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Paula Shocron: Paths to a New Sound

Jakob Baekgaard By

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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?
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