Interview with Joel Moore: Jazz now requires the listener to have a certain degree of education: Video

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Jazz Interview with jazz saxophonist Joel Moore. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Joel Moore: – I grew up in Joliet, IL which is a suburb of Chicago.  I initially got started on the clarinet but it never became a passion.  I was able to attend some very influential concerts and heard some incredible saxophone soloists in the 80’s like Michael Brecker (playing in a pop context) and also the Tower of Power horn section when on tour with Huey Lewis and the News.  This inspired my passion for the tenor saxophone and I begged my parents almost daily to switch to this instrument.  They were reluctant because I wasn’t taking anything seriously at that time (mid-80’s).  They thought it would eventually collect dust under my bed along with the other junk.  Eventually, they caved and would make me stop practicing to finish my math homework.

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

JM: – My sound is a mixture of everything I love musically including R&B singers like Ray Charles, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, etc.  I started out improvising in my high school jazz ensemble which is typical of most saxophonists.  However, I was trying to sound like David Sanborn when soloing on a Count Basie chart.  It was really what I understood harmonically at the time.  Playing in that style taught me how to pace a solo and build it emotionally.  My understanding of the complexities of bebop came much later.  I never really did any tone exercises other than develop a very clear and specific mental image of the sound I desired.  I went through long periods of time trying to sound like Branford Marsalis, Michael Brecker, Lenny Pickett, Ernie Watts…these were the musicians I saw on TV at night, and, a wonderful contrast to the more straight-ahead jazz I experienced at school.  During college, I became very interested in Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Bob Berg, etc.

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

JM: – I use a variety of metronome exercises such as setting it on beats two and four, setting to click only on beat one to practice fast tempos.  For example, I’ll set the metronome to 75 bpm if I want to practice fast swing.  So, I’m really playing at 300 bpm but I don’t feel the same level of anxiety hearing every beat.  I also use a great app called Drum Genius which is amazing.  It’s basically drum loops in every style you can think of and it feels very natural.  A great sense of time is as important as a beautiful tone.

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? 

JM: – Thank you. Perhaps a more appropriate word would be “consonance?”  Yes, I think you’re accurate with respect to this latest recording.  However, it would be extremely rare for me to only improvise on the notes of a C7 chord.  I’m always thinking of the altered color tones of that chord and other techniques which contain various degrees of tension.  I do enjoy practicing harmonic patterns, moving them in different intervals and my goal is to play them musically.   For this recording, I just let things happen in real time without judging it too much.  Much of this recording was captured live so it felt like a gig.  I just tried to play what seemed appropriate in the moment.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

JM: – Actually, I do have disparate influences as does everyone in the band.  I’ve been enamored with Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso guitar technique and practice ethic since I was a kid.  The drummer in our band, Paul Townsend, listens to John Zorn and Scandinavian speed metal.  Our guitarist, Nick Mizock, can also shred heavy metal and flamenco.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  I think it makes for interesting interpretations of our music in a jazz context.

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2019: <Joel Moore Quartet Magnetic>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

JM: – The new band is called Magnetic, and, for all intents and purposes, Joel Moore Quartet doesn’t exist anymore.  I like that we have a band name, we all contribute compositions and arrangements and I just feel like a guy in a band with much less pressure.  I feel more relaxed on stage, I can joke with the audience and I play better in this new configuration.  I’m working on promoting the band, booking gigs and writing new music.  It never ends!

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

JM: – This is something I think about all the time.  Jazz was originally popular entertainment which evolved in unsavory environments in New Orleans.  This is why most universities initially dismissed jazz as a course of serious study.  Now, most colleges and universities have a jazz program of some kind.  Jazz has been transformed into a serious art and has alienated listeners.  This first happened in the bebop era, and the music has not regained mass popularity since.  Jazz now requires the listener to have a certain degree of education and awareness of what is happening at a concert or on a recording.  This is all antithetical to how popular music is consumed by the masses in the U.S.  I think it is incumbent on the jazz musician to find a balance between embracing melodic, harmonic and rhythmic complexities while initiating an emotional exchange with the audience.  From my perspective, both John Coltrane and Michael Brecker were the embodiments of this…the perfect balance of intellect and soul.

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

JM: – Yes, and it’s not hard for this band to do it.  I’ve been told our music is melodic, uplifting and without pretense.  It’s just how it comes out and I’m grateful even non-musicians enjoy it and attend our gigs.

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

JM: – We opened for the Yellowjackets several years ago at a festival when we were known as Joel Moore Quartet.   That was really magical for all of us.  Bob Mintzer complimented us and it was so motivating to hear it from a guy on his level.  He didn’t have to say anything.  It was awesome to play well in front of a band who are so influential to me and rest of the guys.

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

JM: – In my opinion, the Great American Songbook cannot be dismissed.  A young jazz musician needs to address the challenges of playing standards well.  There are other forms of jazz which may appeal to young people at the same time.  I came to jazz by starting with the jazz/rock/funk “fusion” style first.  I studied bebop and other styles later as my ears developed and yearned for more.  In terms of the average listener?  That’s tough to say.  Jazz vocalists have a greater advantage in terms of relatability, but it’s still a challenge.  Jazz became more popular when Miles embraced  rock/funk rhythms he heard at Woodstock  and won a younger audience.   Maybe we should make jazz versions of current pop tunes and wear Daft Punk suits?  I’m not sure jazz can be popular anymore.

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

JM: – We all know the story of how Coltrane recovered from heroin and alcohol addiction and composed A Love Supreme to thank God.  I know he grew up in church in North Carolina and perhaps his views on God became more universal later on.  He embraced Eastern philosophy and this is reflected in song and album titles during his later period.  I think he acknowledged that when he was at his best, he was being guided by spirit, God or creator.  The label is unimportant at least to me.  I think the meaning of life is to identify one’s talent and use it to uplift and help others.  You’ve asked a profound question but the answer has become clearer as I’ve gotten older.

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

JM: – I wish consumers of music understood the true value of what/who they’re listening to and supported it financially.  Spotify and other streaming services are convenient for the listener but do little for most jazz musicians.

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

JM: – I’ve been listening to my friend Nelson Rangell’s latest release called By Light.  It’s extremely well-done jazz/pop music and has kind of an old-school vibe but is also modern.

JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

JM: – I want my music to be honest and a reflection of who I am.  I would like it to uplift and inspire the listener in the way I felt as a kid learning how to play.

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

JM: – I would take the DeLorean back to when I was young and foolish and fix a few things.  In addition, I would like to be able to experience the NYC recording studio scene in the 70’s and 80’s.  I guess I should have been born 25 years earlier!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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