that the final answer to a string of “why’s?” is: “To be happy”.  I think you can’t go past that- or there is no need to.  That is the final answer. For me, striving to become one with the creative force makes me happy.

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

LS: – Boy, that is so hard to limit to one thing. I’ll answer in a more down to earth way  even though I’m tempted to get kind of cosmic here. I think musicians, especially in the U.S.A. should be valued monetarily as much as they are aesthetically or as entertainers.  Everyone loves music. I’ve been studying and playing music for 55 years. I have books published, magazine articles, I’ve toured all over. I still play gigs where I make less money than what it cost me in gas to get to the gig. I have musician friends in Europe that play in small town orchestras and have made a decent living from which they were able to support a family.  If I could magically snap my fingers and make it so good, hard working musicians in America could make a living wage, that is the change I would make.

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

LS: – Jimmy Wyble, Pat Martino, Kenny Burrell, B.B. King, Dave Brubeck, Barney Kessel, Phil Upchurch, Grant Green, Nat “King” Cole.

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

LS: – Peace and love through creativity.

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

LS: – The 1960’s. The arts resonated very deeply with society in a way that speaks to me.

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

LS: – Who is your ideal reader?  What are you hoping to achieve with Jazz Blues News?

JBN: – Our ideal readers are our daily thousands who do not miss any article or interview and they do not hesitate to write us their opinions.

And what we are trying to achieve with our website, of course I won’t open all the brackets here, but metaphorically speaking, we distinguish, or try to distinguish wet from dry.

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

LS: – That your readers get to know me a little bit, get to know my work…

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

New York City Blues

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