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Take Five with Machrijam

Martin Connolly By

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About Machrijam

Machrijam is my artist name. Martin Connolly my daily one. I'm from Belfast, Ireland. I've been resident in Japan since early 1990s. Married. Two sons, both taller than me. As for my present status, I'm a professor at a university in Yokohama, Japan. I have published on James Joyce, medieval literature & contemporary Irish lit, plus in other areas (including Star Trek & Pirates of the Caribbean). I've also published a number of works of creative writing, novel, poetry, stories with Snowchild Press. I released Machrijam, my debut album in 2015. I'm a solo artist. All my compositions are original. I just make stuff up.

Instrument(s):

I play an Ibanez nylon GA37STCE, a Gibson Les Paul Studio (circa 1991), a Fender Japan Stratocaster & an Aria Dreadnought Acoustic AD-50N (which is a sublime replica of a Martin D-28. Indeed, I played a 28 in a store once and found it not as good as my Aria). I also have others, plus a guitar synth... but we're not speaking at the moment.

Teachers and/or influences?

My teachers? My piano-playing father, a natural musician if ever there was one. My guitar-playing brother, Jim, after whom my jazz website is named: Jim's Garage.

Influences? Larry Coryell, for his beautiful lyricism and his humanity. John McLaughlin, for that, and for his prodigious eclectic output over the years, moulding my mind. Jaco Pastorius, for his vast pizzazz and genius: the soul of jazz. A ton of others. Paco De Lucia. Rory Gallagher. Beethoven. Elvis Presley. The Fab Four. Stevie Ray Vaughan. They have all been my teachers.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

...when I heard my brother Jim play guitar. Then when he formed a band, Arcadia Lake, I knew that music was it. I suppose from the earliest I was curious about the instrument my father had bought Jim and could never resist picking it up. The Da was always playing something melodious, too. It was that kind of environment.

Your sound and approach to music.

In my latest album, Machrijazz, it's all about being honest, pure, uncluttered and melodic. I gravitate to melodies, but I am not always good at capturing these elusive entities. So, in the latest album, I allowed the melody of each song to dictate to me the shape and approach to each piece. I kept all guitar sounds manageable and clean. I used no effects (unless you call reverb an effect). I gave the melody all the space and time it required. In general, having been affected by John McLaughlin's guitar playing from yonks ago, I feel it's important to really hit the strings. It may be softly, but it must be decisive and true. Hard jazz, or a hard feeling in jazz is much preferable to a softly-softly (elevator-style) approach, which I abhor. Tone and feeling-wise, while I was always drawn to intense jazz, or jazz-rock when growing up, I did not want to do that here. I wanted to keep the feeling of the songs accessible and open. There is intensity, but it is not dark or mystical, but rather open and playful, I hope.

Your teaching approach

I don't teach. I couldn't. I tried teaching my kids, both of whom play guitar. They learnt about five chords from me and then they went to YouTube. I have learnt guitar in a manner which is undisciplined and structureless. I kept strumming the strings and playing around with riffs and scales for decades. Decades and decades. I did all the wrong things, repeatedly. And yet I'm glad I did, because I like my playing, and I always have done. If I could teach anyone anything, it would be this: Listen to your instrument more than anything else. Play boldly and with the character you possess. Don't try and play like other people, at least for any extended time. Don't allow learning a structured and famous song to lure you away from the tabula rasa of infinite, endless possibility.

Your dream band

Dream band? I don't believe in such. I've been listening to dream bands all my life. Mahavishnu. The Beatles. Weather Report. Yes. Steely Dan. Who could dream these guys up? As regards to playing, I prefer my own company every time. (Although I did click with Oz guitarist Gareth Mealor once. And he solos on the final track of my debut album.)

Road story: Your best or worst experience

I played at my university once (as a teacher). It was just me, with pre-recorded backing. It worked. It was rocky as hell. I tried to replicate it a few hours later. It didn't work. Another time, I played at a festival in my town. Not many people listened to me, but it was fun. We occupied the same space, but different universes.

Favorite venue

Nothing quite beats busking. Try outside Shinjuku Station, Tokyo, from 9am. That was fun. Proceeds went to a fund for Nepal, which had suffered an earthquake. A giant van parked nearby and a guy got out and started speaking into a mic about rightwing issues dear to his heart. I turned up my amp and got real rocky. The street is a good place to play jazz and blues! I should also mention Poco a Poco, a little jazz bar in the town where I live, Isehara. I have played there a few times and the owner and the customers are all great and welcoming. They hold regular sessions, and you can hear some great music there. I've played well there on occasion, but have crashed, too... up against the steel wall of having to play with others!

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

My new album Machrijazz is an improvement on the 2015 eponymous Machrijam album. It's a whole new ball game. It's new jazz, or bebop re-done, with some C&W stuff thrown in. The second track "Two's Company" is a delight. It is melodic and strongly melodic, the lines in it are bold, but sweet. It rocks and rolls, in an elegant sort of way.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I am contributing my own unique approach, derived from decades of doing the wrong thing, repeatedly. What survived is worth it. It tells the tale that persistence can work. I hope my sounds make the listener feel some warmth and goodness and joy and fun, aspects of life which is too generally too thin on the ground in this sometimes-crazy world.

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