Interview with Jason Kao Hwang: Sound is created and received faster than thought or imagery: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz composer, violinist and violaist Jason Kao Hwang. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Jason Kao Hwang: – Though we lived in Waukegan, Illinois, I was born in Lake Forest in 1957 because my parents thought they had a better hospital. Waukegan, located about 40 miles north of Chicago, had a robust public school music program. Starting in 3rd grade I studied with Mrs. Bickford. Bickford and the Steiners, who led the overall city program, had me perform for many fundraisers.  When I was 13, we moved to Highland Park, which was about 15 miles south of Waukegan. I took lessons with Mrs. Gihle, and in high school, with Paul Urbanick. Both encouraged me to play professionally. My parents were not avid music lovers. They didn’t collect records or go to concerts. So at home it was their Chinese language that was influential. Because this was the “melting pot” era, for me to become Americanized I had to learn English only. Bi-lingual education was difficult, especially since we were one of only two Chinese families in town. My parents, of course, continued to speak Chinese to each other and I would listen intensely to extract meaning from the inflection, timbre and shape of their words. I listened to Chinese, which is a highly tonal language, like music. This was a formative experience. Also in high school I started borrowing records from the library of Chicago jazz musicians like Ramsey Lewis and Gene Ammons. I also started listening to Jean Luc Ponty, Michael Urbaniak, Jerry Goodman, and Papa John Creach. To hear the violin played differently, outside of the classical tradition, was exciting.

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

JKH: – I came to NYC when I was 18 to study film at New York University.   I remember going to the East Side Bookstore on Saint Mark’s Place, which was right next door to this hair cutting salon run by the Hell’s Angels. There was a handwritten flyer on the bulletin board advertising a poetry class at Basement Workshop, now recognized as an epochal Asian American arts organization.  At Basement, located at 98 Lafayette, I met other American born Asians for the first time. I started going to the Sunday jam sessions run by Kuni Mikami and Jeff Lee. I didn’t know anything about harmony but could play a bit on some standards by ear. I met Will Connell Jr., a composer / arranger / multi-reeds musician who was part of a wave of LA musicians, which included Arthur Blythe, Frank Lowe, Butch and Wilbur Morris, that came to NYC. Will believed in my fledgling talent and became a friend and mentor. We jammed as a duo several times a week, improvising for hours. We started to perform with the Basement Poets, gigging around NYC and the East Coast. I also started going to long loft jams, which were common at the time. I built my fundamental improvisational language through these exploratory, no holds barred experiences. Empowered by freedom, we searched for and affirmed our identities, culture and history in a society that had marginalized us, preferring that we remain invisible. So by necessity, our creative process was rebellious, defying the expectations of tradition, genre and academia. This was a passion shared by the loft jazz scene and the Asian American movement. Will and I soon formed the trio Commitment, with the Jay Oliver doubling on bass and drums. Our first gig was at The Lady’s Fort, Joe Lee Wilson’s Bond Street storefront. I met Butch Morris at that gig, and he began calling me for gigs for his early conductions.  Because of Will’s introductions, I began to perform with a lot of people. Later Commitment became a quartet with William Parker (bass) and Zen Matsuura (drums). Commitment taught me how music grows and flourishes through collective synergy. We absorb each other’s vibrations and build a language through sonic empathy. When I listen to our 1983 album (re-released by No Business Records), I’m amazed to hear that at my core, I’m the same. Yes my skills have grown exponentially since then, but the vocalized violin phrases I was doing in 1983 I still go for today. In later years, I re-dedicated myself to the study of traditional violin techniques. The demands of my compositional ideas required those skills, which I employ in my way. So my playing continues to grow in response to playing with others and my compositional evolution.

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

JKH: – I work on chops with a slew of violin books – Simon Fischer, Galamian, Gerle, Flesch, etc.  If your hands and overall body is free and relaxed, you can play anything. I practice all kinds of scales. I practice standards. For rhythm, I play metronome games, displacing beats, overlaying polyrhythms, etc. Been working with the Peter Magadini book, I started playing with metronome app Time Guru, which the ability to construct metric modulations. For feel, I focus on the interactions between breathing the bow and sounding point.

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?

JKH: – Thanks! I consider consonance and dissonance as equally beautiful and expressive. Harmony is an extension of temperament and equal temperament is a distortion of reality. The violin is like a wooden bell. Pitch and timbre, in or outside of equal temperament, will make specific colors ring. The palette is infinite. And if you play all the colors in your voice, the gravitational laws of functional harmony are altered. New and ancient logic systems emerge that are inherent to human existence. So I strive to hear instrumental vibrations that resonate the truth within a musical moment. It’s not avant-garde, which is a social perception. It’s real. Think of the blues. All that being said, I’m always studying traditional harmony. It remains fertile ground, a launch pad. I don’t reject it.

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

JKH: – A few years ago my wife and I went to a yoga camp and participated in a laughing meditation. We laughed for about 40 minutes with around 30 people. A total gut buster and a fascinating musical experience. Everyone had an absolutely unique laugh. You could hear how the shape, timbre and melody of laughter profoundly embodies the wholeness of life. Laughter is spontaneous and natural.  Laughter is sounded with irrepressable conviction. It is totally compelling. There is no performance. Laughter is music and is who we are. When I compose or play, I ask myself, is this music as honest as my laughter? This focuses me.

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

JKH: – Sound is created and received faster than thought or imagery. Sound has an immediate physiological and emotional effect. So it is not hard to imagine that Sound, Soul, and the expression of Soul are one in each moment. The intellect prepares us for that sacred moment. What we learn aesthetically and technically are keys that open vibrations, contemporary, emotional and historic, into audible resonance. For the endless stream of musical vibrations, the intellect, as observer, composer, preacher and guardian, shapes the journey.

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

JKH: – Music is a ritual than brings us to a better place. Music makes audible what is best in us. If we are open to more music, we will be open to more people and ideas. I create music in a manner that is true to myself and offer this to the world. I believe people are drawn to music that aspires to truth, whatever the form. This is why, more than ever, audiences are listening to a wider and wider variety of music.

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

JKH: – I had a funny gig in the East Village last summer with my electric band, Critical Response. In a concert produced by Arts for Art, we played at the 6th Street garden between Ave. B and C, which is powered by a single solar panel. Though our amps blew the circuit breaker several times Michael T.A. Thompson (drums) and I continued to play acoustically while Anders (electric guitar) and Stomu (electric bass) were picking up sticks and rocks to add some natural percussion to the groove. It was nutty but the music was good. When the electricity came back on, they went back to their axes. The flow never stopped!

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

JKH: – The reason why those tunes are standards is because they never get old. If young people don’t like them, it might be because they are being performed with nostalgia instead of the conviction of now. Can’t blame the standards. A great song is rare and pure. But I know what you mean. I obviously believe that contemporary music is essential. For many of us, composing our original music, which may not be in song form, is necessity, not a choice, to express ourselves.  But the perceptions and expectations vary greatly. What festivals, grant programs, critics, audiences and musicians want can be incredibly different, if not polar opposites. I went to a seminar where a jazz radio host and an agent both agreed that it was naive for a jazz musician to compose and play their own music and expect people to listen. How about that! I often find that young people, really all people, who have heard creative music for the first time, love it!  Education can also help. I remember giving a master class in Montreal to high school students. Their teacher had them since grade school and taught improvisation. They understood and loved the music.  They loved listening to and creating the music.

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

JKH: – Spirit makes us aware of all that is greater than ourselves. Spirit inspires our generosity to others. We are here on earth to give to others. In music, sometimes you play to support another, as in accompaniment. Other times you must initiate and project a new idea to promote growth. The fluidity between support and initiative can take place in nanoseconds.  This flow is only possible through the empathetic listening, which are acts of kindness. Cultivating these relationships within an ensemble requires a democracy of spirits.   This is why people listen to music. Music is created through idealized relationships.  We want a world in which we can love and care for each other. This is the meaning of life.

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

JKH: – For the musical world and the world as a whole, equality and social justice.

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

JKH: – Listening to blues singers and the correspondence with Native American pow wows.  Listening to Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn and Barbara Streisand. Listening to musicals – Gypsy, Funny Girl, Westside Story. Listening to pianists – Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Michael Petrucciani.  Funk – Marcus Miller, Larry Graham, Snarky Puppy, Vulpeck.  Listening to excellent new CDS by friends –  Dave Sewelson, James Ilgenfritz, Ivo Perlman.

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

JKH: – Faith in sound. Faith in each other. Faith in the future.

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

JKH: – Sometime in the mid-60’s to hear Albert Ayler at Slugs with drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. Bobby Hill, a Washington D.C. radio producer, sent me his 1986 interview of Ronald whom I played with briefly around 1983 in an early edition of his Decoding Society. I was so young then that to hear this radio show now was fascinating.  Ronald, who was also an ethnomusicologist, spoke eloquently and lovingly about playing with Albert, who was his mentor. He said that though history has designated John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman as the major saxophonists of that era, the general consensus of musicians at that time recognized Ayler as the leading light. I would like to have heard them live.

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

JKH: – Dear Jason, are you working hard to fulfill your music? What do you have to do?

JBN.S: – Thanks for answers. Who do you mean?

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

JKH: – Hanging in there, doing my best! Thanks for this interview Simon!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Картинки по запросу Jason Kao Hwang

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