Kurt Rosenwinkel. Taking care of your plant

 
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Katherine Zyabluk
musician, author

 

You can endlessly joke about why some rock guitar players should not play jazz. While the alcoholized revellers with unstrung strings preach their rebellious ideas that the theory should not interrupt in creativity, jazz musicians compete with each other in the longest bebop phrases. But Kurt Rosenwinkel, a hard-core fan of Led Zeppelin, and John Scofield, do not fit into the image of a rocker or a jazzman, because taking into account the amount of music he managed to play, there is absolutely no need in it.

 After graduating from Berklee (no other way) as a jazz guitarist, Rosenwinkel immediately started a tour with Gary Burton, the famous vibraphonist - no doubt, it is a good start for the career of a musician. Afterward, other jazz grenadiers - Joe Henderson, Brian Blade had seen him, but it did not prevent him from rushing to Jimmy Fallon's talk-show to play with his old friends from the Roots.

When you communicate with a person like Rosenwinkel, you realize that he does not have time to make a parade of his acquaintances and stories, because he should grow further and teach others to do the same. And no hurry, as a researcher, he honestly does his own part and knows for whom.

 
 
 

I know you started as rock music fan. How did you start playing jazz?

I started getting into jazz when I was probably about 14. When I was 15-16 I joined a jazz band in high school. When I was in high-school I’ve met people that were playing jazz, later I got acquainted with radio. It happened in Philadelphia.

Do you remember your very first jam?

I remember it perfectly! I went to the club, a big club in Philly, mostly black, and, you know, I felt a little nervous, ‘cause I was not sure I was welcomed there, I didn’t know what was gonna happen. I had learned a couple of songs, sort of new, to understand everything. I was nervous when I started to play, but everything was wonderful, the feeling of playing was so joyful and the feeling of the community was so positive! I wanted to come back there as soon as possible! So I started playing there every Monday. My mom used to give me a lift.

You considered as the one of the best teachers. When did you start teaching and was it hard for you?

I think I started teaching when I was still a student in Berklee. I started with seminars in Spain. A man from Zaragoza came to Berklee and he was holding weekly workshops. He was selecting people he already knew, that’s why he chose me. That was my first teaching experience. I really enjoy it, because you learn different things about music, you explore it. And it’s very beneficial, when you form the things you see and how you see them into words. So it’s a very therapeutic exercise – to teach. I enjoy dealing with particular questions or issues that somebody might face.

Like an individual plan for everybody?

Yeah, like a doctor’s one. If anybody has a question or a problem or anything else, anything I can help you with.

Do you have anything important to say to every student? 

No... I mean, I’ve never had a lesson plan. That’s why when I teach or hold a workshop it’s always has a question-and-answer form, it’s a dialogue. You know, I enjoy the dialogues. That’s why every time I had to actually give a lecture it was quite difficult to do that, because I prefer to have a dialogue with people. But, obviously, there are basic things that are important in music, but every student, I suppose, is different so some things you would discuss with one student wouldn’t be necessary in discussion with another one.

Do you face the questions you don’t have the answers for? 

*laughs* Yeah, it happens occasionally. Usually I would say “Next question!” or “I don’t know”. Because I have to be honest. Sometimes people have questions and I don’t have answers for them. For example: “what is jazz?”. But everyday is different, sometimes I have an answer and sometimes I have a different answer to the same question that might be actually contradictory.

 
 
I think we need to take care of our personal growth, protect ourselves and the growth of our natural music that we have inside us. So sometimes you have to not let external things get inside you, so it’s not bothering you. I see it as growth of a plant inside you.
 
 

I know that one of your students was Danylo Zverkhanovskyi from Kyiv. How do you like cooperation with him?

Danylo is a very special guy and musician. He is very talented and has a very unique way of thinking about music and guitar. I appreciate his approach. I am sure, if he follows his natural way, great things nobody heard before would come to this world. He was a little bit shy, so it took me some time to see what kind of person he is. But he’s got a really good sense of humor; I think that’s the first thing that draw us together.

You were working together with Q-tip and Questlove. How did you get to hip-hop world?

*laugh* Well, I loved “A Tribe Called Quest” and then I started to work with Q-Tip… You know, I always loved hip hop, I love a lot of bands, and I like rap, even gangsta rap.

Something similar to Notorious B.I.G.?

Notorious B.I.G. is my favorite rapper of all the times! I am fond of him! From time to time – really rarely – when I have a chance, I also rap on the stage.

 
 
 
 

Do you think that rap is a good thing for a jazz musician?

Absolutely! I think you can learn a lot about the phrasing and its relationship with rhytm. I learned a lot just from the phrasing. I transferred it to the guitar.

Let’s go back to Q-Tip and Questlove and your encounter.

Well, I knew Amir Thompson [Questlove], ‘cause we used to go to the same middle (art) school, CAPA – Creating and Reforming Arts, in Philadelphia. You know, he was just another guy at the school, and then we created a band together. He was always a really nice person, super talented and had this amazing feeling of groove. And the rest is a history. We reconnected some time ago. I played at the Village Vanguard and he came to visit. He had a plan to be at the Jimmy Felon Night Show and I joined his band.

You have recorded an album of jazz standards as a part of trio. Why did you go back to the - if I may call it - roots? 

I really like to discover what my own tastes are by having a standard. Here is a song, I play it differently than it was played initially, it contrasts with my approach. And this song was played by many people. This is a way to understand your own language of music.

 
 
 
 

Is it harder than making your own music?

No. I think it’s even easier because of that clear contrast, easier to see the true nature of things.

Can you tell about the dedications in your last album Caipi?

Those dedications are for people.

And your sons as well? How did they respond?

They were happy. It was made for both of my sons: “Ezra” is for Ezra and “Little B” is for Silas. They were both very excited to hear how that music sounded at last. You see, they’ve known these songs their whole lives, all the time they were growing up. I wrote those songs when they were just born and now they are twelve.  Every time they’ve heard it they would say: “Daddy! When you gonna finish that?!”. And I would reply “Yes, be patient. Sometimes something takes time”. And finally I’ve finished them.

How do you think, what is more important for your musical language - to absorb and use everything you hear or listen to nobody and follow your own way to keep your worldview?

Well, I think we need to take care of our personal growth, protect ourselves and the growth of our natural music that we have inside us. So sometimes you have to not let external things get inside you, so it’s not bothering you. I see it as growth of a plant inside you. Your music is a plant, so you feed it with something external from time to time, and you have to take care of it.  That’s why I think you have to keep a balance – internal discoveries, self-analysis on one hand and external discoveries on another one. Of course, most of the time during your studying, you are concentrated on external, because it is harder to discuss your internal development in pedagogical way. But taking care of your self-development is not less important.