A New Face - Make Mine an OliRockberger Please- with Zero Cheese!
OR: I think it's very important that as a musician you remain open to influences. If you want to keep evolving as an artist, then you need to keep actively seeking out inspiration. When I started Berklee in '99, I was introduced through friends to Gospel/Soul/R&B and was listening to (to name a few) Take 6, Kirk Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and James Brown. I also discovered Michael MacDonald, Bruce Hornsby, D'Angelo, an English artist called Lewis Taylor and saxophonist Kenny Garett who is one of favorite improvisers. Most recently I have discovered a love for Peter Gabriel, George Duke and Brian McKnight. I got the opportunity whilst at Berklee to perform synths alongside R&B/gospel pianist/singer/songwriter Frank McComb and he has also become a major recent influence for me.
AAJ: What musical experiences in England precipitated your attendance at Berklee? It seems you already had some notoriety in England before going off to music school. How'd that happen?
OR: In my senior year of high school, I was in my own trio and we entered a competition called Music For Youth. We ended up winning the award for Outstanding Ensemble and I won "The New Composition Award" and "The Roland Piano Award." Our prize was to perform at Royal Albert Hall as part of "The School Proms." Performing at the Royal Albert Hall would be amazing at any age, but we were 18 years old! It was a life changing experience for us. I was interviewed by the "Times" in a series entitled "Great British Hopes" and so there was a little buzz at the time- but nothing major. It' only now that my profile is starting to increase in the UK as result of my band's recent performance at the Brecon Jazz Festival.
AAJ: Why did you pick Berklee? Was your time there your most intense growth period as a musician? If not, what was?
OR: Berklee has a terrific reputation in Europe as being the finest schools of contemporary music in the world. I received a scholarship to the 5-Week Summer Performance Program at age 17 and thought it was an amazing school. I auditioned in Barcelona in December '97 for a scholarship to the undergraduate program and discovered two weeks later that I had received a full tuition scholarship to attend. I cried in amazement and disbelief when I heard the news. Receiving that award is my most significant moment in music so far and is something I regard as one of my greatest successes.
My time at Berklee was absolutely my most intense growth period as a musician- the classes I took, the people I played with, the shows I played, the visiting artists I played with. it all took me so much further forward as a young musician and artist.
AAJ: What have been some of the most important concepts you?ve taken away from the academic part of your experience?
OR: That compositional theory and instrumental technique is the toolbox from which you can construct and that what you can construct depends a great deal on the tools in your box! Berklee was the perfect place for me to sharpen my existing tools and to acquire some new ones. The next challenge beyond the acquisition of these kinds of skills is learning how to apply that knowledge in a creative and personal way to create original art. For me this came after graduating, as I think it does for many people. The Berklee environment forces you to say, "Okay, we are all here learning the same information, but how do I use it in a way which makes me me, and not you?" It also forced me to learn how to be my own teacher and musical master- this, in my opinion, is essential in continuing to develop as an artist. These are just some of the things I learned at Berklee.
AAJ: You seem comfortable with the intricacies of music theory and its application to improvisation and composition. How much of that element do you bring into the compositional process? It probably varies based on the composition and the goals of the composition, right?
OR: My harmonic techniques and approaches are always there when I write. However, these days, harmony has become more and more instinctive. I think this is only because I have been through the stage of writing with great conscious awareness of harmonic motion and other theoretical considerations. Once I exhausted thinking things through in a mathematical way as I played them, my brain began to make the connections and hear those relationships in an automatic and instinctive way. The brain must be trained to do this and I think I managed to train my brain in this way without realizing that I was doing it at the time. When I've exhausted my current techniques and try to amass new information, as I will inevitably need to, then I'll probably go through the same process once again of intellectualizing in the hope that I'll soon reach a greater instinctive and natural understanding of the same concepts.