My point of view
I like this Interview. It was in California. I don't remember his name. I have it somewhere.
Q What pianists do you like to listen to?
A I like pianists who are musicians first. One of my favorites is Charles Mingus. His album Mingus Plays Piano on Impulse! is one of my favorite piano albums, period. And when I lived in Oakland, CA, I'd go down and hear Buddy Montgomery play piano. He was a vibist, but I loved his piano playing too. He played music. He didn't just play piano.
I'd rather hear Sonny Rollins or Miles or Trane or Monk. Monk was a great pianist and a great musician. A composer too. All these musicians had substantive ideas about what constitutes music. The "greatest pianists" today somehow leave me totally bored. The faster they go, the more numb I become. If it's a live concert, I watch the people. They get bored too. They fidget. Bill Evans never did that to audiences. He had great technique but he followed his internal song. He was never in competition with the other musicians or the audience or himself. And he didn't care about critics.
You can't care about whether you're being profound or not. That's hype. You have to be yourself all the time. You don't put on airs and affectations and try to be heavy. You're just there, and you're there because you love it, and you react. Your reaction is the music. And it's real if you're real. You can wear your bunny slippers and your bathrobe and be yourself, and the truly hip people will be fine with that. The others can deal with it or not. Mostly not, because hype rules this age. Shrink-wrap and phrygian scales and Berklee grads and analytical thinkers. Mathematicians. Math is NOT Music. Math is Math. Math may be an Art to some. Music should be an Art, period.
And, like most activities of this age, Music, particularly jazz, has become hyper-competitive, and therefor fear-driven. So it's an Alpha-male pursuit, with pro-sports rules, and the attendant locker-room mentality on and off the playing field. All they need is a ball.
Q Was Bill Evans a nice guy?
A He was beautiful. I opened for him at the Great American Music Hall (in San Francisco) and I played for him at the Keystone. He was dying those last two weeks. He was swollen and his hands hurt as they were so puffy from the anemia. When you get to that stage, it's a systemic thing; all your organs start to shut down slowly. It's no longer a liver or a lung or a heart or a kidney problem... everything stops working, or at least it stops working right.
He didn't want to be recorded. The club owner recorded him anyway. I don't think that was what he wanted. Marc Johnson certainly did NOT want that recording to happen.
He was always decent and open and warm with me. I held his hand many times and we hugged many times. This is the man that had paid me the highest compliment of my whole career (by saying, upon first hearing me at the Great American, 'where the f%$# did YOU come from?')
But he was so sick, and it broke my heart because I knew, he knew, we all knew it was his time to go. He didn't feel that he could play very well those last weeks. He told me that in the hallway behind the stage at the Keystone.
Q How do you prepare for a concert?
A I don't. I try not to think about it. I don't make any lists anymore. I don't practice the day of the concert. (I don't want to 'let all the notes out')... I try to look nice but I don't trip if my hair is flat or I'm tired. Sometimes I play great when I'm tired.
I try to be just like I am at home in my studio. I just sit down and play and whatever comes, comes from a real place. I have no self-consciousness anymore. When I was at the Mello Center and I had to set up the whole piano, the whole stage by myself, in front of the audience, which you said was an insult and an embarrassment, I didn't feel embarrassed one little bit. I just did it, and I took my time. When I took the music stand off the piano and said quietly 'they're gonna love me for this' and the audience laughed, I think most people knew I was not one bit ruffled. And I pushed that heavy stool with my foot and it made that terrible scraping noise on the stage floor and I said 'I refuse to hurt my back by lifting this thing', well, lots of folks have bad backs and can really relate to that!
And then, the bench height was wrong and I got on the microphone (which didn't work, of course) and said 'get me a lower bench' and a guy brought it up on stage and then I lowered it even more... it was all just funny to me. It was like moving furniture in my house. The audience got that. Yes, it's insulting that jazz music isn't taken as seriously as classical music. Earlier that day a classical pianist was there. I wonder if he had to set his stage up and open the piano lid himself.
But that night was mine, and I had a really nice, beautiful crowd. I made good money, too. Mainly, though, I made people so happy, and I gave them (and myself) a night to remember. No bad vibes. So if the presenters were fixing to mess me up by not even introducing me, and then shutting the piano up and turning the sound system off, they didn't succeed. I asked the man that had gone through ten years of fighting to buy this great piano for the school up to play, and he played a lovely Spanish piece, very still and quiet and graceful. That was wonderful.
The guy that worked the stage, Pat, was such a nice cat, too. And he helped so much when he started to really dig what was happening. And West was this young cat that was so nice with the money, taking care of all of that for me. And we all liked each other. That's the power of Truth and love and being at peace. that's what Tinzen teaches me, and that's why I always seem to come away smiling. So how do you prepare for a concert? How do you prepare for THAT? You react, and you do it with grace.
Everything must have GRACE. The music, your life, your soul, your intent, your interactions, your being. Thusly prepared, you are no longer operating by anyone's rules or agendas. You are FREE.
But you can never prepare.
Same with pianos. Not too long ago, if a pedal got stuck or a key stuck or a string broke, I'd make a fuss. What does that get you? You're a prima donna. You are immediately a victim. Now, when a piano string breaks or a key sticks, I hide it. And if I can't hide it, I make it part of the music. If the broken key sounds like a drum, I use it as a drum. If things get REALLY bad, there is always humor. Pianos are machines; machines break down. So do people. You can only be brave, and try to hide it, or laugh at it. It's ENTROPY. It's the way the universe works.
As far as preparing to play when on stage, I sit there for maybe 20 seconds. NEVER start to play immediately, ever. Also, attention all who play an instrument (any instrument): when you play a ballad, and it ends, do NOT remove your hands from the keyboard or the fret board or whatever until the tone fades away completely. Moving your hands away tells the audience you are done; they will applaud and cover up all those beautiful ringing overtones that make endings so glorious. Pianists: try lifting that pedal ever so slightly, gradually, and sometimes a note will sing out unexpectedly. A beautiful and unpredictable thing! Never remove hands until sound stops. Law.
So, I sometimes start out with a musical meditation (lately Wise One or Crescent by Trane) and then I might play a stride piece to 'meet and make peace with the piano'. And then I play the music that is already in the air waiting to be born. I can't ever tell you what it will be. It's always different. More and more (to me) I sound like a guitarist from Argentina or Venezuela. But next week I could play and sound like a saxophonist from Teaneck, New Jersey. But I think there's a lot of Spanish influence in the world right now, and the flatted seconds and sixths also remind me of Middle Eastern music, from India, Iran, Pakistan, Israel. Drones, and meditation music, with eighth note beats (less swing all the time) and I like this. I dig this now because I use the piano differently.
I use the middle pedal to set up bottoms over which I play with both hands free (as I would with a bass player); and I use that even in tunes with lots of changes. Ballads, too. And I've taken that 'sheets of sound' thing of Trane's and adopted it for two hands and a wide spread chord in the low end (I have an eleventh in the left hand, a tenth in the right). This all leads to a new way of playing. It can be really really fast, but it's motionless and still too... like a solo guitarist strumming and plucking, but having one or two underlying notes that sustain.
Hypnosis and music are combining. They reach a part of the brain and the soul that just playing changes can't access. All great music is hypnotic, and startling, and tragic, and deeply moving. It should change your life upon hearing it. A good concert should make you weep at least once.
So that's the thing: good music should change your life upon hearing it.
Q Change it how?
A Change it in a way it needs changing. Fixing it. And if it can't be fixed, then breaking it so that it can be restructured.
I watched a video of Miles with one of his late bands, all new players, young and fierce and trained well by the Prince of Darkness, Nosferatu himself, Miles Dewey Davis. And the band was good, coached and prepared like Black Ops Special Forces by the Sorcerer. So he's playing, it's almost the end of his time here on earth, he's cracking notes and not hitting what he's aiming at, but it's MILES, and all that power and courage and pain and love in his life just rises up and makes it all secondary, and I got chills and I started to cry like a baby because this man had EXISTED, had LIVED, and I had benefited. I played with BOTH his drummers; I never met Miles but they had told me enough to know who and how and what kind of man he was... just a man, but a very special, brave, tortured and enchanted man. I just cried, the music was so HOT. Miles changed my LIFE!
I don't know how music got to be all divided up into this and that category and box. And some people aren't allowed to play some music because it's not 'real' if the 'wrong' kind of person plays it. That's just awful. Miles hired everybody, if they could play and looked good. Miles had this thing that you had to have PRESENCE. And the only way to do that is to BE YOURSELF. So Bill Evans wasn't a handsome guy. He looked bookish. Today we'd say nerdy. That doesn't and shouldn't matter, and to Miles it was an asset. This man that didn't change to 'look like a jazz musician'. That's presence.
And the music is number ONE. It has to be original and new and unique.
Duke Ellington said this:
'There's two kinds of music; the good kind, and that other kind.'
We all know good music down deep. It changes our life. It's like a flower that makes us stop to smell it. And in stopping, we break the cycle of habit and census. We actually FEEL. That is scary for some. That is good. Feeling is good.
Q Is jazz dying?
A A loaded question! If nobody plays it, it's dead. But it's ALSO dead if everyone plays the same old same old forever and ever. There's merit in the roots. You have to know how to really paint to paint like Jackson Pollack. And that isn't a good example, because people need healing now, not this incredible tension.
So music (my Music, at least) needs to heal people. There are too many silly, stupid, upsetting things in the world for me to expect someone to pay to hear me and me come out there and play ugliness and rage. I'm past all that in my heart, anyway. I see the pain and I don't feel rage. I feel sorrow, and when I see happiness, I feel joy. So I play about the basic, timeless, universal emotions of love and pain and loss and longing and joy and beauty and Truth. They're all there. It's easy to play inside of each one. Music is a house or a garden or a forest, I enter it, and I encounter things and events. I react. You hear my reactions.
Jazz is in its infancy. When women and men of every type and stripe are working together to change the planet for the better, to move civilization forward, they are making sweet music. Jazz is one strain of that vast symphony.
I want to use more color. I want to use my FantomX8 and my piano, and I want to sound like a Spaniard one night and a Gypsy the next... we are all each other anyway. I do this a lot now very successfully. It isn't Spanish music or any specific KIND of music. It just feels like it has a tinge of that sky, that Spanish Sky. Then there's the Japanese influence. Very strong, as I'm a Nichiren Daishonin Buddhist, whatever that is.
Q What Japanese music do you like?
A Shakuhachi, of course... Burning Castles and all. Tomita. But Japanese NOW means everything; the anime characters with big eyes, all done with incredible detail and high tech HD graphics, and the synth music is just amazing. It's like nothing heard before on earth. It's Japanese but it's world music too. And I love Kitaro.
Kitaro is passionate and profoundly gifted. He is utter simplicity. He has tech gear for days and yet he uses that one lonely flutey sine wave with a bit of breath mixed in, a mono patch that can slide up an octave with complete precision. It's great because it's SIMPLE. All the laser light shows, and the Taiko drums, and the headbands, and the lady on the red violin... that's all so wonderful. But Kitaro is mastery. He is like Pai Mei in Quentin Tarrantino's Kill Bill. Don't mess with Kitaro. He lives at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan and is greatly honored by the people of his country. His melodies are simple and stark reminders of the beauty many of us lost in childhood. He's still a kid. He's having a ball! And the huge power of that majestic mountain is there in his music and his person.
Same with Sir Elton John. What a real person. He was sick but now he's well and there's work to be done (Kilgore Trout). He radiates beauty and warmth. His music is SIMPLE. His message is clear. PEACE. HARMONY. EQUALITY.
Not tolerance. Celebration!
This man had broken in two. It took years and years for him to heal. Now he has no fear. Only love. Nothing about him is wrong or out of place; he's himself, and his music is him too.
And I will always love Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Paul Simon, and Sting. I don't have to apologize for my taste. I'm old enough to know what I like.
Q What about classical music?
A People today have not heard 'classical music'. All those little curlicues and ppp's and fff's were stuck in there by British scholars in the nineteenth century. Bach isn't supposed to sound like a mathematical theory.
People say it all the time: MUSIC IS MATH.
NO. It's MUSIC. Math and music are not the same.
Listen to Glenn Gould play the Goldberg Variations. Case closed.
As far as real 'historical music' I have always loved the Romantic composers; Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimski-Korsakoff, Borodin, Beethoven, and Chopin. I think Beethoven is very romantic and lyrical. I'm turned off by the atonal music. Just tastes. Mozart is plain boring to me. And Bach is the Immortal Master of all.
Q Do you need big hands to play great piano?
A NO NO NO! The music is in the heart and the soul, not the hands. But next time we talk I'll tell you about how the keyboard was much smaller in the early 1800's. And women were burning up the keys because they were staying home, practicing, writing symphonies that never ever get played. So the builders made the keyboards larger so that women couldn't stretch as far.
This didn't stop Toshiko Akiyoshi.
Q How has your outlook changed about jazz music over the years?
A There was a time that I'd jump at any old g-i-g (a word I hate) that came along. We all went through that. One time, I was in Bern and it had taken me 40 hours to get there, I hadn't slept or eaten... and I had to play in 3 hours. I fell asleep and woke up ten minutes later totally FREAKED; I didn't know where I was. And they gave me 8 minutes to play; there were 9 other pianists on the bill. It was a dog and pony show. Play as fast as you can, impress the Swiss (all smoking like fiends, laughing, talking, screaming) and maybe you'll be the winner. Win what? 8 minutes. For what? These kinds of experiences make you realize how silly it is to compete, just so you can brown-nose it with some fat cat who may or may not hire you next year.
I played for fifteen minutes, and ended abruptly, and stood, and they were silent, and I waved to them: good-bye. A smattering of applause erupted and I cut it off with a finger to my lips and a loud 's-h-h-h-h'...
And I left.
And I just stopped going halfway around the world to do what I can do here for five times the money. Our culture is full of holes, but it's also full of wonderful opportunities. It's what you make of it. You can achieve anything if you want it badly enough. I decided that, if I go to Spain, it will have to pay me at least twice as much as if I go to Wisconsin.
No, this isn't all about money. But while we must create, we must eat. Those who so actively and viciously hate a certain (Smooth Jazz) soprano saxophone player betray their jealousy with their obstinate fanaticism.
He made me cry in a store at Christmas with my honey, playing White Christmas on the overhead speakers. He was perfectly in tune, and every note was golden. I didn't need Albert Ayler then. It was perfect.
Every good music has a place. Anything that makes the world better and more peaceful is a good thing. Anyone who gives their gift with love, and devotes their life to it, deserves respect and a good honest living wage.
Q Do you smoke or drink?
A I'm glad you asked that. recently someone said to me that someone had told someone else who told them that 'Jessica was drinking and smoking again'... truth is, I have emphysema, and if I take even a small taste of alcohol, I get nauseous. I'm a reformed alcoholic, and a reformed smoker:
I HAVEN'T SMOKED ONE CIGARETTE OR HAD ONE ALCOHOLIC DRINK FOR TEN YEARS.
Nor do I do any drugs. I am boring beyond words. I am getting well, and getting ready to make my next contribution to peace and sanity on earth through my music. It will be about others, not about me. I am a medium. You can NOT make love happen if you drink and smoke and destroy your body.
The world heals as we heal. Each one of us who 'makes it through' brings the entire planet a tiny bit closer to being what it should be; a very hospitable, safe, and friendly place to live.