June 24, 2024

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Interview with Big Harp George Bisharat: 20+ years ago you never know what you can do until you try

Interview with Blues singer and chromatic harmonica player Big Harp George Bisharat. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – Please explain your creative process …

Big Harp George Bisharat: – Generally speaking, I start with a musical idea. It might be a phrase I’ve heard someone use, or an issue that I’ve learned about in the media, that strikes me as intriguing topic for a song. Sometimes from there the lyrics will flow very quickly and naturally, together with a melody.

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Sometimes it’s exactly what I was seeking, and sometimes it’s different – and better! We might work on perfecting the arrangement, but generally all we’re looking for is enough to guide our other musicians to imagine their parts. From there, depending on what the song requires, we share the demo with our horn players, who will draw up a horn chart (and we often finalize the arrangement at this stage, with intro, verses, soli, and ending).

JBN: – What are your main impulses to music?

BHDB: – I love music, and I love expressing myself through music. The real truth is that my main impulse to write is to have fun! It’s magical to see a song idea blossom into a complete song – nothing I’ve done in life gives me as much satisfaction as that. Doing it with the support of musicians I’ve grown to love as family makes it all the richer.

JBN: – Before we jump into anything historical, can you tell us about what we can expect musically this evening?

BHDB: – As I say with all my music, our aim is to have you laugh, dance, and think at the same time. There’s a lot of humor, and not much reverence!

JBN: – Are there sub-genres within the jazz field that you tend to stay away from or focus on?

BHDB: – I would call our music “jazzy blues,” although we also stray outside of both genres at times. Quite honestly, we’re trying to make good music regardless of genre or sub-genre, and if we come up with something we like, we record and perform it. If you’ve listened to my other albums, you probably know that I have an affinity for Brazilian music – samba, BPM, jazz – which comes from my delightful exposures to that country over the last 10-12 years.

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JBN: – When your first desire to become involved in the music was & what do you learn about yourself from music?

BHDB: – I started singing in bands when I was 11, picked up harp when I was around 14, and seriously considered going professional when I was in my early 20s. By that time, however, I was also moving along toward my professional career as a lawyer and anthropologist, and student of the Arab world, and I opted to stay with that. I always kept up my music, but it took a back seat to profession and family for many years, until the last 10 years or so.

As to what I’ve learned about myself, probably the most important lesson is the truth of what my friend Otis told me 20+ years ago you never know what you can do until you try.

JBN: – Did your sound evolve during that time?

BHDB: – Our sound has evolved. I’ve worked on my chops and am more able to realize the musical ideas I have in my head on my instrument.

JBN: – How would you describe and rate the music scene you are currently living?

BHDB: – If you mean locally, we have some really fine and very active blues/jazz musicians in the San Francisco Bay Area.

JBN: – When you improvise, you know where you’re going. It’s a matter of taking certain paths and certain directions?

BHDB: – Yes, I do know where I’m going when I improvise, at least in a general sense. There are lots of different ways to do it, but I often try to both start and end with a flourish. If I’m doing a two-verse solo, I might want to focus the first verse on melody, and the second verse on rhythm. In other words, I try to keep it interesting, avoid cliches, and also realize that this is my opportunity to enhance the song, not show the listeners my harp virtuosity.

JBN: – Do you ever get the feeling that music majors, and particularly people who are going into blues, are being cranked out much like business majors? That they are not really able to express themselves as blues musicians?

BHDB: – I was just in Boston staying near Berklee College of Music, and saw many young students with guitars, horns, and other stringed instruments walking around on the street. I found it both amusing and inspiring. I’ll say this about music majors: I’ve had them in my band and they can be tremendously helpful, but a degree is no guarantee that s/he can play with soul. That is the necessary ingredient of any good music, and if you don’t feel it, you can’t play it. Part of the problem, and this is not only true of music majors but others as well, is when people are, consciously or not, trying to sound like someone else. To sing or play authentically, you must channel your own musical voice. Audiences have an ear for authenticity – they know the difference between real music and the rest.

JBN: – From the musical and feeling point of view is there any difference between a old and great jazzmans and young?

BHDB: – A young musician can play with soul and an old musician can be stiff and mechanical – and vice versa. The same is true with instrumental virtuosity. The one advantage that older musicians have over younger ones is the greater time span in which to find their individual musical voices, a process which can take some time. As channeling your individual musical voice is what leads to real music. In my case, I would have classified myself as a derivative musician, recycling licks and musical concepts borrowed from others, until about 15 years ago, when I was in my 50s, when I started focusing on chromatic harmonica. That’s when I found my own musical voice. Maybe that would have happened earlier had I been doing music full time at an earlier age, but I suspect I’m not the only late bloomer!

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JBN: – What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career?

BHDB: – It’s a tough these days trying to make music a full-time career. For many people, having a day job that brings in a steady income, and keeping music as your passion, may be the better way to go.Beyond that you must do music that you love, at least part of the time. Here in the U.S. tribute bands and wedding bands that do “oldies” are among the most reliable for bringing a steady income. If you love that, wonderful, you’re in luck! If not, you must play music that feeds your own soul on top of whatever you do to pay the rent.

JBN: – Do You like our questions?

BHDB: – I’ve enjoyed your questions – they have made me think!

Interview by Elléa Beauchêne

Note: https://jazzbluesnews.com/2023/03/19/useu-jazz-blues-association-festivals/ 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. https://jazzbluesnews.com/2022/11/19/useujba/

Big Harp George

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