May 23, 2024

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Interview with Martin Lang and Rusty Zinn: Soul in music is something all of us can hear, it’s not reserved for an elite

Interview with harmonica player Martin Lang and guitarist Rusty Zinn. An interview by email in writing.

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 program for 2024, enjoy in the July – August – Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Sofia, new addreses this year, also in Amsterdam, Budapest and Liverpool.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, 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?

Martin Lang and Rusty Zinn։ – My childhood was spent on the East Coast; my whole family is from New York City, but I was born in Connecticut. I think I was born a musician, but my parents noticed it when I was about six, and they sent me to piano lessons. About a year into that, my piano teacher suggested French horn for me. I stayed with that until I switched permanently to harp around sixteen. At sixteen I went away to school, boarding school, and one of my professors, Cannon LaBrie, gave me my first blues record – Muddy’s “Fathers and Sons”. I was listening to the Stones’ “Some Girls” in my dorm room and Cannon poked his head in and said “You like that stuff? I got something for you,” and when he came back, he had this double album under his arm.

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I heard Muddy’s slide on “Long Distance Call” off that record – the sound of the crowd surging as Muddy steps on the footswitch – and I was sold for sure. It was my first experience of amplified harp, too. It was far, far sexier and more dangerous-sounding than anything I’d heard the Stones do. I was hooked.

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

ML&RZ: – I think my relationship with the beat is better now that I’m older. I used to be kind of stiff, or unrelenting, maybe, with the groove. Now it’s looser and more spontaneous. I used to try to solve most of my musical problems with what amounts to brute force. Now, I take my time. I also have no trouble accepting help from the ensemble, which took me some time to figure out.

As far as developing my sound, I listen to a lot of non-blues music to do that. Rusty’s got real Dumbo ears – he hears all kinds of stuff. He got me into organ jazz and early reggae. I have been a jazz fan, mostly horn and guitar players although I LOVE Ella Fitzgerald. Finding great new music to listen to is one of the great joys of life.

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

ML&RZ: – I don’t really have a set practice routine. If I hear something that I really like and want to bite, to put in my bag, then I’ll sit down and learn a melody or a head or something. I don’t play enough live gigs, but I do play enough to keep my chops in shape, barely. Harp chops are finicky. They need regular polishing to keep them glowing in the dark!

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

ML&RZ: – Yes, I’ve definitely changed. I’ve learned and improved, 99% of which was from listening to other players and taking their advice. Blues is a form. A way of playing, a way of living, a way of telling a story. Lots of different kinds of sounds can fit into the blues.

I’d say that most of what drives me to change or evolve is boredom. I get bored very easily. Music excites me, and one of the worst feelings is when you’re stuck up on a stage and you’re just going back through the motions, not playing with any real feeling. So I try to figure out different ways to play, different things to play, to keep myself involved and interested in the music.

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

ML&RZ: – In music, intellect is a useful tool in figuring out different techniques of playing, different approaches to problems. It can help with putting together melodies and also suggest changes in chords, substitutions, these kinds of things. And of course some guys have steel-trap heads for discographies and session details. Intellectual ability is Avery valuable thing for a musician.

But without “soul” – a tough term to define – what good is any of it? Without cool phrasing, a slinky groove, delicate timing, and powerful tone, we’re somewhat hard pressed to say that the music’s got soul. Soul in music is something all of us can hear, it’s not reserved for an elite. It’s the core of the whole thing.

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

ML&RZ: – For sure, definitely, without a doubt. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I love watching people hear something, especially if it’s something I sang. Hearing people actually respond from the crowd, like they used to in the clubs years ago – that’s a miraculous rarity these days.

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

ML&RZ: – Are they only half a century old? I thought it was longer than that! I don’t really know the answer to this question. There was a time when this kind of music spoke to the people whose story it was created to tell, an older generation of black Americans. Music was really important to those people, and I always thought they were the coolest. Some were from Chicago, most came up from the South. These people are nearly all lost to history, and were the true people that kept the “real blues” alive – the music told those people their story. It was told to them musically by a blues musician, who was one of them.

Those days are past, as I say, and we cannot turn back the hands of the clock. But the music will, I am confident, continue to speak to the souls of musicians for a long time. And to underestimate the commitment some guys will make in order to learn it is folly. I believe that the music will live on in the hearts of the musicians and fans of the future.

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

ML&RZ: – Well, I like to think we all pursue a kind of big joy, a great hit, a feeling of completeness, and for me, music is a big part of that. There’s amazing power in music. It has great power to bring people together. This is frequently something that is lost in the contentious music business. Music and spirit are connected for me in playing, singing, making music. It’s a full measure of a challenge, requires your body, your mind, and your soul to get the tune together.

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

ML&RZ: – Bad intonation. I’d eliminate bad intonation. Everybody would hit the note in tune, every time, like Howlin’ Wolf. We’d be more than halfway to a perfect world.

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

ML&RZ: – Lots of different things. I’ve been fooling around on the piano more, so I’ve been listening to piano players, lately mostly Roosevelt Sykes. I also really dig Eddie Harris, who my label boss turned me on to. Tab Smith, the horn player, I listen to him pretty often lately. Bob Koester, Jr., the son of Delmark’s founder, turned me on to Tab Smith.

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

ML&RZ: – This is always a nearly impossible question to answer. Today, I’ll say the Hollywood Rendezvous Lounge on Indiana Ave in Chicago in 1954. I’d go to see Little Walter there, at his home gig, with the Aces behind him.

JBN: – These old thugs don’t really represent anything from themselves, but they like to insult the media for interviewing them from their empty positions, they spouted their empty thoughts under our questions, without understanding what the interview is about. Really, very much looking forward to meeting you face to face.

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