Interview with Charlie Dennard: Relax and enjoy! Video

- in INTERVIEWS, VIDEOS

Jazz interview with jazz composer, arranger, producer, keyboardist Charlie Dennard. An interview by email in writing.

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

Charlie Dennard: – I was born in Macon, GA, but grew up in Birmingham, AL. Music had a profound affect on me from a very early age. I remember hearing my friend play the piano when I was about 5 years old and it was so beautiful that I cried. I always just loved to play and listen to music – then in college I became a music major and was able to make enough money to become a professional. I had many great teachers but I think that just having a natural passion for listening and learning is what really continues to keep me interested in music.

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

CHD: – I studied classical piano when I was young and played in a 60’s era cover band in high school. Then I studied jazz in college and started to travel more. I think all of my experiences have contributed to the development of my sound. Ultimately, it has come down to what I like to listen to the most that has shaped my musical style. It’s like that old saying “You are what you eat” except with music “You are what you listen to”… At one point I realized that there’s always going to be someone else who can play faster or groove harder or improvise better etc – so I just try to be more of myself and really connect with what it is that I’m hearing. It’s interesting, I actually broke a couple of fingers on my right hand a few years ago and I thought it was the end of my career – but it actually turned out to be one of the best things because I had to learn to play again but slowly and with more intention. Since I will never be a serious virtuoso or anything – now I just try to play even more simple but meaningful and honest…

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

CHD: – Well, my steady gig over the last 15 years has been with Cirque du Soleil and every day we play along with a click-track (metronome) so that the show keeps the same timing and consistency. Now when I go play with other musicians (without a metronome) I can really feel how good (or bad) someone else’s time is… I don’t think all good timing in music is necessarily metronomic – but it certainly helps to have this as a starting 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?

CHD: – Yes, I definitely prefer harmony over dissonance. I’ve always been attracted to developing my harmonic vocabulary and voicings so I try to listen to as much as I can for the exposure. For example, I will listen to some crazy Hermeto Pascoal or Brad Mehldau or Johannes Brahms or whatever to get my ears used to it so I can try to explore more of those sounds on the keyboard or with my writing. I also use a practice technique that I learned from an Andy Lavern video where you go through all of the modes in each key just exploring and listening and trying to find new voicings and melodies etc. But of course, I sound like what I listen to mostly!

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

CHD: – That’s a tough question … I think quieting the mind is one of the hardest things to do. To block out any and all influences and just focus. Sometimes music helps and allows this type of connection and clarity to happen but it’s not easy … but there’s nothing better when it does happen and there’s just you and the music!

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

CHD: – Balance is the key to life but often times in music (as in life) it’s more one than the other. For example, music that has more soul (funk, groove, blues etc) often times lacks in intellect as well as vice versa. I love both and really try to combine them but it’s very difficult!

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

CHD: – Well, I feel that my regular gig with Cirque really gives the people what they want (and pay for) every day so this gives me a bit more freedom to be more creative with my own musical projects on the side. I’m very lucky in that way – but I have spent years playing gigs that ‘give the people what they want’ – the vast majority of musicians in the world have to do this to survive.

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

CHD: – My favorite story is when I was playing a solo piano gig in New Orleans and Paul McCartney and his entourage came in and he asked me to play “The Very Thought of You” and he sang it with me… It was around 2000 when he was in town playing for the Superbowl halftime show and he was staying at the hotel where I was playing (Windsor Court). It was the experience of a lifetime!

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

CHD: – I think even the young musicians should learn the (old) standards but there is a lot of new music coming out now too that is great. It’s funny though, I find just as much new and interesting music by going back and listening to the older and more obscure records as I do discovering new talent… but each person just needs to find what they like and what inspires them on their own. There’s so much out there that it can be overwhelming but very rewarding too!

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

CHD: – Music is one of the most spiritual things that I have ever experienced in life. I know it doesn’t affect everyone the same – but for me music is really the key!

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

CHD: – Better pay and working conditions for music and musicians! Also better retirement and union benefits.

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

CHD: – I listen to a lot of Brazilian music. I also love guitar players – more jazz and classical. I would have to categorize any top 5 lists into genre, era, instrument etc because there are just too many!

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

CHD: – Relax and enjoy!

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

CHD: – One of the many places I would like to go to would be the Romantic Era. First to see how they created so much incredible music with such fragile instruments like the early harpsichords, clavichords and pianos. Also, to see how sophisticated their live’s were without all of the modern technology that we have now… I still feel like this was one of the last periods of greatest achievements by humans with art, music and architecture.

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

CHD: – Do you ever travel to New Orleans? If so, please contact me… 🙂

JBN.S: – Thanks for answers.  No, unfortunately … 🙂

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

CHD: – Life goes on regardless – lol! Let’s keep working hard and enjoying life and trying to stay positive. Find your passion whatever it may be and do it to the best of your ability. We can make the world a better place!

Thank you so very much Simon! I really appreciate this opportunity! I hope all is well and all the best. Cheers, Charlie.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Image result for charlie dennard

Facebook Comments