April 20, 2024


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Interview with Marlon Simon։ I am more inclined to the heart and soul։ Video, new CD cover

Interview with Jazz drummer and composer Marlon Simon. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music.

Marlon Simon: – I grew up in the small town of Punta Cardon, Falcon state in Venezuela surrounded by Afro Caribbean rhythms and dance music. My first exposure to music was through my father, Hadsy Simon, he used to play guitar and sing Latin American ballads. There was always music going on in the house so I basically grew up listening to different genders from a young age.

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JBN: – How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

MS: – I noticed that I was attracted to the drums at a young age, around fourteen many years old, I was always banging on things, until my father got me my first set of timbales and stated playing with local bands from my home town later on formed my own group with my brothers and we played danceable music at different clubs and gatherings.

When I was about eighteen many years old a friend of mine brought a vhs tape to my house and asked me to view it. It was a celebration of Nancy Reagan”s birthday with jazz performances by Chick Korea, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Haynes and Miroslav Vitous. The music called my attention mainly because I did not understand what was going on. That tape stayed on my mind for many years until I came to the USA with a desire to study jazz music. After I obtained my bachelor degree in jazz and contemporary music, I had to take numerous day jobs to keep a roof on my head. I remember coming home after a ten hours day job loading and unloading trucks, or construction work, I will go to my basement and work on my drums for many hours.

Those many years of sacrificing everything to do this. I worked as a side man for many years in NYC until pianist Hilton Ruiz asked me to join his band. This was a break to start traveling in the USA and Europe but even at that point I could not make a living through music, I still had to take day jobs to survive.

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

MS: –  It took many years to develop my own sound. I initially was very much influenced by the Latin and Jazz drummers and musicians active in the city of New York and Philadelphia. It takes a long time to be able to develop your own sound not only as a drummer but also as a composer. I believe this is a live process that involves not only other musicians but also life experiences … These life experiences are in my opinion the main element that shapes the sound and musical messages of my compositions.

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

MS: – Yes, the process of changing and evolving as a composer happens slowly. In my case I did not study music composition , however, I am able to write my compositions slowly on the piano. Through the years you can start developing and maturing about musical concepts such as harmony and rhythm, in my case I use my ear and emotions as the main tool to evolve , not the music theory. I believe life experiences are the main source of inspiration to write music, and these life experiences include events that involve suffering to certain degree ․․․ this suffering can really ignite a creative state of mind on the artist giving you this way a extraordinary opportunity to grow as a musician and composer.

JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

MS: – I do not follow a specific routine, but I try to be centered and spiritually connected with myself, in my case, this is only accomplished when I retire or distance myself from the daily routine and society in general, in other words, I have to be alone and in complete silence before recording or performing. In regard to stamina, once you develop a relaxed technique on your instrument your stamina becomes second nature.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2024: Marlon Simon and the Nagual Spirits, On Different Paths, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

MS: – On different paths is the result of a proposal I made to the Guggenheim Foundation where I explained how I wanted to create music that will involve elements and instrumentation from classical music, jazz progression , improvisation, Afro Caribbean and Latin American rhythms. This was a challenge for me since I did not explore this concept in the past, however, I believe that when the composer goes to unknown territory … only then your true self comes out, it becomes a special and beautiful process to experience and that is what I like the most about this album, it exposes my true self without filters.

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

MS: – The members of the nagual spirits have been with me since 1994 when I formed the band. These are musicians that are knowledgeable of both jazz and Latin music vocabulary since they grew up in NYC where you get the most authentic information on these genders. Then the classical musicians have to be more open minded to come on board of a project like this. These were important points to consider before calling the musicians for this recording.

JBN: – What sort of feedback did you receive after it was released from musicians or your friends and family?

MS: – I have received numerous positive comments from musicians from around the globe, and so far the album obtained excellent reviews in the USA and Europe, including Jazziz and modern drummer magazines among many other reviews.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

MS: – Well, over my forty years of music career, there have been lots of great musical moments, performing with Hilton Ruiz, Charles Fambrough, Bobby Watson and Jerry González and the fort Apache band on a few occasions really gave a point of departure to develop my own musical voice and concepts. The memories of these gigs always remind me of where I am coming from and where I am going now in the evolving musical process.

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

MS: –  Very interesting question. I think this is a very individual criteria when it comes to composing creative music. There are composers who can write some great intellectual stuff but they lack emotions and feelings, this is only my opinion and what I perceive, again others will perceive differently, however, I am more inclined to the heart and soul when it comes to writing music, it is just my nature as a writer.

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

MS: – Yes, I believe that’s the main goal when you perform live, to take the audience with you on a trip so that they will identify themselves with the different emotions a composition can awaken in you as a human being. That’s the magic of music, ․.. that’s nagual ․․. That part of you that can”t be explained … and it doesn’t need to be explained but experience it.

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

MS: – I do not believe you can make somebody interested in anything, first you have to expose them to the art or music that’s our main responsibility towards younger musicians nowadays, but interest and curiosity has to come from within, you can not really force it … that connection will become active only if it is initially inside you.

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

MS: – From the spiritual point of view, life has no meaning …. life is not good or bad … It just is ….. you choose the meaning you want to give to any event in your life, but the event itself has no meaning. … Once you become aware of that, you become detached from many things in life, you become detached from the main element that causes friction and abrasion among all human beings as species: your EGO. Once you detach from your ego, you will see the real meaning of life which is to experience ourselves as god consciousness.

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

MS: – I would take out the concept of music competition …. and substitute it by music cooperation, only this way we will be able to keep creating music as an art form.

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

MS: – To be honest I do not listen to much music nowadays, as a composer most of the time you have to isolate yourself from external sounds so you can only hear the sound from within.

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

MS: – I believe the universe is always evolving towards perfection, so I would like to go to the moment where we as human beings have evolved to realize that we can change our belief systems in order to live in peace and harmony with each other in the entire universe…. The moment we realize we are all ONE.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

MS: – A message of peace, a message of joy, wholeness and integration …

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

MS: – Yes, these are questions that should be asked among ourselves more frequently to remind us of who we really are … … Yes, … do you believe music has the power to change people ? And if so, how?

JBN: – Yes, of course, I believe, otherwise it would be difficult to live. How. Creating and performing many intellectual and soulful works ․․․

JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

MS: – Yes, on many occasions that I considered it was for a good cause I was there to perform without compensation … I hope that those who will read this interview will be motivated to think more about how we create our own world … and realize that we can change it for the good of our children and entire civilizations.


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Photos by Marcela Joya; Interview by Elléa Beauchêne

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