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A Conversation with Jean-Michel Pilc

By Published: November 6, 2003
JMP: I should have talked more carefully, actually, because that piece does not respect the sonata form per se. The writer from Jazz Times is quite right when he says it is not a sonata form in the strict since. That's true. For me, I had something more like Lizst or Scriabin's sonatas I mind. Sonatas which are not precisely sonata forms, but sound like sonatas. Who knows why? They should not, but they do. The sonata for me'it was more the combination of different melodies that come back at different times and provide a sense of unity. I wanted to avoid the caricatures of the late modern thing, where the melody comes in every ten seconds so that people can remember it's the same tune. Like this in Berlioz's Symphonie Phantastique'a beautiful symphony, I love it. It's a masterpiece'but that motif thing is so heavily put to use. Still, I wanted to give it a sense of unity, and I think for a composer [the sonata form] is a very powerful catalyst. You think differently. You feel differently. I'm not building a little piece of furniture here, I'm building a whole house. A bridge. I'm building a city.

AAJ: It sounds different, than say, a suite.

JMP: The first part of the album is more like a suite, actually. It's important for a suite to have some sort of consistency, but it's not the same thing. For me, a suite is more like when you drive a car. You see a first city, then a second city, then you see a little village. That's a suite'.and it's consistent because you are driving down this road and they happen one after the other, even though they are changing all the time. For me, a sonata is more like a city. And you have to build that city. That entity.

AAJ: I'm going to shift again and ask about your decision to move to New York.

JMP: You know, in life as in music, I follow my instincts! I was born and raised in Paris, so I'd spent thirty-four, thirty-five years there. After all these years I felt, is that it? Is it going to be like this until the day I die? And being an atheist, I don't believe in another life. So I thought I'd better make the most of this one now. I felt it was very incomplete. I knew only life in Paris, the musicians in Paris'some of them being really great. I was having a lot of fun. But I felt my life was not complete. I needed to know other things. So I moved to New York. I was a jazz musician, so that sounded like a logical choice. And I liked it. So I decided to stay. I've learned lots of things. Not really about music, I have to say, because the great music is on the records and in Europe there are great musicians, even if American people are not necessarily aware of it. I learned a lot about myself because I was in a new environment with people having different reactions and different ways of thinking. It changed me a lot. It gave me a lot of confidence. It made me aware of things I had been totally unaware of.

AAJ: I was wondering if it was also a business decision?

JMP: Of course, it was partly this. I have to be honest about it. When you make a jazz career in Europe, it's always like second-rate. People who are known in Europe, nobody knows them here. Except for the very, very rare exception. I'm not sure there is one. Basically, everyone on the planet knows the people who are known here. No one in America knows the people in Europe. So basically you are the opening act, or the second act at the festivals, and you see always the American musician getting the best part of it. And you think, why not me?

AAJ: That leads to a different question. Which is really what I wanted to ask. There seems to be a contradiction in that. Europe, Japan, Scandinavia, they consume a large amount of jazz. They follow jazz. You can pack stadiums there, and in America, there's much less overt interest.

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