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John Stetch: Blending Heritage and the Jazz Tradition

By Published: July 3, 2006
AAJ: Yes. And you continually revisit that music in live performance and then you get a chance to set it in stone on a record with a whole new interpretation.

JS: Right. And you've had time to think about it and know what's important on it. Sometimes it'll be just like one note that I'll take out of a voicing, especially for the head or something like that where you've got double thirds or something annoying that I didn't pay attention to. But now that I play more classical music, I do. Or even Bill Evans or something like that.

AAJ: What classical music are you playing these days?

JS: Some of my favorite people are Chopin, Bach, Mozart...especially with Bach's contemporaries like Scarlatti and Handel. They were born in the same year as Bach, but it's amazing how they're so different and yet they still were of the same time period.

AAJ: Yeah, they could swing! Some of the two-part inventions will keep your knuckles cracking.

JS: Yeah! And a lot of the modern Russian composers I've always loved. I don't play them much, but I've listened to them a lot and they find their way into my playing just because when you fool around on the piano enough, you come up with things that meet the textures that you need.

AAJ: How do you feel about the new album? Did you achieve what you set out to accomplish?

JS: Yeah, I think so. I feel really good about it. The guys really played great. They brought a lot of personality and energy and a live feeling to it. Because sometimes you go into the studio and it feels like that canned thing.

AAJ: I love the recording because it sounds just like three guys in a room.

JS: That's the thing—a lot of records sound like people are in different rooms with those large sound baffles...

AAJ:...and a little bit of leakage adds to the excitement of the sound of a live performance.

JS: Yeah. If you're connecting only through headphones, that's not so good for the feel of things. We just basically played very close without much baffling and it's just a good feel. I don't think we wore headphones, either. You feel free and not like you're under a microscope. The headphones magnify your own sound unless you just shut it off and then you won't hear yourself, which is not good. So they kind of magnify your own touch at a super-close-mic'd level which is not a nice sound. You get overly critical and I just don't like it. It felt more live.

AAJ: Talk to me about Sean Smith and Rodney Green. What do you think they brought to your music?

John StetchJS: I've seen them around town in other people's bands so I knew of them. But as fate would have it, they ended up on one of my gigs about a year and a half ago. It was the first time we played together. So I sent them the music in advance and they'd obviously done their homework because it was not easy music—it was tricky. In fact, I think Sean didn't even get it at first and he had to learn on the spot. I was really impressed. They brought a lot of interaction, always keeping the forward motion going and keeping the egos out of the way so it was more about supporting rather than trying to out-do or out-shine.

AAJ: Well, something definitely happened because, on tunes like "Chord- Free Gord, you have some intense rhythmic interplay going on.

JS: That felt lucky when those things happened because we hadn't played that much before that album—just a few gigs. But now we're getting to play more and I'm looking forward to that. It's really nice to have continuity with people who know your music and it keeps evolving. It gets more and more fun that way. I'm hoping to keep it together because that's the best thing anyone can hope for—to keep a band working.

AAJ: Anything you'd like to say that we haven't covered?

JS: I feel lucky to be a musician. I really love doing it. Sometimes I feel really lucky that we live in a part of the world where I can actually have a piano. In some parts of the world, that's not even an option. With all this American Idol stuff and the way pop music works where you could be just a flash in the pan, it feels good to be doing something that maybe doesn't get out there as fast. You get to slowly tweak it and work with it and improve on it, hopefully over a whole lifetime.

Selected Discography

John Stetch, Bruxin' (Justin Time, 2006)
John Stetch, Exponentially Monk (Justin Time, 2004)
John Stetch, Standards (Justin Time, 2003)
Chris Kase, Nine Easy Pieces (Satchmo Jazz, 2003)
Rufus Reid, The Gait Keeper(Sunny Side, 2003
John Stetch, Ukrainianism (Justin Time, 2002)
John Stetch, Heavens of a Hundred Days (Justin Time, 2000)
John Stetch, Green Grove (Justin Time, 1999)
Alain Trudel, Jericho's Legacy (Naxos, 1998)
Chris Kase, Starting Now (Mons, 1995)
Tana Reid, Looking Forward(Evidence,1995)
John Stetch, Stetching Out (Terra Nova, 1996)
John Stetch, Carpathian Blues (Terra Nova, 1994)
John Stetch, Rectangle Man (Terra Nova, 1992)
Rufus Reid, The Gait Keeper(Sunny Side, 2003)"¨
Tana Reid, Looking Forward(Evidence,1995)

Photo Credit: Jimmy Katz

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