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Zach Brock: Jazz Violin's New Wave

Angelo Leonardi By

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AAJ: When you were in your sophomore year in college, you suffered a serious car accident that sidelined you for three years. What was your reaction? What impact did it have on your future life?

ZB: It took me even longer to get back on my feet. By the time I was physically able to return to college I had decided that I wanted to start a career in jazz. My teacher, Dr. Myron Kartman, was always supportive of my violin playing in all contexts and he helped me, for the better part of a decade, to continue my formal studies while seeking instruction in jazz. He is a very passionate and patient teacher.

AAJ: Was it tough to move to New York? What was your experience in New York like?

ZB: The first year was a rush. The second year brought despair. The third brought affirmation.

AAJ: Let's talk about Phil Markowitz. What did you learn from him? Do you feel your musical relationship has changed over the years?

ZB: I met Phil at the Deer Head Inn and his playing blew me away. We had an immediate musical simpathy. I sought him out for some lessons a few years later at the recommendation of the great pianist and composer Bobby Avey. I was looking for some guidance in organizing my musical concepts and approach to practice and I found it studying with him. After a few lessons we started exploring compositional approaches for violin and piano and that's when we formed our partnership.

AAJ: You studied with Pat Martino. What was his approach to teaching? Can you recall any memories about that learning experience?

ZB: I had a lesson with Pat at the Summer Jazz Institute at Skidmore College when I was in my twenties. He had been a hero of mine since I discovered his album Consciousness. He teaches a unique concept of dividing the fretboard/fingerboard of a stringed instrument into visual patterns using symmetrical scales. It totally changed how I approach the violin in a harmonic way. He also gave me some sage advice, which was that, if I wanted to play modern jazz on the violin, I would need to become a bandleader. It was a tremendously important lesson for me.

AAJ: Did you have any dark times in your musical life?

ZB: Never. Only in my personal life. Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint where the darkness is really coming from but music has always helped me to find it and face it. Of course, I've experienced difficulties in my career and musical relationships, but none that ever caused me to lose faith.

AAJ: In terms of your playing, I've always been impressed with your sensitivity and the virtuosic understatement that underlies all your work. In your eyes, how has your playing evolved over the years?

ZB: Thank you. That is very nice to hear. I have a lot more information nowadays. When I was starting out I really didn't know what I was doing. I had passion and a sense of an aesthetic that I wanted to develop but I had no formal jazz training. Now I might have too much? Certainly more than one lifetime's worth if I hope to master the concepts. I remain open to learning as much as possible and to expanding my musical universe but I'm being more selective about what I try to develop.

AAJ: What are some of your own favorite albums?

ZB: I have a difficult time listening to my own recordings, as many musicians do, but I'm still fond of The Magic Number and Perpetuity. I put a lot into both of those albums and the result still surprises me. There are things that I love about my Coffee Achievers records and the ones I did for Criss Cross, and it is mostly the playing of the other musicians. I've been incredibly fortunate to record with some of the greatest players on earth.

AAJ: Can you talk about your experience with Snarky Puppy?

ZB: I've known Michael League since the early 2000s. It's hard to be succinct when talking about the Pups. It's a special and strangely functional family. A mysterious sonic recipe. Mike is one of the few bandleaders who really understands my musical voice and lets me shine in my own way. I've played with Snarky Puppy since we outnumbered the audience four to one and it is the only band I've ever played with that experienced such an explosion in popularity. It's been a wild ride so far.

AAJ: Let's talk about your future plans.

ZB: I have a couple of new records planned for release this year, as well as some new videos. We're also doing a new Snarky Puppy record. I have a lot of unrealized dreams. My biggest dream is to be able to do a world tour of my own music and to be able to bring my wife and daughters along for the experience.

Foto: Luciano Rossetti.

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