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Interviews

James Lent: The Man at the Piano

By Published: March 2, 2011
AAJ: The days of Gershwin, Harold Arlen
Harold Arlen
Harold Arlen
1905 - 1986
composer/conductor
, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern
Jerome Kern
Jerome Kern
1895 - 1945
arranger
and the like are often referred to as the "Gold Rush days." Do you think we'll ever have popular songwriting of this quality again?

JL: Never. It's unfortunate, but there are several reasons for this. Our music industry has changed so dramatically in the last 10 years. It isn't lasting. We've gone from flavor of the year, to flavor of the month, to flavor of the week, to flavor of the day. Nothing is sticking. And I don't think there's going to be the opportunity again that we had in the early 1900s for something to become as important as "Rhapsody in Blue."

AAJ: Do you think the music video changed how we value music?

JL: Absolutely. Without being negative, it's true that starting in the '80s, certain people rose to the top through visuals rather than talent or excellence. And once we got past that whole era, we entered the Internet era. This started around 2000.

The combination of the internet and cell phones completely changed what people use music for. People don't really take the time to listen. People don't really listen to music in their cars the way they used to; they don't listen to the radio now the way they used to.

Now when people listen to music it's because they've compiled a list of preselected songs for their computers or iPods. They listen to things to make themselves feel better, rather than to give themselves the opportunity for discovery.

People just don't seem to have the time they used to for music. People's lives have changed to such a degree that the amount of time in a given day that people are even exposed to music is probably 10 percent of what it was in 2000.

AAJ: Do you consider yourself a romantic?

JL: Not particularly. I'm more of an intellectualist. I have my romantic moments musically.

AAJ: What is the downside of possessing your kind of talent?

JL: [thinking about it] The downside is...people begin to take you for granted and expect you to do whatever they need all the time. It's also hard to constantly keep up with people's expectations. The other downside is that people think you can do anything anytime. It's very difficult to deal with.

AAJ: Is pain a necessary component to art?

JL: Absolutely. You can't perform a piece of music, or sing a song, or deliver a monolgue about something you haven't experienced or don't understand. When I sit down at the piano to play a serious piece, there has to be a profound reason for doing so. If you haven't experienced in life what you're trying to convey artistically, you inevitably come off as fake, or ineffective, or casual.

AAJ: Last year, Dr. Stephen Hawking went on record as saying there is no evidence of a god in his scientific views of the universe. Given the connection between science and music, along with the fact that you possess a profound gift, I have to ask: do you believe in God?

JL: I believe there's a higher power. I believe that...the belief there is a god seems to keep more good in the world than evil. Even if there was nothing there, it betters the world to believe there is.

AAJ: Is music the single greatest gift to mankind?

JL: [thinking about it] That's a tough one. Even though for me music is more important than visual art or writing, I don't necessarily think it's more important to mankind. I guess my answer is we need it all. And they all need each other.

AAJ: My last question is a hypothetical one. You're offered the concert venue of your choice, anywhere in the world, to be viewed by over a billion people via satellite. You get to perform only one composition. Which would it be?

JL: "Rhapsody in Blue."

Selected Discography

James Lent, Blue (Self Produced, 2000)

Photo Credit
All Photos: Courtesy of James Lent
James Lent
James Lent

piano


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