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Paula Shocron: Paths to a New Sound


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Today, If I look back in the past, I realize that I’ve always been looking for a free expression. However, I had several stops in my way, classical music or traditional jazz were some of them. What I do feel is that I won’t come back to those old stops, but I’m sure there will be new ones.
—Paula Shocron
When Werner X. Uehlinger, the founder of Hat Hut Records, was asked about a statement on why he liked Argentinian pianist Paula Shocron's music, the answer was clear, short and succinct: "The quality of surprise." Uehlinger discovered Shocron's music through her work with the SLD Trio and he liked their debut Anfitrión so much that the group's second album, Tensegridad, was released on his label, entering the prominent company of pianists like Cecil Taylor, Marc Copland, Matthew Shipp, Myra Melford and Ran Blake.

At this point, Shocron has formed an original musical expression that is open, intuitive and free. She is still searching while acknowledging the musical achievements of the past and the values of tradition.

All About Jazz: When did you discover music? Do you come from a musical family?

Paula Shocron: I prefer to say that I was born surrounded by music. My grandparents (mother's side) were both musicians, but not in a professional way. My grandmother was a mezzo soprano in a local choir, and played piano. My grandfather played drums, harmonica, percussion, the washboard and everything that he could make a sound from. He was also a complete entertainer, storyteller, magician, he could imitate different languages, really funny.

AAJ: What are some of your earliest musical memories?

PS: One of my favorite games was when he conducted us (me and my sister/brothers) as an orchestra, it was a lot of fun for all of us. These are my first musical memories, playing instruments and inventing songs, with costumes and everything! My mother used to sing in a choir too and play the guitar, also my father. She told me that I started playing the piano before I started to talk at the age of 2. From my father's side, my grandparents were both music lovers. I didn't know my grandfather, I was just a little baby when he passed, but I know he used to sing very well, zarzuelas and a other Spanish songs. My grandmother played a little piano and it was her who paid for my lessons in a music school when I was 5 years old until I was a teenager.

AAJ: Has growing up in Argentina influenced your music? Have you drawn inspiration from local musicians or traditions?

PS: My parents loved Argentinian folk music. They were always listening to a lot of Argentinian groups. I had my favorite folk vinyl from the "Dúo Salteño," a vocal duo who played Cuchi Leguizamon's compositions. I was influenced by this composer a lot. I think he influenced a lot of musicians of my generation, because he was really avant-garde for the traditional music, but never lost the essence. He was also connected to jazz music and I now think he became to me a kind of link between those musical genres.

AAJ: Did you have any favorite records then and which records are still important for you today?

PS: In addition to Duo Salteño, I had a cassette that I listened to a lot, I loved it but it was strange at the same time. It was Money Jungle from Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach...I still have (and listen to) that recording, I think it is one of the most important recordings of jazz history. I also loved listening to classical music (the music I practiced). "Pictures of an Exhibition," was one of my favorites (the version for orchestra from Ravel). Today I practice the piano version at home. As a little child I grew up with "Peter and the Wolf" from Prokofiev, "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" from Britten and "Children's Corner" from Debussy. I love Debussy's music, I can say he is one of my inspirations today. But there are many others...

AAJ: Who are the musicians that have inspired you?

PS: When I started to discover jazz, at 15 years old, I discovered a lot of "new musicians," Thelonius Monk was mostly who caught my attention, and he still does. It is difficult to mention particular records, because I'm so curious that I'm always picking from one music to another. There were some musicians that inspired me in making my own recordings: Andrew Hill, Dollar Brand, Charlie Haden, Archie Shepp, Geri Allen and Connie Crothers are some of them.

AAJ: Did you take piano lessons early on? Did you have any influential teachers, if so what are some of the most important things they told you?

PS: I took piano lessons since I was 5. Although I was apparently talented, I started to be more and more stressed when I was entering my teens. The pressure I felt about playing a classical piece "perfectly well" made me sick and scared. I had muscle fatigue and tendonitis in both arms. I had to stop playing the piano for a while. Since music was the only thing I wanted to do, I felt It was a good time to start to compose. When I finished high school I started the career of Composition at the University. There I met Diana Rud, (Composer from Rosario) who was my guide and inspiration during those years. She taught me Composition, Orchestration and Analysis, but also transmitted me her sensibility and passion about 20th Century Music. It was a very important period of my life. During that time, I started to practice Aikido (modern Japanese martial art) which helped me to find for the fist time my own piano technique. This moment was crucial for setting up the basis for dance and movement research, and of course, to start playing the piano again.

AAJ: When did you discover your own musical voice?

PS: I don't know if there was any specific time, I mean, I can't be precise if we are talking about the musical voice, I think it is always moving to somewhere else, as it happens with my own life. What I can say is that I found in free improvisation a huge world of possibilities to go deep in the sound and language, I think this world is infinite and I enjoy getting lost inside it. It didn't happen with traditional jazz or classical music. Now I'm re-starting investigating new ways to produce sound, I started practicing violoncello 2 years ago, and I'm using my voice frequently as a complement. It's like a big laboratory! For me, It is always necessary to be active, researching, discovering things, sounds and ways of expression.

AAJ: When did you record your first album and how did it happen?

PS: I recorded my first album (solo piano!) in 2004, I was 24. I had played the year before in the Festival de Jazz de Rosario, with a quintet (I was replacing the pianist). On that occasion, the owner of local label Blue Art Records offered me to record alone. It was all an adventure, because it was live in the same stage, but without audience. It was some of the "big steps" in my life, After releasing it, I was introduced to the Argentinian musical scene. La Voz que te Lleva had a lot of press and many musicians in Rosario and Buenos Aires started to know about me. However, what I remember most of that experience is learning to let the music go, without regrets, when you make a recording. I still feel the same when I go into the recording studio.

AAJ: What have been some of the musical high-watermarks for you so far in your discography?

PS: Another important one was the Gran Ensamble, a little orchestra for 12 musicians. It was all an experience to make this recording and, of course, to write the music and rehearse, and everything! I did it after taking a lesson with Oliver Lake in NY, (one of the few jazz musicians I took lesson with) he encouraged me to record, gave me a lot of advice, and then, when it was finished, he wrote the liner notes, it was very nice of him! Finally, Anfitrión and then Tensegridad were both big steps, they are the gates to this (always) new free world. AAJ: Which of your compositions do you consider among your most important?

PS: I think each composition is (or was) important at the time it is (was) composed. I never played (and liked) a repertoire for so long. Once it was recorded I turned the page and looked for something new.

AAJ: You have released four albums on Rivorecords 2011-2013. At that time, you played a lot of standards, but when you released the album Surya in 2014, it was a freer expression and that process has only increased with the SLD Trio. When did the transition to a free expression happen to you? Do you find that you could still go back to the standards or is it a phase that will never come back?

PS: Today, If I look back in the past, I realize that I've always been looking for a free expression. However, I had several stops in my way, classical music or traditional jazz were some of them. What I do feel is that I won't come back to those old stops, but I'm sure there will be new ones...

AAJ: Could you describe the communication that is going on in the SLD Trio. How long have you been together and how did you meet? What kind of music are you striving to make?

PS: We have been playing together for four years, although Pablo (Diaz) has been my partner since 2009. I think the word Tensegrity (as the name of our recording) is a good word to describe how we communicate musically. It is a mix of "tension" but also "integrity" or wholeness. Each member of the trio is very different from the others, this creates a necessary tension between us, and it is from this tension that we create our music. We've never talked so much about it, but it seems it works well for us, so we keep on going. I don't know if we are striving to make a specific kind of music, I always prefer to think that it is our music that is trying to find us, we just have to practice to be in the state to let it happen.

AAJ: How would you describe your approach to composition and the difference between improvisation and composition? Do you have certain techniques that you return to?

PS: I studied a lot of composition technique at University. I was a good student, but when I wanted to compose I often found myself trying to make a great and pretentious piece. It never worked! Too many ideas, a lot of notes and effects...After all, it was real experience that made me a composer. I learnt to listen to all the orchestra inside my head, this was and still is more important than technique. In my opinion improvisation and composition are really close. The difference is "time" and of course, orchestration. Today I feel more comfortable with spontaneous improvisation. Nevertheless, I use composition to set some ideas or states that I would like to generate before improvising. These ideas do not always come from music, they could also come from poetry, dance, painting, or just thoughts.

AAJ: How did you become involved with the experimental jazz scene in New York?

PS: That's how it started: When we (Pablo and me) were planning our first trip to NY we contacted Roy Campbell and Cooper Moore by email, we had listened to a lot of their music and we wanted to meet them, talk, share and play...we couldn't meet Roy, he passed some weeks before travel, however he left, without knowing, a door open to the free music community, because of him we met Ras Moshe, Connie Crothers, William Parker, Matt Lavelle, Daniel Carter, Hilliard Greene, Patricia Nicholson Parker, William Hooker, Fay Victor, Steve Dalachinsky, and many other wonderful artists. Cooper Moore and William P. became our artistic hosts in some way, they showed us and introduced us to this awesome world. Without realizing, we were so involved that we felt that we had to come back, and we did it, and started to play, and made recordings. We met Andrew Drury on our second trip, we became close friends and we still have projects together.

AAJ: how would you describe the experience of playing with bassist, poet and composer, William Parker?

PS: The experience of playing with WP was amazing. We shared very special moments with him in NY, but never played together. It was here, in Buenos Aires, (when he came to the Jazz Festival), when he offered us to record some music. The session was relaxed and very productive, we didn't talk so much and played a lot! Our relationship became music for the first time, it was wonderful. I think NY has a great experimental/free scene. There, we found we had a lot in common with many people from different countries and we still keep in touch with many of them!

AAJ: As I understand it, you also teach. Where do you teach and what is your approach to teaching?

PS: I teach Piano, Complementary Piano, and Jazz Ensamble at "Conservatorio Manuel de Falla," in Buenos Aires. Although I have to follow a study programme, I'm always encouraging the students to find time to investigate. I also advise them to think deeply, ask questions, (criticize if necessary), about all the information they receive in the institution. This is because there's so much information nowadays that they can't process it, becoming overwhelmed most of the time; in addition, they have too little time to play. I take my own experiences in music to transmit them. I try to help them to start finding their own music, and we practice hard to find their own technique too. Personally, I have great interest in the links between movement and rhythm. Last year I started an anual workshop (outside the institution) to focus on this particular relationship. This year I will start it for the second time. I'm very much looking forward to it. It is a really necessary space to go deep in my researching. Besides, this is a great complement with the conservatory.

AAJ: You are also interested in dance and poetry and have used both art forms in your music. How would you describe the connection between dance, poetry and music? For instance, what is the relation between music and dance and the significance of setting words (poetry) to music?

PS: I feel all artistic fields are connected in many ways. They are all ways of expression of feelings, sensations, thoughts, how one sees the world. All arts were together in the past, no matter what culture we are talking about. It was with the "academy of arts," especially in the Western world when they began to separate. Today I notice that there is a great need to bring everything together again. It is happening in the artistic world all over the globe. For me this is like food, I need different kind of artistic expressions to feed myself and help me to grow as an artist and as a human being. I can't separate them anymore. The words, sound, the music moves, the movement could tell you a story, and so on!... On the other hand, I've been investigating the relationship between music and dance for a long time, seeking to discover and develop my own piano technique and also to understand the rhythm in a global (and new) way. Today it becomes primordial for teaching.

AAJ: Could you describe the Proyecto IMUDA? How does it connect to your music and aesthetic?

PS: I think the basis of the project started after recording with "Gran Ensamble," in 2012, at that time I was starting to take dance seriously, one day I came up with the idea of training some simple dance technique with a small group of musicians, just to see how the music could be affected when we were improvising. When I discontinued the Gran Ensamble, I asked some of its members if they wanted to work and train with a dance teacher, my friend (and also my dance teacher at that time) Laura Monge, as an experiment. Some of them said yes, and we started to work. I really enjoyed that experience (which continued for two more years) and learned a lot from it. It was my first step in this process. After that I started to organize some performances (including musicians and dancers) in different spaces. I felt that it was an opportunity to keep the research going, ("live" research in this case). I named the performances "Proyecto IMUDA" (which means Music and Dance Improvisation). At the same time, I was taking dance classes three times a week. Gradually I became a kind of dancer, movement and rhythm were very similar to me. Now I understand better the meaning of Proyecto IMUDA, which is not Music and Dance separated, they are together, the music as movement and dance as rhythm!

AAJ: When did you become involved with Nendo Dango Records and how did it happen? How would you describe the aesthetic of the label and the music you are releasing?

PS: NDR was born two years ago, after talking with Pablo Díaz and Miguel Crozzoli about the lack of records labels for free music in Argentina. We decided to create this music platform to release our own recordings. We found the meaning of Nendo Dango a perfect way to describe the aesthetic of the label: "We believe that sound is like a nendo dango capsule, within all possibilities; every breath of each artist is crossed and transmuted, being one towards oneness, revealing unique and infinite sound-eco-system." (From NDR Bandcamp)

AAJ: You released the latest SLD Trio album, Tensegridad, on the renowned Hat Hut Records. How has it been to become a part of the rich tradition of the label? Do you identify with the musicians on the label in terms of aesthetic?

PS: I am still very surprised by the proposal from Hat Hut! I've been listening to a lot of recordings from this label for a long time, like Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Ellery Eskelin or Myra Melford, among many others. I am absolutely delighted and grateful for the invitation to be part of it. This experience has encouraged me to keep making the music I believe in. I don't know if I can totally identify with the musicians on the label, but surely we share some aesthetic approaches.

AAJ: Speaking of Tensegridad, it strikes me as a record that is both in the moment, past and future. Was it your intention to create something that would connect the threads of the past, present and future and, if so, how did you consciously (or not) try to reach that point?

PS: I was not really conscious about that. It is actually an interesting observation! I suspect it may be related with the situation of constant search for freedom, I'm not surprised that past, present and future become one whole time. Or, in other words, past, present and future can live in peaceful coexistence...

AAJ: I've noticed that you have also contributed cover artwork for some releases. Could you tell about your visual art and the connection to the music?

PS: As you can see, I'm quite a restless person... I've always been involved with cover artworks, but it was since we started NDR that it happened more often. I think independent musicians, (independent artists in general) are going through self-management times. You have to work hard, not just with your music, but also with everything referred to recordings, concerts, tours or press. I'm learning a lot about this experience. It is very difficult to find an explanation of the connection between visual art and music, I have a lot of limitations in drawing! The only thing I can say is that my starting point is a sensation, or a thought about the music, then I trust in the movement (of the pencil, of my hand), of course they are all abstract drawings...I love taking photographs too, so I also use them for covers or booklets.

AAJ: How would you describe the current musical climate? Do you find that it is a good time for jazz? Where do you see yourself in the landscape of jazz?

PS: Thinking of the musical climate, I feel we are in the middle of a big transition, I'm from the generation of live music, I mean, I used to go to concerts to see what was happening musically. Today it is very different, everything is on internet, you can listen to music on your computer or smartphone. Besides, people lose attention more easily than in the past, they can be concentrated to listen to one track, but not a complete record. As a musician I feel we must fight against it constantly, trying to keep the live music spaces and trying to make people go to those spaces. As humans, we are material (made of bones, muscles, skin, viscera, etc), so the music needs to be material too, not just virtual...we can use virtuality to spread our music to the world, but virtual and material will never be the same! On the other hand, I started to question being a "jazz musician," I know today the word "Jazz" includes a lot of musical genres, but here, in Argentina, this particular world is very conservative, even the musicians! Moreover, you can have gigs on jazz clubs only if you play (kind of) traditional. It becomes hard if you are not playing that music and the audience is really small. Despite all of this, I took the decision (after a long way) to get out of it and I felt much better. Today, I prefer to think of myself as (trying to be) a free musician, and, (why not) a free performer, fighting to break boundaries between musical worlds, and between all different artistic fields. I feel we are in a time where we need to think global, of course many people are doing it and many people are resistant to it.

AAJ: If you had to mention some of the important musical voices of our time who would that be?

PS: It is hard to me to mention some important musical voices of our time, I can mention the ones who are important for me... My appreciation of women's role in music has increased in the last five or six years, I felt alone for a long time as a female musician, so I started to search for inspirations, and a lot of women appeared, Pauline Oliveros, Connie Crothers, Joëlle Léandre, even women in other musical scenes, for example, Björk ...I think they all found their own way and they have a strong voice in what they do/did. I've also met a lot of female musicians in the last three or four years, they were all inspirations in some way, musically, but also mentally, politically and spiritually.

AAJ: Finally, could you tell something about your upcoming plans and projects, including tours? Where is it possible to catch you playing?

PS: I have a lot of recordings coming out in the near future. Some of them are trio with Pablo and other musicians like Guillermo Gregorio, Christoph Gallio or Kristin Nordeval. We will probably have one more release in collaboration with Andrew Drury, which includes Pablo but also cellist Cecilia Quinteros and saxophonist/clarinetist Luis Conde. Besides, I'm now working on the mix of a personal project based on the relationships between being classical pianist in the past and being a free improviser in the present (and studying composition in the middle). I created a musical landscape with a homemade recording of myself practicing the Goldberg Variations from JS Bach (like the old tapes in concrete music) and then I recorded piano improvisations in a studio in dialogue with the tape. I'm very excited about it.

I expect to be touring in Europe with Pablo in February 2019, we are setting up the dates for some concerts in Germany and Holland. I will also be playing in Buenos Aires and other cities of my country, like Bariloche, Córdoba or Rosario.

Selected Discography:

Paula Shocron/German Lamonega/Pablo Diaz: Tensegridad (Hat Hut Records, 2017)

Paula Shocron/William Parker/Pablo Diaz: Emptying the Self (NendoDango Records, 2017)

Cooporative Sound: Cooparative Sound #1, #2, #3 (NendoDango Records, 2017)

SLD Trio: Anfitrión (NendoDango Records, 2016)

Paula Shocron Trio: Surya (Kuai Music, 2014)

Paula Shocron: See See Rider (Rivorecords, 2013)

Paula Shocron: Serenade in Blue (Rivorecords, 2012)

Paula Shocron/Pablo Puntoriero: El Enigma (Acqua Records, 2012)

Paula Shocron: Our Delight (Rivorecords, 2011)

Paula Shocron: Gran Ensamble (Acqua Records, 2011)

Paula Shocron: La Voz Que Te Ileva (BlueArt, 2005)

Photo Credit:

All photos: Silvina Muszczynski

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