March 4, 2024

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Interview with Clark Gibson: The music is more than an academic exercise

Interview with Jazz alto saxophonist Clark Gibson. An interview by email in writing. This is one of our rejected interviews, which we publish with a lot of cuts, just for fun, so that, as you know, every next day there will be something in the series of publications for 11 years. 

Dear readers, get to know more about our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festivals and the activities of our US/EU Jazz – Blues Association in the capitals of Europe, we will soon publish this program for 2024, enjoy the summer.

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?

Clark Gibson: – I moved around a lot of places during my childhood but I consider Denver, CO to be where my musical childhood began. I knew what I wanted to do at an early age. I think the first time I heard Charlie Parker around the age 13 was what inspired me to play music as a career.

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

My sound has developed from studying the greats, all the household names in jazz, Bird, Miles, Trane, Wayne and many more but I would also say that life experiences and people directly involved in my life have had an impact on my sound as well.

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

CG: – This varies greatly. Of course there are a lot of exercises I practice to keep my fundamentals together. Often times I practice harmonic ideas from a process I learned from the book by Gary Campbell, “Expansions”. I have been practicing a little bit of drums lately to work on my time. I also practice quite a bit of piano.

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

CG: – I think I understand, hear and feel music differently than when I was young, especially in terms of the pulse or groove. Perhaps over the last year that’s come from playing with Lewis Nash. Even when listening to music, I feel the pulse in a different way. It seems to have more depth.

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

CG: – That can be a tough balance. There are plenty of examples of music that seems to be more intellectual than soulful and vice versa. There are a lot of opinions on this since much of the jazz music we here now has originated from the academy instead of from the hangs of late night sessions, gigs and musical communities.

In my opinion, you study as much as possible. Bird, Diz, Miles, Thelonius Monk and Coltrane all did their “intellectual” homework. However, the music is more than an academic exercise. When you play, you have to leave all those patterns and intellectual things at home. They need to be worked into your playing subconsciously through hard work and mastering those intellectual ideas so that they become a part of you and a part of your musical voice.

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

CG: – Of course. They don’t want to hear the latest melodic minor scale exercise I’ve been working on. I don’t want to hear that either. If you’re not willing to put yourself out there emotionally, you probably shouldn’t be on the stage.

Having said that, I’m not interested in catering to what their emotional needs might be. For example, I don’t want to play a bunch of high, fast stuff as a gimmick to emote some kind of response although that often times happens. I approach every gig with trying to present my true self but often fail.

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

CG: – Well, do people not still study the music of Bach? That music is over 250 years old. I think jazz music is equally valid and worthy of the same level of study.

Of course, jazz music continues to evolve as well. When we look at the musicians at the top of the jazz food chain, you can hear that they paid their dues. You can hear the music of from a half a century ago embedded as part of their own musical sound.

I think the larger challenge of getting young people interested in music is making sure that it is accessible to all young people regardless of financial status. I spend a lot of time visiting schools and I can tell you there is a large disparity in regards to access of this music between wealthy neighborhoods and less fortunate ones.

Speaking specifically of the African-American community I’ve heard statements such as ‘young African-Americans aren’t interested in this music anymore’. From where I’m sitting, I get a bird’s eye view of public and private education in my community and I can attest that the schools that have a diverse student body have significantly less access to music in their school systems.

I fear that this music has become a practice for the elite, financially speaking. In my 30 years experience, I have seen the price of musical instruments rise 300%. Jazz moved into higher ed and higher ed tuition has skyrocketed due to our “social” services such as schools, health care, prisons being operated and managed from a capitalist point of view. It is not that jazz is not inclusive as an art form but jazz found a home in the exclusive club of academia and in the homes of the privileged. I hope that’s not perceived the wrong way. If you’re from a privileged community there is nothing wrong with your pursuit of this music. It is just sad to see it only be easily accessible to privileged people.

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

CG: – Ha. That’s a tough one. Being a non-religious person, I don’t know and am not going to pretend to know the meaning of life. I know for me, music is how I communicate with the world around me. It seems to be that we all only get a certain number of revolutions around the sun and I want to learn as much music as possible during that voyage.

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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?

CG: – Equal music access in public schools to all people interested.

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

CG: – A lot of different things. In the last few days, I’ve listened to George Coleman, Miles Davis, Erica Alexander, Vincent Herring.

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

CG: – September 26, 1952, Rockland Palace in Brooklyn listening to Charlie Parker.

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Interview by Emmanuel Bolton

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