Interview with Garrett Warner: It’s about moving your listener instead of your ego …

- in INTERVIEWS, The bad musicians

Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Garrett Warner. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Garrett Warner: – I grew up in a small town about 40 minutes outside the greater Toronto area. My father was a musical person and would sing and play guitar all of the time. His side of the family ran a country and bluegrass festival in our local town so I was surrounded my musicians all of the time. The catch was that I hated country music for most of my life, it’s just growing on me now. My father gave me an acoustic guitar but I wanted to play rock so I didn’t start playing until a family friend gave me an electric. I was a very shy kid and was often bullied so I would spend my school lunch hours inside playing guitar as opposed to going outside and playing with the other children and then as soon as I got home I would repeat the process.

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

GW: – I actually started as a hard rock and heavy metal fan! Which is totally contrasting to the sound I have now. I loved and still do love heavy music but later on in life as my musical interests spread out, I found that I wasn’t playing heavy music anymore. Instead I was more into players like John Mayer and Charlie Hunter, whom I found more soulful and rhythmic. When I moved to Ottawa, I studied under a Canadian jazz heavy weight named Roddy Ellias, who is still a mentor to me and is the best musician I know. Roddy was a firm teacher with a reputation of producing strong students through hard work. His unique and musical sense of space and harmony was a huge influence on my work. I then fell in love with the sensitive music of Bill Frisell and Jakob Bro but also fell in love with the fury and power of players like John Coltrane and Julian Lage. I’m also always interested in including other sounds by using effects such as tremolo, delay, or pitch-shifting. I find they become either a mask for the player or they inspire them to portray emotions they couldn’t before.

Something I am always trying to do is mix in my love for bluesy guitarists like John Mayer or Peter Bernstein with players who are more angular like Gilad Hekselman. I found that doing that over time has sort of helped me get closer towards always playing the sound I hear in my head. It doesn’t always work but it’s coming along!

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

GW: – You have to practice slowly. I was self taught for the first half of my guitar playing career so I didn’t learn this until later. You need to practice rhythm slowly in order to really get a sense of how it sits in the pocket and to really nail what you are trying to play. You can play all of the furiously fast lines you want but if it doesn’t groove then it probably doesn’t sound very good. I love groove oriented players like Charlie Hunter and Mark Lettieri. Also listen to drummers! Great drummers will usually always play something more rhythmically interesting than anyone else so if you’re looking to play something rhythmic, why not hit at its best source? As of late I’m really drilling my sense of time because I have always found that its something I could improve. I started touring in a hip hop act and found it was great for my time but a saxophonist I really respected once said to me that someone’s time could always get better. I tell all of my students to practice even the simplest lines to their metronomes.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

GW: – I’ve learned over time that it all depends on whom you are playing with and the instrumentation. Whenever I’m the only accompanist, I find then whether or not I stick to the original harmony or stretch it depends on the other players. I try to listen and choose where to put it in according to what’s happening in the music but in all honesty, whatever harmony comes out is just wherever my ear decides to take me in the moment. If the players in the group are playing something wild and exciting, sometimes my ear will guide me to a dissonant chord. So much of it also depends on the day. Some days I’m just into creating a vibe of some sort of laying down the harmony. On the other hand, some days my ears are really pulling me to more dissonant harmonic choices.

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

GW: – I’ve been looking for the perfect answer to this my whole life! I would say from a musician’s point of view that you need to always think of parallels between music and language. Understanding the grammar can be an important factor in how you think about speaking but don’t let it deter your message, instead let it reinforce it. I think I remember Miles Davis once saying something along the lines of “don’t play to the saxophonist in the front, play to the lady at the back of the bar” and I think that couldn’t be any more relevant today. I think that from time to time, every musician struggles to remember that it’s about moving your listener instead of your ego.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

GW: – There will always be that relationship because nobody pays to see you practice. The audience has to be entertained but hopefully they would want you to do it with sincerity. The most important thing is to have fun! A listener can tell when you are having a good time and that will help them have a good time. Imagine watching a football game and the players hated football? Don’t be afraid to make a bad joke on the mic and work on your stage presence. Get into it!

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

GW: – This one time a while back, I was at a late night jam in Washington DC with some friends. The club was full and the vibe was happening. The players were all really great. It came my turn to play and they called a tune that I didn’t really know that well. The thing is that those guys don’t let you look at a chart. They don’t care if you don’t know it, they’re already counting it in! So long story short I played probably the most nervous sounding solo I had ever played and it was a really eye opening moment for me. Know the tunes and use your ears. I won’t name the tune because I’m embarrassed I didn’t know it but I can tell you that I knew it pretty well the next day! I hope to play at the club again one day so that I could maybe clear my name there.

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

GW: – I think there is a divide in jazz music these days between traditionalists and contemporary players. I think in a way the jazz scene has become very academic and doesn’t always find itself welcoming to outside audiences. I think if we encourage a younger generation of musicians to get into jazz and learn its language while incorporating their own then we would have a bigger audience base. People are always nervous to approach something they don’t find welcoming. I can also speak that in North America, music programs in the public school system are suffering. That system is often a gateway for young musicians to get into jazz. Support arts in the school systems and go see local jazz music!

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

GW: – Oh goodness… I’m only 23 so I feel like this is tough to answer! I don’t really understand the meaning of life in any sense but what I do think is important is finding your purpose and never letting that leave your soul. You don’t have to make a lot of money or be famous or anything and sometimes your purpose is something you never thought it could be. Work towards your goals in small steps and be disciplined, this could be as small as sending an email or practicing, while keeping the big picture in mind. People are constantly changing what others perceive as their reality. I’m nowhere near where I want to be career wise but I’m really humbled that I’ve been able to do what I’ve done thus far. Also seek to speak more sincerely and always listen to what others have to say. Some advice is bad advice and some is great but you will always find a lesson in either. Understand, and this is especially for artists, that you are not perfect but you are always growing.

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

GW: – I would really like to change how social media and technology effects our music. Everything is short and has to be packed into a 30 second clip now and it hurts the music. Some types of music require more time than that and it affects how audiences perceive those types of music. If you can’t convince your listener to love you in the first eight measures, then they want nothing to do with you and that’s really unfortunate. Lots of communities don’t bother going to see live music anymore because they can view it all from their phone! I think many communities don’t understand what it is to see live music anymore. That really hurts both your local and global scenes. With saying that, not all communities are like that. Many European communities still continue to blow me away…

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

GW: – I’ve been really digging the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman record. The take on My One and Only Love absolutely wins my heart every time. Other than that, I’ve been really into modern fusion groups like Snarky Puppy and Funky Knuckles. I found a really incredible Montreal based artist called Anomalie last year and have been really into his music ever since. He does an incredible job of fusing his virtuosic piano chops in with hip-hop and electronic music.

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

GW: – I would love to go to any of the Bill Evans concert recordings at the Village Vangaurd in New York. I was at the Vanguard earlier this year and was taken back by its atmosphere and can only imagine witnessing one of my favorite jazz pianists play there with his piano trio. There is a certain sensitivity to those records that any musician could learn from. I would also like to be a fly on the wall during John Coltrane’s Giant Steps recording session…

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

GW: – Sure. How on earth did you find me and what would you like to see next!?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. We wanted to cooperate with you, but you didn’t want it, they’ll decide. We thought that you didn’t need about your CD, so we removed this part from the interview.

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

GW: – I always want to maintain the relationship between versatility and honest musicality by continuing to use my ears and listen. I think the best thing is to keep learning!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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