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Zach Brock: Jazz Violin's New Wave

Angelo Leonardi By

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Best known for his work with Snarky Puppy, Zach Brock is among the most creative violinists of his generation. Zach Brock is bringing the violin back to center stage. Influenced by European masters of the seventies like Jean-Luc Ponty, Zbigniew Seifert, Didier Lockwood, Brock has widened his perspective from modern jazz to rock, finding a synthesis that connects classical precision with a strong melodic sense and remarkable improvisational skills. Brock has recorded and toured with the likes of Stanley Clarke and Phil Markowitz, in addition to releasing ten albums as a leader.

All About Jazz: You are the latest link in the chain of great jazz violinists. How do you feel about your role?

Zach Brock: I am proud of being part of this tradition. As time goes by, I have been re-investigating the past from a different perspective. I have been able to connect to past masters by looking at them as innovators of their respective musical eras. There have been a few geniuses of the violin since the beginning of recorded jazz and we're all standing on their shoulders.

AAJ: You have a special connection with the music of Zbigniew Seifert, the great polish violinist who died, still young, in 1979. He recorded few and forgotten albums, mainly in communist Poland. Only a handful of people remember him. How did you find out about his music?

ZB: I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky in the pre-internet era so what I was aware of musically was only through my parents, teachers, and friends. When I was in high school a close friend of mine and great improvising cellist, Alex Bingcang, found a Verve compilation CD entitled Jazz-Club Violin. This was the first time that I was able to hear the young (pre-fusion) Jean-Luc Ponty as well as Didier Lockwood, Zbigniew Seifert, and others. Seifert's selection was the beautiful and mysterious "Stillness" from Man of the Light. It would take me another ten years, even after the dawn of the internet, to find a copy of Seifert's Passion LP in the used bin of the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago.

AAJ: What about Jean-Luc Ponty, Jerry Goodman or Didier Lockwood?

ZB: I'm a huge fan of all of those players and have done a lot of transcribing of their solos over the years. For me, Jean-Luc is—and will always be—"Le Roy du Violon" [Ed.: the king of violin]. He is also responsible for my introduction to Stanley Clarke and I remain grateful beyond words for having had that opportunity.

AAJ: What other musicians have inspired you?

ZB: So many! I'm inspired on a weekly basis. Sometimes it is too much and I have to isolate myself to focus on working out my own ideas. At first I was inspired by Stephane Grappelli. As I started playing more and going to jam sessions I became interested in the musicians associated with the new music I was learning. People like Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, etc. I'm also a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix, David Oistrakh, Radiohead, Paolo Conte, and on and on...

AAJ: What are the contemporary violinists you admire the most?

ZB: Mark Feldman, Christian Howes, Billy Contreras, Sara Caswell, Gregor Huebner, Mads Tolling, Jeremy Kittel, Alex Hargreaves, Mateusz Smoczynski, Adam Baldych, Scott Tixier, Casey Driessen, so many... I'm probably forgetting someone.

AAJ: You grew up in a family of musicians. What are your earliest musical memories?

ZB: My earliest memories of music involve me lying under the piano bench while my Mom sang and played, and of local musicians coming over to our house to rehearse with my Dad. My Grandfather owned a music store and I went there often after school. There were always young guitar players "pickin' and grinning" as we say in Kentucky. I started violin at age four and started choir at age seven. Music has always been both social and vocational for me.

AAJ: What kind of music did you listen to as a kid? How did you get into jazz?

ZB: I listened to a lot of the great classical violinists and their repertoire, especially Perlman and Zuckerman, as well as German Lieder, medieval and renaissance music (my Mom's specialty), and Appalachian folk music. My Dad was a jazz trumpet player with a special affinity for Chet Baker when he was in high school but he was really into folk music and bluegrass when I was growing up. He played guitar and sang and we had a family trio with my Mom. However, there was always jazz playing on the record player or on the radio. My Dad started getting back into trumpet when I was ten and he started buying me records by Grappelli, Venuti, and Ponty. That was my entry point into jazz.

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