May 22, 2024

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Interview with Ana Nelson: What is music if we’re not saying anything?

Interview with jazz saxophonist Ana Nelson. 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?

Ana Nelson: – Music has always been a large part of my life! I grew up in the small town of Ripon, Wisconsin before coming to my current base in Bloomington, Indiana.

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I actually started with violin as my first instrument at age three, then added on piano before coming to the clarinet and saxophone in my middle school years. My father, an avid jazz tenor saxophonist and educator, played a big part in my early career exposing me to jazz music and teaching me on clarinet and sax.

I had a large variety of influences and opportunities in my early years that included performing in youth symphony orchestras, chamber groups, jazz combos, and attending summer festivals. I always knew that music would be an important part of my life (I never could imagine myself doing anything else), and I think having a unique background has contributed to my success as a composer, performer, educator, and entrepreneur.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound? What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

AN: – An important part of my musical development has been immersing myself in a wide variety of genres and playing with many different great artists. The process of evolving is always continual and never done, as there’s always more to learn and more beautiful music to listen to. I started out my musical journey as a classical musician, but then became more serious about jazz music before going to college (Oberlin for undergrad), where I was very fortunate to study with the great Gary Bartz on saxophone.

Later on in my career, I was exposed to more Afro-Cuban music, both through Wayne Wallace and Michael Spiro at Indiana University. I try not to box myself in as far as what “genre” I play, as I draw creativity and inspiration from everything I do.

In terms of practice, I do my best to balance practicing clarinet and alto sax, along with all my woodwind doubles! I make sure to have some good fundamentals in place as far as tone and technique go, and take stock of my musical strengths and weaknesses.

For me personally, that was getting more complex rhythms together, strengthening my music theory chops, and making jazz piano a more important part of my routine. One of my strengths is my ear and ability to hear harmony, so working on all these things just helped to strengthen my overall musicianship.

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

AN: – Music without soul is simply not music. Music has carried me emotionally and spiritually through the years, and is the truest expression of self. It’s important to be able to understand what we’re doing in an intellectual sense, but that can’t exist without something to express.

I would reframe “intellect” as “knowledge.” In performing jazz music, it’s important for me as an artist to continually study its deep cultural history, and pay my respects to the elders and greats who have made it possible for me to perform this music.

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

AN: – Good music doesn’t have an expiration date. However, I’ve noticed current trends can lean towards trying to be “hip” rather than express something.

What is music if we’re not saying anything? There is also a disconnect between music and the community, and diversity within the current music scene, especially as it relates to minorities and women.

I don’t have the answer to this question, but I think it’s important to keep studying the history and culture of this music, keep creating, and find ways we can connect music to our community.

And I think the future is bright! I have a lot of wonderful young students who are passionate about this music, and I’m especially happy to see the focus on representing more women in jazz (though there is a lot more work to be done).

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

AN: – I’m checking out a little bit of everything! Some of my big jazz influences are Michael Brecker, Cannonball Adderley, and Paquito D’Rivera.

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.

Ana Nelson Musician - All About Jazz

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