Interview with Joonas Haavisto: Music is also my spirit: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Joonas Haavisto. An interview by email in writing.

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

Joonas Haavisto: – I grew up in a small city called Kokkola on the west coast of Finland. My parents put me to sing in a boy choir when I was 6 or 7. I sang there for five years and picked up playing classical double bass in a music conservatory, when I was 8 years old. I was not that interested in music at that point of my life.

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

JH: – We got an acoustic piano at my home when I was six. However, I couldn´t choose piano as my first instrument at the conservatory due to its popularity on that time. I gave up the double bass when I was a teenager and begun to play basketball instead. There was a couple of years break before I picked up the piano more seriously at the age of 16. Picking up the piano at the end has something to do with my childhood, when my parents listened a lot of great music, like Mozart, Bach, Duke Ellington and especially Count Basie Big Band was something I remember from that time. Basie´s piano playing and those fine arrangements sounded great already then.

I have had great teachers during my studies at Sibelius-Academy and University of Miami. Mikael Jakobsson, Jukkis Uotila and Jim Beard were my teachers and I also had lessons with Dave Kikoski, Joey Calderazzo and Aaron Goldberg.

I quess piano fits to my personality the best. There is so many possibilities to create music with the piano and its role in a jazz band varies from soloist to rhythm section. I also like to work with singers.

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

JH: – Listening to music has been the best way to learn about what kind of sound I like the most. Since I begun to play the piano so late, at the age of 16, I had a lot of things to catch up. The whole piano technique, jazz esthetic and repertoire.

However I feel myself lucky to have heard a lot of great jazz since I was a kid. That really is a big reason for how I could reach the professional level. I had it all in my head, but just had to get it into my fingers and body. In order to develop my piano sound I have tried to learn from the masters of melody like Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and also get the rhythmic articulation from the best like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. To learn how to break the conventional I have listened a lot of Thelonious Monk.

Since I didn’t go through the classical training in piano when I was a child, I took classical piano lessons later at the Sibelius-Academy and I have also done a lot of technique exercises of Carl Czerny (teacher of Franz Liszt). That has really helped me to get a better sound.

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

JH: – I have taken those Czerny exercises and converted them into jazz language. I also play a lot of Bach´s preludes and fugues. For improving my rhythmic ability I play as much as possible with the metronome and with different drum applications. There’s a lot of possibilities nowadays with all the mobile applications etc. Playing with recordings is also important. The best way to practice would be of course with a real rhythm section, but sometimes it´s hard to find time for that with the bassist and the drummer. Everybody seems so busy nowadays.

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?

JH: – You are right about that, thanks. And what comes to harmony, I do compose sometimes the melody first and sometimes the harmony first. Now I am interested in finding the harmonies that are somewhere between the jazz and pop/rock esthetics. Combining the more complex stuff with the simple ones. The balance is important! For me there has to be both sides. Defenitely I am a fan of beautiful melodies too.

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

JH: – Experience helps with that. But it is also important to be open for that too. If something ”odd” comes into your music and it sounds weird, you can try to analyze it and make it work. That is also development.

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

JH: – Both are needed. Bach or Coltrane are good examples. They have it all!

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

JH: – I can do it, but in my own way. I couldn´t play something just to entertain if it´s really bad music. I believe it is possible to achieve the same goal by playing great music.

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

JH: – On our first Japan tour in 2013 in Tokyo we played a sold out concert in Musashino Swing Hall. There was one of the best Steinway D-model grand pianos that I have ever played. There was a piano technician tuning the piano before the sound check, after it and between the sets. On the second set we played a fast tune where I happened to break one of the strings in the middle of my solo. There was a big bang coming out of it, but somehow I managed to continue my solo. After the concert the technician was really frightened even though it was not his fault. Nor it was mine. This is just what happens sometimes.

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

JH: – By taking jazz concerts to new places like clubs, where young people normally go. There’s many great examples of this here in Helsinki, where there’s been jazz concerts in rock clubs, bars and even in a studio apartment, where is a grand piano. Another way is to collaborate with musicians from different genres like for example Lady Gaga has done. A popular artist (if he/she is able to do it) does a jazz recording or concert.

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

JH: – I agree with that. Coltrane´s music especially is spiritual. Music is also my spirit. I don’t don’t go to church, but that does not mean I am not spiritual. Music is the best way for me to reach something unexplainable.

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

JH: – To have more professional managers, agencies etc. on the field. Too many professional musicians struggle by being at the same time promoters, publishers, booking agencies, managers, photographers, producers etc. while they should be doing what they are supposed to do, to play.

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

JH: – Something from the past like Thelonious Monk and Glenn Gould, something from today like Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel for example. Sometimes I wanna get lost in Spotify or Youtube to explore some weird stuff too.

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

JH: – Respect.

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

JH: – Village Vanguard, 1961, Bill Evans Trio. You can sense the special atmosphere even from the recording. It must have been magnificent for those lucky ones who happened to be part of it.

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

JH: – Give me two examples of your top 10 recordings and tell something about them, why they are so great?

JBN.S: – Thanks for answers. Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue; Bill Evans Trio: Waltz For Debby; John Coltrane: A Love Supreme; Ornette Coleman: The Shape Of Jazz To Come; Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um; Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners; Horace Silver: Song For My Father; Grant Green: Idle Moments; Hank Mobley: Soul Station; Herbie Hancock: Head Hunters; Dexter Gordon: Go!; Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder; Bill Evans: Sunday At The Village Vanguard …

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

JH: – This has been very interesting interview with great questions and made me think about the basics what makes me to love music and especially jazz.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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