Interview with Mavis Pan: The message is love, forgiveness, and the courage to move forward and speak your mind: Video, CD cover

Jazz Interview with jazz pianist and composer Mavis Pan. An interview by email in writing.

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

Mavis Pan: I grew up in Taiwan and when I was four years old, my mother took me to group piano class at Yamaha Music School. Since it was a group glass, there were singing and movements involved and I remembered it was a fun time.

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

MP: – Though I was classically trained as a pianist and vocalist, my childhood dream was to be a singer-songwriter, since I love to sing. I am more a melodist. But after I immigrated to America and discovered jazz at age of 17, I was determined to learn this music during my college years at NYU. I returned to my classical roots later in graduate school at Columbia and began to study composition, which eventually led me to a Masters degree in classical composition. But no matter what complex structure, rhythm, harmonies I was exposed to later in life, I am still a songbird in my heart.

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

MP: – One of my favorite thing to do in life is to dance. I have been taking modern and ballet lessons over the past 10 years. I find that dancing to the drum beats and feeling the musical pulse in my body is helping me a lot rhythmically as a performer, especially as a conductor.

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?

MP: – While making this particular album, I was going through a very emotionally painful time and was seeking healing through the power of music. Therefore my use of harmonies was more toward consonance than dissonance to create a smooth, soothing sound. There’s no shortage of dissonant moments but the tension is quickly resolved.

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

MP: – There are many voices and musical influences out there that can shape my sound, but ultimately I try to stay true to myself and make melody from my heart and feel the rhythm in my body.

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

MP: – I love the fact that it is an album that features a woman’s voice, especially my own voice as it was like a childhood dream came true. It is also a bold artistic statement I am trying to make as you rarely hear an Asian vocalist out there in the jazz scene. I am always constantly juggling between two hats of jazz and classical, right now I am working on a string orchestra piece for my summer composition program in Paris, which is due on July 12 and another classical piano trio piece for my newly formed composer group “Pitches Brew” due on September 9. In the meanwhile, I am still looking for opportunity and funding to premier my piano concerto.

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

MP: – For me, soul is ultimately more important than intellect: I hope my music can have some spiritual effect in people’s lives rather than be just purely entertainment. However, my mind does get bored very easily and I love difficult challenges. Therefore I find great gratification and fulfillment when I am able to resolve the chaos and problems that I created.

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

MP: – I am less concerned whether my music is going to sell or not as an artist nor do I care what a particular audience really wants. I know that many people are struggling in one way or another, and I hope music can bring some comfort and hope to those are in pain and help those who are at peace to express it.

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

MP: – I have performed at so many concerts that they blend together. But I can name two of the most memorable ones. I premiered two of my classical piano pieces and choral pieces at Carnegie Weill Hall about 10 years ago and that really defined to me my calling to be composer. Another special memory was my debut jazz gig at Taiwan — it was an unforgettable experience of returning to my homeland and singing to my own people after being overseas for twenty years. They expressed so much love and appreciation for my singing which gave me the confidence to produce this vocal album.

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

MP: – Even though the standard jazz tunes are half a century old, they are not as old as those of Renaissance Gregorian chant. I think each generation needs to create its own sound but I would encourage and educate young people to have a open mind to learn from the music of the past and all genres and see how it can sharpen ears and critical thinking.

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

MP: – I do see jazz as a spirit instead of a clearly defined genre played by a specific ethnic group. It is a spirit that transcends cultural boundaries and a voice that speaks for the oppressed souls of all colors.

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

MP: – I hope that starving artists will no longer be starving and musicians valued and the services they provide to the public could be recognized and fairly compensated. The disparity of artists’ income is vast, the difference could be $50 per gig to $10000 per night. I wish every artist could have equal access to health care and benefits.

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

MP: – Honestly I think sometimes the best music is silence. When I am stressed, or trying to create something new, I actually do not listen to music. Lately I try to clear my mind and hear my own musical sound emerging in my own head.

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

MP: – For this album the message is love, forgiveness, and the courage to move forward and speak your mind.

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

MP: – If I could rewind my life, I should never have fallen in love with some people, and avoided unnecessary dramas and pains. But with that being said, some of my outstanding music, including this album would not be born in this case.

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

MP: – Any idea for the next album?”

For the next album, I would like to rearrange some old Chinese songs from the 30s and incorporate ethnic instruments with modern jazz big band.

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

MP: – I have all the songs selected, the two main goals is to get sufficient funding and write some killing charts for it, I would really have to hone my skill as arranger for the next album.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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