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Interviews

Marvin Sewell: Stepping Up to the Plate

By Published: August 15, 2013
So yeah, we were learning how to hook up music with the time code. And they'd do interesting things...they'd say "you could use any rhythm you want, but only four notes. With these four notes, you have to put something together, create something." So I learned how to do that. The whole aspect of it was that you had to put limitations on yourself. What can you do with this amount of information? How micro can you get with just this amount, instead of having this whole thing and having too many choices? Or they'd give me a series of notes, tell me to take a particular line, whole steps and half steps or whatever, and put it in retrograde and do all sorts of things with it.

Also, my piano playing helped me with composition because I was learning the classics, like with Brahms and themes. I was studying music history and learning Debussy too, and learning Stravinsky—well, learning about Stravinsky. What they were doing with melody and with chords. Not so much what they were doing with rhythm as far as history, but in the Classical era what they were doing with rhythm and how it was more rhythmically daring that the Romantic era.

I learned about sound, how these two notes on these two instruments sound when they play together. How is it voiced, if you do a particular voicing. I learned about taking two different chords and putting them together and seeing what kind of sound that was, and what kind of colors you could get, how you move from one thing to another. Create some type of harmonic movement as well as a melodic movement. Counterpoint and the use of color, use of space. The use of tension, the use of power, the use of lyricism.

GC: So you changed your major?

MS: I changed my major to music business.

GC: Interesting.

MS: [Laughs] Yeah, it was interesting. Because it wasn't what I thought it was. I thought about it would be about the music business, but it was music/business. I had taken a lot of finance classes; I was in the finance club where they gave us money to invest in the market.

GC: Really! Wow!

MS: Yeah, just a small amount.

GC: A million dollars.

MS: [Laughs] So that was a small club, I got into that. I had to take a bunch of music education classes. That was kind of hard. But I myself continued taking piano lessons because that was most interesting to me.

GC: What about guitar? Did you take guitar lessons?

MS: I took guitar lessons outside of where I had attended. It seemed like the guitar department at the University was a bit too dogmatic and didn't take into consideration that students are different people. It was like they had a program no matter what level you were on, they were always going to start you out with the Sor book. Fernando Sor. I had a teacher outside of that where I was learning classical guitar technique. He was a very good teacher, his name is Dean Nelson. He was a bassist who learned how to play classical guitar. He taught me a lot about trying to create, not just the notes, but trying to create a sound and different timbre and how to orchestrate on the instrument. Try to really deal with music.

GC: Well yeah, that's what's been really striking about hearing you play over the past two weeks is that in some ways it's not the typical things that I hear from guitar. It seems like, we were talking about instruments being in a box, but I feel like a lot of times with guitar there's certain things that guitarists tend to do. They have voicings that are everywhere, everyone's doing these voicings. Again, it could be on any instrument, but would you agree with that? Are you even conscious of that? It just seems like you have a completely different approach than a lot of the guitar players I've been around.

MS: Well...from early on, when I started listening to jazz music...I don't mean to sound messed up, but the last thing I wanted to sound like was a guitarist. When I heard Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
, Charlie Parker, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
, Bud Powell
Bud Powell
Bud Powell
1924 - 1966
piano
, I said "that's what I wanted to sound like."

Much love to the guitar greats, I used to listen to a lot of George Benson
George Benson
George Benson
b.1943
guitar
, he's one of my favorites. But it was a conscious effort to listen to him up to a certain point, because I didn't want to sound like him, or any guy. Because I knew a lot of players that sounded just like Benson or Joe Pass
Joe Pass
Joe Pass
1929 - 1994
guitar
or whoever their favorite was, and or me the way Cannonball or Joe Henderson or Don Byas
Don Byas
Don Byas
1912 - 1972
sax, tenor
, the way they phrased, I wanted to spit out stuff like that! Or Bud Powell! I wanted to do that.


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