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Chris McNulty: A Global Voice

By Published: March 28, 2008

AAJ: And then there is Paul, of course.

CM: I can't say enough about how much I've learned from working and collaborating with Paul Bollenback. He completed my vision masterfully and he is a tireless worker for the cause. He's also one of those great chameleons: I ask him to deal with a lot of different material and he handles it all with impeccable artistry and always with great sensitivity and aplomb. The success of that recording has as much to do with Paul as it does with me. He's just the very best in every way.

I'm always in awe of the extraordinary musicianship and professionalism of these players. Yeah, well living in New York, you have access to the very best of the best. That is for sure.

AAJ: What's the secret behind this successful partnership?

CM: Well, we both really enjoy the creative process, we work well together and we rarely have a conflict about the music, it's just a "let's dig in and get it done" kinda vibe. Sometimes we can end up in a struggle as far as time constraints, other tour commitments, which can put some real pressure in there. I tend to want to be left alone to get my music charted and correct before I give Paul a look. Always nerve wracking wondering if something is going to work, flow, make harmonic sense, so much of what I write is non-traditional and slightly bizarre form wise, but it's logical in it's own way too.

Paul gets things really fast, he just engages very quickly, just great to work with. Then he'll give me something that's so crazy to sing vocally and the anxiety level goes up a notch. He deals with it. That's a good thing.

We understand each other instrumentally and write with specific things in mind for each other. I really dig how that's developed. Sometimes I worry we don't get to that often enough. We're out on the road, or some other stuff comes up, but when we get to it, it's a lot of fun.

Paul and I just co-produced a hip-hop/R&B/soul meets jazz project with my son Sam, who is an awesome talent and prolific composer. We were able to come up with a combination of musical choices that really enhanced an already amazing project. That was a real blast, to see how and where both of us took it as instrumentalists and also as producers. It worked great. Look for Chap One—Strange Frequencies. Though it's not coming out on our label, it's killin.'

AAJ: In your opinion what is there for people to enjoy in this record?

CM: Well, it's a great sounding record. We use Dave Darlington on all our final mixes and he is in a word, ridiculous! I like the way it flows even though the originals are so different to the standard material. I think we allowed the music to play itself. I book the players for the stamp they are going to put on it, I trust them and that entirely. Once the sonic choices are made, I don't want to interfere with the creative flow. It's cool, it's in the moment, but if someone is real unhappy with something they have played, we'll do it again or if the vibe isn't right. We had a two hour rehearsal as there were some complicated arrangements, that was it. Most times though we're looking for a vibe, a feel, groove. You can't replicate that over and over again, sometimes it's the first take, maybe the second, but rarely do we do anything more than that. If I goof up, I'll fix it and the same goes for anyone—that's the beauty of having it all on pro-tools.

AAJ: What do you want to accomplish in jazz? Should we expect you to mix Australian rhythms and folk songs with jazz in the near future?

CM: No. I've lived in NYC too long. Once, way back in the late '70s perhaps, I suggested having didgeridoo on a recording and I received a blank stare. Thank God things have changed over there. I think it has been done a lot now, however I think you can only use one as a drone over a vamp or modal thing (they only have one tonal center), which would suit some of my music great, but it's not on my current radar, I'd have to be living in Australia and I don't see that happening.

I do think I'd like to put a folk song I wrote when I was fourteen on my next recording though. I memorized it by singing it to myself in bed every night for a week and low and behold it has never left me. The really bizarre thing is that I'd forgotten all about it till one day a few years back I was listening to Hungarian folk singer, Marta Sebestyan and I immediately recalled this old melody that I'd written so long ago. I began singing it over this Hungarian mode and it fit like a glove. It was even in exactly the same key.

Here's something that I just found out fairly recently. My great grandfather on my dad's side was a Swedish seaman who jumped ship in Melbourne, Australia to marry my great grandmother. The Swedish seaman's name was Gellert. We dug around and though the name does appear in Swedish genealogy, apparently Gellert has its origins in Hungary!

AAJ: What projects are you currently developing?

CM: Now, I'm just trying to stay busy, whether it be touring, recording or continuing to develop as a composer. I have plenty to keep me busy, a new project to prepare, four or five tours to complete this year. I'm trying to keep pushing the boundaries. It's more a matter of finding the time and then the inspiration to go for it.

Paul and myself will be special guests for a big band performance in Adelaide, Australia this coming September so this will give me an opportunity to arrange for a larger ensemble which is something I've been wanting to tackle for some time now. I'll have to knuckle down and deal with some learning curves. Writing two string quartets for my last recording was a start and a challenge, recording it even more so.

It will be great to get my piano chops a little more honed. I've finally started to appreciate that if I don't compare myself to someone that's been doing it for 30 years (piano), I cover a lot more ground and am a lot less concerned with the result than the journey, although I do have to set goals for certain things, especially where piano is concerned. It's the "not measuring up" that kills the inspiration, so trying to train that one out of me.

I certainly don't have those issues to deal with as a vocalist, but I'd love to explore some things that I've not had a chance to do. That would make me very happy. Continuing to challenge myself by improving my skills, keeping up a healthy practice regime and maintaining a creative life definitely tests ones staying power.

I'm proud to be a part of a community that not only holds those values sacred but holds fast to the idea that creative freedom is one of the greatest gifts—to give and to receive.

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