Interview with Colin Hinton: My purpose for existing is to make music: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz drummer Colin Hinton. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Colin Hinton: – I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I remember being obsessed with pianos at a young age.  My parents noticed this and I began piano lessons at age 4.  All I did when I was younger was practice and listen to music.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the drums? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the drums?

CH: – I don’t remember specifically what made me interested in drums, but I remember around age 8 continuously asking my parents to take me to Guitar Center so I could practice drums.  When I was 9 years old, I received a drumset for Christmas.

I am incredibly fortunate to have had so many great teachers… I studied with Ed Soph for five years at University of North Texas and he helped me so much in my formative years.  Ed is a master teacher and musician and I owe much of my musical development to him.

Since moving to NYC, I’ve continued studying with many people.  I studied with Ari Hoenig for a while and he really helped me get a lot of rhythmic ideas together.  I’ve studied with Dan Weiss for about the last nine years and he remains a constant source of inspiration and wisdom.  Tyshawn Sorey became a mentor of mine several years ago and introduced me to the music of the AACM and encouraged me to begin composing.  Tyshawn has been a major force in my musical development and has always been kind and encouraging through both my struggles with music and life.

I studied composition and free music with Ingrid Laubrock and she really pushed me to explore some different musical directions.  Ingrid was one of the musicians that I wanted to play with when I decided to move to NYC, and her encouragement and guidance has helped me so much.

Most recently, I’ve been studying composition with Eric Wubbels and Taylor Ho Bynum.  Eric and Taylor have both pushed me to really explore different ways of thinking about form, improvisation, and harmony in my compositions, and Eric introduced me to so much new music in the contemporary classical world.  I’ve been studying drums most recently with Ralph Peterson.  Ralph is the kind of teacher that can hear you play four measures of something and immediately address your problems and suggest a solution.

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

CH: – From the first time I heard Tony Williams on Miles Davis’ Complete 1964 Concert, I knew I wanted to be a jazz drummer and I wanted to sound like Tony Williams.  I mostly played “straight ahead” jazz until my early 20’s.  Around that time I began exploring improvised music from other countries and heard the music of Albert Ayler and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  After I moved to New York, I became much more interested in the creative music/avant-garde scene.  I still love playing standards and listening to straight ahead jazz, but I personally find I have much more to contribute to music that doesn’t fit so nicely into a genre label.

I never actively tried to “develop my own sound”… I just listened to a lot of different music and tried to incorporate things I liked about all the different genres into my sonic pallet.  I actually found my playing changing much more when I began immersing myself in contemporary classical music and the music of the AACM.

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

CH: – Right now I’m working on taking apart Max Roach solos and reworking them to not sound like the source material… I’ll take a single phrase I like from a solo (most recently, his solo from “The Scene is Clean”), cut out a note or two, insert a different phrase or fill somewhere within the idea, and then run it through multiple time cycles.  I’m not very organized about it regarding “this idea will fit into two measures of 4/4” or anything… I feel much more strongly about trying to hear how these rhythmic phrases flow over the bar line or lay differently depending on what subdivision I’m playing.  Developing your ears to the point where you can have these kind of malleable phrases that don’t need to necessarily be metered or pre-conceived was a huge part of my practice when I was younger.

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

CH: – Oh boy … this is a deep one.  During my master’s degree I intensely studied 20th century classical theory.  Almost all of the harmonies I write in my compositions at this point do not come from my jazz background.  I haven’t written a typical “chord change” on a chart in years.  I write specific voicings and tell the members of my band to figure out what it means to them.

Currently, I’m studying a lot of spectral music and I’m really trying to broaden my understanding of how the overtone series can function.  I’m really working on incorporating quarter tones in my new compositions to replicate the upper partials of a sound.

I also love set theory and end up incorporating a lot of ideas I hear from composers like Morton Feldman, Bartók, and Ligeti.  I really like the sound of close intervals within a spread voicing.  I was also obsessed with Elliott Carter’s use of All Interval Tetrachords, so I spent a period of time writing multiple pieces using only All Interval Tetrachords.

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <Glassbath>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

CH: – I had the idea for this album after the first time I heard Jim Black’s AlasNoAxis.  I was around 16 at the time and was fully immersed in the jazz world.  Before I became fully immersed in jazz music, I was listening to and playing a lot of weird indie rock music.  I knew that I wanted to play jazz professionally and that meant I had to make sacrifices to better myself as a musician… this meant basically leaving the indie rock scene and spending all my time playing/practicing/listening to jazz.  When I heard AlasNoAxis, I knew that these two worlds were not mutually exclusive and that there was a place for both to exist simultaneously.  I love Glassbath because this group allows me to explore where these two genres meet and I get to return to my roots of playing loud indie rock music.

Right now I’m booking a bunch of gigs for the group and slowly writing new music.  If I could get funding, I’d really love to take the band to Iceland or Scandinavia for a tour.  I’d like to do another album either next year or the year after once this group has had more time to evolve as an ensemble and really dive into a new book of music.

JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?

CH: – I hate “best of” lists, but here you go…

Jim Black – Malamute, Kate Gentile – Mannequins, Matt Mitchell – A Pouting Grimace, Tyshawn Sorey – Verisimilitude, Tom Rainey – Float Upstream, Roscoe Mitchell – Bells For The South Side, Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – Incidentals, Craig Taborn – Daylight Ghosts.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

CH: – I believe in finding a balance for all things.  I remember in a lesson with Ed Soph I made a mistake while playing a tune.  I stopped and said, “I’m thinking too much…”, to which Ed replied, “you can never think too much, you just have to think about the right thing!”.  I generally don’t enjoy listening to musicians who I feel are trying to be “intellectual” or “smart” about what they are playing.  I think all of the academic/intellectual stuff is great to have a grasp on while you’re practicing, but when you’re “in the heat of battle”, just play.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

CH: – I remember being at a gig at Cornelia Street Café (maybe in 2011 or 12) to hear Jacob Sacks and Dan Weiss play.  It might have been Thomas Morgan on bass, but I honestly can’t remember.  There was a tourist in the audience who started talking to the band in between one of their songs and told them “Oh!  I am a professional yodeler from x country.  Would you like for me to come up on stage and we can have a yodel?”.  At first the band just kind of passed this off, but the woman was persistent and eventually Dan and Jacob invited her on stage to yodel while they played.  It was honestly one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen on a gig.

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?

CH: – Diversify your skillset.  I teach a lot to support me playing creative music on a regular basis.  Everyone figures out a different way to do it … this works for me.

Realistically, if you want to play jazz/creative music/whatever, you’re not going to be able to survive on the money you make from gigs unless you’re in the top 5% of the musicians in that scene (this is especially true in NYC).  This is not meant as discouragement, but just something to understand.  For me, I made the choice a while ago that I didn’t want to play restaurant gigs/cover band gigs/etc. full time just to say I was a “professional drummer”.  Those gigs left me feeling uninspired and burned out.  I made the decision to focus on playing original music and figure out another way of making money to support myself.  This doesn’t mean I don’t ever do cover gigs/restaurant gigs/straight ahead piano trio stuff… I love all of those gigs!  I just no longer try to do those gigs full time.

Last, learn to understand how to make money off an album… this means reading up on how to gain 100% of your copyrights/royalties.  Learn how to register your own ISRC codes and how to register your music with BMI/ASCAP/etc.

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

CH: – I would like to hope so, but right now with streaming services and the decline of people actually purchasing albums, I honestly don’t know.  I have a great deal of faith in the younger generations to try and solve this problem because our current politicians (in the US) clearly do not care.

JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?

CH: – Any collaboration with my teachers has been incredibly important to me.  I love that I get to share the same stage as some of the people that have truly invested their time and energy into teaching me.  Beyond that, my bands Glassbath and Facehugger are incredibly important to me.  Those bands are like my family.  I have a really close connection to Edward Gavitt and we work together across multiple projects.  He’s an incredible musician and I’m lucky to call him my friend.

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

CH: – Art education is in decline in the US.  As the rise of anti-intellectualism takes over, getting young people interested in art/music will be an uphill battle.  That being said, I think jazz musicians are their own worst enemy.  I left the straight ahead jazz scene many years ago because I was tired of the idolatry I saw towards a musical time period that reached its peak over 50 years ago.  No one is going to out-Charlie-Parker Charlie Parker.  No one is going to play over Inner Urge better than Joe Henderson.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t play that music, and definitely do not ignore the contributions of the masters, but the trend I hear in attempting to replicate this music is alarming.  The music has to keep evolving or it will go the way of classical music and other “museum” musics.

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

CH: – Music has literally saved my life at least three times now.  The only time I find true happiness in my life is when I’m deeply invested in music.  I’m not a religious person (or even really a spiritual person), but I do know that my purpose for existing is to make music.

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

CH: – For the immediate future, I’d like to make more albums under my own name, do more collaboration, and tour more.  I’d like to eventually be teaching less and making the majority of my income from playing/touring.

I desperately try to not let fear or anxiety rule my life, but I still have days where I wake up thinking, “What the hell am I doing?  How will I ever have a family?  Am I ever going to be able to save money?”  The best cure I have found for these thoughts is to practice, write music, read, and go hear live music.

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

CH: – Streaming services would be eliminated and musicians would be paid a living wage.

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

CH: – I’m writing a new book of music for my quintet Facehugger (Anna Webber, Yuma Uesaka, Edward Gavitt, Shawn Lovato, and myself) that we will be recording in September.

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

CH: – There are similarities between all musics.  At this point I don’t really see that big of a difference between most genres.  I generally find more inspiration these days from listening to non-jazz music than I do jazz music.  I’ve been checking out Scandinavian folk music lately and have a plan in the near future to do an album with my arrangements of that music.

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

CH: – Morton Feldman, Gérard Grisey, Tristan Murail, NOFX, Red Animal War, Ingrid Laubrock, Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, Tyshawn Sorey, Jim Black, Iannis Xenakis, Stravinsky, Tindra.

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

CH: – I play a four piece Yamaha Maple Custom.  It consists of a 16” bass drum (converted floor tom), 14” floor tom, 12” tom, and a 14”x5.5” Sensitive Series snare drum.  I’ve been using the same cymbals for over the last decade.  The stamps are long gone, but I think it’s a 22” K Constantinople medium thin-low ride, a 20” K Constantinople light ride, and some 14” K Istanbul hi hats from the early 50’s.  I use a variety of gongs/toys when I play, but I’ve settled on three-four Dream gongs that I really love.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

CH: – As much as I complain about the current political/social climate, I think we’re living in a very important time.  But if I had to choose a place/time for arbitrary reasons… probably Norway immediately post age of invasion.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself …

CH: – How do you view the current musical climate in the world of improvised music – ie the intersection between contemporary classical musicians (who improvise), jazz musicians who are no longer interested in playing standards, electronic musicians, rock musicians, and noise makers?

JBN.S: – Thanks very much for answers. On the current music climate in the world of improvised music, in my opinion, it’s not healthful otmasfera especially between jazz musicians. They are no longer interested in the standards of the game, there are a lot of electronic music and a lot of noise.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Colin Hinton, drums, music, Banff

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