Interview with Vel Lewis: I am looking for Jazz music to continue growing in popularity: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz Hammond organist Vel Lewis. An interview by email in writing.

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

Vel Lewis: – I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I always liked listening to music I heard on the radio when I was young, but my mother told me that I was going to learn an instrument when I was 10 years old. I started singing first, then tried learning the flute, then switched to organ.

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

VL: – I watched a friend of mine in junior high school play the organ we had in our music room from time to time. It excited me to see how much fun he seemed to have as his hands and feet moved simultaneously on the manuals and the pedal board.

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

VL: – All of my teachers were exceptional in my opinion, and I remember all of their names. In order was Mrs. Virginia Goss, Mr. Milt Myers, and Dr. E. Woodley Kalehoff. Each teacher taught to a certain level, then referred me on to the next. My last teacher told me that he had taught me all he could, and the rest I would have to learn on my own.

JBN.S: – What made you choose the organ?

VL: – Along with my answer to question #2 above, my father used to play his Jazz records religiously on Sundays. He had a few great organists/pianists in his collection: Earl Grant, Erroll Garner, Shirley Scott. Once I began playing organ, I tried to play quite a few of the songs.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time?

VL: – I began to blend the R&B Soul rhythms that I heard on the radio with the Jazz I heard from my father’s records. Then, I joined an R&B band. Nearly all of us went to the same high school. We shared lots of music between ourselves and incorporated the “grooves” we heard in our own style – Sly & The Family Stone & James Brown were major influences for me.

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

VL: – I followed the advice of my last organ teacher and the advice of my Jazz band instructor in high school – study other great artists (Jimmy Smith, Billy Preston, Brother Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott), figure out what they’re doing, then I created my own interpretations and style.

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

VL: – Practice scales as often as I can – each hand, and both hands together. Then, cop rhythmic patterns I hear/see great guitarists doing.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

VL: – I prefer simple, melodic patterns against background syncopation. I love rhythm; especially funky rhythms!

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?

VL: – First, understand that this is not an easy business to succeed in. There’s a lot of competition, both nationally and internationally. However, stay true to what you like to play and how you like to play it. No one can please everybody, but there’s always someone who will like what you do. Thinking in this manner will keep you happy playing your instrument. Also, make sure you can read music well. Many musicians lose work because they cannot read.

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

VL: – It IS a business now. However, it is not as strong of a business as I believe it should be. One of the problems I see is that musicians and artists generally do not have much business experience.Artistic creativity does not involve business methods. Therefore, it is foreign to most musicians and artists. I hope that more artists will begin to get more involved in their careers from the business aspect of it all, so they will not lose so many opportunities as I’ve seen happen.

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

VL: – I’ve noticed that young people get interested when they see how much of the parts (rhythms, melodies, arrangements, etc.) of some old standard Jazz songs are found in the modern songs of today that they like to listen to. For example, Quincy Jones points out in his interview with Rolling Stones’ magazine about Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/thriller-how-michael-jackson-quincy-jones-made-bestselling-album-w512987), that one of the songs called “Baby Be Mine has a melody similar to a John Coltrane-style progressive Jazz line.” What I’m doing with my students is to help them learn about the great Jazz musicians and their sound. Also, I am creating opportunities for young musicians to play with me and my band on stage, so they can be inspired by my passion for Jazz music.

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

VL: – I learned a long time ago that music represents a “universal language”. Nearly everyone loves some type of music. Also, I believe the expression “Music soothes the savage beast” relates to the spirit within us. God gave me a gift of being able to determine near “perfect pitch”. My ears are extremely sensitive to sound waves and dissonance. This in turn, affects my soul whereby I can be very happy about what I’m listening to, or very disturbed about flat or sharp music notes. I believe this is my spirit reacting to what I hear and/or feel in the music I may be listening to. Regarding the meaning of life, I believe in God in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit that lives within me. I believe The Bible and what scripture explains, and I believe that life on Earth is preparation for the next life we will experience when Christ returns for His second coming. Music has always been an integral part of religious life (as shown in scripture) as well as my life, so I believe my part is to utilize the gift of music God gave me to bring joy, peace, and happiness to as many people as I can who enjoy what I do.

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future?

VL: – I pray that the world will become a better place for us all to live. I am looking for Jazz music to continue growing in popularity, and in turn, that it will help people live a more calm and relaxed lifestyle.

JBN.S: – What brings you fear or anxiety?

VL: – Nothing, really. I pray every day to remain cool and calm every minute of the day because I know God is in control of everything. I see His control in many ways every day, so I just do my part and stay out of His way.

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

VL: – I am putting plans in place for my next release now. To prepare for this, I am working now to increase my exposure both nationally and internationally.

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

VL: – Funny you asked this question, because I just recently began to dive more deeply into world music. I have always been around folk music because of some close friends of mine who enjoy it. So, the mixture of these genres may very well end up in some of my own compositions.

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

VL: – I am really enjoying some of the new, upcoming artists I’ve heard more of over the past year – vocalist Lindsay Webster and bassist Mohini Dey are a couple of my favorites. I am curious to see who the next great Jazz artists will be!

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

VL: – I am an official artist of the Hammond Organ Company, so I currently use a Hammond Sk2 portable as my main instrument when I need to bring gear. I sometimes carry a Yamaha MOX8 synthesizer workstation to the stage, using both through a Barbetta Sona 41 amplifier.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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