Mike Rivett hails from Cairns, studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, then moved to Tokyo (married) and is now about to finish a Masters Degree from the Manhattan School of Music in New York. He was a few years above me at University and I only got to see him play a few times but last year while I was in New York I met him, hung out and made some music. He is an amazing saxophonist and one of those guys whose always willing to share information. Each time i saw him he’d show me a new idea he’s working on and even got me into one of his classes at MSM with Phil Markowitz. I sent him a few questions via email recently, as he’s someone who has inspired me greatly. Click here for his MySpace
1. You’ve lived in Cairns, Sydney, Tokyo and New York. Can you describe the transitions moving cities and trying to play music?
Moving to Cairns was great for me. It gave me a chance to really study electronic music production. I built a studio in my parent’s basement and acoustically treated it on the cheap- making acoustic panels out of rock-wool, caneite and frontrunner. While I was there I studied various books such as “Mixing with your Mind”, “The Visual Guide to Mixing” and a bunch of other things I can’t remember off the top of my head. I got totally obsessed with it.
As far as playing went, there wasn’t much – a couple of functions here and there and the occasional cafe gig. There was only really one other musician there that I dug playing with- Andre’ Houghton- a Guitarist that studied at Berklee.
Teaching was easy. In a small town it’s easy to be “the man” as a musician.. I ended up teaching woodwind at a school and a bunch of private students- sax, piano, flute and clarinet. But of course I got bored with not playing serious music all the time. As well as this I missed my girlfriend (now wife) who was living in Tokyo.
Next came the Tokyo stint. This was a tough one- initially at least. First came debt. I was trying to find the ideal english teaching job- something that paid well and had flexible hours so I could still gig. It took longer than I expected- thus the debt. But eventually I settled on GABA corp- they had flexible hours… one out of two ain’t bad.
In terms of playing I was limited to what Ko (my good friend from Sydney who is bilingual in English and Japanese) would book me for, as in the beginning I couldn’t speak any Japanese. However, as the time went on I picked up more and more and got to the stage where I could have very simple conversations in Japanese and thus could book some of my own stuff. I ended up doing pretty well in Tokyo as far as playing at cool clubs with cool musicians went, but there was almost no money. Most clubs offer a door deal. So the english teaching job was essential. If I was fluent in Japanese I could have taught music for a much higher rate- but that’s how it was.
While I was there I also started a record label with my friend Andre from Cairns, who eventually moved to Tokyo to live with my girlfriend and me. The label is a minimal techno label and is called “Primpy Records” www.primpyrecords.com
Lots of fun.. silly… but fun. We made a 12″vinyl and released also on all the digital platforms such as beatport etc.
Tokyo was a super positive experience and I wholeheartedly recommend doing what I did. Possibly the best 2 years of my life.
Next came NY. This is still happening but so far has been really intense, lots of study and practice- but I have learned a lot and made some great friends. This school is the absolute bomb but really expensive. With no scholarship it is US 100 grand including living expense for 2 years. I managed to get a small scholarship- the president’s award. I have been lucky enough to have my parents pay the difference.
2. Can you tell us about studying at Manhattan School of Music? What was the audition process like – demands, requirements – and the kinds of classes you undertake.
First you send a CD of “Billie’s Bounce” and a couple of other standards. This is the prescreening process. Then, if they like you, you get offered a live audition. I sent a DVD audition from Tokyo which had 10 standards on it.
We take Improv, Jazz Styles, Piano, Ear Training, History, Arranging and Pedagogy. There are many other electives too. There has been a lot of composition involved. We have to write a tune a week for improv and write a more serious composition about once a month for Jazz Styles as well as writing solos and performing them for the class. The requirements for improv are ridiculous. Hexatonics, Pentatonics, approach notes through a progression in 4, 5, and 7/4, structures e.g. 1, 2, 6, b9 , structures with chromatic approach- i.e Maj. third above and below of the 1st note of the structure.. so in C it would be E, Ab, C, D, A, Db. Then we do every possible approach up to a Maj. 7th. Now we are working on countdown in 12keys with various patterns. E.g.- chromatic below, scale above, chord-tone, chord-tone. so for Emin7 it could be- F#, A, G, B..etc etc.
3. Who have you been learning from and what are some of the teachings they have imparted on you?
I’ve been studying triadic chromatic approach with George Garzone intensely for the last few years, even before MSM. This is the secret weapon. Come and take a lesson if you want to get into it hahaha. Takes a bit of explaining.
I’ve been studying bebop with Garry Dial. Learning how to take the line from anywhere in the scale and knowing all the possibilities to play totally inside but really chromatically (tonal chromaticism).
With Lieb [Dave Liebman] and Phil Markowitz we learn more non-tonal chromaticism. Again.. it would take a while to explain..
4. About a year ago in New York, we were discussing ‘developing your own sound’ and at the time what you were working on. (triadic approach to improvising) How has this developed since and if changed, what is your concept towards working on developing your own sound.
(For me) Developing your own sound means playing only things you like and filtering out the stuff you hate. It’s about having enough musicianship to then execute those decisions. In terms of the saxophone getting your own sound is inevitable as no one has the same mouth. But it’s all about hearing something and trying to achieve that. You also need a concept for how in or out you want to be- how pretty, or how aggressive you know. I think it really starts by listening to cats and thinking to yourself, “I would have done that differently” or ” I like that, I’m going to steal that”.
5. What projects are you currently working on?
I just recorded a CD with this drummer from Austria- Peter Kronreif. He’s bringing some other cats and me out to Europe in March for a tour to promote the record.
I have an organ trio of my own.. We are going to record in late Feb. The music has interesting harmony but is melodic as well. We are trying to make it as interactive as we can.
I’m also playing in Dan Jamieson’s big band. We are going to record at the end of May with John Riley on drums. The music is a mixture of straight ahead and more chromatic, experimental sounds.
I also have a rock band that I just started writing for. It’s the band that plays after the jazz guys when everyone wants to drink and party.. always fun to be in that band you know haha. It has a few notey heads, which is unavoidable for a jazz geek like me, but the bulk of it is filthy grooves that would make you want to “have another beer and possible get the courage to go and talk to that chick over there.”
6. Who are some musicians we may not know about here in Sydney but should check out?
All the cats at this school. Don’t worry you’ll hear about them. Give it 5 years they’ll be the new cats. But as far as pros on the scene: I really like Ari Hoenig’s band with Gilad Hekselman and Orlando Le Flemming and Tigran Hamasyan. That music is SO INTERACTIVE.. it’s what we would all dream of achieving. It is real jazz. Totally open, anything can happen, but the architecture is strong and the form perfectly adhered to.