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Jorge Rossy: When Rhythm Becomes Harmony

By Published: March 12, 2013
AAJ: What is the most remarkable step forward in your compositions in Iri's Blues ?

JR: The way it feels for me is in my writing and my playing, I tended towards to a kind of melancholic bit, slow; in the other two records I wanted to make sure that every note made sense, I felt like I didn't have the facility to play a lot of notes so at least I wanted to make sure there wasn't any unnecessary stuff. And this album is a step further in that direction; there are a few more happy tunes. There is a big generalization in modern jazz, but I think it is true: you find this kind of deep moody stuff, slow balance, dark harmonies, and if you have something more energetic it tends to be more towards the cerebral, the aggressive. When you compare it with records made in the '50s or '60s, you just have the "happy tunes" with an intense beat, but not aggressive, so I am trying to get some of that. What makes me proud of this record—and in general with the band—is that I feel that I am at least trying a direction that is not overplayed now. I don't think I am doing anything new, but I am doing things that were done and have become forgotten along the way.

AAJ: And what about your playing?

JR: I think I am taking more chances than before. I think that I have come out from the closet as a pianist.

AAJ: Do you think you have as recognizable a sound on piano as you do on drums?

JR: I do [laughs]; It's funny—I actually think that a big part of your personality is your limitations. So since I have many more limitations on the piano, I have more much personality [laughs]. It's true; your limits define you. When you have a lot of possibilities, you can't hide. Everything we do is very transparent. If you don't have many resources, and that's what I feel with the piano, you give what you have. So yes, I think I have much more personality as a pianist and composer than as a drummer [laughs].

AAJ: How do you face the compositional task?

JR: Most of the tunes I just write in the class where I am teaching. The idea is to have some premises so you can start writing without waiting for the inspiration. The calypso on my new CD, for example. Since most people—and I definitely don't have this problem—try to find a really interesting harmony to reinvent the wheel, I just think "what about writing a calypso with the most simple chords?" And it is a great exercise, so that is the premise. I write at the same time as my students and what I say to them, and to myself, is that you don't have to write something great, you don't even have to write something you like, you just have ten minutes to write [laughs]. So that is how it works; I write my tunes in an unconscious way, I just go for it. And I am the first one that becomes surprised by how it comes out. What I mean is that the thing that lights the fire, the match, is a cerebral, conceptual thing, and that's only an excuse to start writing.

AAJ: It can't be that easy...

JR: I would really like to feel that anybody could enjoy my music. Anybody who has a sensibility and is opened, I write for them. I don't believe in the idea that jazz is very sophisticated. What I mean is that sophisticated is great, but it doesn't have to be complicated. For me, the more direct, the better. I would like the sophistication to be something that is not even perceived.

AAJ: So that's your secret, the unperceived sophistication is your sign, your design.

JR: Yeah, could be. For me, a big goal of my music, in any performance I am playing with an audience, I want to reach everybody who has ears and has a heart. That's what I wanna go for.

AAJ: Iri's Blues has a very diverse repertoire.

JR: Yes, I feel the repertoire is very diverse and maybe jumps a little bit stylistically and is weird, but on the other hand, you know, I don't give a shit. I don't care too much for conceptual records, anyway. And I feel even if I think that there are a lot of different things, all coming from the same guy, and probably from a pretty predictable motherfucker, anyway, it's pretty limited and predictable [laughs].

AAJ: And, like always, the good taste about the sound is the most important.

JR: The sound is out, and everything is there. When you play music, what you are doing is making sound. In the sound production, in the moment that you play that note, everything is there. The same thing I said before: we can't hide. Anything we say, and the way we say it, is really telling what's behind it.

AAJ: How did you arrive at this concept?

JR: I remember one of my first professional gigs. I was nineteen, I went to the airport and [trumpeter/vocalist] Chet Baker
Chet Baker
Chet Baker
1929 - 1988
was there. We took the same plane and when we arrived I realized that he was going to play at the same festival I was going to, 899because we took the same bus that came to pick us up at the airport. He came to me in the bus because I was carrying a flugelhorn—at the time I was a drummer but I was already playing trumpet so I had my flugelhorn with me. And he came to me and said, "Hey, is that your flugelhorn? Could I use it tonight? Someone stole my trumpet in Italy yesterday." And I was like "Wow!! I would be honored!." I had a lot of nerves and I said "Of course, you can, but could you just to give me a little lesson in exchange [laughs]?

I had no shame! Shame is a motherfucker [laughs]. And he said "Yes, yes, later I'll give you your lesson," and then he went back to his seat. It was a big bus, so at some point along the way he came to the place where I was and he sat in front of me and he said: "Alright man, here is your lesson: whenever you play make sure that you make a really beautiful sound because if your sound is beautiful, first, everything you play it will sound beautiful and if your sound is ugly doesn't matter what notes you play, they are gonna sound ugly. But, also, if you really like it, and you take pleasure in that sound, then you will always hear a continuation of that idea and the music will play by itself."

I've never forget that, and it now helps me when I play piano in the way I don't need to play a lot of notes, I've gotta make sure that my heart is in the sound production, just to make sure that the way you attach that note, the intention behind it has meaning, it is something that you love and you have emotional connection to; you are in it. Then you can bring everybody into it to tell a story and the music will come to you.

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