I had the thrill of interviewing bassist Steve Swallow last week for the next Jazz Master Summit. As I expected, Steve was a wealth of information about everything from bass pickups to zen.
Later in the conversation, I asked Steve a question that I frequently ask myself and others. In fact, Dave Liebman and I are finishing a book that tackles this question from a few different perspectives.
The question is, how does one find and project one’s unique musical personality or voice through jazz? I think the element of great art that we respond to is in seeing, reading, or hearing the personality of the artist in their work. More often than not, line up players of the same instrument and try to discern one from the next, and it’s not easy. Sure, their note choices are different, but what of their core sound and personality of phrasing?
In our upcoming book, The Art of Skill. Dave Liebman said the following:
Be a complete person
Further on in life, as one matures, knowledge of the humanities is important. What books have you read? What do you know of religion or philosophy? This knowledge is a part of what you are presenting to the audience. It will be built upon your experiences. These could be non-musical events because they help to provide energy and inspiration for your music and vice versa.
I try to get students to look outside of the box – the music box or more succinctly, the jazz box. Read some Dostoevsky next week or Carl Jung. Watch a couple of good movies. Please don’t forget your mind.
I was part of the staff at the New School when they started the jazz program in 1986. My course was not a musical one. The homework was to do something in New York City, come back and report on it. Nothing musical.
People would ask why are you doing that? I wanted to get these kids to look outside their narrow world and see what’s going on, to see if they can get something out of it. Everyone had a really great time. Some of the students didn’t expect that but I watched them grow as human beings from those experiences.
On to Steve Swallow, here’s Steve’s similar answer. Both Dave and Steve promote the benefit of rounding yourself out as a human being as opposed to just someone who can play a bunch of fast and high notes.
1 thought on “Steve Swallow and Dave Liebman on finding one’s musical personality”
I like to think of music as a language and to contemplate the connections between history, culture, music and biography. When I listen to jazz music, it’s hard not to think about its connections to modern classical music: for example, the chord voicings of McCoy Tyner and the harmonic textures of Elliott Carter. I am mostly self-taught in music, so my progress has probably not been as efficient or effectual as it might have been were I a conservatory student; but I do have a B.A. in Spanish Literature and currently, I am looking at the work of Julio Cortazar, an Argentinian who did most of his work in Paris, Cortazar’s work transcends the boundary of linear narrative and the text is replete with allusions to philosophy, anthropology, history and psychology. Cortazar explores the subconscious and experiments with the form of his art in ways that strikingly resemble the concept of continuous improvisation in jazz.