One of the things I’ve wanted to do with the blog is not only put up articles about my peers but also put up interviews with some of the people who have inspired us to make music.
I sat down with guitarist Carl Morgan a few weeks ago to come up with the following series of questions to ask Sydney based Guitarist James Muller.
Here’s what he said:
What motivates you to keep practicing/disciplining yourself to continue working on furthering your craft?
A lot of it is being inspired by other musicians, especially my contemporaries and the new-breed. I get jealous sometimes when I hear my friends sounding better than me. Ha. I don’t want to be left behind sounding old and lame! Also, I get bored playing the same old stuff.
What are some of the ways you’ve approached working on time/feel?
Mainly, it’s just something I’m always aware of rather than working on specific things. I’m more conscious of time than harmony or melody. It’s the most important component of jazz, I think. I play little rhythmic games when I practise – usually just picking a tempo and then subdividing the beat in different ways. I like going up and down through quavers, quaver triplets, semiquavers, semiquaver quintuplets and semiquaver sextuplets. Then I try and mix them all up randomly. Also, dividing regular quavers/semiquavers into odd groupings 3/5/6/7/9 etc… All of these things really help your basic 4/4 playing. Feel, is different. It’s harder to work on. I listen to players with great feels and try and analyse what it is that makes their feel great. Usually, it’s about the way they accent certain notes and where the lay on the beat, but it’s also the shape of the melodic line itself that makes it feel groovy or not. I don’t think you can play any old bunch of notes and make it swing, no matter how good your time feel is. The way the notes are arranged is really important (and the rests too!). It’s taken me a long time to figure that out…
What are some of the key aspects that you feel are most important for younger aspiring musicians to work on?
If you’re a pianist or guitarist – COMPING. I’ve only really just started to get into that. What a fool I’ve been. It’s so important to learn how to do well. Transcribe comping as well as solos…
Business skills! I’m not kidding. I still have no idea with that stuff and I really regret not learning more about it. Hopefully it’s not too late.
Are there any bands or musicians (of any genre) you’ve recently discovered that are challenging or inspiring you to think differently about music and improvisation? If so, what aspects and/or ideas have you drawn from them?
At the moment I’m on an Allan Holdsworth kick. He is a real genius. Listening to him has totally reinvigorated my practising. The way he constructs lines and chords is incredible and completely unique and I think everyone should be checking him out. He’s as heavy as Coltrane, I think. He has changed music. Sean Wayland is a constant source of inspiration. Simon Barker has some great views on music and life. I guess I haven’t “recently discovered” these guys technically speaking. All of these guys are really methodical about the way they practise and learn. I have always been really erratic and just noodled for practise which I guess works to a certain degree but it’s time for me to actually start thinking about precisely what I want.
How has living in Australia affected your development as a musician?
That’s hard. I could be nasty and say “adversely”. There is some incredible talent here and Australia it’s a wonderful place to live but I can’t help thinking we all (jazz musos) would be better off living in the US or Europe. We would be better players and might be a lot better off financially, certainly artistically. It’s not the musicians’ fault really. The more I think about it the darker I get about the way we are viewed by the general public over here. Still, there are many worse places to be.
You recently completed a tour with Sean Wayland’s band featuring Mark Guilliana. Can you tell us about your history with Sean and some of the highlights of the projects of his that you’ve been involved in?
Sean started booking me for gigs in 1997, a year or so after I moved to Sydney from Adelaide. Soon after I was in pretty well all of his subsequent groups right up until he left to live in NY. I’m not sure why he kept me on. I think initially he was impressed with my playing but later it became just as much about having a friend around that respected his music/vision. I think that’s a big part of why I played on his most recent US recordings. I think having another Aussie around experiencing these great rhythm sections and horn players is important to him. It’s great for me!! It’s been amazing to watch Sean develop so consistently over the years. He is one of the great thinkers and problem-solvers in music today, I think. As far as highlights go, the most exciting/fun gigs I did were when Sean brought out Jochen Rueckert and Matt Penman from NY in 2002. That was my first taste of a top-notch modern American rhythm section and I was in HEAVEN! I have recordings of those gigs. Really great experience. I did a couple of gigs at the 55 bar with Sean in 2007 with some great players – Will Vinson, Orlando La Fleming, Henry Cole, Rudy Royston. Matt Clohesy – they were awesome fun too. As soon as I get in the studio though, I can’t enjoy myself. Playing with Keith Carlock, Tim Lebvre and Adam Rogers on the Pistachio CD was great but I couldn’t relax. I wish we did a gig. There were Aussie highlights too – recording with Sean, Nick McBride and Brett Hirst in “the shed” – Sean’s old house in Jarrett St, Leichhardt. My amp was in Nick’s car in the driveway, turned up to 11, Brett was with the double bass in the bathroom and Nick in sean’s bedroom. The only way sean could communicate with the other guys was to speak “live” arrangement instructions into a microphone which came out on the recording! It actually sounded pretty good!!
What are you working on right now?
Chords. Trying to comp better. Trying to remove other people’s licks from my playing..it’s EMBARRASSING when I hear myself do it these days. It will stop!!
5 questions in 30 seconds
Favourite Youtube Video :
Best live gig you’ve seen: John Scofield with Larry Goldings, Dennis Irwin and Bill Stewart @ The Basement Jan 1995.
Best gig you’ve played: Hmm Sean Wayland, Matt Penman, Jochen Rueckert @ Coogee Beach Jan 2002
Current favourite album: Allan Holdsworth “The Sixteen Men Of Tain”
Where can we see you play next? Feb 6 @ the Walsh Bay Jazz Festival and Mar5/6 @ 505.
Eamon (and Carl)
P.S check out James Muller at www.jamesmuller.com