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29. Mar. 2016

Interview with Jake Botts

JakeBotts.jpg1. Give me a brief lowdown to who you are as a musician.

I really started playing seriously in high school. But when I first started learning, I was learning bebop, older style, big band, classic jazz. As you get older, lots of people stick in those genres, and others want to deviate and expand. When you get to music school,  there's this fork in the road. Some people pursue studying bebop and traditional jazz, some people take this other road where they want to get hip with what's happening today. There are tons of branches of jazz today-examples include genre mixing and bending, and fusion. Right now, blending jazz and hip-hop is very popular. Pretty much anything, any combination of genres you can imagine, there's someone who's doing it. 

 

I have been a traditionalist; I listen to everything, all the time, but as a musician I have mostly stuck to traditional jazz. Recently, I was focusing on studying that language and that vocabulary, like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, you know, those guys.

 

In the past couple of years, I’ve had this serious nervous injury in my upper body. I developed pain in my arms, and basically, it got to the point where I couldn't play saxophone for six or seven months. I had to leave school and go home and seek all this treatment. During that time, I had an epiphany: I was craving something else musically. Since I've gotten back to New York, I have been turning my attention way more to funk and R&B. Always with a jazz flavor, of course, but much more branching out than I used to be. After my injury, I started getting into other genres of music, and now that I'm more compromised physically (I can't play as long as I could before) I've been focusing a lot on other things. 

 

2. If someone said to you that jazz is a dying genre, what would your defensive response be?

The way I look at it is split; it’s true that to most people outside of the jazz sphere, jazz means musicians from 60 or 70 years ago. However, any music that's happening right now that hasn't happened before, is live and new. As long as it's pushing boundaries that haven't been pushed, it's new and fresh.

I think that to say that jazz is a dying genre ignorant, because if you do your research, you will find that that is not true. If you go to Greenwich Village and go to a jazz club, they are always full. People will pay $20, $40 to get in; young people with no money! Jazz schools in America are at capacity. They're very difficult to get into because people are so interested in it. Now, it's become more academic. In that way, jazz is still living and breathing. 

 

3. Can you give us a glimpse into the music scene that you are involved in? Describe to me what sort of themes and inspirations you have observed amongst young people who are playing, studying, and writing jazz.

 

I go to the New School in New York. New York is the jazz capital of the world!

Basically, there is this whole movement of young people here who are creating new music...it's kind of like being a Jedi, because you obtain all these powers, and after you obtain them it's up to you what you do with it.

 At my school, there are lots of people who use their skill and their talent to continue the traditional movement. There is another circle of people who are doing a lot of different things. As a guy who lives in New York, I have access to multiple scenes. There is a jam session scene, where people with lots of experience run jazz jams. For example, my friend who just graduated from Berklee College of Music has a band where he assembled 8 horns, two guitars, piano, and bass, and he wrote these very intricate arrangements for everybody for an hours worth of music that incorporated jazz, pop, funk, all of these things combined into one. It's all dancing music.

If you were to log on to my Facebook and scroll down, all my friends are playing at all these different places. As soon as you get on the elevator at my school, the corkboard is filled with flyers of young people playing. I don't think I've been to a show at any venue in New York that hasn't been sold out. Depending on the venue and who is playing, it's really often the majority of the audience is under 40. There are so many different types of people from different places, all walks of life. There are TONS of young people; every night at Smalls, it's all young people. Young people in 2016 are really hip to the intimacy and vulnerability of live music. If you're using my definition of the word 'jazz', it's very healthy right now. 

 

My Definition of Jazz: any music that is improvisational, has been influenced by the jazz tradition and legacy. Harmony, rhythm, and melody in a similar way. I think hip-hop is the present jazz; free-styling is the same idea as being a trumpet player and playing the blues.  

 

Kendrick Lamar’s new album is influenced by jazz; Thundercat played on that album! Another example is David Bowie. His last album is going to be huge, and his band on that album (Blackstar) was made up of jazz musicians. Speaking of which, here is a great story; David Bowie was in the West Village and he walked by a jazz club, so he just walked in and listened. He asked the band to be on his album. 

 

4. What do you find exciting about your community?

 I think it's exciting that there's a force of positivity. That's what music is; a force of positivity. We’re all having hard times in the world today; but really, music is about today. Tonight, I am probably going to see some live music, and it's going to be a blast. 

 

5. Who are your musical inspirations and how to they influence your playing?

My musical influences started out with Cannonball Adderly, Charlie Parker, Paul Desmond and Dave Bruebeck, Sonny Stitt, Oscar Peterson, etc...you get the idea. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones really influenced me in high school. Snarky Puppy, Joni Mitchell, Nico and the Underground, Marvin Gaye, Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman are all recent influences. I'm also getting into classical music Debussey, Maurice Ravel, Tchaikovsky....am I missing anything big? I'm sure I am. I'm also really into 90's rock bands like Pavement. Oh, and Radiohead! I'm really just everywhere. Mac Demarco.  D'Angelo. I listened to Blue (by Joni Mitchell) over and over last semester. That's what I listened to more than anything.

These are my three albums I’ve been listening to the most in the past year:

-D'aAngelo’s Black Messiah, Marvin Gaye’s What's Goin' On , and most recently, Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

 

Right now, I'm a student. I am taking a lot units because I'm trying to graduate sooner. I'm taking 8 classes! Music history, music theory, audio engineering, improv ensemble, New Orleans ensemble, arranging class, and composition class. Because of my injury, the most I can practice saxophone right now is about an hour and 20 minutes at a time, so I try to do that twice a day. I really want to start an R&B jazz fusion type band with a horn section up front. I'm writing a lot of music for a band that doesn't exist yet. I'm working on singing, taking private lessons.  Currently, I’m taking 3 singing lessons and 6 saxophone lessons a semester. I'm listening to lots of music, figuring out what I like and what I don't like, putting that into my music and trying to form connections for people who aren't musicians.

 

I don't like it when people play music for other musicians. One negative aspect about the jazz scene is that there is a fair amount of pretentiousness with young people, because there is so much talent, and a lot of people have had nothing but positive reinforcement. They end up making this really intellectual music for people in their scene just to impress them. There's a sense of competitiveness for technical proficiency, and that comes with a cost; lack of ability to relate. To me, the point of music is to connect with other people.

 


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