You came two years ago to Barcelona Jazz Festival, performing solo piano. You are coming again this year, and you will receive the gold medal of the festival. Two questions: do you remember the first you played in Barcelona? And at your age, and with all your experience, what do you feel when you receive a musical/civil award like this?
I feel especially honored to receive this award from the Barcelona Jazz Festival because the acknowledgement comes from an art culture that is very dear to me – this great city of Barcelona and this great Festival with all its history.
Your professional activity is almost unstoppable. This year, as I remember, you have released two new records and you’re touring with different bands. From outside it seems very difficult, but how do you manage to perform live with formations (your trio, Gary Burton, RTF)? Is it necessary to be a methodic person or very disciplined?
I feel good when I’m creating music. I get fulfilled in many ways by the positive effects that the music creates for myself and others. I learn from all the great musicians I have the privilege of working with – they are like family. So I keep making new projects and new compositions and new bands. It’s my joy.
Could you explain your Birthday Bash at the Blue Note last year?
NYC is my musical home base. I went to live there immediately after finishing high school. All my musical heroes live and worked there. The NYC Blue Note has always been a great place to play music. People from all over the world go there to experience the music. And each time I play the club, a lot of fans and musicians come out to hear the music.
In 2001 I celebrated my 60th birthday there by inviting many friends to come and make music with me – a 3-week engagement that presented 9 different bands. We filmed it and put out Rendezvous In New York. It was completely sold out and a high point in my life.
Last November I was invited to do a similar birthday bash, this time for 4 weeks with 10 different bands. Again it was sold out and was another amazing high point of musical friendships for me. I plan on making several CD and DVD projects from this event.
The New York Times defined you recently saying that your career “is among the most kaleidoscopic in jazz.” Do you agree? Could you explain in your words your secret to get this artistic level?
There’s no secret. I enjoy life and I enjoy people and I enjoy creating music and sharing it with my musicians and with audiences everywhere. I try to take care of myself and my family and generally care for the details of what goes on in and around my music making. I brush my teeth regularly and treat others as I would like to be treated
Talking about your career, if you had to choose three musical experiences of it, what would you say (and why)?
The past is a memory, the now and the future are The Adventure.
How did you meet Christian McBride and Brian Blade? What do you like of his respective artistic skills?
Christian and Brian are both dear friends and are amongst the most creative and skillful musicans I know. But the joy is when we play together – each giving himself to the group effort and relishing all that comes from the others’ universe.
You insist on preparing a distinctive repertoire for this trio. Why? And which stuff will you perform in these concerts?
Like most of my bands, the repertoire is always in flux. New ideas come from what happened the night before. We keep evolving a piece that we like – adding a new one occasionally and so dropping an earlier one. We play some compositions of mine and some standards – but always trying new combinations. That’s the challenge of the music we like to make.
Which is the secret behind this sentence, that you repeat talking about your career: “I really enjoy everything what I do”?
No secret – it’s a simple and true statement, I’m happy to say.
Two last questions: Do you see in the present day any young (or not) pianist that you could say is OK? And, how do you see the present jazz scene in the United States and internationally? Any suggestion?
There are so many creative young musicians coming around. I keep finding them each day, each week. Our world is not scarce in talent, but it is scarce in the humanities. My suggestion is just to support art and artists as much as one can. Creating music and art change and lift the spirits of people everywhere. It’s the common urge and pleasure of the human race. I encourage young and old to use their creative abilities to suport, encourage and make music and art in any way they can.
These efforts always start at an individual and community level. It only takes one caring person with a little courage and adventure to start things going – and people will join in.