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?
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.
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.
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?
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….
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.
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.
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!
*after Nelson’s hand recovered we finally played a gig with him as a featured guest of my trio at JazzDor Festival in Offenburg: