Interview with Victor Wooten for Made In New York Jazz Competition

Q: We are overwhelmed with information about low demand of jazz…. Two of your performances, Isn’t She Lovely (has over 3 million views) and Amazing Grace (over 2 million views). Your videos shows “POP music” results. Maybe jazz isn’t for the same audience anymore?

Vic: I think people will listen to whatever they can feel. The two songs you mentioned that I played are not really jazz tunes, but played in the spirit and emotion of jazz. More importantly, I played them in a way that everyone can feel whether you understand jazz or not.

Some types of jazz (and musicians) are not appreciated because the music they play goes over the listener’s head. The gap between what the listener is familiar with and what is currently being played is too wide. I’m not saying that that is a bad thing, but it is a recipe for attracting a small audience.

An artist like Stevie Wonder is jazzy in a way that is much more accessible to the masses. Stevie is a master of disguising complex cord changes by placing singable melodies on top. Following Stevie’s example, us jazz musicians may also want to learn how to bridge that gap. We can actually help our listeners grow if we cross the bridge with them instead of playing at them from the other side.

Q: You mentioned that music is an expression of feelings. How do you develop your feelings? How do you research on that?

Vic: You develop your feelings by paying attention and being honest with yourself. Pay attention to “how” and “why” things make you feel the way you do. Then do your best to express that feeling through your music. The more you know about music, the more styles you play, and the more flexible you are, the easier it will be. No one can express yourself better than you.

Q: If the music is a representation of life, and we learn from different experiences. How do sad events or a bad mood influence your music!

Vic: Bad experiences can be expressed just as happy ones can. Many blues and country musicians have done exactly that. Music can be a very positive way of expressing very negative experiences.

Q: Do you think of the music or project that you have created in the past and wish you can do more of it? Do you become Melancholic?

Vic: No. I don’t really think like that. It’s like looking at a picture of myself as a child. I realize that that is who I was back then. Music is the same. I appreciate where I was and what I’ve done, but regardless of what I wish, I’m not there anymore. It’s time to move forward.

Q: Given the length of your career, what do you think is the difference between learning and playing music 10 years ago and now?

Vic: Technology is the biggest difference. It affects everything including how we think. Again, because of the Internet, we have access to so much information. Just about all the answers we want are just a click away.

In past times, we had to purchase records to hear our favorite musicians. To see them, we had to wait for a long time and then purchase a ticket if we were lucky enough to have a concert close by. To learn how our heroes played, we had to figure it out for ourselves.

Currently, records and concerts seem less special to some musicians because they can get it free on the Internet. That’s a choice I’m happy I didn’t have when I was learning. There is no way my brothers and I would have chosen to watch our favorite musicians on a screen rather than experience them live even if it meant traveling for hours to the concert.

Also, In the past, working with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, we would work out new material on tour for months in front of audiences. This would allow us to go into the studio already prepared to record. That’s no longer possible for bands because as soon as you perform it once, people will instantly post it on the Internet. Sadly, many people think they have a right to post other people’s records and performances on the Internet.

This is the blessing and the curse of the current digital age of learning.

Photo by Steve Parker

Q:What do you still need to learn?

Vic: Many many things. This interview is too short for that list.

Q: For you personally, is “Jazz” a senior citizen or young fellow?

Vic: Both. To me, jazz is more of a type of expression than it is a style of music. Jazz has been around for a long time, and the “spirit” of Jazz has been around even longer. Jazz music is so diverse that there are new versions being created all the time. Because everyone expresses in their own way, jazz has the ability to stay fresh and new. Although we should appreciate and cherish all things of old, I think it is a mistake to try to keep Jazz music as an unchangeable style.

Q: What can you wish to Madeinnyjazz competition participants?

Vic: I wish for all of the participants to express themselves honestly; not only in the manner they think the judges want to hear. In this way, they are all winners regardless of what the judges think. Be true to yourself!

Misha Brovkin for Made In New York Jazz Competition