Interview with Rez Abbasi: It is a business and that’s what’s killing the art part of it: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi. An interview by email in writing.

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

Rez Abbasi: – I was born in Karachi, Pakistan but migrated to Los Angeles at 4 years old. When I was 11 My uncle brought home a guitars for both me and my older brother. My brother encouraged me to take lessons and there it was. Prior to that I had dabbled with piano.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the guitar?

RA: – Initially it was the physicality of it and the fact that my brother and I both had the same instrument. We could kind of play across from each other. But then he also introduced me to rock music via Led Zepplin. After that my choice just became obvious.

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the guitar?

RA: – Many and all had something to share but the the standouts are Paul La Rose who passed, and Joe Diorio who lives in Connecticut. I chose the guitar based on rock music and continued investigating the instrument based on jazz music.

JBN.S: –  How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

RA: – It’s always evolving based on many things. Either I find a new effect or I get bored of my sound, but for the most part it is what it’s been for decades. To further tweak my sound I’ve changed picks be cause attack comprises a huge percentage of your sound. I learned that when I was in an electronic music course!

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

RA: – I generally use a metronome to come up with exercises or to help reveal weaknesses in my rhythm that I need to work on. I have 4 tempo areas that I like to play with. I’ll play single time, triplets, double time on each usually over a given Standard tune and make sure I’m able to switch effortlessly. Sometimes I’ll play 5’s as well. I have a book coming out soon on Hal Leanord that gets into a lot of musical exercises that help maintain a high level. There’s a chapter called shock- practice that deals with pushing oneself out of the norm.

JBN.S: –  What do you love most about your new album: <Unfiltered Universe (feat. Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Johannes Weidenmueller, Dan Weiss & Elizabeth Mikhael)>, how it was formed and what you are working on today. Next year your fans like we can wait for a new album?

RA: – Well I like everything or else I wouldn’t have released it. We did several takes of each tune and I was able to choose the best takes so it’s all strong. It is the 3rd album of a trilogy of albums and do it’ll most likely be the last this group does. Next year I have a film score that’ll be realeased. I already recorded it and performed it live to the 1929 black and white silent film A Throw of Dice. We’re planning on performing this as much as possible because it’s such an epic film and it’s my most ambitious project. So look out for that in 2018.

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

RA: – That’s a tough one because everyone has a different situation. People get connected in different ways. Overall I’d say patience and being objective as possible help your mindset, and mindset is more than 1/2 the battle. Be kind and professional to everyone, not just people who you may think are important. That one person who isn’t well known can be the one who helps you the most. In general being humble is going to help your inner being which is more important than having gigs or being famous.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

RA: – It is a business and that’s what’s killing the art part of it. Almost every festival or club or agent will only take you on if they know for sure that you’ll make them a large return. It’s rare you see someone take a risk and it’s also rare you see a musician that is getting a lot of props that retains a high art culture. People like Craig Taborn, Rudresh, Tim Berne and a few others that seem to put out exactly what they want and without any populist agenda. Of course when you have something to say of note, you’re going to want to say it without restraint.

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

RA: – To create original material that measures up to the Standards but using technology and ideas of this millennium. That’s not necessarily a formulia to get younger audiences but it’s moving in the right direction. I don’t believe in watering down the music so it’s either danceable or it sounds like stadium rock or hip hop, because then you’re most often taking the jazz element out and that’s a different conversation. Injecting some improvisation in hip hop for instance doesn’t justify the jazz element.

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

RA: – I don’t and if I did I would be lying like many others are…

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

RA: – I have little expectation because I’m simply trying to get through this day. The future holds nothing for me until I get there. I’m only fearful of fear itself but I do try to find ways of diminishing that fear, even though I know it’s an illusion. Meditation is a big part of my life because that deals on a subconscious level, one that’s greater and deeper than anything I can think about.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

RA: – I’d like to do more writing for visual stimuli such as film or documentaries. I was commissioned to write for a duo of violin and classical guitar. That piece is almost finished and it’s quite exciting. I’m also planning on doing a trio album with piano and drums, a tribute album to a great vocalist who I won’t disclose yet.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

RA: – Of course, we all have 12 basic notes.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

RA: – I always go back to my main influences of John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett and Jim Hall for jazz. I also listen to a lot of West African music because there’s a lot of brilliant music coming from there. Also I revisit orchestral works and classical music in general, a lot of Chopin piano works lately. And of course, many Indian and Pakistani classical and qawwali musicians. It’s endless, really…

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

RA: – I’m playing a Marchione guitar, an Evans amp and a variety of pedals.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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