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Camila Meza: Following what the music has to say

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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AAJ:In 2009, at the age of 23, you decided to move to New York and continue your jazz education in the Big Apple. What made you want to move to New York at that point in your life? What was your main motivation?

CM: At 21, 22, I was already looking for other things to do, outside of the given parameters. Chile was an amazing experience, developing there as a musician. But it's a small scene and therefore knows its limits. Before going to New York I first applied for a cruise ship, which I was on for 5 months. Then I decided to go to New York for a month, only to check it out, short-term. I had no intention of moving there, but that one month revealed itself so revelatory it felt like a big shift in my life. There was a sense of constant motivation by being confronted with so many new things, especially musically of course. Everyone there is so much at the top of their game, I felt I just wanted to practice every day and become better. Not really in a competitive way but the scene just makes you want to bring the best version of yourself out. If there is a sense of competition it surely isn't one against the other but a competition with oneself. So I went back to Chile and immediately applied for the New School and fortunately ended up getting a scholarship. I moved to New York five months later and that's that!

AAJ: How was it arriving in New York in the very beginning? Had you already established connections or were you pretty much on your own?

CM: I had like zero connections! The only contact I had was the friend with whom I'd stayed for that month, who was a friend of a friend of my sisters. So a really far connection that actually ended up being one of the most valuable ones I made. I stayed with him for about a semester and in retrospective I believe I'd have been lost without him. He and another Chilean (drummer) were the only friends I had in the beginning and the drummer and I, we basically shared our struggle of being new in town. Then naturally in the course of time I met hundreds of new people, especially through school, who have become dear friends and/or musical acquaintances as well.

AAJ: You studied under some of the greatest teachers and players, such as Peter Bernstein. Which one would you say brought you forward the most?

CM: That's a hard question, because everybody brings very different things to your attention...but there's one, who is actually not a guitar but a pianist: Sam Yahel. I studied under him for the longest time and I feel I made my biggest leap in my musical development when studying with him. He is an amazing teacher as well as musician. He really made me dig deeper into my music, psychologically as well as musically.

AAJ: You then recorded your first set of songs with Aaron Goldberg on piano, leading to your first New York recording, "Prisma." How did that collaboration come about?

CM: I had met Aaron through another friend after a concert. Since he speaks Spanish quite well we talked for a bit and shortly after I had a little gig at 'The bar Next Door' and sent Aaron a message beforehand, asking him if he would be up to joining me on stage. So he showed up and we played a little trio set and had a lot of fun. Right after he asked me if I'd planned on recording any time soon for he'd like to help. He even asked who I'd want to record with. So I ended up having these amazing musicians coming in for my sessions, such as Clarence Penn, John Ellis and the Chilean collaborator who I'd been working with before, Pablo Menares. It was an incredible experience!

AAJ: Are you very aware of all your contemporaries, such as Gilad Hekselman, Matthew Stevens, Lage Lund or Mike Moreno, to name a few? Do you listen to their music and draw influence from them?

CM: Definitely! All of those names I actually knew even before I moved to New York and seeing how they are still younger in the scene they are also more accessible, so when I'd go out in the evening you'd actually meet with these guitarists. I think one of the first concerts I went to see after moving to New York was the Ari Hoenig Smalls Session, featuring Gilad. I actually asked for a lesson from him that evening (she laughs) and now we are friends; we hang out together. All of those you mentioned I know by now and we're either acquaintances or friends. It's great.

AAJ: You also bring a special synergy of musical aspects to the table, as compared to many other guitarists. There's a songwriter aspect to your music, you sing, you play guitar and you write music and lyrics, often seeing guitar comping falling to the background. Do you see yourself as a pure jazz-guitarist? Is it your main focus in your writing or do you go about it more democratically?

CM: I've always followed what the music tells me, even if that means that on a certain tune I won't solo but just focus on the band's interaction. The story of the song, lyrically and musically, is the main focus, so I try to arrange in a way that the instrumentation serves the song. I go with what the music needs more than what I want to showcase. You know I've experienced some criticism concerning that fact, asking me why I don't solo more, play a more virtuoso part but often I just feel that the music doesn't need that. The big picture is the entire musical entity and then comes the rest and at some points my ego (haha). I feel some people have a hard time at understanding that construct when approaching my music. Sometimes I'll play a really simple laid back folk song and people would never believe I'm able to do a bit more on guitar then the "simple strumming."

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