May 27, 2024

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Interview with Simeon Davis: I would change the way America perceives art: Video

Interview with saxophonist Simeon Davis. 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? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Simeon Davis: – While I was born in the United States, I was raised in Cape Town, South Africa. As long as I can remember, I was surrounded by music, both due to the culture of the city, and the fact that my siblings all played musical instruments. For me, my musical journey began with the violin, which I begged my parents at a young age to let me play after hearing a folk musician. Shortly thereafter, a similar situation occurred after hearing a jazz musician and I picked up the saxophone too.

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Fast forward to where I am now, and I can in retrospect see key moments that set me on this path: growing up in such a vibrant city, certain teachers from my youth through my adult life, and discovering certain artists – both recorded and live. Cannonball Adderley transformed everything I thought about the saxophone at age 14, Maria Schneider opened my eyes to what can be done within the scope of this thing called “jazz”, Joshua Redman showed me the power of rhythm and counterpoint at 18, and Wayne Shorter told me the wonders of emotive playing at age 20.

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

SD: – As a saxophonist, my sound developed loosely based on the progression outlined above. When I discover something I like (usually one specific album), I sit with it for months and months on end. I feel like I hyperfixate and don’t have the capacity to move onto something else until I have figured out every last thing about what makes me love it. This began with Cannonball Adderley when I was a teenager. In particular, I obsessed over the albums Live in San Francisco, Live at the Lighthouse, and Them Dirty Blues. What started with listening as a young teenager quickly turned to obsessive transcribing as an older teenager. The story is the same when I discovered Joshua Redman. I locked onto Freedom in the Groove, Live at the Village Vanguard, and MoodSwing in particular and transcribed almost every track on them during my first couple years in my Bachelor’s degree. The biggest mindset shift in sound was discovering Wayne Shorter. For so long, I lived in this illusion that I wasn’t too big on his music, and then in 2018 when I visited my hometown again, I heard the performance of a local legend, Buddy Wells, who sounds for all the world like the brainchild of Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter. I loved Wells’s playing, but told myself I didn’t like Shorter’s, which was a logical impossibility. Chatting to Wells after a few of his gigs, he advised me to listen to Juju. The rest is history. By the time I reached “Deluge” on that album I was hooked. The way Shorter soared! His pursuit of melodic and thematic continuity above mere lines and the way his storytelling would at times with reckless abandon forsake conventional norms to latch onto emotion was mind blowing! It was then I was absolutely obsessed. I transcribed every track on that album, including alternate takes, and I did the same for Night Dreamer. For the next 18 months, the only player I learned from and listened to was Wayne Shorter, and I think I’ve forever been changed by that.

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

SD: – Transcription, as evident from above, has been paramount in my development. The great records are your greatest teachers, and contemporary records are often equally inspiring in a forward-moving direction.

The clave, a staple of Latin American music, quickly replaced the metronome in my practice sessions when I was 19 or 20. It was initially difficult but soon opened me up to a whole new level of rhythmic proficiency and understanding. This, coupled with the sage wisdom and mentorship of the pedagogue, drummer, and percussionist Jose M. Aponte transformed the way I understood, played, and interacted with rhythm.

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

SD: – Definitely! I outlined the evolution previously, but the main reason as to why is twofold: one, it’s a direct reflection of what I listen to, and two, I learned who I am musically and what I like and want to do musically. I’ve learned that I get bored with simply repeating tradition pretty easily. Tradition has been done and will continue to be done forever, and if it’s not top-notch excellence, I often grow weary of it. I didn’t want my own music to be something I grew tired of, so I knew I couldn’t simply sit within the tradition. As a result, each piece I write is its own through-composed, self-contained story.

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

SD: – I think the soul inspires and impassions us to create, while the intellect helps us navigate the places where inspiration alone can’t reach.

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

SD: – There certainly is! The audience’s energy is oftentimes the catalyst that brings out the riskiest, most brilliant, and most exciting musical choices on the fly. I think only trying to give the audience the emotion they long for is selling yourself and the audience short. Give them emotion that’s genuine, crafted, and deeply felt from yourself and that will permeate through them. Just giving people what they want will almost always fall short compared to giving them something beautiful and true.

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

SD: – I may be the worst person to ask about that. For me, it’s by no means the standards themselves that are appealing. The creative freedom, the knowledge of creating something together and collectively, the interpersonal dialogue that occurs in an improvisatory setting, and masterminding it all to create a world in which that improvisation occurs is the joy. If we teach more than just the tunes and teach the brilliance behind it (while also still teaching the tunes along the way) I think we have a better chance of continuing the legacy of this music. Simultaneously, if we teach that jazz is still growing and transforming as opposed to defining it as confined to specific eras of the past, we have a greater chance.

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

SD: – I believe all humans are made in the image of God. As a result, our desire to create and make beautiful things is a reflection of that infinite creativity of the Creator that placed us here, and our desire to create is in itself, created, and is a gift.

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

SD: – I would change the way America perceives art. I think so much of the career struggle of the musician is rooted in America’s perception of art as not being work, not being essential, and as a result, being less valuable. While I do not by any means believe musicians’ work is “more intellectual” or musicians are “above” doing ordinary work – I myself worked 70 hours/week in a wide variety of jobs, including manual labor up until recently – I do believe that a musician’s work is valid and should be made viable.

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

SD: – I love those who take a tradition and push it forward to create something new, regardless of what that tradition is. For me, that tradition is often folk music. I’m almost always listening to arranger, vocalist, guitarist/banjoist/fiddler Sam Amidon. I love the storytelling in the lyrics of folk musician Anais Mitchell’s music.

On the jazz side of things, I can always be found listening to Wayne Shorter, Joshua Redman, Snarky Puppy, Hiatus Kaiyote, Tigran Hamasyan, Maria Schneider, and the brilliant compositions and performances of the Polish violinist Adam Baldych. In the classical vein, I’ve recently begun digging deeply into the works of Joseph Haydn, and I’ve always enjoyed the ethnographic works of Bela Bartok.

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

SD: – From a musical perspective, I’d love to have seen the 1960s music scene – the development and flourishing of post-bop, the boom of American folk music, the growth in popularity of Soul music, the early phases of Rock. There was a lot of really exciting music happening then. At the same time, I’d love to have witnessed and seen the Romantic and Impressionist eras of Classical music. From a perspective of visual wonder, I’d love to see the Middle Eastern kingdoms during the time of Solomon’s reign.

Interview by Simon Sarg

Note: You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals, 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.

Simeon Davis • Care2Rock

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