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Take Five with Machrijam

Martin Connolly By

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...I am more of a writer than a musician per se. Well, why put them in competition? I love both, dearly. In the new album, some songs connect to my 2017 novel The Conjuring Cowboy. "Buster in the Saddle" captures the scene in the novel where the hero is riding through the desert in the American Wild West. It's a comedic novel, a little Flann O'Brien-ish, and it derives a fair amount of its energy and oomph from cartoons, and the films of Buster Keaton etc.. Another song, "The Jimmy-Jack Cracker Blues,"which is acoustic and played live, also captures the atmosphere of the story. I have also published poetry. I feel that words can be music, and that music can communicate stories. It's like what they say about time and space: they're interchangeable.

The first jazz album I bought was...

I don't remember, as there are so many from my past. Well, actually, I didn't buy them, but my brothers Jim and Paul did. So, I heard the Mahavishnu Orchestra thanks to them. But I do recall that I asked for and got Bitches Brew by Miles Davis for my fifteenth birthday. I'd heard that it was an important record, yet, in those pre-Net days, I had no way to hear a sample of it. However, when I put the needle into the groove, I was dumbfounded. I couldn't believe what I was listening to. Until, that is, much later, when I wised up, and grew to hear what Miles was doing. I now love this album. It's now ingrained into my being. (Addendum: my brothers were so kind they ran out and bought my second request: The Little River Band's Diamantina Cocktail. That was pretty good too, certainly at the time!)

Music you are listening to now:

I love to listen to Larry Coryell and am devastated he passed away. He was a fantastic musician, a genius, and a beautiful person. I met him and we even corresponded for a while. Often about literature (James Joyce, my particular research area). He loved Tolstoy and wrote and played an opera based on War & Peace. He was working on creating another guitar opera on Joyce's literature, I think Ulysses, when he passed away. Such sadness. He once praised my song ("Blues for Larry," written for him, on my debut album.) I particularly recommend his live album with Ron Carter: Ron Carter, Tribute to Jim (Universal, 2014) I also still love listening to George Benson's In Flight (Warner Bros., 1977). Most anything by John McLaughlin, but mad about his Electric Guitarist (Columbia, 1978) and Live at the Festival Hall (JMT, 1989) (which, by the way, I witnessed first-hand). Oh, and Jaco's studio album Word of Mouth (Warner Bros, 1990), is an all-time favourite, and his music really influences me a lot.

Desert Island picks:

Rory Gallagher Taste Live Taste (Polydor, 1971); Shakti with John McLaughlin Natural Elements (Columbia, 1977); Stevie Ray Vaughan The Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (Epic/Legacy, 2002); Yes Yessongs (Atlantic, 1973) Elvis Presley RCA Albums Collection (Sony Legacy, 2016); The Beatles Original Studio Recordings (EMI, 2009).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

I'm not in the best position to answer that question adequately, being too tied to the music I grew up with, and too obstinate to find out much. However, I regularly attend gigs by famous artists, and have a website dedicated to reporting on each. Invariably, these artists are of the highest calibre and never disappoint. The likes of John Scofield, Mike Stern, John Tropea, John McLaughlin, Victor Wooten, etc... And, in Japan Tetsuo Sakurai is a stand-out genius of the bass, regularly doing tributes to Jaco which would wow Jaco, and probably do up in heaven. I suspect that there are multitudes of great players of the younger generation who are also incredible, like pianist & keyboardist extraordinaire, Hiromi Uehara. Yet, I have had the pleasure of coming across a number of less well-known players from time to time and, when I have the luck to meet them, they all tell the same story: they certainly don't do what they do for the money. They create beauty and art with sound waves and inspire joy and creativity in anyone who is privileged to see them, but their take-home pay is pitiful. These musicians could all benefit from some greater appreciation from their respective countries, or from the systems in place which deliver their bounty to our ears. Jazz exists from love, and lives on love and dedication, but the humans who produce it need money, too. We get a bargain from these geniuses.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Financial appreciation would help. Or just appreciation. In modern mainstream media outlets, jazz musicians don't get the publicity they deserve. Pop music occludes whatever coverage they might get. When a jazz great passes away and is hardly mentioned in the news I feel that mainstream media has failed them and failed the public. To talk about the medium itself, jazz should always have a hard element within it, even when it's a quiet, romantic piece. It should eschew a softening, when that softening is designed to take away the hard element.

What is in the near future?

I have no plans at the moment to do anything more with the guitar than just enjoy it. I suspect my muse will turn me toward the computer keyboard in the not-too-distant future, to type words, not tap out a tune... Recording is not the same as just playing: the two are distinct. I will likely play an up-coming festival, with my Ibanez, two small amps (for surround sound) and a looper. That's a mighty set-up. Played live and with no stress about fashioning an eternal sonic monument.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

That I'll lose my creativity and just fall into the simple pattern of the bare chords of the song. I play best when I don't really have any clue about what's coming next. The fingers take over. Nervousness intrudes on that precious process.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Play anything, I won't hear it. But, don't play anything by Adele or Sam Smith. I might wake up and do some damage.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

I whistle. "Summertime," any version, or Ella's. Or the "Theme from Spartacus," Santana's version, which is a beautiful, beautiful piece.

By Day:

I teach at a university in Japan. I research literature. (To wit, which may of interest to readers, I once published a paper on Paul McCartney and James Joyce.)

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

I'd be a blues musician. Or a cowboy. Or both.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

James Joyce. I'd like to see if I could drink him under the table.

Have you ever written about music?
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