Jazz interview with jazz drummer Jean My Truong. 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?
Jean My Truong: – I was born in the south of France, to a French mother and a Vietnamese father. When I was two years old, my parents moved to Paris and during the summer, we would go back down south to my aunt’s house in the country. That’s where I got the passion for drums because a band was rehearsing in a meadow and when I saw the drummer, the percussions were a real revelation for me. The next day I went into the woods to cut tree branches to carve drumsticks to play on wooden chairs.
With my brother, we set up bands and then I met the great French jazz musicians, notably the bassist Jean-François Jenny Clark who at that time had played with Keith Jarrett, it was he who pushed me to become a professional musician, I was 18 years old. I quickly played with American musicians passing through Paris such as Mal Waldron or Jacki Byard… I met then my friend violinist Didier Lockwood with whom we made many concerts throughout his life, he unfortunately died in 2018.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
JMT: – Being very young, I liked rock ‘n’ roll and very quickly I liked jazz seeing for the first time on TV Art Blakey. At the beginning I was self-taught and I listened enormously to the drummers, I went then to the conservatory and to the school of Kenny Clarke. My sound evolved with the discovery of the great jazz musicians, first Tony Williams with the Miles Davis quintet that I adored and of course Elvin Jones with John Coltrane. I then played with two bass drums when I heard John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. I was then a fan of his band Shakti, I was already listening to Indian music and I had seen Ravi Shankar in concert. I also played with more pop artists on big stages, which pushed me to play harder on my instrument.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
JMT: – The routine exercises are always the basic fingerings, gradually I discovered that slow work is the secret of speed, I also met the pianist Kenny Werner who develops Effortless mastery. Listening to all the great musicians has allowed me to enrich my rhythmic and harmonic abilities.
JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?
JMT: – I did change my approach to drums and music over time. Especially when I started to practice yoga and Qi Gong every day, as well as meditation.
For the drums, this led me to fluidify my playing as if I let myself be carried by the breath of energy, it’s like the inspiration that goes down in you, you just have to stay open to the musical waves that come in you. It is indeed a global change that I made and I try to refine this new direction which appears to me to be the way I must follow.
JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
JMT: – I prepare the recordings by working alone and in a concentrated way, it is a special time like writing a book or a movie script. For me the spiritual side and the music are based on each other, the music is the expression of his inner being. In order to achieve anything, you have to bring calmness to your inner space, which puts you in the best position for recording and performing. That’s why yoga is now an integral part of my life.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Jean My Truong – Sun Is Back, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
JMT: – My new album was written during the lockdown and as we were separated from each other, I spontaneously thought of playing with musicians who were in different places on our planet.
Thus, I got to know a wonderful guitarist from California, Hristo Vitchev, who became a friend. I also thought of my Indian violinist friend Radhakrishna who played with Ravi Shankar, the English singer Nicki Wells who performed with Anushka Shankar. I also asked my friend bassist Etienne Mbappé who has been playing for several years with John Mac Laughlin, there is also a great flamenco guitarist Juan Carmona. I put together all the music with my trio, my pianist wrote the arrangements for the string quartet and I invited one of the best French trumpet players Sylvain and a new guitar talent Antoine Boyer.
What I like about this album is precisely the diversity while having a unity. Because of my cross-cultural background, I like the richness that everyone can bring. As a child, my dream was the unity of the earth.
For the moment, my musicians and I are still in the atmosphere of this new album that we want to make known. But it is true that in parallel, through the “News Standards” project, I pay homage to Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Michel Petrucciani, Miles Davis with arrangements a little different and new colors․
JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?
JMT: – I chose the musicians, both for the color of the instruments, and for the feeling and the friendship that I have with each of them. It is very important for me to have the generosity of sharing and at the same time to have a convergence for a unity of the music.
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
JMT: – The most important thing is the expression of the soul, of the inner being. In India, musicians play deeply to express the beauty of the soul. The intellect is in the realm of thoughts, it helps to realize things, exercises its capacity of discernment, looks at the whole for the material realization, the inspiration comes from another plane of consciousness.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
JMT: – There is certainly a double relationship, but each artist proposes what is really himself, his particular atmosphere and in my case, I try to communicate universal emotions, those which come from the heart, so there is a true fusion between the public and the musicians.
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
JMT: – One of my earliest memories was playing with the pianist Joachim Kühn, I could feel the high levels of the music. I also remember all the wonderful concerts we had with the violinist Didier Lockwood, we had all the freshness and energy of youth. I also really enjoyed meeting Mike Stern, his eternal passion for music. I also enjoyed playing with my Indian violinist friend Radhakrishna and my friend bassist Dominique Di Piazza.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
JMT: – To interest young people in Jazz, we can update the standards with different colors by making a bridge between the melodies that have been created and the current forms.
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
JMT: – The meaning of life is to express the universal spirit, the spirit is like the breath of the creative source, the Indians call it the Brahman, the supreme reality. An album of John Coltrane was called Love Supreme. It is thus the spirit which give the meaning of the life.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
JMT: – That everyone converges with the values of the heart and that there can be unity in diversity, the face of the world would be changed.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
JMT: – I listen to Avishaï Cohen, the guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Shakti, Rachmaninov… And I try to listen to what no words can express in the silence.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
JMT: – To find the beauty in the Heart and the unity that would lead us to the next stage of the evolution of humanity.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
JMT: – I would like to go to a future where the living beings on Earth would live in harmony, an evolution where we would find a golden Age.
JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…
JMT: – Your questions allow to explore the deeper meaning of life.
My question: What is your greatest dream that you would like to make come true?
JBN: – Make my jazz festivals famous in Eastern European countries.
JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?
JMT: – Yes I have already given a free concert. In life, everything depends on how you do things.
An interview is to share the beauty of life, the simple joy of being together…
Interview by Simon Sargsyan