A Conversation with David Binney

When you hear the word “Jazz”, David Binney is one of the names that would come to mind. He has appeared on stage with Aretha Franklin at Carnegie Hall and recorded as a sideman for many high profile projects such as Uri Caine’s Mahler Project, Drew Gress’ Jagged Sky and Medeski, Martin and Wood. David is also a founding member of Lost Tribe and Lan Xang. He started his record label, Mythology Records, in 1998. He performs regularly at the 55 Bar and among many popular venues in New York City. We had the pleasure to watch his performance with his band and talk to him at 55 Bar.

How did you form the band that you play with tonight?

I met Dan, the drummer, and Jacob, the keyboard player, a long time ago in a band we were touring with in the 90s. They were still young guys in school. I met them and I liked the way they play. There was a bass player, Thomas Morgan. He hasn’t been in the band for 8 years. Eivind Opsvik is a bass player I used to play with a lot, so I put him in the band once Thomas left. We have been doing this gig for more than 15 years.

Who are some of the major influencers for your compositions?

There are million composers. Classical, jazz, rock, country, R&B… everybody. I listen to everything. I don’t copy anything literally but I’m sure all those influencers are in there. It’s all in there. I listen to a lot of classical music, a lot of electronic, jazz… Everything you listen to is in there, but I don’t consciously copy somebody. The list will take me forever to list. My favorite people are endless.

You’re such an influential musician and you are one of the top names of today. What inspired you to achieve your level of success and how did you decide to take this path?

Well, I don’t think you decide that. You just do the best you can, and if people like it you become that. I wasn’t trying to be; I was trying to – I still am – trying to play music well. And if I do and people like it then I’m happy. Then naturally you get more popular and people think you’re a top musician. But you don’t decide, “Oh I’m going to be a top musician”. I knew I wanted to come to New York. That was the decision. I knew that I wanted to do my own record and write my own music. Those decisions dictated. But you just don’t decide to be the top. You just decide to do what you want to do.

What’s the hardest part of being a jazz musician?

Working, I guess. In this day and age, just keeping working. There is not much work as it used to be. But I don’t feel there’s anything that is hard about being a jazz musician. I think it’s difficult to become good at it but it’s not difficult to be one.

Where do you think the future of music is heading? For example, what’s going to happen in the next 10 years?

It’s always developing like everything else. It will just be more developed. Obviously the electronic aspect will become more and more part of it because we are becoming more and more technological. Techniques will get better. People will do more amazing things on their instruments. But everything will continue as it was, too. There’s still going to be everything that is happening now, but it’s just more developed. I can’t say where it is going to go, but I don’t think about that very much. I just try to push my music.

What do you recommend for the young generation today?

t depends on what the person needs. In a general sense, if you really want to be an artist, you just have to do it, practice really hard, work really hard. Do what you want to do. You can’t really think about money. Don’t worry about your financial future. You gotta do it because you love it. If you’re in it for any other reason, then that’s the wrong reason. If money comes, it’s fine; if doesn’t come, it’s fine too. But, you have to work really really hard, conceptualize, and push things forward.



Soloing on a Chord Progression

Soloing is a huge topic by itself, which is the nature of the beast. First, let’s talk about soloing by itself. Soloing is about playing from heart and mind within a structured form. You are playing with structured chords, but there is no certain path to follow. You have to be creative, but you also have to cultivate technical ability.

Becoming more technical means you are supposed to be structured enough to practice for long period of time. You must know what you are and aren’t capable of, and you must understand what the piece really needs to deliver.

It’s also critical who you play with. The phrases you produce depend on your fellow musicians. Playing music, especially in a band, is a completely different musical experience than playing by yourself. It’s important to understand that there is always a big picture with music. If you’re serving this big picture, then you’re great no matter what notes you play. If you’re not serving the big picture, then you’re only playing your instrument instead of the music. Simply playing your instrument detracts from the music itself, and is not something your band or audience really needs.

When I was asked this question I was unsure of how to answer him since I didn’t wish to mislead him. That’s the reason why I talked about the importance of rhythmic pattern, and the people he would be playing with. When we put all those things together, we always see that playing a great solo is actually about composing music. As I analyzed great bassists and other musicians earlier, they all have that key component in common: They create the big picture with a few consistent melodic lines, establishing form from the beginning, and adding complexity as they go. Once you build the fundamentals of your solo, you can progressively improve upon it. Of course, this is something that you get better at by doing it over and over again, trying more and more.

As always, I’ve really enjoyed the questions. I thank everyone who is courageous enough to believe in themselves. Please feel free to share your experience with soloing! What was the hardest part of soloing and how did you get over it? And let’s keep in touch.



Kim Plainfield and His Journey

Kim Plainfield embarked on a solo career in 1993 and has since been touring Europe as a leader, at least twice a year, to ever increasing audiences and superb press reviews. His groups have included world class musicians such as Lincoln Goines, Bill O’Connell, Didier Lockwood, Mark Soskin and Tom Kennedy. He toured extensively in the US, Europe, Central America, South America, The Caribbean and the Far East. Additional performance and recording credits include Jon Lucien, Andy Narell, John Pattitucci, Kenny Rankin, Jacques Higelin, Charles Fambrough, Edgar Winter and Mose Allison.

How did you decide to be a musician?

You know. I play drums so young. Very very young and I never stop doing it and it just like a natural revolution. It fell into place in that way. I tried to be as diversified as I could when I was high school in terms of science, athletics and also English and nothing appealed to me.

There was any influencer in your life?

There was no musician in my family but I used to have very inspirational teachers. My biggest mentor wasn’t drummer. He was a piano player. I would say he did the most mentoring for me as comparing to any other musician. He was older than me and had many experiences. So he just got me!

How do you put your band together?

People just I played with before. Not all the time actually. But if I’m the band leader it happens in this way.

How do you find the right recording studio?

Studio has to have a nice space, good sound. It has to have enough isolated rooms. If you are in the music scene and if you don’t know Avatar studio then something must be wrong with you.

What’s the biggest problem in the music industry?

There is no recording industry any more. This is the biggest tragedy. Younger generation claimed that thing “music should be free”. I can’t believe it. How can you sustain something without making money with?

What’s your solution?

You have a bank card. You can get this card to go a mountain and you can get this money with that card. You are the only person who can do it right? Nobody else can do it. Government can put “hold” but can’t get your money? I asked this question so many times and nobody gave me an answer. When you get a song you can make copies as much as you want. Why? Why people are be able to do it? That drives me crazy. We can solve this with better encryption. When iTunes first came put. I wanted to send a song to my friend. I needed to do it as an educational purpose. In iTunes if I wanted to do that I had to take to the song I had to burn in a CD and insert again then I could break the encryption. iTunes eliminated all that. All you do is that convert from CD to MP3 and that’s ready. They did that to be a little bit more competitive.

Another tragedy is Spotify. They should be arrested. It should be eliminated. Do you know how much they pay to musicians? It’s like %0.0001.

How important networking with other musicians?

Usually in a club. I go to see them or they come to see me. I don’t do it but I know people they carry their CD to give others like a business card.

Is there any new generation musician you discovered lately?

There are many great ones. There are many great ones like Tigran Hamasyan, Snarky Puppy.

How do you discover new names in music scene?

I hear the names from my students. They keep me current.

Where do you think music is heading?

The stuff is happening with technology is a lot. All those things like sequencing, instruments and others are I mean intensive. There is lots of odd times and it will be more.

Do you think there will be no Jazz in the future?

I don’t think people are tired of hearing it. I don’t think people will be tired of hearing it. It’s just getting modified. Changing is happening.




A Conversation with Ari Hoenig

Ari Hoenig is a true innovator when it comes to drums, and we’re so happy to have the chance to talk to him face-to-face despite his busy schedule. He’s currently leading Ari Hoenig Quartet, “Punk Bop,” and Ari Hoenig Trio. He’s a regular at various jazz clubs in New York such as 55, Fat Cat, Smalls, and Zinc Bar. He’s also an educator where he teaches at New York University and The New School for Social Research in New York. Besides leading his own bands, he has played in Jean Michel Pilc Trio, Kenny Werner Trio, Chris Potter Underground, Kurt Rosenwinkel Group, Joshua Redman Elastic Band, Jazz Mandolin Project and bands led by Wayne Krantz, Mike Stern, Richard Bona, Pat Martino, Dave Leibman and Bojan Z. He has also shared the stage with such artists as Herbie Hancock, Ivan Linz, Wynton Marsalis, Toots Theilmans, Dave Holland, Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny and Gerry Mulligan.

How did you start playing drums?

I played a violin at first, and I didn’t enjoy it very much. My mother tried to teach me how to play at first and gave me lessons, and I didn’t like it. Probably like with all kids where if the parents tried to teach them an instrument, it doesn’t work so well. Then I moved to the piano at age 6. It was all classical, so I learned to read music a little bit. But, I avoided reading well, because I had good ears so I could sound out everything I heard. I’ve always loved composing and coming up with things on my own. I didn’t really like the classical piano lessons either. It seemed like a task more than anything else. When somebody else wants you to do something, it takes away the independence from it , especially at that age. So I switched to the drums at age 12. My parents wanted me to continue playing an instrument, and at that time I could finally choose an instrument, so that’s why I chose the drums.

Did your piano or violin lessons affect your understanding on drums?

I think everything comes into play. I don’t think it’s so much the knowledge of the instrument itself that changed the way I play. It’s more the music, and the experience with the music that I played on the piano, or the music that I heard during that time, or that I heard other people played. I think that’s what sticks. I stopped taking piano lessons at 12 but I took it again later on when I was 18, and 23 or 24. I think it’s the knowledge that I gained during that time that appear in my compositions. And mostly from what I hear, too. I think it’s the knowledge of the music, more than technique of playing the instrument, that affected.

What about modern composers like Debussy, Bela-Bartok, Schoenberg, Ravel?

First of all I wasn’t at the age to be ready to play their pieces. I think I wasn’t challenged in the right way, in a creative way. Playing other people’s composition note by note is just not my thing. I think the first three composers would be closer to my musical taste.

My musical taste hasn’t gotten to that point even today. I have a book on Bartok. I’ve played substantial amount of their music. But, it just doesn’t hit me as strongly as the first three composers you mentioned before. I think it’s because what my parents listened to – which are the more “classical” classical music.

The thing I like about playing on drums, or any instrument, is improvising. I like to improvise. I like to create something new. I like to be in the moment. I like to be able to react to what I hear and to what I feel. When you play written music, it narrows down you ability to do that. For most people I’d describe myself as a jazz drummer. But what I really try to be is an improviser. That’s how I feel and that’s what I see myself more – an improviser. I play jazz and I understand jazz music. I understand other styles of music. When I really feel at home, I can just play what I feel at any given time. When you are playing a piece, that’s pre-written, so you cannot do that.

How did you decide to devote your whole life to music?

I’ve never made that decision. I mean there was a time I needed to make a decision. I needed to go to college but I didn’t know what major, so I made it music. By making that decision it was pretty clear that I wanted to be a musician. Dedicating you whole life to something is a restriction that I never wanted to do. I think there is a lot more time for other things too. I would say that I thought that being a musician is a fun, nobel profession. You make people happy and you have fun doing it. I just thought: what a good way to go to office and play music for people. That seemed to me a really good job. That’s why.



Atonal Soloing

These days, I am getting lots of questions from my dear students about how to perform atonal soloing. It's a great question, but also not easy to explain in a few words. 

Today, I recorded something to help me explain what's happening. In the recording, you will hear I keep changing the root. I realize there is no chord progression or accompanying instrument. However, I thought it would clarify what is happening during this kind of solo. Let's go back to the top. "How to perform atonal soloing." First of all, playing in an atonal fashion doesn't mean there are no rules and you can just play whatever comes to mind; it's actually rather complex to learn and perform. If you remember, there was a video where I mention Arnold Schoenberg. He is the master of this complex subject matter.

Now, let's try to listen this track a bit more carefully. On the surface, you will see that I keep changing the root with either chromatic notes, V degree, or whatever comes to mind in the moment. But, I also do something more; I use Schoenberg's approach. It's a very simple technique that don't use until I finish playing the entire scale. For example, in C Major you normally have: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. So, when you play D from this scale, you don't actually play it until you play the full scale C, E, F, G, A, B. When you keep doing this, the listeners' ear will not notice the root of your phrase, but you will know it.

So, that’s it for now. But of course, there is a lot more to it than that. Enjoy your first atonal phrase today! 

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