Music Education, Jazz and Resistance
Gerhard Alt Interviews Gilad Atzmon (For the Saarbrücker Zeitung)
Gerhard Alt: Gilad, you perform internationally over 100 times a year. You have been teaching at Saarwellingen for the past 12 years, since 2014 as musical director. What motivates you to teach at Saarwellingen (www.jazzsaar.org)?
Gilad Atzmon: After 12 years, Saarwellingen is a second home for me. I love the place, I love the people. You might say I am a Schwencker fanatic .
Gerhard Alt: Please describe what happens in the workshops.
Gilad Atzmon: Our jazz course focuses on musical intuition as opposed to academic or theoretical knowledge. We believe that music is primarily an attempt to produce beauty. We believe in playing and a lot of it. Jam sessions every night. Extensive combo workshops and instrumental instruction. Like Martin Heidegger, I believe that to teach is to teach others how to learn. We teach our students how to become their own instructors.
Gerhard Alt: What is the most important skill in playing Jazz: technique, music theory, rhythm, mastery of the instrument, emotions or something else?
Gilad Atzmon: My approach to teaching can be condensed into three fundamental principles. In order to become better in any domain (race car driver, politician, jazz musician, love making) you must:
A. Identify your weak spots, the most problematic aspects in your playing (sound, technique, rhythm, theory, ears, originality, energy, etc.) because it is your problems that hold you back;
B. Develop your own best method and exercise routine to tackle your problems; and
C. Keep at it, keep practicing and improve your method. Your problems are not going to disappear but can be contained.
Gerhard Alt: What is your role as a Jazz teacher and as an artist?
Gilad Atzmon: I believe that the roles of the Jazz teacher and the Jazz artist are distinct. The Jazz artist strives always to reinvent himself. They say that a Jazz artist is a person who doesn't play the same thing once. But a Jazz teacher has to be methodical, coherent, consistent, and transparent. Jazz playing is ideally ruled by the subconscious, the Jazz instructor reduces the subliminal context into knowledge. Our attempt to resolve this tension between education and beauty is creativity. We try to make jazz education itself into a creative moment that also attempts to create beauty.
Gerhard Alt: You have studied philosophy with a focus on Kant's ‘Critique of Judgment.’ Kant thinks that beauty evokes "disinterested pleasure.” Can such beauty be realised in intellectual or academic terms?
Gilad Atzmon: This is a crucial point. Kant taught me more about Jazz than any other Jazz teacher. To Kant beauty is an attempt at the sublime that cannot be denied. The philosopher may elaborate on the condition of the possibility of beauty, yet the creation of beauty is a job left to the artistic genius. I accept that you can’t train someone to be a genius but you can facilitate the conditions that allow genius to emerge and allow the musician to realise himself through creativity.
Gerhard Alt: Is exploitation and utilisation what music has become?
Gilad Atzmon: If you asked me this question 5 years ago I would have said ‘yes.’ However, the music industry is now dead thanks to streaming, Spotify, Apple Music, etc. As a result, artists are poor yet free. We can play whatever we like and what we believe is beauty. We are not restricted to genres or sales figures.
A century of destructive cultural industry has left very little beauty. The industry reduced beauty into ‘fashion’ by means of commodification. But if music is no longer a commodity, it better be beautiful.
Gerhard Alt: And when a workshop participant shows an interest in making jazz into his profession, do you encourage him?
Gilad Atzmon: Of course. One of our graduates, Nora Kamm, is now a very successful saxophonist. More than a few of the kids who have visited the course are now finishing their final exams in music schools around Europe. I am 53 years old. I have played professionally for over three decades. I have enjoyed every second of it. If I were a young musician today; I would make the same choice. Being a musician in the current climate is not at all easy. The musical universe is shrinking. Those who decide to be musicians better make sure that they can endure the pressure.
Gerhard Alt: In your music you combine swing, bebop and pop with an oriental flavour. I can imagine how it would sound if Gilad Atzmon played "The moon has risen" or "Not a pretty country at this time.”
Gilad Atzmon: this sounds like bad news. It suggests that I have become too predictable. Maybe I should retire.
Gerhard Alt: Please tell me in one sentence what Jazz is.
Gilad Atzmon: Simple-beauty that realises itself by means of creativity and resistance.