May 27, 2024

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Interview with Jeff Shirley: The soul, or spirit, cannot be destroyed: Video

Interview with guitarist Jeff Shirley. An interview by email in writing. – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music.  How exactly did your adventure take off? 

Jeff Shirley։ – I grew up outside Liberty, MO. I started listening to my parents’ albums, Beatles, Michael Jackson, Police, Stevie Wonder, Prince, and listening to dance music on the radio, at age 7 or 8, and my mom went to this exercise class and I loved listening to the upbeat music, that music from that time period is still some of my favorite. I started taking piano lessons at 7, switched to trumpet for a year in 6th grade, then found guitar at age 12 after my grandpa gave me his old cowboy-acoustic, with strings 2 inches off the fretboard! I think when I started teaching music seriously over 10 years ago, I loved getting paid to have a guitar in my hand 4 hours a day. Then when I started gigging more regularly, 4-8x a month, it felt like I could improve, as well as support myself more nicely.

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

JSH: – Sometimes I’ll listen to an old recording and wonder, “Did I sound better back then? Was it more natural, more pure?” Improvement is elusive, sometimes I see the value in my past music, and I’m never quite satisfied with where I’m at now, strangely enough. So I hope it’s evolving, I know technically there is more skill and fluidity, but that can get in the way if I’m not careful. I keep looking for a more perfect sound, when your sound is good, the music flows out, when your battling your sound, or trying to dial it in but can’t seem to, that’s frustrating, but a learning experience. Every venue is different, and playing live with other musicians and instruments sounds so much different than at home.

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

JSH: – I like playing along with drum beats, working on odd time signatures like 5/4 and 7/4. I like looping things and then complicating them as they become easier. I like just picking a couple chords to solo over in my head and then just “jam.” I like my practicing and composing to feel like I’m “jamming.”

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

JSH: – I have always been inspired by people like Miles Davis, they never stayed the same musically, or his voice was always there, but the music he surrounded himself changed, he wanted to push the music forward, make future music, make the kind of music he was interested in. Also, certain gigging opportunities have influenced my music, right now playing every week with my organ trio (guitar, organ and drums) has certainly influenced my music.

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

JSH: – The senses give the mind raw data. The intelligence is above the mind. The soul is above the intellect. The soul is infinite, not able to ever be destroyed. The intellect is temporary, like the body. Speaking to the soul is what I think we’re trying to do, as musicians. It is said that the intelligence is holding the reins of the horse-driven chariot, and the soul is the passenger. The 5 horses represent the 5 senses, and the reins represent the mind. Anyway, if I’m focusing my intellect on the soul, the value of it, and the eternality of it, and it’s individual nature, as well as it’s connection to God, that is good, but if the intelligence is focused on material desires, that is a distraction.

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

JSH: – Live, I try to allow myself to go deep into the music, sometimes it works better than others. Sometimes I feel like I broke new ground, and the audience gives me no reaction, and sometimes I’m not feeling it, and they go crazy. Hard to predict, the audiences are always different. No matter how they react, I try to keep my mind and intelligence very steady.

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

JSH: – Memes. But seriously, we try to get them interested in classical music and jazz in the schools, or with hip parents or grandparents that like Steely Dan. They should know how many sub-genres there are within jazz, there’s something for everyone, and it should be stressed that it is a living, breathing, cutting-edge art form that focuses on pure expression through sound and vibration, transcending normal day-to-day life. It can take you to places and worlds you’ve never imagined before. They should listen, not just to the ancient stuff, but the new stuff too! The first 5-10 years I was getting into jazz, I was much more interested in the music 25-years-or-less old than the the music 30-70 years old. Over time that music grew on me though. Hearing one of their favorite pop songs done by jazz artist lets them get a good look at what jazz can be. Those standards from the 1930s and around then are so beautiful, if you sing them with them, they also hear their beauty, I use a vocal real book with a lot of my students.

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

JSH: – The soul, or spirit, cannot be destroyed. It is said to be the size of 1/10,000th of the tip of a hair, and resides in the heart. Your next body will depend on your consciousness in this life. Karma is real, reincarnation too. Actions do have results, cause and effect. You are not the body, the body is simply a vehicle, at the time of death, you discard it like an old garment. I don’t feel qualified to play music for God, because He is of course the best musician, but I do like to imagine playing for Him, His pleasure. Just because I didn’t like my solo doesn’t mean He didn’t like it.

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

JSH: – That’s a tough question. I would like to hear music from other worlds, higher planets, that’s what I would change, we would be able to hear music from other worlds.

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

JSH: – Past couple months, people like Tony Williams, Steve Vai, John Carpenter, S.O.S. Band.

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

JSH: – 1985, Los Angeles, California, synth music mixed with jazz and drum machines started really getting good, and seems like it was a more innocent, fun time.

Interview by Simon Sarsyan

Note: You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals in Europe and Boston, naturally receiving an appropriate royalty. We cover all expenses. The objectives of the interview are: How to introduce yourself, your activities, thoughts and intellect, and make new discoveries for our US/EU Jazz & Blues Association, which organizes festivals, concerts and meetings in Boston and various European countries, why not for you too!! You can read more about the association here.

Feel-good Enzymes Flow From Jeff Shirley's “Point of the Story” – Debbie Burke – jazz author

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