Interview with Eric Reed: Rhythm is in my soul: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Eric Reed. An interview by email in writing.

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

Eric Reed: – I grew up in Philadelphia, PA. My father was a singer and a preacher, my brother played guitar. My entire community was filled with music in the home, in the neighborhood, church, and school. My next-door neighbor was a good friend with Bobby Timmons, who used to come around and play on his piano while I sat watched.

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

ER: – The more I listened, the more I embraced. Sometimes people had to expose to me music and concepts that I wouldn’t have otherwise known to seek out. It took me a long time to find my sound because I kept letting everyone else tell me what it was. Once I finally embraced my own truth about what I believed and what I wanted to do, my sound began to emerge more naturally.

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

ER: – Rhythm is in my soul. When I was younger, it was much more frenetic and aggressive, now it’s strong, mature, and cohesive. Although I don’t have a strict practice regimen, I play frequently and I keep my fingers active. It’s not often that I’m called on to play difficult passages of music, but when I am, I create a plan for learning it.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? Your 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?

ER: – Essentially, I play what I feel. Most of what I feel has a certain melodic consistency that’s singable. It can be difficult (not impossible) to sing melodies in a dissonant context; I tend to lean more towards things that don’t rub against the ear. When I play the piano, I’m also hearing the human voice.

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

ER: – I’m big on rejecting anything negative, especially on the bandstand – there’s no place for it. You find a group of like-minded people, you allow them to contribute fully and unhindered, and you communicate the overall message. Love and respect for the fellow musicians is paramount even to the music itself.

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

ER: – The conjuring of a message or thought comes from the soul; the conveyance of the message is the intellectual part. It also depends on the message; some things are purely about a feeling, and others require a more involved process of bringing the message to people.

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

ER: – Although I have no idea what “people” want, I know what I I trust this feeling because my motivations and heart are pure. Of course I always hope that people will like it, but if they don’t, that’s okay too. What people want has to be in line with what I’m willing to do.

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

ER: – I played Meridanne: A Wood Sylph as a duet at Lincoln Center with Wayne Shorter back in 1998. It was the most frightening experience of my entire life to date. It was time to start playing the piece, and I just froze! It seemed like an hour had gone by, but it was really just about 20 seconds, which is still long when people are waiting for you. I needed absolutely quiet, and also I was praying. We finished the piece, and I stood up quickly because I didn’t want to take a chance that I would do something ridiculous like play some clichéd piano arpeggio or something. I froze again – Wayne reached back without turning around, and reached for my hand to bring me up to the front with him as the audience gave a standing ovation. It was the most intensely terrifying, gratifying, and gracious experience I’ve ever had on a bandstand with anybody.

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

ER: – When I got into jazz, I was listening to recordings that were already a half a century old. I was very much into Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, et al. Whatever there was in that music, it resonated with me. I don’t know about this idea of “creating interest” in jazz music for young people; some kind of way, young people have always found their way to this music. It’s a natural progression for most of us. The biggest problem today is that you can’t feel and smell jazz in the air like you once could in times past. Times change, people change, economies change, etc.

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

ER: – Music does not come purely from an intellectual process. Artists are inspired and influenced by the world around them, the vibrations of nature, one’s own feelings and moods. These intangibles are energy and spirit – things you can’t see, but they are ubiquitous. The meaning of life: put all of your positive energy to good use to enhance and edify yourself and others. As for negative energy, process it in a healthy way, and embracing healing and recovery.

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

ER: – All artists would be in full control of their art.

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

ER: – I still love the music of my childhood: Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Edwin & Walter Hawkins, James Cleveland, Stevie Wonder, Queen, Journey, Toto. Then, there are recordings that predated me by The Davis Sisters, The Caravans, The Soul Stirrers with Sam Cooke, Sonny Rollins, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker. As for contemporary artists, I enjoy listening to pianists Taber Gable, Aaron Diehl, Gerald Clayton, and a few artists who are currently on the verge of making their marks like tenor saxophonist Chris Lewis, and pianist Domas Žeromskas.

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

ER: – My message is very simple: love, hope and the celebration of mankind. Even when I am composing about despair, there’s always got to be a light at the end of the tunnel. In my performing and composing I tend to lean towards ballads and slow tempos. The people that I see at my performances are a mixed array, so I usually blend standards because nostalgia is a powerful vibration, original music and rarely heard compositions by other composers because I like being able to expose people to new things.

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

ER: – I’d like to go back to the time period of Jesus Christ, about AD 27-36, and see all of those events actually take place. Of course, I’d have a video camera with me.

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

ER: – I don’t have any questions to ask.

JBN.S: – Thankl you for answers.

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

ER: – Just being myself, and I’m still learning who that is. I want my legacy to be one of having created and performed my best and put out a loving and beautiful energy to the world.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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