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An AAJ Interview with Issi Rozen

By Published: February 5, 2004

AAJ: Pianist Gilad Barkan has been the one constant in your recordings. How did you meet him? What makes him such a compatible collaborator?

IR: I met Gilad when I was a student at Berklee. Gilad is just an incredible musician. He understands exactly where the music is supposed to go. He has great ears and he constantly listens so it is very easy to play with him. I also really enjoy his rhythmic ideas as well as his melodic ideas when soloing and comping.

AAJ: In general, do your tunes arise out of improvisation or composition?

IR: The musical idea always comes from improvisation. When I hear an idea that I like I start exploring it and if I still like it after playing it for a while I'll write a tune around it. After the original idea is there it turns into a more compositional process where I experiment with the harmony and the development of the original motive. The tunes usually change some more after playing them with the group and seeing what works and what doesn't.

AAJ: As a music educator, what have you learned about yourself and your music from the teaching of your students?

IR: The students really help me to keep my passion for music. Working with aspiring musicians helps me to remember the initial passion that led me to become a musician. It is great to see the enthusiasm of the students for knowledge. Sometimes working musicians begin to treat music as their job instead of their passion. The students help me to avoid that.

AAJ: What are the most common misconceptions about jazz that your students have? What concepts do they have the most difficulty in grasping?

IR: One of the most common misconceptions is that jazz is a very intellectual music. It is true to at the student level because of the theory involved but great jazz goes far beyond that. Many students fail to understand that because of the complex harmony and their struggle with chord scales. It is important for me to keep reminding them that their playing should not be intellectual and that once they master the intellectual part they have to let go and trust their ears and soul.

The concept that is usually the most difficult to teach is the rhythmic vocabulary of jazz. Most students grow up listening to music that is based on down beats. It is hard for many of them to feel comfortable with the lack of emphasis on down beats in jazz.

AAJ: In addition to techniques of jazz performance, composition and improvisation, do you feel that intangibles such as enhancements to creativity or imaginative prowess can be taught? If so, how? What approaches or exercises might be employed?

IR: I do not know whether these intangibles can be taught. I feel very strongly that sometimes teachers do the opposite and restrict creativity and imagination instead of supporting it. I believe that music teachers need to let students explore their creativity as much as possible. This is probably the best way to teach creativity. If a student is naturally curious and creative the role of the teacher is to support that and encourage it. I do not know if a student that is not very creative can be taught how to be creative. The analytical perspective is definitely important as long as it doesn't restrict a student's imagination.

AAJ: Under what circumstances do you feel you learn the most as a musician? i.e., rehearsing, playing live, listening to live tapes, recording, composing, teaching? Why?

IR: Playing with other musicians and listening back to recordings that I make. The essence of jazz is the interaction with other musicians. You can only get better at it by playing with other musicians. There is no practice room substitute for actually playing with a band or even just one other musician. Also, I learn a lot from recording myself. I seem to notice things that I don't hear live when I listen to tapes. I always recommend this to my students and tell them that my tape recorder was and still is my best teacher.

AAJ: As follow up, when it comes to a purely observational role, do you find that you learn more by listening to or watching musicians?

IR: Listening. I actually prefer not to watch the musicians and just focus on listening. Sometimes watching someone when he plays distracts me from listening carefully.

AAJ: How often do you practice and for how long? Do you ever force yourself to practice when you really don't feel like it? If so, how do you motivate yourself?

IR: I practice everyday. The amount varies according to how much free time I have. I guess I don't really have free time since I use it all for practicing (I can't remember the last time I saw a movie). There are definitely times when I don't feel like practicing, when that happens I'll start by playing something I really enjoy and that immediately gets me motivated to practice.

AAJ: Do you have any techniques you personally employ to enhance or restore your own creative energy when you encounter difficulties in composing? If so, what are they?

IR: Inspiration. My inspiration usually comes from great concerts. That is the only thing that consistently restores my creative energy. Whenever I see someone like Elvin Jones play I run home and play the guitar or write a new tune.

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