Saturday, August 18, 2012

Michael Feinberg The Elvin Jones Project Interview!

You can check out my review with video at: Streets 9/11/12

Bass phenom Michael Feinberg was kind enough to field a few questions about his fantastic new project aptly titled, "The Elvin Jones Project." Feinberg is also our September Artist Of The Month!

    The Elvin Jones Project actually came to be by somewhat of a musical "accident" can you tell us about the origin of the record and what attracted you most to the music of Elvin Jones?

M.F. - "Well, I have always been a big fan of John Coltrane so that's really where this whole thing began. When I discovered that I owned Coltrane's entire collection, I started exploring the other members catalogues of his famous quartet. This started with McCoy Tyner - digging into records like Reaching Fourth with Henry Grimes and Roy Haynes, Trident is a great record with Ron Carter, and Sama Layuca a really hip session with Billy Hart! At the same time I was beginning this search I was given a copy of Elvin's "Earth Jones" with Liebman, Taramaso Hino, Kenny Kirkland, and George Mraz. That record changed my life! It was exactly the sound I loved which I didn't know existed. It even inspired me to go back through Coltrane's records and I started hearing different things in the music. From then on I was hooked."

You have a rock solid band on this release including the great Billy Hart on drums and Tim Hagans on trumpet - how was the band formed and do you plan more recording with this ensemble?

M.F.  - "When I was shopping this record around I started thinking about which musicians could capture the vibe I was going for. Immediately George Garzone came to mind. Garz was a former teacher and band mate and I knew that he was the guy. When I talked to him he asked me who else was on the record and I tossed some names around to him that I was thinking about. He stopped me halfway through and said "what about Billy Hart?" Wow. Pretty good suggestion right? I asked George to help me produce the record and he brought the other guys in. I would love the opportunity to make another record with this band, hopefully someone will help me pay for it!"

 In my opinion with the exception of perhaps Max Roach, Elvin Jones may well have influenced more drummers across more genres than any other drummer I can think of. As a bassist, just how important is it to you and any ensemble you are playing with to have what may be more commonly referred to as a lyrical drummer as opposed to what I also call a human metronome?

M.F. - "There's a great Ron Carter quote about this (I couldn't find the exact quote so I will approximate it - If you can dig it up please use it!!)The only way to describe how great Elvin Jones is, is to listen to drummers before him and listen to drummers after him. I think that sums it up pretty well. He completely changed the way the instrument is played, as much as Louis Armstrong and Jaco did for their instruments. My personal taste is for a drummer to be very melodic on the instrument. I like thinking of each member of the band carrying equal weight - rhythm, harmony, melody, etc. The drums shouldn't be an exception. That being said subtlety can be more impactful than blunt force so it takes a proper hand. Elvin had that balance, Dejohnnette does, Billy Hart Does, Roy Haynes, Tootie Heath. Its rare."

Does your role as a bassist vary based on tune and or ensemble or is it more of a consistent style of performance and who are your influences on bass? 

M.F. -" My role as a bassist doesn't change. Like I was saying before, everyone holds equal responsibility in my band. I can't escape who I am. I know my deficiencies, my strengths, and my tastes. That is a constant. You can think of it like being invited to a party. Throughout the night you socialize with different types of people, different groups, etc. and how you hold yourself and how you speak might change slightly from conversation to conversation. Maybe a little more of your accent shows up when speaking to someone with a drawl or you use certain vocabulary you don't normally use. Whatever it is, you're still yourself, just reflected through the context of the conversation. I think of musical exchanges in the same way.

Keeping in line with the subject of versatility. Are too many people fresh out of Berklee or Manhattan playing more from the head and less from the heart? Players that hang out in odd meter or subscribe to the speed is king mentality in order to become the next flavor of the month?

M.F. - "Tough question. I am the product of music schools, and so are most of my peers so I am a little biased. That being said, I think the response from the jazz Elders and traditionalists is a little off base as it is from the youth. You gotta progress, but you have to master the past. To draw an analogy from the painting world - you gotta learn how to paint a bowl of fruit first. As I grow up more (musically and physically) I have started to notice certain things about how "professionals" play and how "students" play. I use the terms students and professionals loosely here - most students are working professional gigs but you know what I mean. There are many "students" who can play their instrument at virtuosic levels, have unique improvisational voices, and compose amazing music. What separates these groups and artists are the choices made in the music. Professionals make better musical choices. And that can only be gained from experience with rare exception. Learning how to omit. How to edit mid performance. These skills take time to learn. On the other hand, we need to constantly challenge the music and our performance. Throughout history we see musicians pushing boundaries in their time from Gesualdo, to Mozart, to Varese, to Ornette, and beyond. The purpose of being a student is to explore and search for the next great truth in the art. You can't create great things without failing a lot first."

The economy is still on the ropes; do you subscribe to the notion that jazz is in the middle of a "mini-depression" and do you think any portion of the media may have adversely effected the more straight ahead players with their emphasis on either the more overtly commercial or the individuals in the medium that seem to thrive on publicity no matter how bad in an effort to gain at least "some" notoriety?

M.F.- "Lets be clear about one thing that gets overlooked. Jazz musicians have never really made a lot of money. I know, I know, Miles was a millionaire, Herbie's a millionaire, but this is the exception to the rule. Jazz hasn't been marketable to the general public in 60 years so we can throw the notion that there ever was much money in it out the window. Lets look at the bigger picture. Good music is good music. The idea for any business is that if you have a good product it will sell, which is something I have always abided to. Not so. The reality is that if I knew how to be famous and rich as a musician, I would already be doing it. I don't use money as a measurement of my success which is both  a strength and a weakness. All a musician can control is their product. This " product"  is more than just your  playing. Its your demeanor, how you present yourself, how you compensate people, how you talk to bookers and club owners, how you dress, etc. In any "genre" of music there are the purists, the experimental, the mainstream, etc. Almost always, the least offensive music to the most people is what makes the most money (and we can thank clear channel for that).. Sometimes its great - Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Radiohead, Biggie,etc. but usually its very average."

Last record purchased or listened to?

M.F. - " Fiona Apple's new record "The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do." I highly recommend it and I am really excited to see her live in October!"

Special Thanks To Michael Feinberg and Braithwaite & Katz for making this interview happen!