Interview with Elsen Price: Dedication to your instrument is both an act of intellect and soul: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz double bassist Elsen Price. An interview by email in writing.

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

Elsen Price: – I grew up in Bithramere, a small rural suburb outside of Tamworth in regional NSW in Australia. Tamworth is famous for having a country music festival once a year in January, and when I was around 6 years old I saw some incredible fiddle players perform and I begged my parents to play the violin. I started group lessons at my school and started playing with small student groups, when I was around 8-9 years old the local orchestra asked if anyone wanted to play the double bass as they had purchased a ¼ size instrument. I instantly told them I wanted to play it and started trying to work out how to play it. A few years later an orchestra did a regional tour, which I heard the bass being played at a professional standard for the first time, which very much inspired me. When I was around 12, my high school music teacher showed me a Jaco Pastorius recording, which again blew my mind.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the contrabasse? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the contrabasse?

EP: – I got into the bass as I had a lot of curiosity for the instrument and enjoyed the role it has in music. I was self taught as a child, though did study composition and jazz with electric jazz bassist John Plankenhorn when I was around 16. I started working professionally when I was 18, then got a scholarship to study classical bass at Sydney Conservatorium with SSO Principal bassist Alex Henery 2 years later. Alex Henery is internationally regarded as a performer, teacher and all round musician, with his students generally developing a professional standard foundation of playing ability suitable for any genre of music they pursue. Half way through my degree I started producing my own solo performances and co ordinating collaborations with performers of various cultural and musical backgrounds. Ive maintained this since and have learnt much from leading classical, jazz, Middle Eastern, World and New Music Performers. I continue to study as much as I can from the very brilliant people I find myself working with.

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

EP: – Honestly, the more involved in recording you become as a creative performer, the more you can see what works, not just for you but for what you are doing. In 2012 I adopted a philosophy of specializing as a soloist/improvisor and a collaborator with New Music Composers and World Musicians. My philosophy has stayed the same since then but with that outlook, I find myself constantly developing various aspects, half to accommodate the music, and half out of inspiration of the music. I am also a strong believer in listening to the people who listen to you, my first movement into solo performance was a regular solo gig in Sydney, which I mixed up with various other types of pieces, a bartender told me he really dug the solo improv thing, so I went with it, and its worked very well since.

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

EP: – I’m a strong believer in regular practice and rehearsal, a performance is always an end result, and the preparation leading up to that always determines the success of the performance. I break my practice up into 6 different parts in order of importance, and it covers technical ability, creativity and repertoire.

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?

EP: – In reference to the album, the first track is a modal inspired piece with a strong reference to Persian style improvisation, with a drone tone and a specific mode played above, my huge love of Persian music is very much rooted in a very fundamental practice in the music for using very simple elements in an incredibly strong and moving way. The second track was conceptually inspired by disjointedness, which I found taking very elementary chord progressions like ii-V-I or I-IV-I etc. and messing with them, sometimes with a substitution, a changing key centre, going backward, going parallel etc. The 3rd track explored the bass as a solo instrument, with a very simple chord structure of i-VII-VI-V and progressively adjusting it without going too far. The 4th track was a long form chord sequence, with the harmony itself creating the melody and vibe. The last track is a reflection on the 1st track, but in a different key and mode. So its really a mix of ideas accompanying a consistent concept, with both conscious and reaction type harmony being created.

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

EP: – Im interpreting this question as how do I stop things getting in the way of creating something. Having a clear concept and making sure it is fully completed is I think a fundamental approach to creating art. It might get done in 1 day or 10 years, either way it will be completed. If youre an emerging artist you should take note of the various factors that arise during creating art, they’ll be there again the next time you do it and you have to know how to deal with them in order to make sure things are done properly.

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

EP: – I am very much from the perspective that any outcome is from the amount of input put into it. Dedication to your instrument is both an act of intellect and soul. Whilst some music might be separated into ‘intellectual’ or ‘soulful’, at the centre of either of those situations a musician who has created something. In practice, a musician easily finds development in both of those areas, intellect could be technical ability, learning music, understanding your job, making things works or taking things up a notch, and soulful development could be finding inspiration, meeting different musicians, having a strong effect on others whether they are the audience or students, finding lessons both in your musical development and life experience with one helping the other.

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

EP: – Art should challenge and inspire. Any experienced artist will know you cant please everyone and you shouldn’t have the motivation to please everyone. 3 things I personally believe out of significant life experiences are pursue your vision, have self respect and be thankful for the people you find yourself surrounded by. Translating that into this into an answer for this question, an artist needs to pursue their vision, it might mean changing instruments, jobs, countries etc., have self respect in that what ever the outcome of a pursuit, you must understand you tried your best and you’ve done exactly what you could have done, and being thankful for the people that surround you as they are there because you are doing what you set out to do.

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

EP: – I did a gig when I was maybe 17 years old in Tamworth at a pub with a singer who I met singing on the street. He wasn’t literally singing on the street, he was more screaming across the road, and at this point in my life I was very much seeing the musical world as grass being greener else where, so I was always literally down for anything. We played what would definitely be called extreme free improvisation at a small open mic night to a packed hotel room at a later point after some jams and rehearsals. I decided to close my eyes during the performance as I think I was both nervous and very much ready to try and create sound id never created before. After finishing what was an incredibly exhilarating and powerful connection of sound, I opened my eyes to find the entire room empty, even the bar staff had left. It was an odd sense of accomplishment as I realized everyone actually listened to the music and were affected by it.

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

EP: – Music education is important for all, and anyone with access to jazz education will react to it however they will. Jazz is an evolving form, and most jazz musicians when first studying will start somewhere in jazz history for inspiration, and they might move forward in time, or back in time. Either way they are contributing to keeping jazz alive, and I think one of the most wonderful things about jazz is the diversity, and with diversity anything can prosper.

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

EP: – I’m personally an Athiest though am totally open to spiritual experiences. Coltrane had an incredible way of communicating himself through his music and even be able to do so as a major jazz recording artist. It is a scientific fact we are all connected on various levels, and knowing that you are an important part of not only your immediate circumstances, but that of the universe itself, is a wonderful thing to understand. Ive been a practicing meditator since 2012 after studying the teachings of Master Huong Po, and very much a strong believer that while in this world we are all told to be better or different than ourselves, we are all simply who we are, and that is an incredible thing.

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

EP: – I really think the western world needs to put art at a higher importance than what it is now, something that is simply a business. All Non-Western Cultures have art and music as a sacred and fundamental aspect of their living, and this is because it connects people to each other, themselves and their environment. Whilst it would be convenient that we could all simply download all the information from Google into our brains and then call ourselves the experts of all things, Art allows us to be inspired, to challenge, to empathize and do embrace ideas that aren’t limited by words, language or numbers. Our entire beings need art, and the West needs it desperately.

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

EP: – I run a New Australian Music Radio Show in Sydney and every week I listen to different Australian Artists from all genres from both emerging and established backgrounds. Australia is unique in its cultural landscape and its limitations on artists. Australia of course has one of the oldest cultures on the planet, one which the rest of the world needs to know more about, it also has a very young culture in that any western music music created here is often a heavy mix of various ideas and perspectives, simply for the fact it’s a very multi cultural country, with the success of any act needing to embrace the environment that surrounds it, and not necessarily TOP 40 American Pop Music. Its always interesting what gets sent in!

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

EP: – I would like to hopefully inspire or entertain people with my work, I think if its simply background music I haven’t done my job properly. I think any messages created will come from the imagination of the listener, which is always lovely to hear what people hear in my music.

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

EP: – I would love to have heard all the various musics created in Australia before European arrival 200 years ago. There were literally 1000s of communities creating sound that was totally unique to this part of the world, and music that was literally 40000+ years old, an absolutely breath taking concept to fathom.

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

EP: – A question I might ask is for anyone who might read this. Feel free to let me know via the endless means of internet communication which is so convenient.

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers.

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

EP: – Not sure what this question means, but im looking forward to the future and very thankful for the past. Thank you very much for taking an interest in my album!!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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