An Interview With...
Where did you grow up and what were some of your favorite activities as a child?
Miles City and Billings, Montana--my main things were baseball and astronomy.
When you lived in Montana was it in the city or the country?
In town, but I could see many stars at night and saw the Northern Lights often.
What were seasonal changes like?
The season changes were very distinct, which formed the basis totally of how I look at life and music--all songs feel like they are of one of the seasons, whether composed by me or any other composer.
Was music an important part of your family life?
Not too much--my dad played rhythm guitar, and my mom sight read some piano. I had a few lessons on piano, but I wasn't interested and quit.
What inspired you to become a musician?
Hearing The Doors' first album in January, 1967.
Have any individuals inspired you along your career path?
Many musicians. There were five major inspirations on piano: stride pianists Thomas "Fats" Waller & Teddy Wilson and New Orleans R&B pianists Professor Longhair, James Booker, and Henry Butler.
How much of your success was due to natural talent and how much to hard work?
My natural ability is as a listener--perfect pitch, all the rest is hard work.
What subjects did you like best in school?
Science and P.E.
What were your least favorite subjects?
Were any particularly difficult for you?
Did you ever want to do something else? If so, what?
Yes. I wanted to be a scientist.
What is the relationship between math and music?
Music is frequencies and different cultures divide the octave in different ways sometimes--universal concepts are the octaves, and the 4th and 5th intervals.
What musical instruments do you play?
Piano, guitar, and harmonica.
What do you like best about those particular instruments?
I like the fact that they can be played solo, which is how I think of music, in terms of--playing solo. I also like that I play an instrument in three of the four families: percussion [piano], plucked [guitar], and wind [harmonica]. The one I don't play is the bowed family, but the influence from that family comes out on the three instruments I play.
Do you have any advice for children when they first start to learn a musical instrument?
To learn chords and later music theory--and to know this a bit on keyboard, even if you don't play keyboard, because you can see the geometry of the music that way.
What is your typical work week like?
Practicing the three instruments and running Dancing Cat Records, particularly producing recordings and listening to and evaluating tapes from the studio sessions to that end.
What did it feel like to win Grammy awards?
No feeling at all--awards are imaginary to me. I just pay attention to playing better.
What career goals do you have for you future?
Play better on the three instruments.
What musical style do you enjoy most for your work?
Piano - 3 styles: R&B, stride, and folk. Guitar is Hawaiian Slack Key and traditional American music. Harmonica is music from these traditions: Cajun, Celtic, Appalachian, and Mongolian.
What inspires the type of music you write?
The four seasons, and secondarily, different topographies, especially the Great Plains.
What type of music do you prefer to listen to?
It changes. Right now is Chinese traditional and classical, and Mongolian. It can also can be a particular composer [mainly North American].
Do you find, when traveling around the world that different cities have a different rhythm, similar to a musical composition?
Every place adds and affects the music for me, which I want.
Can you explain how places relate to music and how a place, i.e., Montana, can be a musical inspiration?
I can't explain it verbally. It just is and happens; based on seasons first, topographies second, and sociology third.
What advice do you have for children interested in a career in the music industry?
Just see what the music really is to you. Listen to teachers but listen to yourself too. Everything you like will be useful at some time in the future, if not the present. Learn chords and music theory. It is good to do that on piano, even if you don't play keyboard, because you can see the geometry of the music that way.
What words of wisdom would you like to share with all the children around the world who read this interview?
I never stop being a student. I can never play as well as my mentor, but the more I play, the more I find my own ways of playing, but I am much better off for studying my mentors. I have had to come to terms that I can't play as well as them, but again, I am much better off for trying, and as time goes on, I play less like them, and more my own ways. Good and deep things take time and work usually. And again, listen to your teachers and to yourself too. Ultimately, music is supposed to be fun and self-expressive. Look at what you want to do, but sometimes look at what you don't want to do too--it may be just an imaginary barrier to cross for greater growth. I trust paradoxes, like: try hard yet be detached from the result.
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
Many great ones, no one in particular is first.
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- 20 June 2004
20 June 2004
© 2004 - Imagiverse Educational Consortium