Romain Collin: Unearthing A Sound
AAJ: On The Rise and Fall of Pipokhun, there were no covers, and on The Calling there are only two covers among the twelve compositions; how important was it for you to develop a personal compositional style or voice from the beginning?
RC: To be honest, it wasn't something that I was shooting for. It's just something that happened. I try to develop and create whatever it is that I hear in my head. On the first record I didn't feel that a cover would necessarily fit in. On The Calling I remember thinking that I'd never really arranged standards very much. It's a different compositional approach to arrange something you've already heard many times and to try to do something original and fresh with it. I remember sitting down at the piano and playing "Nica's Dream" and finding harmonic pathways that were really interesting, so I actually wrote this arrangement very quickly. I played it on a gig and it just felt right to me. It felt like it fitted in with the overall picture of the record
With the [singer/guitarist] John Mayer tune "Stop This Train," I really like pop music and great singer/songwritersJoni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Neil Youngand I always liked this John Mayer song. It works with a trio adaptation and fits in harmonically, melodically and form-wise. I'd made a note somewhere on my computer that maybe I could do an instrumental version of this song and then completely forgot about it. Then two days before we went in to the studio I was going through some files on my computer and found the note. We played it in the studio and after a few bars it felt right, and we thought we should do it. So I made a quick chart for the guys, we did one take and that's how it came out. We didn't veer too far away from the original. It's quite simple because that's the way I heard it.
AAJ: The combination of old standard and modern pop song works very well. Do you think that the American jazz standard has lost a little currency in Europe as more and more European jazz bands assert an ever-greater their individual identity? And is it also possibly of musicians true in New York to some degree?
RC: I think it's true of Europe. I have the same feeling, for sure. In New York everyone is striving for a sound and an identity and that's maybe a catalyst behind what's possibly a trend where standards are less and less at the forefront of the scene. But the American Songbook is such a rich heritage and that's really where the tradition comes from. I feel that here in the States, if you go to see a show and you hear a set of mainly original compositions I think it's put implicitly in the context of what came before historically. That's very present in the culture here and very present in this town. I see people playing standards all the time in New York.
I love standards myself, I really do. I would love to do a trio record of just standards, addressing the original essence and meaning of the song and work around that. I'm pretty sure I will in the future.
AAJ: Do you have any favorite interpreters of standards?
RC: I love Ella [Fitzgerald]. When you listen to her sing a standard she had the ability to be absolutely true to who she was and what she did. She recorded so many, and they all sounded so effortless. You can really hear the essence of the tune as it was composed. She had this approach where she delivered the song first and then, on top of that, she would do her thing. It's really difficult to play the music that is written in the spirit of the composer and of the era and still bring freshness to it. Ella, on all those Songbook series, was true to the song and true to herself.
It's hard to know if like the artist for their musical instrument and approach, or for the way they embody a song. It's difficult to tell. I love listening to the Count Basie big band. I love listening to [pianist] Errol Garner, who played standards very much in the spirit of the era but sounding very much like himself. Then there are more modern approaches. I love Herbie [Hancock] because he always brings this freshness. I like listening to [pianist] Keith Jarrett playing ballads, because many times he'll just play the melody. And [trumpeter] Miles [Davis] would play melodies pretty much as they were written when he recorded.
AAJ: Obviously, there's a European sensibility in your playing, which is only natural, and it seems to embody a mixture of classical influences and a sort of post-Esbjorn Svensson modernist approach. Could you describe how you hear the sounds you produce?
RC: Sure. I left Europe when I was 16, and I think that most of my development as an improviser, and maybe as a pianist, happened here in the States. We are who we are. I was born and raised in France and classically trained as a kid. I didn't practice very much then, but you respond as a kid to what you grew up playing and it still remains a big part of what makes sense to you later. I really love classical music and I work on it every day. I record it for myself though I don't think I'll ever perform it in public. It's such great material to study and analyze.
From the technical aspect, I love working on my instrument, working on the sound. When people hear my classical influences they often talk about the writing, and they also mention the touch and the sound that I'm getting out of the piano, which is obviously very classically influenced. But it's funny, because in my mind I don't hear it that way at all. I never see it that I want to play like a classical musician. I'm just trying to get a sound on my instrument that feels right and makes sense to me. That has led me to work with classical music, rather than the other way round. I wanted to get to a certain sound on my instrument and I've found working with classical music extremely helpful, and enjoyable.
RC: As far as e.s.t. goes, to be honest I don't own much of their music and haven't listened to them very much, though what I've heard was great.