SIMON SARGSYAN: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
I grew up in Toulouse, South France. Toulouse has a strong connection with music, especially in Jazz music (it’s the hometown of French jazz singer Claude Nougaro). But that’s not the main reason: we had an old electric piano that my mom kept and I started to play random notes on it, still trying to make music though. She found a teacher for the first year of my musical, learning. A funny thing is that since then she took piano lessons again and she’s practicing on that same piano today!
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?
As I said before, we had this old Clavinova at home. The first teacher I had was called Serge Ducamin. Basically, I owe him everything. I first taught me ragtime, than jazz music. He also taught me how to transcribe, how to use my ears to learn any song. After 10 years with him, I continued with other great teachers, met a lot of legendary pianists by attending their master classes (Kenny Barron, Benny Green, Mulgrew Miller). The most intense learning process was during my time at Berklee, in 2014-2015, studying with Joanne Brackeen. She transformed me. After learning from her, I was not a student anymore, but a real young musician ready to begin his long journey.
How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
I’ve always tried to imitate and get as close as possible to my idols. The first one was French pianist Claude Bolling (for his album “Original Ragtime”). I played a lot of ragtime before starting to improvise. The first improviser I’ve tried to imitate was Oscar Peterson, followed by Errol Garner then Thelonious Monk and Kenny Barron. After that, I had a long time where I was influenced by Ahmad Jamal, and since 2011, Brad Mehldau heavily influences me. Those are the main influences, and only the piano players. I should stop there, as almost every jazz musician, I listen to a lot of stuff and the list would be too long!
That being said, I still don’t really think I’ve found my own sound, even if I know which direction I want to take, but to answer your second question, the main things I do to find and develop my own sound is to experiment everything I can at home, and also keep listening to different musicians everyday, transcribing and analyzing their music, reading their interviews and trying to understand their state of mind.
What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
To be honest, I don’t have any practice routine. The only thing I can relate to when I practice is my concentration. I can spend 8 hours on the piano a day without being aware of it, but if after 30 minutes I realize nothing is good, I stop and work on something else or do something different (mailing, accountability, administrative stuff…). Since there’s not a real schedule, I adapt everyday my exercises to my mental or physical condition. It took me a lot of time to get to this way of functioning, but I feel way more efficient than I used to be before.
For rhythm, I listen to a lot of drummers, bass players, I sing a lot (when I’m alone, of course!) rhythmical stuff and always try to stay in the form. When I learn some new things, I usually spend a few days trying to understand and practice, then I stop and move on to something else. Most of the time, two or three days after I suddenly feel the stuff I was learning, and I don’t need to think anymore to play it. I think it works the same way for a lot of people.
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?
I am heavily influenced by classical music, ragtime. One of the most important things to me is harmony. I pay a lot of attention to it. I’m not so much into modal system, way more in tonal system, very attached to the circle of fifths, so you will see almost every time some V-I progressions in my compositions, even though today I try to find new paths. Those paths help me lot to create illusions in my improvisations, I love to stretch my melodies, going in an out all the time, giving this breath that keeps the listener awaken, forcing him (or her) to let go any thought and get transported by the music. If I don’t use dissonance, I might bore and lose the listener, if I use too much of it, I might get the same result, so it’s definitely a conscious choice: try to use the dissonance the best I can, according to my music.
How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
For a long time it’s been a real problem: I was afraid of not having my own sound, being condemned to imitate others all my life. I was trying new stuff only to get something new. Then I realized that it was not the good way to do it. It made absolutely no sense and made my music absolutely uninteresting. I understood that I should not question myself so much. Sometimes, it’s necessary to keep moving forward and do what you want, without caring about how legitimate you are. Today, Brad Mehldau heavily influences me. A lot of fellow musician might criticize me for it, but they don’t learn me anything. I know it, I admit it, but I’m still trying to find my own sound, and I see more people telling me that I’ve evolved a lot. I have more public every month, I sell more albums, I get more gigs. Why should I stop? The most important is to keep in mind that I should never stop trying to progress and find my own voice. Will I make it? I don’t know. The objective is less important than the journey.
What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
I think it depends on people. For me, I don’t even think that’s it should be a balance. Intellect can feed soul, and soul can feed intellect. I think they are dependent from each other, whether it can be in Jazz, Classical music, African music, Punk, Rock, Hip Hop, etc. Short answer for a pretty tough question!
There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
I am totally okay with that, and I do this with my own compositions or arrangements. I think that you just have to stay honest with yourself. I actually conceive this as a game: I first transform a personal idea into music. Once I’ve got the music, I make a choice: do I keep it as pure as it came out of my head, or do I find a way to present this idea to the public by “making my music fit” to the expectations of the public. This way, I still feel like I have things under control, and at the same time I show myself opened to any interaction with the public.
Giving people what they want is a way to introduce them to your own universe. If you love people, you don’t have any consideration about how you should present them your material, you just create and perform. And let’s not forget that without the public, I would not make a living of what I do.
Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
Recently in Paris I came for a few days to jam with friends and meet new musicians. The two first jam sessions were crazy, a lot of fun. But after four days playing and partying with friends, I was very tired. Also, it’s been a while I didn’t work on the old American repertoire. The last night I came to two jam sessions with very cool and amazingly talented young musicians. I played everything wrong and I felt bad for the rest of the night. Even with the tunes I knew I was struggling to make music! After a few tries in different clubs, I decided that it was enough, and I came back from Paris with this souvenir. Thankfully, the guys I played with are very cool and were very comprehensive, so everything is ok, but this is something that we should all expect: you’re never done, you still have a lot to learn, and today I’m thankful that I could experience that once again. First, I know I should go back seriously to that American Songbook, and second, it’s cool to have ego, but you have to know that staying humble is way more important, and the only way to feel it is to live those pretty awkward moments. There’s always something positive to get from it.
How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
I think that those standard tunes can still be heard today, it’s more the way to play them which can be adapted (and it’s always been!). We can also grab songs from other repertoires, just like did Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper, Tigran, and many more. Those new generations are pretty successful in bringing young people back in jazz venues.
John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
I think my spirit is made of a lot of things, not only music. Music is just a small part of it. Sometimes I even wonder if it’s not just a tool. Maybe I think this way because I’m a European guy. I love and I am fascinated by this music, but I will never have the connection American jazzmen have with Jazz. It’s their music, their history. Thankfully this is not what I’m looking for. Music is a way to express myself without having to be rational. There are a lot of rules, and at the same time you still want to be like a little kid, making instinctive choices. Improvisation would not be so important in this music if we would like everything to be rational. So you have different paths that you can take whenever you want. That being said, music is not my spirit. What I just described, I like to think that I can have this state of mind in other aspects of life. Music is not my spirit, just a part of it.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
I think I would change the way money is distributed. A lot of people make easy money on hardworking artists, and they don’t have every time the good tools to defend themselves. I know that this problem happens everywhere though, but since the question is only about music…
Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
Kendrick Scott, Braxton Cook, Louis Cole, Aaron Parks, Ben Wendel, Mark Turner, Kendrick Lamar, and this amazing young band that I’ve just discovered last week, Greta Van Fleet!
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
Right now, the first thing that comes to my mind is a Soviet Cosmodrome in the 60’s or 70’s. Why? My parents work in rocket science, more precisely in surveying the oceans (my mother) and space exploration (my father). In 2003, working on the European satellite that discovered water on Mars (Mars Express), the ESA collaborated with the Russians to send the satellite into the space. My father was sent to Baïkonour Cosmodrome in the middle of the desert of Kazhakstan. When he came back he showed us some pictures of the huge installations, the Soyuz Rocket, even the Russian space shuttle Buran (they tried to copy the American Space Shuttle) that only flew once. All those things made me realize later that we almost don’t know anything about this part of the space race. We have documents and videos, but it’s really difficult to get there, so definitely I would love to see this place, even more during those important moments.
I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
Do you think that with all we’ve seen so far in music, combined with the internet revolution, is there any room for new music? Are we able to create something totally new? Or is it just going to be a mix of what’s already exists?
So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
This is one of those moments where I can stop, tell what I think, and try to see a little more of the big picture. Right after that, let’s get back to work!
LAURENT GRAULUS: Listening carefully to the Sunday Morning Blues song on your new Clearway album, I have not found the usual blues form that spans 12 bars. Will I be lost in the account, or is there another explanation?
For many pianists who know Brad Mehldau, they will surely recognize where this theme comes from: it is directly inspired by one of his compositions, the London Blues. This composition, I wrote in 2014 while I was in Berklee. The starting point was an exercise in style that Joanne Brackeen had given me, which plunged me into an intense and intense study of Brad's music. His theme is written on 16 measures, which is another form that can be found in the blues, certainly less common than the 12 measures. On the other hand, on the solos, it returns on this form with 12 measures. On some versions, it can be difficult to find one's bearings, because rhythmic illusions are one of the signatures of this trio. This is a notion that is taken into account when interpreting our Sunday Morning Blues. The theme is actually not played on a form of 12 measures, but the solos are. And then we have fun varying the harmonies and playing on rhythmic equivalences, which can push the listener to lose if he tries to count. This was made on purpose!
Returning to your trio, this is the most complete and minimal collective formula for a pianist. But today some say that the piano trio is a format seen and reviewed, saturated. What do you think of this vision?
I understand it, but I do not share it. Firstly because I still believe in the possibility of going further, and because we are lucky to be in a music where improvisation is a fundamental basis. This invites to try to renew oneself, and to express one's identity. In this, I believe in its diversity and new surprises. After, actually it is one of the most saturated formats. The piano is the best-selling instrument in the world, the most played, and this formula is the ideal formula for a pianist. What is more complicated, it is indeed to be able to be judged hastily on this choice of format and this artistic step, or one tends to say that it is time to move on and that it is not more interesting.
Are you irritated by this kind of talk?
The observation is there, and I understand the perception of some on what could be considered today a lack of originality. On the other hand, if it becomes pejorative, I can get bored quickly, because in this case you can declare that everything has already been created and that there is nothing more to do. On the one hand I think that it's been hundreds of years that we must hear that, and secondly I believe in commitment and artistic sincerity, and in the continuous work of the instrument. If an artist develops a project in the most honest, instinctive way, and puts the effort into it, then I will not simply sweep it away as some can do. The lack of originality may be proven, but it is always necessary to know in what state of mind a work was created, in what context. After only I can begin to make a judgment. This opinion, I must have because I am an actor of creation, and inevitably I know the challenge to which every creator is perpetually confronted. If I want to continue this job, I have to be optimistic about it, there is no place for snobbery or fatalism.
On your disk, there are two standards. Is it important for you to combine compositions and classics?
I will never be likely to blame a jazzman who does not incorporate standards in his album, it's up to everyone. That being said, for me, presenting standards is a certain risk taking, it is this confronting an inheritance, it is risk of being compared to names of the past that still resonate today. It is also a very good way to identify the identity of a musician, because we can very quickly detect his influences, his style of play, listening to play on a piece that we know. Vis-à-vis the trio, our music is located more on the other side of the ocean. To practice this language, it is important to have studied the basics. Many famous modern musicians today sometimes regret the fact that the musicians of the younger generation seek to imitate them without having worked on the bases established by the generations before. It is a primordial work, and my musical journey is reflected in this notion. It is both a pleasure and a commitment to take the risk of playing this kind of repertoire and try to make it my own.
Can you tell me about your two accomplices, Louis Navarro and Théo Lanau?Let's start with Theo, your drummer. How did you meet him, why did you choose this particular musician?
Theo is from the South like Louis and me. We met in Brussels, by chance. I knew him and had already seen him play, and I decided to do a test with him on a concert of the trio. Like any good musical encounter, I enjoyed his game and have continued since. Yet there is something in his game, unconventional proposals. It was not necessarily what I expected from him, and then I thought it was an opportunity to get out of my musical straitjacket. There is inevitably a time of adaptation at the beginning, but when I see the road traveled, I know it was the right choice. He is a musician who has a very strong sense of interaction, which is in the constant proposition, which upsets the established pattern, and which at the same time knows at the right moment to go totally to the service of the soloist. He is also a musician who has a wonderful technique, which never makes an unjustified use of it. He is always at the service of music, with a full commitment to performance, and always a willingness to go for the best possible proposition in the present moment. I do not think he is trying to claim a particular school, but I personally place him in the vanguard.
What about Louis, your bassist?
We did most of our musical studies together. Louis is a longtime friend, and I know his game very well. It's a solid benchmark in the trio, and we have a way of working that has been built as we go, today we can move forward very quickly with a nice complicity. To speak of the soloist, I have always been fond of the way he conducts his improvisations. He has an incredible narrative power, without having to make tons, in line with his influences. I think of American bassists Matt Penman and Larry Grenadier, but also of older players such as Paul Chambers or Scott Lafaro. As a sideman, he has a perfect listening, he holds the house with a relentless time and impressive reactivity. This is exactly what I need to express what I want in the softest of comforts.
To conclude, I would like to discuss your project to record a series of concerts in different European capitals. This is a very ambitious project for a pianist with your age, can you tell us a little more?
We are in a spontaneous music, which we record in the studio, we reproduce the same process on stage. From there, there is no lag in our approach. Jazz is also a music that we have to see live. Through a concert recording, there is no longer the intermediary of the studio, but the atmosphere of the room. It is also a testimony of what we are doing at a definite moment. We do not hide behind countless studio shots. There is no choice, we play as we play, we take risks and assume the music on arrival. It is a challenge that I like to take up and it is the purest way to transcribe to the listeners what is happening on stage. There are certainly surprises, unforeseen, but that's exactly what makes music alive and human. Number of legendary albums in history jazz contains these small "faults" that have contributed to their myth. Of course we do not have this claim, but we are happy to adhere to the same dynamic. Why extend this experience on different albums and different capitals? It is my wish to give a testimony on the evolution of our trio as of the years, while having a certain continuity. I consider this series as a complete work, a sequel that is seen over several years but can only be written at the fateful moments when the concerts will be recorded.
STANLEY PEAN: One of the titles of your new album Clearway particularly intrigued me: this is the ballad Bad Surprise? Where does this title come from?
This bad surprise is related to my musical learning. In a jazz school that I had just joined as a teenager, I ended up with a young piano teacher named Clara Girard, who after listening to me played a first time warned me that she was normally occupied less advanced pianists. I had some confidence at that time, and I decided to work on a statement from Brad Mehldau, his trio version of the ballad For All We Know. She made a complete transcription and when she brought it to me, I immediately returned to Earth. A monumental slap, which earned me several months of discouragement. At the time, I was attacking an important piece. Technically it was not difficult, but it was to discover the complexity, the extraordinary density of a piece that sounded so simple to the ear. But it was also at that moment that I had a first click, the feeling that this direction that I had to take, even if at the time I was still far from understanding all the subtleties of this music . I am quite in favor of this kind of choice: the more scary they are, the more they intrigue me. Finally, from the height of my adolescent arrogance at the time, I did not expect my teacher to provide such work. It's a tribute to her and the lesson she gave me that day.
Your partners in the trio, Louis Navarro and Théo Lanau, are also expatriate French musicians. How did you meet each-other ?
Louis and I met during our studies in France. We quickly started playing a lot together. We had recorded a first trio album a long time ago, before taking different paths. We share the same influences and a beautiful complicity. Louis has a very solid game, an incredible time and a very anchored sound, which is perfect to federate the trio. But he can very quickly follow us in our explorations. All these elements made this choice to integrate it all natural. Théo meanwhile, I knew him by name and had already seen him in concert, he comes from the south of France too. But it was in Brussels, where I had just settled down, that I met him, in the most pure chance! However, I knew his game, he's a very versatile drummer, who has a penchant for improvised and avant-garde music. I told myself that it was an element to exploit. My music is in a rather modern / mainstream trend, and Theo is also there to jostle the established order. After the first concerts, I knew that I had the rhythm I needed.
In your approach, what link exists between the composer and the improviser, between the leader who imposes the frame and the musician who dialogues with the bass player and the drummer?
I attach particular importance to the composer / improviser link. My composition process is not static, and the themes are never found as pretexts to improvise. My solos are all directly related to the themes presented (previously or subsequently). As an improviser, I constantly aim for this state of meditation in which I must return to build and develop my stories. It's a thrilling game, an emergency that we need to know how to control: the sensors are open and we balance constantly between controlled trajectory and visual navigation. As an auditor of what I do, I particularly like the notion of form, the architecture of a piece, from beginning to end. I conceive as much as possible my improvisations as compositions in their own right. In the end, it allows to blur the tracks and allows the listener to let himself be transported by the energies that we produce.
From the time you were in the United States you had the honor of studying with the wonderful pianist Joanne Brackeen. What is left of this experience?
So many things, so a package that I do not think I have digested yet! She has made enormous changes in me. At first, she demolished a lot of things I believed in my game, to rebuild them later. At the end of the year, she brought me something that I missed so much so far, namely the confidence in me and what I want to do. She is a woman who has built her career on her talent and fighting spirit, but remember that she would be ten times better known if she had not been a woman, an additional testimony to the problems of our society. She has a special aura, she is a great maestria of the piano, and at her age she has an absolutely incredible energy. I think she gave me a little bit of that ability to find the resources deep down and to be able to stay in the breach all the time. That's what brought me this confidence and inner peace to my art. This year to learn with her is the most decisive turn I have ever made.
All the honors, all the distinctions that you have accumulated since, do you feel them as a pressure on your shoulders, a burden, or on the contrary as a springboard pushing you to fly away?
I would say both at once. There is this pressure where every time I pass a new stage, I see all there is to do behind. The higher you climb, the more exhilarating, but the more expensive the places. Thus, every time I got a reward, it was rather five minutes of celebration and immediately turned to the rest (remaining caricatural). I always feel that everything is going to be played at the next stage, so my mind never rests. On the other hand, it is inevitably exhilarating to gain recognition, whether from the public or the professionals. It is an encouragement to continue, it does not indicate the path to follow, but it shows suddenly that we are not on a wrong track. For me, who can be quite anxious about my artistic approach, it is necessarily reassuring. Finally, at the level of what we say, I learned not to worry about it. I am more easily expected at the turn, sometimes I can guess the jealousy of some, but all that is forgotten from the moment I come on stage to share a moment with the public. Everything else becomes superficial.
What do you think is the current challenge for a young modern jazz pianist?
If I have to talk about my case (laughs), I will say that it is to be able to bring its stone to the building in an almost saturated format, namely the trio for piano in its purest form which is the form acoustic. It is to arrive to live fully and with dignity of his art without ever deviating from his artistic approach, with the minimum of concessions, and to share his music to the greatest number, that it is informed music lovers or a much wider public. And if we influence musicians, it's the jackpot!
PHILIPPE BARON: You spent a year in Boston during your studies, more specifically at the Berklee. Is this taste for American jazz and its tradition already present before this stay?
All right. This trip there was for me (as for many young jazz musicians from all over the world who go there) the opportunity to study this music at the source, to try to understand its mechanisms, to extract the essence, and to understand and feel the state of mind that is on the other side of the ocean. It was the best way to confront this universe, going directly there.
Did the Americans expect you (being French) to be close to classical composers, which is sometimes their cliché to them?
There may be this cliché, indeed. I'm never really personally labeled that way, let's say that if there was a cliché, it was more general. Something like Europeans who think too much and intellectualize everything. It's good war, but it can also be revealing. It happened once or twice in rehearsal to be from the beginning a little too attentive to all the parameters of my music, the place of each musician, etc .... In those moments, the Americans reassured me very quickly, told me not to worry: we play first, and then see. A more instinctive report perhaps? I think it works both ways. My sense of artistic direction, sometimes a little meticulous, changed their perception of a piece. It was very interesting for both parties.
One of the two covers on your Clearway album is Charlie Parker's An Oscar for Treadwell. The arrangement is substantial, could you tell us about it?
The idea of playing this piece was at first to be able to bring our personal touch to a current of jazz that we like, namely the bebop. However, I did not want to take a theme Charlie Parker has been recorded in too many versions. In these cases, as many sources of inspiration can be rich, they can become too much weight and install a straitjacket that curbs inspiration. So I chose An Oscar For Treadwell which for once is a composition of Parker that has been played little. I then chose to dissect the theme, re-harmonize, change the metric (originally played in 4 beats, the solos on our versions are played on asymmetrical 7-beat measures), which broadens our playing field, allowing us to create rhythmic and harmonic illusions. We have also deconstructed the form, moving from a simple theme / solos / usual theme to a less usual form, with a drum solo accompanied by piano and bass, a long passage in solo piano, interludes at various locations. We then found ourselves with a long piece much denser, written, marked, and including at the same time long free passage. The common link with the original version is swing and improvised melodies during solos that evoke the language of bebop.
The seventh track of the disc, Vence, is a piece on which you have combined a beautiful melody that invites you to dream and meditation, all on a harmonic grid that looks very rich and complex. Is this one of your signatures as a composer?
This is indeed one of my composition processes. I do not necessarily apply to all songs, but in general, as is the case for Vence, I do not start from a melody or rhythm, but rather a harmonic grid. I attach a great deal of importance to harmony, so that it will influence one way or another the rest of the process. In this case, I end up with a dense harmonic grid, rich. Not necessarily very complex, but contains a lot of important information. At that moment I look for a melody that can both tell a story, coherent to the harmony but simple to memorize. The goal is to be able to sing this melody quite naturally, as one sings a nursery rhyme or a popular tune. Vence is one of the first pieces that was composed following this "doctrine".
You mentioned before the show the pianist Craig Taborn, that you saw three nights in a row at The Stone during your last visit to New York. This surprised me because I did not expect it to be part of your influences.
Let's say I do not think I currently have a lot of things to express in registers such as those explored by Craig Taborn. On the other hand, it remains an important inspiration in my apprehension of the music, in a certain state of mind. The great chance I had was that there were these three shows just when I was in New York. So I could see it in three different contexts: once in a quartet with Chris Speed on saxophone, Chris Lightcap on double bass and Dave King on drums. The next day was in trio with Thomas Morgan on bass and Dan Weiss on drums, and last night it was solo. It was an amazing experience than to dive with him in this kind of cocoon created by this series of three concerts, and to discover him in very different registers, with so many incredible musicians around him, and all that for $ 10 per concert! It was also very important for the trio because I was with Louis and Théo at that time and we had the same excitement to see this musician. It was a moment where we find ourselves without having to play, but by delivering our perceptions of the same concert and all that while being found all three far from home.
All of this new school of New York pianists, from Craig Taborn to Vijay Iyer, are people who make the language of the piano work for you?
Clearly. In any case for a pianist like Craig Taborn I am convinced. His knowledge of the instrument, the sounds he can draw from it, the game modes he uses, it shows immense research, and we do not even talk about musical design. I do not necessarily want to integrate these techniques into my current game, but it is important to explore them at home, to understand the workings. I'm more influenced by pianists with more language "Conventional", I think of Aaron Parks or Taylor Eigsti. I was not necessarily very knowledgeable about Craig Taborn's music, unlike Louis and Théo, but these three concerts at Stone clearly had an impact. This keeps me awake and I do not lose sight of the fact that in a world where today, as an artist, we have to assimilate the other facets of the business, such as communication, marketing, production and logistics, We must keep this intimate space of creation, this refuge where the artist has no concession to make and must be able to keep his artistic approach intact. As far as I am concerned, this includes the idea of experimenting and helping to develop the language of the piano.
COLETTE SHRYBURT: Your trio presents its first album Clearway. All the songs on the album are original compositions, except for two pieces, including a beautiful version of Witchcraft.
Thank you very much! Witchcraft occupies a special place on this album indeed. I wanted to incorporate as I usually like to do a song from the repertoire of the American Songbook. I often make my choice by listening to versions made by singers or singers that I particularly appreciate. I also try to take versions that we have heard little, I feel more free to bring my ideas, without necessarily feeling the weight of the legacy that can manifest on some standards. For this one, it is a beautiful version of Franck Sinatra which decided me to take it again. As far as the interpretation is concerned, I naturally took inspiration from the work of Brad Mehldau, which he did on his series of Art Of The Trio: keeping a relatively traditional form in the exhibition of the theme and the solos, opening the swing and playing on the perception of rhythms (how the listener will feel the tempo).
For the second cover, you chose Charlie Parker, his composition "An Oscar For Treadwell".
This is a "rhythm changes" (in the same idea as the shape of the blues, it is here a form of very common piece that received this name with reference to the famous song "I've Got Rhythm" by George Gershwin) on which Charlie Parker wrote a specific theme. In general, many of these themes were pretexts for improvisation. Some even came from the improvisations of bebop musicians. I have always been fond of this repertoire, and Charlie Parker is obviously the symbolic figure. Again, I wanted to be able to play a theme where I felt free to bring my touch. A theme that has not been recorded very often. Thus, we have re-harmonized parts, changed metrics, changed the very interpretation of the theme. It is an exercise that helps a lot to discover itself, to find its true identity.
For the rest of the compositions, so you compose. How do you work with Louis and Théo? Do you have a particular way of functionning?
We rarely touch the composition itself. It is more about working directly on the three formatting: how to make the composition sound the best possible, with our personal identities, our common identity, how to put the maximum in the service of music. I leave a lot of freedom for Louis and Théo on the interpretation, so there is this instinctive side in the first place, then we fine-tune by looking at the details later.
Just about freedom, we feel that improvisation has a great place in your music. It's a balance.
The compositions are very written, there are many constraints, the harmonic grids on some pieces are demanding because they are very dense. That's why we work a lot on themes, written parts in the first place. Once we have explored them from all angles, comes the second part which is "Unlearn". We want to access this form of total freedom that allows us to move from one universe to another, to build an idea, to extend it, to deconstruct it or to move on to another idea ... To be able to manipulate these elements while staying in the service of music requires great mastery and knowledge of our songs. This work process is essential because it is also at this time that Theo and Louis appropriate my music, and bring their personal touch. This is a key step where their identities take over and bring the music in another direction.
What are the inspirations for the pieces of this album?
For Clearway Street and Journey To The Eastcoast, they come from my experience in Boston, when I was studying at the Berklee. Clearway Street is the name of the street I lived in, and Journey To The Eastcoast sums it up, including the trips I took by bus on the Saw Mill River Parkway to New York. For the rest of the titles, it is more of a pretext. It is rare that a composition has a predefined title. I do not have a thematic or particular or any message. The music comes as it is, so I often have to find what title suits it best, which sometimes turns out to be the most difficult part of composing!