Take Five With Michael Janisch
Freelance jazz bassist and bandleader from the USA, resident since 2005 in London, England. Performances with Joe Lovano, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, George Garzone, Dianne Reeves, Shirley Horn, Joe Locke, and others, as well as rising stars including Walter Smith III, Mike Moreno, Jason Palmer, Will Vinson and Ambrose Akinmusire.
Leads The TransAtlantic Collective with Patrick Cornelius, Michael Janisch Purpose Built Quintet featuring Clarence Penn, and curates a monthly creative jazz residency at London's Pizza Express Jazz Club. Released debut album, Purpose Built, in January, 2010 on his own Whirlwind Recordings Record label.
Acoustic and electric basses.
Teachers and/or influences?
Teachers: Karyn Quinn (classical/jazz), Bertram Turetzky (classical), Abraham Laboriel (electric), Carol Kaye (electric), Dave Santorro (upright jazz), John Clayton Jr. (upright jazz).
Main bass influences: Charles Mingus, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, FLY, Sam Jones, Edgar Meyer, Dave Holland, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Garrison, Paul Jackson, Larry Graham and Robert Hurst III.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I actually have no idea, it's just always felt like the correct and natural thing to spend my life doing. I did spend a few years here and there away from music, but it always drew me back, and now I'm happily hooked for good.
Your sound and approach to music: First and foremost living life, which includes a busy schedule outside of music, like family, working out, socializing with non musicians, etc. With music it's work hard, play hard, always continue to learn, buy albums, see as many live gigs as possible, practice with the same zest as when I started, and always be open to new ideas and different types of music, and also musicians.
Sound-wise, I am always trying to keep my hands in tune with my basses so that I can both produce the best sound possible but also put as much emotional content into what I play as possible. This requires me to do a lot of technique work on both basses and to keep my classical bowing up. The acoustic bass sounds best when bowed frequently.
Your teaching approach: I try and be very realistic and honest with them about both musical and non musical realities when choosing to be a jazz musician. Teachers never really told me how difficult it would be as a freelance bassist. I teach them aspects of the music business as well as gig etiquette just as much as topics on the actual bass and improvisation. I feel my job as a teacher is to give an entire outlook to a student on what it means and is to be a professional musician, not just teaching them how to pull strings, etc.
Your dream band:
My dream band would simply be a group of individuals who all pushed me artistically, and one that I could work with full time to earn my living. As of yet I haven't been able to achieve working with the same band year round. There are always tours here and there, but not full time as of yet, I can only hope one day this will happen, because there are jazz musicians who have reached this, so I have hope!
Road story: Your best or worst experience: I could write a book here... one of my favorite experiences was leading my own quintet in support of my debut release for a 25-date tour. By the end of the tour I was a new musician, and bandleader. One funny story was getting caught on a church top somewhere in Italy at 6:00 AM, after thinking it would be a good idea to climb it; the police weren't too happy when they had to help me get down as I was too intoxicated to climb back to the ground.
A true horror story from the road: one time I was performing a concert outside at a festival on a big purpose built platform, and the crowd started rioting and attacking the stage because we were playing music that many in this particular audience thought was offensive to their religion (this was a funk gig). They were chanting "death to the west and "this music from Satan," throwing bottles and anything they could get their hands on at us, and the riot police came in with crash helmets and barricaded the stage. I honestly had that sinking gut feeling like "well... this is it fellas!" Luckily, in the end after an hour-long standoff, a whole slew of riot police showed up and broke up the crowd. Here's the unbelievable partthis was in the UK (Bradford, which has had a history of rioting, unbeknownst to me at the time)! I never thought I would hear people screaming such things at a funk gig, in an actual western country; needless to say, I have never taken a gig there since.
Pizza Express Jazz Club in London Soho, without a doubt. It's swanky, has a great stage, acoustics, sound engineer, nice intimate venue with the crowd close to the musicians so the energy feed is great, and not too big at 110 capacity. I've had the fortune of a monthly residency there where I bring in and present musicians from around the world, so this has been an amazing platform for me and my projects and the music managers there really believe in the music, which is refreshing to say the least. Plus the pizza is great.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why? The album I am most proud of would be my debut album that I just put out in January. I'm just happy that I finally got around to doing an album and that I saw the project through and came out the other side with something that I can say I'm happy with. Plus, the musicians that performed my music realized my compositions better than I could have ever hoped for.
I've done a lot of side man recordings, but doing one's own recording is musical satisfaction at another level, in my opinion.
The first Jazz album I bought was: I had a great collection of vinyls and tapes given to me by an early teacher, but the first actual album I bought was Charles Mingus' Black Saint and the Sinner Lady; this rocked my world.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? Hopefully having fun but being very serious about what I do. Personally one of my life's goals with jazz is to continue to marry what I've learned from the greats of the past with what's going on now in the musical environment around me.
Did you know...
I quit music for a number of years and did a degree in history, where I ran track and field and played tailback at a Division 2 football program in the American Midwest (my 40 time was 4.41). An injury to my hamstring was the reason I picked up the bass again, as had a lot of time on my hands because I couldn't walk for months. I also completely cut my thumb off when I was 17 on a table saw, and had it surgically reattached. It's weird looking now, and it has the nick name of "The Club" because of its oblong shape.
Finally, I can eat two foot-long subway sandwiches in under two-and-a-half minutes.
CDs you are listening to now: I listen to a lot of non-jazz, but jazz discs I've been listening to for pleasure lately are:
Larry Goldings, Awakening;
John Coltrane, Sun Ship;
Steve Lehman Octet. Travail Transformation and Flow;
Michael Formanek, Am I Bothering You?;
Kurt Rosenwinkel, The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard.
Desert Island picks:
There's no way I could pick 5... I would have to bring my iTunes collection and figure out how to keep my computer running with some sort of solar power.
How would you describe the state of jazz today? For me, jazz is in a great state both artistically and in its global awareness, even though it can be hard both in getting opportunities to play around the world like we all aspire to, or just financially coping being a jazz musician.
There are clubs in every country it seems, and festivals as well, and scenes in many of the world's cities. Artists are taking control of their own careers and for me things get better slowly but surely. I'm very optimistic about real creative jazz and ability to make a career playing this music, that and I'm really stubborn and sort of get off on the struggle of it all.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Without writing a book, real creative jazz musicians need to persevere both artistically and on the business front, if they really believe in their art, and believe that their hard work will pay off. I've seen a lot of musicians even at my age simply get disgruntled and now are giving up or fading away into a teaching gig, etc.
Festivals, clubs, and magazines need to do more to help the up and coming creative musicians who can't afford huge publicity, or who don't have the access to big time agents and managers to score them gigs, but are just as talented and many times even more so than the lucky few people who do have these. Many, many hugely talented up and coming musicians, and even established artists are not being given their deserved chance to perform, while gimmicky and even poor quality acts with certain box ticking abilities are working 20 nights a month... This needs to change in order for real improvisational jazz to keep growing, in my opinion.
What is in the near future? This May I'm doing a live recording with one of my heroes, Lee Konitz, at my Pizza Express Residency, with Dan Tepfer on piano and Jeff Williams on drums. The album will be going out on my new record label.
Practice, try and get gigs, play basketball and teach.
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: owner of a garden/outdoor/creative landscaping center specializing in exotic plants and landscapes.