Interview with Diane Moser: The message in my music tends to be very spiritual and joyous: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianistand composer​​ Diane Moser. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Diane Moser: – I grew up in a small town in central Iowa. My best answer for what got me interested in music is that it was in me. There wasn’t an outside influence that got me going, I was constantly finding ways to make music from the time I was 3 years old. Finally at 5 yrs old, my grandmother gave me her upright piano, and from there on, I played on it every day, composing songs, every chance I got throughout the day. Two years later, I started piano lessons and continued those studies through my undergraduate years at University of Iowa (classical and jazz) and my masters at Manhattan School of Music where I studied with Harold Danko and Jaki Byard.

Back to childhood, in the fourth grade, I learned clarinet for band at school. In the sixth grade I taught myself how to play the guitar. In seventh grade the band director switched me to bass clarinet, which I loved and stayed with that through my undergraduate years and gigged on it as well. In middle school, my band director asked me to arrange some dixieland music for a small group for a parade, which got me going for arranging skills. By the end of high school, I had taught myself how to play the flute, alto saxophone, trumpet and cornet.

My first gig was a solo jazz piano gig for a private party when I was 14 years old. After that I was fortunate to meet local musicians who took me under their wings and I began gigging in rock bands and jazz bands.

In my college years I was interested in all things music, no matter what genre/style, could be straight ahead, or avant garde, electronics, world music, classical and everything in between. And that’s been the path I have followed ever since.

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

DM: – My first influence for sound came from nature. I was always trying to imitate bird songs and other creatures, the sound of the wind and thunderstorms on the piano. To me music has always been a language spoken through sound. Developing my sound came from the musicians I have played with, music I have learned, the concerts and recordings I have listened to, and then just my own sensibility of sound.

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

DM: – I practice every day. Sometimes it’s music that I am trying to keep under my fingers as they say, but also it could be something I heard or read that I want to try out, I am always pushing the envelope on learning new music and new ideas. As far as rhythm goes, right now I am working on the rhythms of Cuban music. I still play scales and patterns, it keeps the fingers moving and staying agile.

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?

DM: – My “go-to” harmonies tend to involve flat 5’s and flat 13’s, or poly chords with a flat 2, but it really depends on the circumstance and the musical language I’m working in. I do love dissonance, but I also love harmony, so I am always looking for a balance between the two. The conscious decision of that would be this: in order to hear the beauty in one or the other, you need to have both. I also believe there is a musical history and musical memory for me and for the listener. For example, in jazz, there are certain harmonies, and dissonances that one associates with various musicians. Speaking only of jazz pianists, too numerous to even begin to list, but for a small sampling say the quartal chords of McCoy Tyner, the descending triads of Bill Evans, the 2 or 3 note tritone chords of Thelonious Monk. Those harmonies and dissonances evoke a musical memory for the listener and for the pianist playing them, and those memories can take you to a deeper place, or can be a statement in the music. This happens in all musical styles and genres. There are times when I consciously decide to play those harmonies and dissonances, and invoke those memories, and there are times when they just come out!

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

DM: – I stay with the language I’m working in and any influences that come about are usually from the music or suggestions from the musicians I’m working with. It’s a conscious decision to include them or not.

Currently I am working the next phase of my bird song music, this time about coastal and wetlands birds and how their habitats are disappearing through climate change. I am also working on some new big band compositions.

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

DM: – For me, I lead with the soul and use my intellect to carry out what the soul wants to do.

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

DM: – I love giving the audience a good performance, and I believe that’s what they want, no matter what style or genre you are playing. At the beginning of our Birdsong Trio performances, I have been starting the concert with a group meditation, a group sonic meditation, a methodology created by the great composer and improvisor, Pauline Oliveros. I lead them through breathing and listening to the sound in the room, and outside of the room and from their bodies. Then I ask them to think about their favorite birds, and favorite bird songs, and then I tell them to vocalize those bird songs. At that point, our trio improvises with them, and we eventually segue into our first tune. I tell the audience they can continue to vocalize throughout the concert or stop whenever they want to, and we always have a few who vocalize throughout the concert. At each performance, we (the trio) can really feel them listening to every note we play, and audience members tell us they had an amazing experience.

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

DM: – Last October, the 17 piece big band that I have been directing for 22 years now, Diane

Moser’s Composers Big Band, performed our annual Peace Concert and tribute to Daniel Pearl World Music Days. This is a special concert that we do every year, and we always get a wonderful audience for this event. Before we played my composition “The Journey Home”, composed as a memoriam for the victims of the attacks of September, 11th, 2001, I explained that to the audience and added “this is a sonic remembrance of that day”. Immediately, the vibe in the room was so intense, the band could feel every audience member deeply listening to every note we played, it was an awesome feeling.

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

DM: – There are plenty of young people who are interested in jazz, especially if they are introduced to it at a young age in terms of going to concerts and listening to the music with their parents. Making sure that schools have the funding to have music programs is the real issue. Most young people are introduced to jazz by the time they are in middle school and play in the jazz ensemble, and many times stay with it through high school, even if they don’t pursue music as a career. There are lots of young people who study Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and that music is 200-300 years old. In jazz, we’re just getting started!

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

DM: – John Coltrane followed the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, founder of the Sufi Order International in 1914, who believed that everything on earth had various levels of vibrations. Since sound is “vibrations coming through the air”, and those vibrations are potentially music, then everything is music. Our spirits vibrate, our spirits are music.

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

DM: – Where I would like to see change in the musical world, is for everyone to respect each other’s style and genres without prejudice. And I would also like to see everyone learn about music through its elements first, and not through style or genre. I think that would bring us all together and we would still do the music that comes from our souls.

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

DM: – I have a pretty wide listening palette. Just this week I was checking out the grammy winning cd of Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet called “Landfall”, a stunning and meditative recording, also Hafez Modirzadeh’s recent recording “Voices Unveiled”, a beautiful cd, a new recording of solo cd of guitar, electronics and songs by one of my co-faculty members, Mike Early, very thoughtful and transporting. I also checked out the grammy winning recording of the John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists American Dreamers:Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom, which has a lot of spoken word on it, and I felt it was very inventive and provocative. One of my favorite things to do is to check in with many of the radio stations I can stream on the internet where I can always hear something new!

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

DM: – It depends on the recording, but in general, the message in my music tends to be very spiritual and joyous.

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

DM: – I would love to have talks with Alice Coltrane and Mary Lou Williams. I really loved their music and totally admired them not only as musicians and composers, but also as strong women.

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

DM: – What are some of your favorite and surprising interviews?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. It was a lot for example: Barry Harris, Bob Mintzer, Herbie Hancock, Randy Brecker, Thomas Morgan, Rudy Royston, Judith Lorick, Tigran Hamasyan, Yervand Margaryan, David Friesen … more, and your, more … but why you did not wanted to cooperate with us, I do not understand.

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

DM: – Harnessing this all together puts me right in the place I’m supposed to be right now and looking forward to new adventures with the music.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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