Jean-Michel Pilc - "Constant Renewal"
Pianist Jean-Michel Pilc is one of those musicians, who leaves little room for outside appraisal. He is among the musicians who define themselves. Pilc, a native of France, who has lived in New York since 1995, sees his background as secondary: "Great art transcends frontiers, nationalities, and races." He hopes that his music does this as well. As a musician, he does not perceive himself as a French musician but as an "individual who makes music."
Carina: In 2000 you received the "Django Reinhardt Award" as "Best French Jazz Musician" of the year. Since you don't live in France permanently anymore, how did you feel about this honor?
Jean-Michel: It is always nice to receive some attention, nevertheless, for me the real goal is to play music, often, the way I like to play it and in the best possible conditions. If "honors" can help achieve this goal then I am all for them!
Carina: Was the award a reason for signing with Dreyfus-Records? What is the benefit compared to A-Records?
Jean-Michel: Dreyfus is one of the best independent labels in the world, with excellent PR people and a great worldwide distribution, so with them I know people all over the world will have a chance to know me and hear what I am doing. Francis Dreyfus is also an authentic music lover, which is a guaranty that my musical vision will be respected.
Carina: Your latest album "Welcome home" a CD with four original compositions and a lot of standards has an almost explosive power. Where do the three of you meaning as a trio - get this expression of energy from?
Jean-Michel: Most importantly, we get it from our common pleasure, emotions and inner urge. To complete this answer, I would also say that François and Ari are true innovators, unique and instantly recognizable voices on their respective instruments. Nobody has ever played the bass the way François does, and the same goes for Ari. They have that magic mixture of mastery and abandon, precision and insanity which is so vital to this music.
Jean-Michel Pilc - "Welcome Home" (Dreyfus, 2002)
Both are phenomenal musicians, but the most important thing is that when we play together, we don't feel like we play our instruments. We feel like we all play the same big instrument at the same time, the trio, and it's like we are sharing thirty fingers and three brains to make one and only entity. It is a very powerful feeling, musical, physical and sensual simultaneously, which transcends each of us. The whole is better than the sum of its constituents!
Carina: Why is it important for you to have a band that works together so close and so intensively? Where did you three meet for the first time? The persons, the concept, the timing - all seems perfect. Just luck?
Jean-Michel: I don't believe in luck, I believe in awareness. That is, when you meet the right people, you know it right away and go for it without any doubt or hesitation. Which is exactly what we did. I know François since 1982 and we have grown together as musicians. I have met Ari in a jam session in NYC round 1996, and I knew instantly this was it.
Playing with this band, I have a feeling of evidence, total adequation and endless freshness never experienced before. I also feel that a new vocabulary takes shape, a new language which completely makes sense to us and to the audience.
Carina: You sort of re-invent the standards that are part of your album. How do you approach this, why do you choose one or another? Do you try to stay close to the original intention of the composer or do you want to go beyond it?
Jean-Michel: My previous answer almost says it all. Pleasure, urge, emotions, this common and unique way of speaking that we have developed together. These are the keys. Plus a desire just to follow the music, not think too much (or at all!), get rid of concepts and intentions just to allow music to use us at its will, like Picasso used to say about his painting. Only then do we naturally sound like... us!
Carina. You are also known for solo performing. Do you think about a solo-piano-album? In what musical direction would you probably go? Would your classical influences play a role?
Jean-Michel: I'd love to play and record solo. Like I said, I would try to be open to musical urge, not think too much of anything, influences, things like that. Just be me at the piano, and let the band play. Indeed, playing solo is like playing with a band, except that you have to find the right "guys" there in your head.
If, this way, you put the right schizophrenic orchestra together, then you're not a pianist anymore, you are, there again, a music maker using a piano. Which is what I would like to be as a solo artist.
Carina: You take part in the "Rising Star Project" of Hopper and Hopper Management. Do you since you aren't a real newcomer anymore still consider yourself a rising star? Is "stardom" something relevant for a jazz-musician?
Jean-Michel: What is relevant to a performing artist is the opportunity to perform in front of audiences, and unfortunately it is a major struggle if you are not known. Staying home, waiting for gigs and dealing mainly with extra-musical stuff is a killer, so yes, if you can have less of that and more of a blast performing around the world, good for you. Notoriety is important to be happy as an artist, because it allows you to express yourself more, and in better conditions.
Of course there also are potential cons to being known, dangerous traps, but if you are strong, careful, balanced and don't lose sight of your main goals, it can be easily dealt with I believe, especially in jazz where "stardom" is a very relative thing. Most importantly, a tour like this one is a great opportunity to play almost every night for an extended period of time. It makes the music happen and grow in incredible fashion. You really feel you are connected all the time, and hence become a natural "music-emitter" like I said before.
Carina: Since 1995 you live in New York - a city of musical opportunities and creativity. Was that true then, and - is it still true?
Jean-Michel: My ambition has always been to be able to perform my music worldwide and unfortunately it turns out that such a goal is almost impossible to reach if you are a jazz musician based in Europe. By contrast, New York City offers a unique range of opportunities and possibilities, and at some point I felt I had to give it a try, which is why I moved there. This turned out to be a wise decision and I'm doing well. Now, for me, creativity is more of an individual thing than a geographic one. A great artist or a great band is a great one, period. Same for bad ones! In NYC, Paris, Moscow, Rio... doesn't matter much to me.
Carina: As a European, has something changed for you since 9-11? Is there a noticeable change in attitude towards foreigners? Does this maybe differ in the music-scene?
Jean-Michel: I have to insist: I feel like an individual, a human being. French, European... I never think in these terms. September 11 saddened me a lot because it is a disastrous event triggered by intolerance and fanatism, and emphasized how important it is that we fight for human rights with courage and determination.
Freedom is an important thing, too many people in this world are deprived of it, in facts and in ideas, and live in darkness, persecution or brainwashing. Those who enjoy freedom do not care enough and close their eyes too often on this sad fact. Sept. 11 was a reminder of the huge mistake it is to accept the existence of non democratic values and systems, going hand in hand with abusive dogmas and cults. Which is why I am a long time admirer of Amnesty International for their relentless work on free opinion and free speech.
Carina: You are as well the musical director and pianist of Harry Belafonte. How did this cooperation start and how did it develop? Belafonte says your music has a "special kind of unpredictability". Do you agree?
Jean-Michel: I could say the same thing about him! Like all great artists he is always surprising. Unpredictability of inspiration is an essential thing in music, especially when, at the end, it all sounds like it had to happen that particular way, and no other one. This is a marvelous and mysterious contradiction which is at the core of all great art.
It was a very enriching experience to work with Harry, he has that thing that I value most in an artist: he is himself, period! We collaborated 5 years (Richard Bona, longtime friend of mine and Harry's musical director at that time, called me for the gig back in 96), I became his musical director when Richard left, and I enjoyed it a lot. Lots of fun.
Carina: As a pianist you did not have a formal instruction but are largely self-taught - today you give clinics and master classes. Why isn't this a contradiction in itself? How would you describe your teaching-technique?
Jean-Michel: My own experience as a self-taught is a natural and gradual discovery of music, first as a physical and moral enjoyment, then as an art, then only as a discipline. First you listen, feel and love, later you learn and practice. On that basis, I teach my students to feel music in their bones before anything, to have a physical sensation of rhythm, feel the swing, open their ears, be able to sing anything they hear before playing it later eventually, be good listeners and react to all the sound which reaches them, not only their own.
I insist on them being musicians before being instrumentists, having their heads, ears and hearts command their hands, not the reverse. Most importantly, I emphasize the importance of having something to say before actually saying it. I have noticed that music schools, too often, don't do a good job on these essential matters and provide instead an academic pedagogy that makes students self-conscious clones, not spontaneous music makers. If I can help some of them in that respect, I feel good about it, makes me grow as much as them!
Jean-Michel Pilc im Internet: www.jmpilc.com/
Current CD: Cardinal Points (Dreyfus Records)