Appearances at SoundCellar -
ROBERT MITCHELL'S PANACEA - Thursday 13th September 2012
ROBERT MITCHELL'S PANACEA - Sunday 1st December 2013
1 What made you want to become a musician?
A piano was in the house before I came along! Music was in the family, as my father used to sing, eventually professionally. So a number of pianists came to rehearse with him, and that used to be a real way to compare my progress (as they were playing the very same piano much better than myself!). I had a great teacher as a child (Milada Robertson), and also experiences performing at school which all contributed to my thinking. Any of the people I witnessed making music , we're having a lot of fun. It solidified further in my teens, when I begun to write music, and integrate the decade of classical piano with my growing interest in jazz. Then seeing musicians like the Jazz Warriors on tv sealed the deal (when there was more of this on mainstream UK tv ).
2 What was your practice routine when you decided to get serious about jazz?
It depended on the type of forthcoming event - performance, rehearsal, and later on recording. Learning new music would largely derive from the strategies gained from my earlier classical piano studies (technical development, looking at a problem from many angles to help solve difficulties), combined with expanding scale/chord knowledge, much more metronome work,gaining more comfort and fluency in different metres , and setting up a performance mentality when necessary - to test the integration of all the above. More time was needed to start to think about a personal approach , stronger feelings about interpretation, and also to record more and embrace those moments when the beginnings of a composition would decide to emerge . Other areas all depended on being within a band situation - comping and interaction, as well as - in the most progressive situations - evolution of particular states of mind (which would be brought home to influence the next chapter of practice/learning/study).
3 What advice can you give to other musicians to get the most from their practice routine?
Embrace the fact that you change every day. Thus the relationship with the instrument does as well. So , I think strict discipline and flexibility are both needed (ying/yang). A diary is also great for monitoring long term development: of patience (!), of a personal viewpoint that will influence interpretation, and of a more distinct dialect (improvising language).
In these days of instantaneous technological power, to a degree unthinkable even a decade ago - the tenacity needed to progress on an instrument, or in any area - I think has become more vital to celebrate.
4 Can you recommend some books that helped with your studies?
The study is without end! In no particular order, as they are all special :
Hanon, Piano Yoga, Just Being At The Piano, Notes And Tones, Piano Music For One Hand, Rhythm and Metre Patterns (Chaffee) , School For the Left Hand (Berens)
5 Which recording, either as a leader or a sideman, do you think is the best example of your playing?
I do my best, to make each recording as representative of its time as possible. So I think the next recording I do - is the best example of my playing!
6 Do you have a standard procedure for your compositional process?
No. Inspiration must be respected, but I think I get better at embracing the ebb and flow of the process. It comes when it wants , and you do your best to grow the seed of an idea into a fully fledged result. It is a joy to know , even after writing music for a good while, that I cannot fully own the process. I set the best conditions, and learn to look ever more deeply. I love finding about creative rituals from all sorts of disciplines - as that alone can set me down a different path. But I won't discard an idea that has come - just because it didn't fit into that ritual.
I recorded a piece on my last album (The Glimpse) by the relatively undersung composer Federico Mompou. He was very particular about writing only the essential, at the ripest time. I love it, and hugely respect the discipline , restraint, and patience involved. He would only compose when it was natural, and in flow. For someone else, finding (uncovering) your voice may involve composing a great deal, before it is evident in everything you do. I think it does depend on the unique perspective that we each have, coming through the life we are living .
7 What qualities do you look for in your collaborators?
Openness and lifelong learning.
8 Name some of your favourite standards and tell me why you like them.
Giant Steps - it perfectly captures the upward quality of Coltrane's quest. It is wonderful that I think it will always have a place in history. It marks a point of conceptual breakthrough for a artist who was not happy to stand still. It is a gatekeeper - and you work hard to be able to open any door from within it !
Stella By Starlight - I think it has a very odd internal shape (inside the even/square bar count ). The harmonies seem to always ask for a renewed solution from the players. The way it starts - definitely poses a sonic question - and has a long held tension, which is elegantly and creatively resolved at the end of the form. It is one of a group of tunes for me that I can return to and always find a chance to be inspired. This does take time to reveal - and I did not think at all like this when I first was playing it!
9 What are some of your desert island discs?
The Real McCoy (McCoy Tyner)
Symbiosis (Bill Evans/Claus Ogerman)
Curves of Life (Live) (Steve Coleman and Five Elements)
Slaves Mass (Hermeto Pascoal)
The Soundtrack - Bullitt (Lalo Schiffrin)
Rapsodia (Gonzalo Rubalcaba)
Autumn in Picture (Billy Child's)
Kid A (Radiohead)
10 What music are you listening to at the moment?
Without A Net - Wayne Shorter
The Electric Lady - Janelle Monae
Ten Freedom Summers - Waddada Leo Smith
Not In Our Time - Richard Blackford
11 What motivates you to focus on creative music?
There is always the capacity to surprise. I don't think this is limited to any genre - as everything goes through cycles. But this capacity if important for life let alone music.
12 Tell me about some of the most memorable gigs you have played?
Earlier this year my band Panacea played a wonderful festival in the central George Enescu Square in Bucharest. Amazing. Other ones with them have been amazing - North Sea Jazz, Vienne Jazz Festival, Kings Place (with a string 4tet) , Turner Sims, and the Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall
Other ones include playing in Cuba and Singapore with Omar Puente, in China and India with J-Life, solo performances opening for Wayne Shorter , trio performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall opening for Branford Marsalis (and album launch at the Vortex), Barbados with Courtney Pine, Kerala International Film Fest with Soweto Kinch.
13 Tell me about some of the most memorable gigs you've been to?
Hermeto Pascoal at Ronnie's (mid 90s. First solo got a standing ovation, everyone came out of that gig - changed!)
Herbie Hancock with Michael Brecker (with that solo tenor sax version of Naima - probably out there with the Voyager satellite right now ...and making the Barbican seem like it was way too small to contain it)
Aka Moon at the (old)Vortex . Genius in triplicate.
Keith Jarrett Trio at the Royal Festival Hall
Gonzalo Rubalcaba at the Rhythmic
Andrew Hill, Greg Osby at the Jazz Cafe
Elliot Carter - at the Royal Albert Hall (Proms)
Cecil Taylor and Max Roach at the Barbican
14 Tell me about your current equipment set up?
If not acoustic piano ,the Korg SV1, Fender Rhodes, and a wonderful toy piano that will be on more outings soon.
15 Tell me about some musicians you think people should check out?
Preston/Glasgow/Lowe (trio - and individually)
Janelle Monae (when is the tipping point coming for this amazing talent?)
Matana Roberts (Coin Coin project will be a masterpiece when complete)
16 - What's your favourite cultural pursuit other than music?
As a parent, our recent reconnection with the cinema is a real joy. (Looking forward to Gravity by the time this interview comes out!). Documentaries I think are also going through a golden age (with more access to technology, more hidden stories can come forth). So many great books as well (some recently , some longer term) : A Power Stronger Than Itself (George Lewis), Mastery (Robert Greene), Hidden Handedness (Samuel Randolph), Straight Ahead (Marty Khan).
17 - What do you think of the state of jazz in the UK?
Extremely broad, vibrant, culturally visceral, badly needing a better tv presence, and not presently even remotely about to fade away . The renewal and evolution are constant. I hope the continues efforts of a variety of musicians who have started labels, festivals, residencies, publishing companies etc go onward reshaping the landscape as they quietly have been, esp. during the 21 Century.
18 Have you got any tips for jazz promoters?
There is always something new emerging online, that may change the present and future ways of promoting. Like the music, these forms are always in flux, and we (all) need to celebrate being up to date with them, and embracing them fully.
19 What was the last thing you heard that got you excited?
Our daughter just uncontrollably laughing, Janelle Monae (she needs that gig with orchestra/choir) , Maschine, George Russell, Univeral Audio Apollo
20 Have you got anything you'd like to promote?
Robert Mitchell's Panacea (Deborah Jordan - vocals, Tom Mason - bass, Laurie Lowe - drums)
We play our last gig of 2013 at the Soundcellar, Bournemouth UK on 1Dec - and there will be a new twitter/online update soon
My site - www.robertmitchellmusic.com
And my festival - www.leftitudefestival.com (a unique festival of left hand only piano...)
Twitter - www.twitter.com/robertmitchellmusic - www.twitter.com/leftitudefest