Jazz interview with jazz guitarist André B. Silva. 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?
André B. Silva: – I was born in Lisbon and lived in its suburbs for a while. That was not a very pleasant place so I basically spent most of my childhood either at school or at home doing whatever. Eventually for some reason my parents really wanted me to play the piano and I took some lessons for a few years. That didn’t work out so well, I was not interested in it the slightest. At some point when I was 14 I remember having a horrible Italian piano teacher and I’d cry every time I’d have to go there. That’s something that stayed with me forever and as I became a teacher I kept that in mind. I don’t ever want anyone to feel that way from learning music. So I quit the piano and then at age 16 all my friends were into playing guitar. That’s when it really started for me.
Later, during the 2008 crash when no one from my generation had any hope of landing a job, I decided that if I had nothing to lose I might as well just follow music and see what’d happen. That’s when my jazz studies started. The next year I was employed as a music teacher and as a resident musician in a contemporary dance show. So I just kept going.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
AS: – My sound is always evolving I’d say. Most of all I’m listening a lot more these days. When you’re first starting out you’re so worried about the theory and the technical stuff that you don’t pay enough attention to the sound you’re producing, which is the most important. I recon this is not the same with every instrument, I think horns and drums studies are way more focused on sound right from the get go. As some of the basics start falling into place you start freeing up some mental space to really get into the sounds happening around you. The way the room is reacting to what you’re playing, all the nuances of the music you’re producing, the way your sound blends with the band.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
AS: – Well there is a lot to be said about rhythm. One fun fact that I’m always using with students: I ask them to do a ranking of the elements that constitute music in order of importance.
There are some variations, but usually rhythm shows up first. I wouldn’t say there is anything wrong with this ranking but the fun thing is that after this I ask the student how much time does he spend practicing rhythm, and I think the highest score I ever got from someone was 10% or something.
For me everything has to be practiced against a pulse. And that’s not just a metronome. You have to learn to be a metronome. Drummers practice everything against the hi hat and well, they are usually great with rhythm, so they’re probably doing something right. I’d say get used to tapping the 2 and 4 with your foot against everything that you’re practicing. That’s what you should do at the bare minimum.
Regarding jazz harmony, the most groundbreaking thing for me has been to realize that we think in terms of very broad and potentially infinite harmonic concepts, but the fact is that traditionally jazz has only used a limited number of solutions and those can be very easy to grasp. For example modal interchange possibilities are placed well into the hundreds if you follow the most common description of it: “A chord that is borrowed from a scale or mode other than the one we’re using” – That’s a pretty vast concept, basically any chord is justified from the get go. Well, traditional jazz harmony only uses something like 11 of those possibilities, that makes things a lot easier, and also as you’re composing music you can decide to explore possibilities that haven’t been so widely used.
JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?
AS: – I’m always trying to change. As a musician and as a person. Both things go hand in hand for me. Change is inevitable and desirable.
There could be talk or advertising about your CD
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
AS: – Hm. This is an interesting question. I think intellect is the same or in the same category as technique. It should be a tool. It is for me. I appreciate various forms of music that aren’t as “intellectual” or “cerebral” as jazz or classical music. And I think the interest of the final product has usually little to do with intellect or with technical ability. It improves the quality for sure. But art is not about technical ability. That’s why the Mona Lisa is considered a masterpiece and hyperrealistic copies of it are quite banal.
For me the most important thing in art is inspiration. Whatever that means. But there is definitely something to be said about it. And maybe we can call it soul. It definitely comes from a place where you’ve had a sort of deep meaningful call inside of yourself to produce something. Where and how that is formed is a mystery. In a sense I think the more you can keep a “pure soul” the closer you can get to that place. That means not being distracted by all the noise around you. And music and the arts world are unfortunately filled with noise. It’s part of the gig.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
AS: – I started writing music because I wanted to expand on the emotions I was feeling when listening to something that touched me. I wanted to be a keeper of that flame, to make others experience strong emotions. But I also think that part of the magic, especially when writing instrumental semi-abstract music, is to let people resonate in their own way with your music.
Whatever that means. I give them some tips, like the cover art, the title of the album and songs and the instrumentation and then they fill in the blanks with their own life experiences. And a lot of people reach the emotions I was feeling when writing the pieces, but sometimes something completely different comes across and I love both of those worlds.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
AS: – There is a lot of new music being created nowadays and that isn’t doing much to get young people interested, I think. I don’t know exactly what’s the solution, but I honestly don’t think it has much to do with how old standard tunes are. They are in fact timeless I’d say, and given that you can play and perform them in so many different ways, they will always have a fresh touch to them.
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
AS: – I tend to have a controversial approach to this subject. I’m not religious, I do believe something might exist but I don’t think it cares much about humans. Or at least no more than it cares about sea lions, or rocks, or solar winds. I don’t think there is a special meaning to human life. It means something for us, of course. But I think it’s a bit arrogant to think that it goes anywhere beyond that. We have this self-centered view of the universe, where everything revolves around.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
AS: – Artists and musicians struggling to live, eat and practice their craft. It is a tragedy and it kills creativity and free flow of ideas.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
AS: – I’ve been listening to the new records by tenor players Mark Turner and Roxy Coss. Both very different and amazing.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
AS: – That you should always try to respect your own inspiration and calling and make music from that place instead of following trends or money or fame or whatever. Those are noise in music making and they hinder inspiration.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
AS: – I’ll always answer this question the same way: September 19th, 1981, Central Park. The legendary Simon and Garfunkel concert. I don’t think I need to explain why.
JBN: – So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…
AS: – I loved the spirit and the meaning of life question. What would you answer to that one specifically, Simon?
JBN: – I will answer like this։ The spirit is important in the sense of devoting oneself to work, art and starting it and keeping it always in rhythm. I believe in God and sometimes go to the Apostolic Church, it is a spiritual topic that is special for everyone. It is more important that a person actually realizes his problems and really changes as a person. Unfortunately, your childhood problems prevent you from realizing what is important in life and what is not.
JBN: – At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?
AS: – Well, I hope this was interesting for you and I hope people find it interesting and inspiring as well. It’s always a pleasure to talk about my own inner world, even though I might go on some tangents once in a while.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan