May 27, 2024

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Interview with Aaron Parks: Gigs are protected by NDAs. Actually, that’s a lie: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Aaron Parks. 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? 

Aaron Parks: – I grew up on Whidbey Island in Washington State, about an hour north of Seattle. My family had an upright piano in the house, and I first started playing it without any instruction, just exploring it to see what sounds it could make. After a little while of me doing this (with sometimes quite discordant results), my parents suggested that I get started with lessons. I was pretty self-motivated in those early days, and from that first teacher, I’ve been very fortunate to have instructors asked me what I was interested in learning about and then moved in that direction. They helped provide me with information and guidance without imposing a standard curriculum on me. I gradually learned more and more and when I was 15 or so I met Joanne Brackeen and George Cables at a summer jazz camp in Port Townsend, and they were the first to helped me to consider coming to New York.

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

AP: – Interesting question. Regarding my sound on the instrument, I think I’ve been slowly getting closer to what I imagine and desire in a piano sound as I get older and more experienced. As for the content: for many years, my focus was on lyricism in a linear sense, trying to get an authentic flow with my single-note lines like a horn player or singer. More recently I’ve been becoming more interested in density and incorporating more textures, using more of the harmonic tools available with the piano.

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

AP: – There’s a number of things that I get into in detail in some of my online masterclasses, but to oversimplify: I always try to get the rhythms feeling alive and embodied by connecting them to the body, tapping things out with my hands and feet like a drummer, waking up the dance. Harmonically, I learn a lot by transposing songs into different keys and getting to know them from a new perspective. These days I’ve also been delving more deeply into the harmonic ideas espoused by Barry Harris, and finding a lot of rewarding results.

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

AP: – I’d like to think I’ve become a little more patient, less attached to any particular performance and how it comes across (to either myself or an audience). Trusting the process, just aiming to keep the channel open for music to show up, and not be as needful of immediate results.

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

AP: – Not sure that I always successfully maintain my spiritual and musical stamina, but I certainly aim to! Recently I’ve been finding it useful to eliminate coffee, and replace that jittery version of caffeine with the more sustained and gentle caffeine from matcha. Sometimes I will do a mindfulness/sensing practice before playing, and that often seems helpful.

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

AP: – Both are valuable, but the particular balance is up to the individual musician and what they’re after. Personally, I aim to have the intellect in service to the intuition.

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

AP: – I tend towards a both/and approach. I’m happy to give the satisfaction of delivering what might be expected sometimes, and I’m also a fan of thwarting expectations at other times. The balance between the familiar and the unexpected, between the downbeat and the upbeat, is something I enjoy playing with.

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

No, I’m afraid all of my recollections from my sessions and gigs are protected by NDAs. Actually, that’s a lie. But I have a notoriously terrible memory, and nothing immediately interesting to share comes to mind right now.

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

AP: – I love it all, and I think a lot of young people do as well. Improvised music that brings in elements of other more “popular” styles is welcome and can serve as a gateway for some, but to me it only feels effective if it’s created in a spirit of authenticity rather than one of pandering. Ultimately I think it’s up to us to create the music which feels most resonant within ourselves, and then the audience can find their way to it

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

That’s a bigger question than I’m prepared to answer right now. One thing that I might say, thought: it often seems to me that this might be a learning planet.

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

AP: – Would love longer runs in one town/venue, to get the feeling of a place and interact more with the local community, rather than just be in and out in a day, as so often is the case. Governmental support for the arts in the US, so that touring in the states isn’t quite as brutal as it sometimes feels.

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

AP: – Always changing. Recently: Max Roach, Big Thief, David Virelles, The Duncan Trussell Family Hour (podcast).

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

AP: – Hello 🙂

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

AP: – I’d love to go sometime maybe 200-300 years in the future, see how things are shaking out.

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

AP: – Yeah, nice questions. I guess a question for you would be: what’s the last movie, the last book, and the last album that you encountered that left you with a greater feeling of possibility than before you’d come across it?

JBN: – Thank you for your answers! The interesting questions: Film: Last letter from your lover (2021). New CD 2022: Art Tatum – Wizard On The Keys (2022)․ Fiction book: Milan Kundera: The unbearable lightness of being!

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

AP: – Yes I’ve given a number of free concerts, absolutely. No expectations, just happy to answer a few questions as best I can.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Aaron Parks : NPR

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