PABLO HELD INVESTIGATES: JOHN SCOFIELD

I grew up listening to John Scofield through my parents who are big fans of his music. So each time we’d go on holidays or just went for a little trip in the car there’d be a cassette with Sco’s music playing at some point during the journey. “Still Warm”, “Hand Jive”, “What We Do”, “I Can See Your House from Here”, “Quiet” and also his records with Miles Davis like “Decoy” or “You’re Under Arrest” are are deeply ingrained in my childhood memories.

When I was ten years old my parents took me to see John Scofield for the first time. He was touring with a great quintet (Seamus Blake, Kevin Hays, Larry Grenadier & Bill Stewart) playing the music from the “Quiet” album. This was an unforgettable experience to say the least. Since then I’ve seen him live countless other times, collecting his records, looking for bootlegs, reading his interviews and transcribing lots of his songs.

In 2014 my trio got the chance to invite a special guest for a concert at Philharmonie Köln. We expressed our desire to play with Sco and to our surprise he accepted! That first concert became a record (The Trio Meets John Scofield on Pirouet Records) and after the release John asked us to come on tour with him through Europe in 2015. You can imagine how surreal all this felt, but getting to know John, playing and hanging with him has been one of the greatest experience of my life. He’s the nicest guy you can imagine, a musician of the highest order and I’m thankful to call him a friend.

Here’s my conversation with him. Hope you enjoy.

PABLO HELD INVESTIGATES: NELSON VERAS

The first time I heard Nelson Veras play the guitar was on a bootleg of his masterclass at Amsterdam Conservatory that a friend of mine gave me. I remember being deeply impressed and instantly drawn to the way he played. Nobody plays like that! Nobody. I became an instant fan and fell in love with his records, mainly “Solo Session Vol. 1” and “Rouge Sur Blanc”. If you don’t have them, make sure to check them out, you won’t regret it! (The masterclass has since found its way to YouTube)

Last year I had the great privilege to put together 4 different groups for an artist residency at Jazzfestival Viersen, so for one of the sets I asked Nelson to play duo with me, an amazing experience for me, to say the least. That led to us playing a small quartet tour with drummer Guilhem Flouzat and bassist David Helm which was equally fun. We were scheduled to play a show with Pablo Held Trio feat. Nelson at Jazz D’or Festival in Berlin which unfortunately Nelson had to cancel, because he had broken his finger. Our conversation took place one week after we were supposed to play together.

Pablo: Hey man, I was looking forward to talk to you!

Nelson: Yeah! So you’re doing a bunch of interviews?

Pablo: Yes.

Nelson: I read the Wayne Interview, but there’s no video on that one, right?

Pablo: Yeah, no video for the Wayne Interview, but my conversation with Mike Gibbs is in video format.

Nelson: Ah OK, cool!

Pablo: So you’re the third person I’m talking to, the second one I’m doing a video interview with.

Nelson: So you’re recording the video? Is that possible?

Pablo: It’s possible, we’re living in the future, man!

Nelson: I’m still way back, I guess… (laughs)

Pablo: Do you listen to cassettes?

Nelson:(laughs) not that way back!

Pablo: How do you listen to music these days?

Nelson: On my phone with earplugs. At home there’s always too much information in order to put on something loud, so…

Pablo: So your son Pablo doesn’t like to listen to music with you?

Nelson: He likes his own stuff, but I don’t exactly know what he listens to. He’s 12 years old and has his own device.

Pablo: I see. What do you listen these days?

Nelson: Actually I haven’t listen to a lot of music these last days. I don’t know – what did I listen to? Oh I was listening to Gonzalo Rubalcaba. You know this record called “Paseo”?

Pablo: Yeah that’s amazing. It’s a pretty scary record.

Nelson: Yes it’s crazy! I have a friend who transcribed some solos on it. So I was checking out which ones he transcribed.

Pablo: Anything comes to mind that stood out for you?

Nelson: I guess Gonzalo’s phrasing.

Pablo: Right!

Nelson: The attack and the articulation. I mean I always noticed this, but it really popped up for me this time.

Pablo: Yeah his phrasing is pretty unique.

Nelson: It’s all over the place. Amazing!

Pablo: I mean, how can you be so precise without sounding like a robot or a machine? He’s got so many different levels of different dynamics in his sound and that he can access all of them at any given moment is very impressive to me.

Nelson: I don’t know how it sounds to a piano player, but yeah it’s really impressive. Also he changed his style a little bit from his first records, I felt. It has a lot more space in it now.

Pablo: Although he’d be totally ready to fill any space in any moment for sure. But yeah, he cooled down over the years. Because he did it all back when he was super young when he was playing with all the masters.

Nelson: But even in the construction of the solos, it’s really nice how he stops and which spots he chooses to stop playing.

Pablo: Do you know these recordings with Charlie Haden?

Nelson: I guess I know the one where they play these latin ballads.

Pablo: “Land of the Sun” or “Nocturne”?

Nelson: I guess it’s “Nocturne”

Pablo: That’s a great one. He has a nice trio with Matt Brewer and Marcus Gilmore. I like that a lot. Did you ever meet Gonzalo?

Nelson: Yeah, maybe 25 years ago or something like that. (laughs)

Pablo: How old were you back then?

Nelson: I was around 15 years old. I used to play with an American piano player who lived in Paris and he was friends with Gonzalo. So one day he called me up and said: “Gonzalo Rubalcaba is here!” So I went there and I listened to them playing together but I didn’t my guitar so I didn’t get to play with Gonzalo.

Pablo: You learned a lesson there, right? Always bring your axe!

Nelson:(laughs) Two pianos… you know? Maybe it was better I didn’t bring my guitar.

Pablo: Right, two pianos and one of them is being played by Gonzalo!

Nelson: Gonzalo is like 3, right?

Pablo: Definitely! Yeah that record “Paseo” used to scare me. I thought: “How can he play like that? And will I ever be in a position, where understand just a tiny little bit of it?” You know? Do you remember that feeling when you were young, when you didn’t really understand music the way you do now. I mean, we don’t understand everything of course, but when you were an amateur, going to music lessons or even before then…. having this giant space of all this beautiful music before you, but you didn’t really understand anything. It was kind of a wonderful feeling, right?

Nelson: Exactly! Sometimes we almost wish we’d still have it – I mean sometimes we have in certain moments. But it’s a great feeling to have, like you’re in a different universe.I remember the first time I went on a concert of Steve Coleman when I was 15 and I was completely lost. I could tell they were playing with their own parameters, but I didn’t know what those were. Any I really loved that feeling.

Pablo: Listen, I wanted to talk to you about something that really impresses me every time we play together, or when I listen to your records, or also when I first heard you on that bootleg of your masterclass in Amsterdam that a good friend of mine gave me: I’m very amazed by your clarity, the clarity in everything that you play. And it also looks like it. When you look at videos of Art Tatum playing the piano, you hear all this virtuoso playing, his amazing sense of time, his huge sound, ridiculous stuff that he plays but no movement at all. It’s the same with you, you have this amazing fluency and clarity and I’m wondering where this comes from. I’m sure this is something you’ve spent a lot of time on. What are your thoughts on this?

Nelson: Yeah it wasn’t on purpose. It was always a little bit like that. Doesn’t mean that I’m not struggling… but you just can’t tell when you see me from the outside, you know? But actually it’s really hard for me to play. A lot of people tell me: “Wow it looks so easy when you play!”. Actually it’s so hard for me, I can’t focus on anything else. I guess two months ago I was playing at a really crowded bar and there was a guy behind me that apparently was drunk and he was about to fall over me. And just heard about that after the set, my friends asked me: “Man you didn’t notice the guy behind you almost falling over you?”. Yeah in fact it’s really hard for me on the inside, so I tend to not notice stuff that happens around me when I play. And then that topic of not moving….

Pablo: Maybe it’s like that because you don’t really move a lot in real life, too?

Nelson: Yeah, I’m not a mover! But there are some specific guitar things that I do, like when you play certain chords your hand is really rigid. Sometimes I play lines that are based on the notes of the chords I play. So it’s more a right hand thing than a left hand thing. It’s hard to explain, but I guess guitar players will understand.

Pablo: Also the clarity regarding your time… There’s never a moment when I’m listening where I’m thinking: “How does he mean it?” or “Did he mean it?” or “Where does he actually want to put this note?”, because it’s evident where it’s supposed to be. And it seems like you can you go anywhere from that with the rhythmical stuff you’re playing.

Nelson: Well, I think I know what you mean. But sometimes I miss the other thing, you know where you don’t really know where it is – it’s not that easy to do for me. (laughs) I guess with practice and time I’ll be able to maybe get somewhere else.

Pablo: But how did you arrive at this rhythmical clarity?

Nelson: I guess I practiced a lot of subdivisions, like quintuplets and stuff like that. Especially when I met drummer Stephane Galland. I couldn’t understand what he was doing because it sounded very loose and precise at the same time. So I asked him what he was doing. So he told me he was really into Sivaraman, who is an Indian percussionist. He explained to me how you could play the same phrases you’d do in 16th notes or triplets but also play them in quintuplets and this is what he was practicing. So I remember practicing this for a while. There’s this record by Sivaraman called “Drums Of India” he does this thing in an almost pedagogical way, the record has a click, too! So you can really relate to what he’s doing. On the second tune he starts in quintuplets, then sixtuplets, septuplets and so on, so it’s really organized that way. I remember I slowed that down in order to understand what he was doing and Stephane explained some things to me, too. And I guess that might be the reason my playing can seem a little quantized. I mean I practiced so that’s what is coming out, but that doesn’t mean I really want to do it like that! (laughs)

Pablo: So you slowed it down that Sivaraman record and played along with it putting notes to the rhythms?

Nelson: Yes or even with one note. I just wanted to understand. And then later I practiced stuff that I was used to practicing in 4/4 in quintuplets, like Bach pieces, I tried to play the same but in quintuplets. It’s the same like we do, when we play triplets, the actual notes stay the same. Then I started to work on whole notes, dotted quarter notes… all the things we do in 4 but now trying it in quintuplets. That what’s harder to do, the longer values. But it has been a while now, I haven’t practiced that stuff for some time.

Pablo: Wow that sounds amazing. I mean that makes sense to me, listening to you talk about this stuff. If you go into these different directions it will make everything you play much clearer in the end, because you’ve been to so many different places of rhythm.

Nelson: A friend used to say. It’s like the definition of a picture… You’ll get more definition or pixels in the end. But another friend also told me that every time you choose a path you’re missing another one. And I think it makes sense. But I guess it helps… What have you been practicing lately?

Pablo: I tried to learn Bach’s two-part Invention No. 13 in A-minor.

Nelson: Why did you want to learn it?

Pablo: Well, always after having played Bach’s music I feel much better. Obviously I’d like to better my fluency in both hands, I guess. I feel like I’m spending too much thought about what to play with my right hand as opposed to my left hand. So playing these pieces where you’re supposed to play a lot with the left hand as well get me out of my comfort zone. There were some spots where Bach takes some very unusual turns, where I’m always expecting different notes to come at a certain point and I’m always surprised about what’s actually written down as the next note.

Nelson: It’s funny you say that, because I was reading a Keith Jarrett interview where he said the exact same thing.

Pablo: I know that interview. But it was a bit different for me. My instinct would tell me to play another note. My instinct in that moment is being made up out of my knowledge of Bach’s music and all of that other stuff. I’m not the world’s best sight-reader, so I have to hear every note that I’m reading and then play it. It’s a matter of hearing it first and then playing it. But when I’m reading music I’m of course putting the reading part in front of hearing. So if I’m reading then I have to hear the note – and sometimes I don’t hear it because my instinct gets in the way saying: “It’s supposed to go that way!” So it can be hard for me sometimes to play the right thing.

Nelson: I know what you mean.

Pablo: There are some moments in this invention which I had to hammer into my head, almost screaming the correct note internally right before I play it. B NATURAL!!! — it has to be a B natural. And when I did that it really made a difference and then I tried to play it with my eyes closed. So you can’t rely on how your finger-movements look like on the keys when you play. You really have to realize what you have to play in that moment and that betters a lot of different levels of my playing. I have to be looking into my head, what are the notes, what does it mean harmonically, rhythmically? And yesterday I had somewhat of a breakthrough with one of the sections of the piece, so I’m actually playing it in my head all the time.

Nelson: Wow. And you practice it slowly?

Pablo: Yeah I always practice super slow in whatever tempo which permits me to hear every note before I play it. I’m not aiming at performing all those classical pieces publicly at some point, it’s more about getting into that music and trying to understand it on a compositional level. I’m really analyzing it then I’m trying to see how I can use it for my stuff. It’s more of a research than a preparation for a concert situation. So yeah I’m trying to learn this Invention and also I’ve been transcribing songs for another PABLO HELD MEETS concert at the Loft.

Nelson: Do you transcribe a lot?

Pablo: I do transcribe a lot of songs, but I don’t really transcribe solos.

Nelson: Never did?

Pablo: I had to transcribe some for school, but most of them I copied in my own writing from transcriptions that my friends gave to me. Obviously I took a lot of stuff off records but it was never a whole solo, more like little things. Like super small wheels in a clockwork. If I would hear a phrase that spoke to me by Dexter Gordon, Cannonball Adderley, Miles or Herbie -well, anyone- I would definitely take it apart. It might even be just 4 notes – anything that I liked I would learn it and see what it means. I was always a bit afraid of transcribing too much, whole solos, because I thought that I might rely too much on the stuff that I had transcribed. A fear of getting stuck, maybe?

More than anything in terms of transcribing I’m transcribing songs. When I learn a standard I won’t write it down. But originals I like, I write them down. I’ve transcribed so many tunes by Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock or Herbie’s reharmonizations of standards… lots of different stuff, also in order to be able bring something to a session or a gig. When I listen to something I like my first instinct is “I want to play!”. Sometimes I’m even listening to music like I’m sitting in the band myself, like I’ll get instincts to play along or interact.

Nelson: Have you ever felt the need to let something go if you like it too much? Like not even transcribing it?

Pablo: Well, I know that feeling, but mostly I can’t resist the urge to learn it, to take it apart. But I know what you mean, it usually happens that you spoil it a little bit. So there’ll be this moment where I’ll go: “Oh, it’s just that….” It loses a bit of its magic, because you’re always attracted to something that you don’t know, something that you don’t have, there’s a mystery there, like when you fall in love with somebody.

Also, we’re listening to all the masters and to us they could be beyond human, super heroes and when we transcribe something and realize what the actual content is, how simple it ends up being in the end sometimes, it puts you closer together with them, because you might see that you can archieve a lot of things without having too much ingredients all the time. Greg Osby said: “A complex thing is usually two simple things put together”. And we’ve all collected to so many simple things throughout our time here that our individual journey is how we put them together.

Nelson: Yeah, it’s how we perceive the information and how we develop it, because everybody will treat it differently.

Pablo: In a way it’s bittersweet in the end after having transcribed something and then arriving at something where you wouldn’t have thought it might be so simple in the end. I realized more and more that it’s less about what they play it’s more about how they play it.

Nelson: Exactly!

Pablo: Like listening to Herbie’s voicings while he comps behind the melody on Nefertiti, I always thought that those had to be huge voicings, full of notes. But when you actually take it off the record, you’ll see that he’ll only use 2 or 3 notes at times!

Nelson: And it sounds so big!

Pablo: It sounds big because of his big sound!

Nelson: And where he puts the chord, because sometimes if it’s a little laid back it has a bigger sound because you’re not playing at the same time like the other guys. Because it’s not right in the middle of the other guys, it might come out more, right?

Pablo: Yeah! But then also, if you play something exactly at the same time, the various ingredients transcend what they sound like in a way and it becomes a new instrument. Or the textures might give the illusion of more notes being played. Weird, but very nice! […] How did you come about playing Robert Schumann’s “Vogel als Prophet” from the “Waldszenen” ?

Nelson: This was Stephane Galland’s idea. He just brought the tune. I didn’t know it before.

Pablo: It’s really beautiful how you play it and also how loose Thomas Morgan is underneath you guys.

Nelson: Yeah. We tried the tune… Thomas, he’s incredible. He started to do some interventions and I thought it might be good to just let him free and me and Stephane could just play the melody, not strictly but how we feel it. And the idea of it being a little long was nice, to me it’s a little trance-like.

Pablo: I had to think of “Nefertiti”

Nelson: Maybe Thomas is Tony Williams on this track.

Pablo: He is Tony on this. And the melody doesn’t get old, although in the first moment you’d think that it might get old, but then it doesn’t!

Nelson: Actually Thomas Morgan proposed to cut it in half, but I tried and I think it didn’t work as well.

Pablo: I also like that you don’t play the chords underneath the melody.

Nelson: Yeah, I couldn’t – even if I wanted to! I’m actually just trying to read through it on the recording. I just played what I could get.

Pablo: The melody sounds so nice on its own.

Nelson: Yes. And also the my hesitation as a result of my poor reading skills doesn’t come out too bad when I listen back to it. (laughs)

Pablo: It doesn’t sound like you’re badly reading something at all. I was assuming you knew the piece very well and just loved it so much that you wanted to play it somehow and then you just left out the chords.

Nelson: No, not at all. I guess to this day I haven’t heard the original!

Pablo: I’ll send you a nice recording. I really love that piece. It also fits the record perfectly. It doesn’t like “Oh now they’re playing a classical piece!” That whole record has a very homogenic feel to it, nothing that stands out in a weird way, nothing where you’d think “oh, why are they doing THAT now?”.

Nelson: Really? That’s cool. That’s good news! (laughs)

I actually like, and I’m not talking about this record specifically, when it’s a little hermetic. When it’s too much different styles or very complete, like there’s everything in it – I’m not too crazy about that. I prefer things that are more targeted with only one thing. So if I want to “eat” something else I just listen to another record. But when it’s aimed to be like absolute I can’t get into it that much. Well, it’s not always like that, I don’t now…

Pablo: What do you listen to when you feel uninspired ? When you feel like you can’t play, or you don’t know what to do next. What do you go to? Something that always works for you?

Nelson: Nothing works always, I guess. But I get the feeling that even if you don’t know in a conscious way you’ll end up finding out what to do. Maybe it means reading a book, or you go to listen to something without knowing why you chose it and that ends up being the right thing to listen to. Sometimes you don’t know why you choose one record over the other one. So maybe in a way you know what you’re looking for but you’re not really aware. But I don’t have any thing that works every time, how about you?

Pablo: It’s not only one record specifically. But I usually feel inspired after listening to Stravinsky’s “Mass”. Most of the times it gets me into the mood to play.

Nelson: Which period is this? When did he write it?

Pablo: He wrote it in 1948. It’s a beautiful piece for choir and chamber ensemble. On the other hand I’ll always get a kick out of Miles’ “My funny Valentine” or the “Complete Plugged Nickel recordings”.

Nelson: Oh yeah, I used to listen to that one a lot when they put out those six CDs. Did you see that interview where they talk about playing “anti-music”?

Pablo: Yeah, it’s also told in Wayne Shorter biography. Do you know it?

Nelson: No!

Pablo: Oh man, I think it’s my favorite book about music!

Nelson: Did Wayne write it himself?

Pablo: No, it was written by this lady called Michelle Mercer and just does a great job capturing Wayne’s spirit. She accompanied the quartet on tour for a couple of years.

Nelson: Wow. I’ll get that! […] So Pablo, what have you been listening to lately?

Pablo: I’ve been listening to these pieces for piano and violin by Prokofiev, especially the “Songs Without Words” op.35. Actually, on the day where you and me were supposed to play last week I’ve maybe listened to the second movement from “Songs Without Words” about 70 times, I’ve just put it on repeat for the whole day.

We briefly talked about phrasing before, could you name someone who has been an early role model for you and that you really tried emulate?

Nelson: Yeah, my first guy was Helio Delmiro. That’s the first guitar player I heard playing solo guitar, improvising, you know? And he played finger-style to, so I was really attracted to it.

Pablo: What album should I get by Helio Delmiro?

Nelson: You know, the best things I heard him do were radio shows. They weren’t formal recording situations, but he did a few albums. I don’t have his albums though. I’m even not sure if he’s still playing. He used to play with Elis Regina and lots of over big names, lots of sideman work. I guess he played with Sarah Vaughan, they did a duo record.

Pablo: I have this Sarah Vaughan record called “I love Brazil” maybe he’s on there, let me check.

Nelson: He’s probably on that one.

Pablo: He is! I like that record. I mean she’s deep into our late mega-vibrato phase but it’s beautiful. So many great tunes on there. I’ve transcribed Milton Nascimento’s “Bridges” from that album.

Nelson: I’ve got to check out that record. But yeah, I’ve transcribed some stuff from Helio Delmiro. He also wrote some choros that I transcribed, I remember. I always liked his playing. So he was the first guy. I was really sensitive to phrasing, though I didn’t try to emulate that much. Then I remember the first time I heard George Benson, that was crazy! Also Kenny Kirkland….

Pablo: Yeah!

Nelson: They came to a festival in Brazil and I saw it on TV.

Pablo: Which band did he play with?

Nelson: Branford Marsalis Quartet!

Pablo: What’s your favorite record with Kenny and Branford?

Nelson: I don’t know all of them, but I do remember “Crazy People Music”.

Pablo: Yeah man, that’s the one!! It’s my favorite one, too. I listened to that record so much.

Nelson: Also Kenny’s record is cool, too!

Pablo: Oh man, I adore this record!!!

Nelson: His tunes are nice.

Pablo: I’ve transcribed “Blasphemy” from that record. Do you remember this song? (sings the melody)

Nelson: Oh yes, I remember. It’s with steel drums, right?

Pablo: It might be those batá drums. It’s a percussion keyboard duo, Don Alias and Kenny. In the end Kenny even plays a little solo with a muted trumpet sound through his keyboard… really funny. But yeah, his compositions really have something special. He was a big admirer of Brahms. He might be the reason I really got into Brahms… although I think I also listened to my father play a lot of Brahms’ pieces at home.

 Nelson: Did you hear his episode on Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz”

Pablo: Yeah, I like her show a lot.

Nelson: Another guy I first saw on TV was Gary Thomas. I was really amazed. He played with Jack DeJohnette’s band “Special Edition”.

Pablo: Yeah, he has a pretty special way of phrasing.

Nelson: Yes, he has his own way of playing….

Pablo: masculine… in way. (laughs)

Nelson: And he’s the sweetest guy!

Pablo: Did you ever play with him?

Nelson: Yes, we did a few tours with Adam Pieronszyk’s band, he’s a great saxophone player from Poland. So I got know Gary a little bit and he’s really the opposite of that image. He has a special memory for patterns. He always memorized those super long hotel wifi passwords when we were on tour. That sort of comes out a lot in his playing to my ears.

Pablo: No, I can see him coming from a nice place, spiritually or emotionally. But what comes across is a very manly. Intimidating also in a way…

Nelson: He’s like a bodybuilder! (laughs)

Pablo: There are some great bootlegs with him and Herbie out there. His playing is amazing.

Nelson: When I came up Toninho Horta also was a huge influence on me.

Pablo: Oh yeah, thanks so much for recommending all those great records of him to me. I think I came really late to the Toninho party!

Nelson: It’s never too late!

Pablo: I read that you’ve played with Gary Peacock. What was that like?

Nelson: That was just one concert, in fact it was a tribute to Michel Petrucciani in 2000, I guess. It was Aldo Romano on drums, Lee Konitz and me.

Pablo: Wow, what a band!!

Nelson: Yeah. We didn’t rehearse that much. But I got there two days in advance and Gary, too. So I could spend some time talking to him and it was great to hear his thoughts on things.

 Pablo: What did you ask him?

Nelson: Man it was a long time ago, but I remember he was really into Zen. I also remember people told me “Please don’t smoke around Gary!” and I think I’ve never met someone who smoked so much! (laughs) Also, he was really into transposing tunes, he could play them in any key. In the beginning we were just hanging at the hotel, but on the day of the gig we’d run through some tunes and I could see he was really easy for him to pick any key and say “let’s go!”. Lately I’ve heard some duos with him and Paul Bley, do you know them?

Pablo: Yeah, they have great rapport. There so many great records with them together.

Nelson: The one with John Gilmore and Paul Motian is pretty special.

Pablo: That’s true. I’ve read that this was one of Keith Jarrett’s most favorite records.

Nelson: Yeah that one and “Footloose”.

Pablo: How do you prepare for a concert?

Nelson: I really love to check out the tunes as much as I can. I hate to sight read, so if I can I like to prepare as much as I can.

Pablo: But what’s your process when you prepare the music?

Nelson: Actually I like to work on stuff that I’m checking out at that time, a rhythmic excercise or whatever, and combining this with the songs that I have to learn, so I’m doing two things at a time. And a play a lot during the day, so I repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat…. (laughs)

Pablo: And what’s the first thing you do when you see a sheet?

Nelson: I guess I’ll check if I have an audio version and try to see how it sounds and then I use the sheet. And then I try to memorize as much as I can of small fragments, because if I have to rely on my reading I’ll mess it up. But there have been some situations where I’ve noticed it actually got worse the more I practiced some tunes… So I have to be aware of that, too. (laughs)

Pablo: Do you remember what happened there, why it got worse?

Nelson: I guess, I’ve played it so much so every time I’ve played it I was closing possibilities because I already did it at home. So then when you play with people it can get in the way if you did a lot alone before, because you’ll get habits.

Pablo: I know what you mean. What happens with me is, I try to avoid running through changes of the blowing sections. But then sometimes my discipline might not be super high while I’m practicing a section of a tune that I should practice because I’m not able to play it yet… So I’ll get distracted by looking at the changes and wanting to just improvise, finding myself just playing through the changes, although I really should spend some time getting the song right. I’ll have to remind myself to stay strong and stay with the objective. (laughs)

Nelson: But if the changes are really hard, you’d still have to check it out a little bit, right? Like if it’s not related to the melody for example….

Pablo: Yeah, but then again I really love that feeling of figuring it out for the first time, because usually that’s the best time for me. You’re really open and you’re trying to go places with the harmony. Of course, you might take more chances with the harmonies after you’ve played it a couple of times, but I so love that feeling of being surprised by the changes.

Nelson: Maybe you must have a better relationship to the visual element, I mean looking at something and then playing, than me.

Pablo: I feel good reading chords.

Nelson: You translate quickly when you see chord symbols, right?

Pablo: Yes, but it’s not the same for me with written out stuff, I really have to work on that to get it right…also memorizing it. I can be really scared of playing written-out stuff at times.

Nelson: Really? I didn’t look like that when we played!

Pablo: Well I got more and more comfortable throughout the years, but when I started out I was such a bad reader, maybe the worst reader on the planet. I so much had to rely on my strengths in order to make up for all the bad mistakes I made when I had to read. But it got better over the years because I made myself sightread more and having lots of rehearsals with very different projects learning lots of music together really helped. And also getting your ear better in place with your eye in a way, right? When you I can sing what’s written there, that’s usual a way in. You see an A and then you know how an A sounds like, then you play it and that process gradually speeds up after doing it a thousand times.

But coming back to the surprise element: I also really like to transpose tunes. I don’t like to read standards and I hate the iRealbook that everyone uses now, because nobody knows the melody anymore.

Nelson: Oh yeah, there’s no melody in there….

Pablo: And nobody knows the changes anymore, because they don’t have to remember them – there right in front of them! Even transposing is just a click and then you’re there.

But I love that feeling at a session when somebody asks “can you play ‘Invitation’?” and I say “sure, let’s play!” and I might not actually now how it starts in the beginning, but they count it off and in the moment where the first chord is supposed to come, I play the the first chord.

Nelson: How do you mean this?

Pablo: If you’ve learned a song by heart without sheet music it’s really ingrained in you, it goes deeper than having something like a photographic memory of a sheet.

Nelson: Of course!

Pablo: So you really know what the functions of the chords are, on which pitch the melody starts and how that relates to the chord that the melody lies on. You’ll have a knowledge about the parameters of the song: melody, harmony, rhythm etc. but you sort of forget all of that after a while and it becomes really subconscious.

Nelson: Oh yeah!

Pablo: You know a tune that well so that you can actually “forget” it. You know what I mean? So then if somebody counts of “Invitation” your subconscious will tell you what to play instead of your mind. And then you’ll hear the C played by the bassist and you’ll play the right chord and you might be surprised again by the next chords, but you’ll play them, because it’ll come out of your subconscious.

Nelson: Yeah, that’s the best feeling.

Pablo: I love that feeling so much, but in order to have it I really need to know the song very well.

Nelson: Right.

Pablo: So for the last question: When is your next album coming out?

Nelson: Um, I really don’t know.

Pablo: I think I’m not the only one who really needs another Nelson Veras record.

Nelson: Thanks!

Pablo: And you don’t have to feel the pressure of making the next masterpiece, because it’s going to be the next masterpiece anyhow!

Nelson: Well, the question I ask myself is: If it’s true that I don’t care, why don’t I just do it?

Pablo: Whatever it will be, I can’t wait to hear it!

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PABLO HELD INVESTIGATES: MIKE GIBBS

I’d like to thank all of you for all the wonderful responses to my conversation with Wayne Shorter. In this next episode I’m talking to master composer/arranger/trombonist Mike Gibbs.

I heard about Mike Gibbs through my good friend Sebastian Gille, who invited Mike to arrange his music for a special project with the NDR Bigband. I was amazed by Mike’s writing right away. Everything he does sounds so rich and full yet very open at the same time. He’s a true master who has worked with so many of my personal heroes: Joni Mitchell, Jaco Pastorius, John Scofield, Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, Bill Frisell, John McLaughlin, Steve Swallow and so many more.

After a while we got in touch and we embarked on a deep exchange via email, talking a lot about our shared love of Gil Evans’ writing, sending each other music to listen to and exchanging lots of sheet music. I asked him so many questions about all of his encounters with the great masters and he always took his time to answer very thoroughly.

On the other hand he seemed very interested in my trio and our way of playing together, asking for lead sheets of my tunes and commenting in depth about our newest recordings. He even turned up out of the blue on a trio gig at the Vortex in London and after that followed the trio to Almeria, Spain where we hung out for three days.

It’s very inspiring to see him staying that interested in the current scene, eager on learning more and deeply immersing himself in the music all the time. I want to be like that when I’m at his age!

Naturally, when I decided on doing this series of interviews I knew I had to talk to Mike for sure.

Here’s our conversation. Hope you enjoy!

PABLO HELD INVESTIGATES: WAYNE SHORTER

I’m very excited to share the first episode of my new interview series. The story of how my conversation with Wayne Shorter came to be is an interesting one – to me everything that has to do with Wayne Shorter is interesting!

When it comes to Wayne one could say that I’m a nerd: I have all of his records; I collect all his interviews and then check out everything that he mentioned in them: books, movies, records etc.; I have hundreds of bootlegs of all of his bands; I’ve transcribed over 50 of his compositions and so on and so forth… To me he is a constant source of inspiration and joy.

More than 7 years ago I heard rumors about a movie being made about Wayne so naturally I got very excited. I tried to find out as much as I could about the details of this production and I found out a film maker called Dorsay Alavi was directing it, following the Wayne Shorter quartet on tour and interviewing lots of his peers. They started a Pledge Music campaign where one could “pledge” (donate money) and get different perks in return. Naturally, I pledged and donated a certain amount and receiving the opportunity to have a 20 minute skype interview with Wayne himself! I reached out to Dorsay Alavi asking her if she’d consider to show Wayne a recording of mine prior to the skype conversation so that he could maybe comment on what he had just heard. To my great surprise and joy she accepted and showed Wayne a recording of me playing a solo rendition of Joni Mitchell’s song “Marcie”.

Of course, I was beyond nervous to talk to my hero, which is why you won’t find me talking a lot in this conversation. What do you reply to a master of this statue? What is there left to say?

After this conversation I met Wayne in person a couple of times, after his shows in Cologne in 2013 and Stuttgart in 2017 and I was amazed that he immediately remembered me, commenting on things we talked about in our first conversation. He would say: “Pablo!! Fast Fingers!! Storyteller!!”

I’m so thankful to both Wayne and Dorsay for making this possible and granting me the rights to share this with all of you. This has been an amazing experience for me. Hope you enjoy!

Pablo Held: Hello!

Dorsay Alavi: Hi Pablo, how are you ?

Pablo: I’m very excited!

Wayne Shorter: Can you see me ?

Pablo: I can see you – IT’S YOU, MAESTRO!

Wayne: I see me seeing you!

Pablo: Yeah!

Wayne: …seeing you, seeing me, seeing you, seeing me!

Pablo: Now you see me – now you don’t! (disappears in the picture)

Wayne: (laughs) What month were you born ?

Pablo: December.

Wayne: Okay. No I’m not going into the – what do you call it ?

Dorsay: Astrology?

Wayne: Astrology.

Pablo: Oh, what are you, capricorn ?

Wayne: No, virgo.

Pablo: I see.

Wayne: You’re a capricorn, right?

Pablo: Yeah, that’s right.

Wayne: Yes, Joe Zawinul and I used to say, talking about capricorn: lots of Xylophone players, boxers, pianists and, you know, people who work with wood and building things, you know?

Pablo: Okay, I work also with wood. Wood and strings!

Wayne: There are a lot of actors who are capricorns.

Pablo: Like who?

Wayne: They used to work with their hands, but they became actors. I think Harrison Ford was one.

Pablo: I love Harrison Ford!

Wayne: You know, he used to build houses.

Pablo: Oh yeah, that’s before Star Wars.

Wayne: Right. That was his job, building houses and things like that and then he learnt to fly. He still flies now. He flies, you know, there’s something manual to that. But, my father was a capricorn, he worked with his hands.

Pablo: What was his profession?

Wayne: He was a welder, you know. He built ships, ship panels on the outsides of ships and stuff. He also worked for the Singer Sewing Company in New Jersey. But how are you doing?

Pablo: I’m fine, I was looking so much forward to this! This is like a dream come true, because you’re like my idol!

Actually I was sitting next to your wife at your concert in Maastricht, Netherlands in 2010. There was a empty seat next to me, which was reserved for someone, it was in the front row. And then I saw a lady coming closer and I realized it was your wife, so immediately started talking to her before the show. And I gave her my CD for you, because I was trying to reach you. What do you give your idol? I wanted to give something back to you, I don’t know if it reached you… But now I have you in front of me here and it’s just great to see you!

Wayne: Yeah I think it’s here, I saw the name Pablo. I have a lot of things here today, since my birthday…

Pablo: I was going to say: Happy belated 80th Anniversary!

Wayne: I have to move a lot of things out of the way and I think I’ll find your CD. But I heard you just now! I like what you’re doing, man!

Pablo: Really?

Wayne: You’re going to those other places! Traveling to other places. And when I was hearing you, I said: “I know he appreciates Beethoven!” Not that I hear Beethoven, but I hear the strength. There’s a strength and it’s centered as it moves, you know? And you have that velocity. Inside-velocity and storytelling! This is all after all the music lessons, you know. Charlie Parker used to say: “Try to forget the music lessons and start telling stories!” So, you were travelling in the galaxies without – what do you call it ? – without having a lot of minor seconds all over the place. In the harmony – you know? (laughs)

Pablo: Wow, thank you so much!

I was thinking a lot about what to send you. On that same concert I also did a rendition of your song “Meridianne – A Wood Sylph”, but I thought maybe it would be strange for you to listen to your own song, because I’m so much influenced by how you do it, of course. So I thought maybe this song by your friend Joni Mitchell would be appropriate.

Wayne: Oh Yeah. I think Joni would like that. Because I know she doesn’t have the harmony on the guitar that you do. But I think in her head your harmony… She has the colors in her heard that someone else can contribute. That’s another way of looking at playing music and when your thinking of other people, without being selfish and saying “I’m playing for myself”, you can be contributing to everyone who has been before and coming after.

Like the pop musicians, they say they want to play music to please the public and that’s tricky, because you might think: “oh they’re thinking of people other than themselves” you know. But it can be very…. you know it’s the opposite! The opposite kind can be hidden. (laughs) Because some people do things to please other people and then when they’re in private they’re like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! (laughs) But then if you play music and it sounds like you’re not playing for the people and it sounds like you’re playing for yourself that can be the reverse. That you’re playing what you think people need. If you’re playing or writing a book or something like that of what you think the world needs – that could be part of your mission.

Pablo: You mean my mission?

Wayne: Yeah, it could be part of your mission! I kind of feel you appreciate Bill Evans. I think that Bill Evans had that feeling when he played just before he passed away. But we have to be strong and not let anything takes us over, dominate us and control us to the point that we destroy ourselves, destroy ourselves in the name of some mission. It’s about insecurity and traps, traps that we can fall into. You’re about 24 years old, right?

Pablo: I’m 26 now.

Wayne: I was 25 when I got out of the army and then I met Horace Silver, John Coltrane. I mean I saw them before. I saw Horace Silver a lot before. But I met John Coltrane and then later I met Miles, Art Blakey. I met Louis Armstrong.

Pablo: You met Louis Armstrong ?

Wayne: Yeah!

Pablo: Wow!

Wayne: In the club Birdland.

Pablo: When was this?

Wayne: When I was working with the Jazz Messengers, Art Blakey and me walked into the nightclub and then Art said: “I want to introduce you to Louis Armstrong!” And he was sitting at a table. He stood up, turned around and we shook hands…

I was watching the older musicians… watching Louis Armstrong, watching Coleman Hawkins. Watching those guys whenever I could see them. And I thinking a little bit about how healthy they were. I wondered about how long am I gonna have to be on the road, playing for a mission. Playing new music… there’s a lot of resistance on the radio and in marketing, advertising and so on. So I said to myself: “This is going a be a loooooong journey!”

What I’m getting at, Pablo, is how to sustain and keep healthy and sustain the life, the path that you chose and not let anything destroy you.

Pablo: Yes, I see what you mean. Actually I’m trying to live very healthy, I don’t do drugs or drink alcohol etc. My wife and me we’re about to have our first child in January.

Wayne: Yeah! Congratulations!

Pablo: Thank you. Wayne, I’d like to ask you something about composing.

Wayne: Go ahead!

Pablo: I read that you compose every day, so I’m wondering how you get into the mood to compose?

Wayne: (laughs) That’s a very basic question!

Pablo: Yes, I know…

Wayne: Sometimes I don’t. I just sit there and I have to think about flying and adventures and great stories, people trying to… like the Justice League, Superman, Batman… even the historic people… St. George and the dragon. But I don’t like the negative stuff. Sometimes I have the television on, watching CNN…

Pablo: But there’s a lot of negative stuff on television, right?

Wayne: Right, as I’m looking at CNN, I start thinking of the positive stuff to write, while the negative stuff is going on!

Pablo: … like to fight back?

Wayne: I listen to life, watch what’s going on around and write the opposite.

Pablo: Wow…! I think I wouldn’t get one idea if I turn on the TV here in Germany. But that’s a great idea!

Wayne: Or… this is a statement that just came to me. We teach at UCLA me, Herbie and Jimmy Heath, two days out of each month, when we can. They made an arrangement that we can do this. And one question I got from the students is: “What do you think of when you write? How do you get in the mood? What is it?” And there’s one answer that kind of stays with me: “Try to write and play, and write again, what you wish for!”

Pablo: Yeah, that’s nice!

Wayne: And then answer that question: “What do I wish for ?” and then try to put it in music.

As in: “How do you wish the world to be?” I wish the world was like fairyland! (laughs)

Pablo: (laughs) Actually, that’s linked another question I had. It’s not even a question, more a remark. You’re music to me sounds like the feeling I get when I watch “The Wizard Of Oz” or “Alice in Wonderland” etc. It’s the same feeling. It’s this uplifting spirit that comes with it, that makes you want to jump out of your window and fly!

Wayne: And I hear that in your harmonic story, in your version of “Marcie”. And I hear more than the melodies of Joni Mitchell, I hear YOU going your way, I would say, you’re starting to go do the path that’s least taken in life. Yeah! That’s an adventurous path and it takes courage, because the so-called “reality-people” always want to jump in front of you and say “booohh!”. They always say: “No! There’s no such thing as living happily ever after!” And I say: “Yes there is!!” So I have to be like a little boy.

If you’re playing what you wish for, that’s a pretty open challenge and it’s keeps me on my toes, keeps me awake and it’s always the door that’s open to write something whether you’re in the mood or not in the mood. That door is open – I say: “Who has the key to the door ?” Some people wanna shut that door and lock it forever! Business people! (laughs)

Anyways, you have a nice family and you’re gonna have children pretty soon. I want to wish you a lot of happiness and we’ll be seeing you when we’re gonna come to Europe. I think we going to come to Cologne.

Pablo: I’ll attend two concerts of you in November. I’ll be there in Essen and Cologne and the booker of the Philharmonic Hall in Cologne promised me to bring me backstage after the gig to say hello to you.

Wayne: OK, our tour-manager will watch for you, too. His name is Robert. That Church in Cologne…

Pablo: The Dom ?

Wayne: Yeah, it used to look like melting wax, you know? But they’ve been working on it, right?

Pablo: Yes and there’s a new window, a different window done by the Artist Gerhard Richter. Full of colorful cubes, there’s no religious figures on it, it’s a just great image.

— Skype connection interruption

Pablo: In a recent interview you said that Weather Report was something like a detour, or step away from the mission for you. So I was wondering what you meant by that?

Wayne: Well, after so many years it was time for me to step out and do things that I wanted to do before it’s too late. You know, things that I had in my mind when I was ten years old. I want to continue some things that you have to do without having a collaboration, or cooperative group.

Pablo: Like your mission?

Wayne: Yeah. When I joined the Jazz Messengers, it was 5 years. Then Miles – almost six, five and a half years. Then Weather Report was like 13 or 14, I said: “This is too long.” I started reading a lot of stories, books. I always read books anyway since I was about 13 years old. But I was reading great novels written by people. And I said “Wait a minute, it’s time for me to do some music novels” you know? Something that you have to do by yourself, so that you don’t get buried. Like they say: “Oh, he’s one of the Beach Boys….”

Pablo: I know what you mean.

Wayne: Or the name of a group taking over the individuality.

Pablo: I see. But I have to say this detour has also given me a lot of joy!

Wayne: Yeah. I said to Joe Zawinul: “You Know, Joe I think it’s time for both of us to do our own thing” And we shook hands on it and said “Yeah!”

Even up to that time before Joe passed away I was with him in Hungary, he was in the wheelchair. We always talked by facts and talked about life and watched the boxing matches together. So we said “We’re still partners!”

— Skype connection interruption

 Dorsay: We were waiting for your last question, Pablo.

Pablo: Oh ok, I’ll have to decide…

Wayne: Don’t force it. I don’t like force myself!

Pablo: This is another question about composing: Because I was checking out your compositions “Universe” and “Legend” and I found DNA of “Dolores”, “Sweet Pea”, “Two Faced” and “Sanctuary” and other compositions by you in there. So I was wondering how you free mind when you re-compose or de-compose older compositions of yours to start again with a fresh view?

Wayne: Well, actually in reality when we’re five years old we’re maybe two feet tall, then we get older and grow and we’re the same person. And with me, my philosophy is: to me there’s no such thing as the end of anything – or beginning! When they say: “Madonna is re-inventing herself” – Uh uh, no I say: “She’s continuing.” That marketing language, you know? Lady Gaga! Or “you’re doing an old piece of music in new clothes!” And I say: “You’re wrong, the piece is growing!” I have to recognize its growth. If it’s sounds the same, it’s my fault! (laughs) So I’m recognizing we must grow! OK? So I’m going to see you in Europe, OK?

Pablo: Yeah, I’ll see you in Cologne and Essen! I’ll be there!

Wayne: Backstage!

Dorsay: Thank you so much Pablo!

Pablo: Thank You, it was so nice! Thank you!

Wayne: OK Bye-bye!

(this conversation took place on September 5th 2013)

click here for more info on “Zero Gravity”, Dorsay Alavi’s upcoming movie about Wayne Shorter.

Pablo & Wayne