Dancing On The Wide-eyed Edge With Pianist Leslie Sharp
Q: How would you describe your new album, Dancing on the Wide-Eyed Edge?
A: If you forgive my quoting myself, I use these words: warmly re-visited, uniquely re-constructed, and virtuosically refreshed songs from the days of swing and jazz, a delightfully eclectic collection. This was truly what I experienced while envisioning the project and during the process of recording: warmth, freshness, and a unique expression. There are so many incredible albums out that focus mostly on soloing. I wanted to present something a little different. No one in my group is improvisationally impaired. In fact, we can individually, and as a group, solo without stopping for a fortnight; however, this album was meant to intrigue, delight, uplift and inspire.
Q: What inspired the intriguing album title?
A: A brilliant friend of mine, Shaun Darius Gottlieb, has completed to date four books of original poetry. I had, in the past, the joy and honor of performing with him in a piano/cello duo. We improvised off of each other's spontaneous musical expressions. After a performance, it was difficult for our feet to touch the ground. In the past two years, he has decided to set the cello aside and spend untold hours each day writing his very characteristically profound poetry. How he blends images and phrases boggles the mind. It was from one of these poems that I took several potential titles for the album. I chose this one because I think of myself as wide-eyed, a bit naïve, always on the edge of reality, and dancing to compound both the joy and the risk. (It was my granddaughter's dark and hugely wide eyes that I used for the cover. She was only 2 at the time the particular photograph was taken.)
Q: Have you recorded anything prior to this CD?
A: I recorded an album of spiritual songs inspired by the liturgy of Mentalphysics. I studied the practice at the Center in Joshua Tree, California. As their musical director for almost two years, I put their liturgy to music and performed at weekly services. Using local talent, we put on a series of riveting performances which included poetry, choreography, unusual instrumentation, percussion, and sometimes a script. It all held together thematically. One day a young man named Bira came into the sanctuary and suggested he engineer an album. We got a modest amount of money together and came up with a rather nice product which we entitled: Eye of the Mystic. It was mastered in an analog studio in Joshua Tree.
It is not jazz, and I think it defies all single categories. Spiritually speaking, I am a bit eclectic and draw a great deal from many paths. I am continually grateful for my Jewish roots which tie into nearly everything spiritually. It takes a lifetime of study to comprehend the teachings of Judaism so I have my own circuitous approach. Presently, while learning a little Hebrew, I am deriving some deep understanding of Mary Baker Eddy. Another album done prior to Dancing... was Summer Music. I had the esteemed pleasure of doing this recent classical album with Ken Sherman on flute. We worked for over a year and then recorded Hindemith, Richard Rodney Bennette, a three-movement solo piano original of mine, and some solo flute by Telemann. Though we both play jazz, we didn't go in that direction for Summer Music. All three albums can be heard on my site.
Q: How would you compare working in the studio to performing in front of a live crowd?
A: Well, if I may state the obvious, they each present advantages. The way I see it, for a recording you want to be more carefully planned, play arrangements you are familiar with. Even for the free sections, it's desirable to have a clear structure and feel and direction. Also, you may have a concept in mind for the entire album so you carefully filter through repertoire and abilities to tailor the sculpture. The insular quality of a recording process allows for carefully planned use of time and ideas. In a live performance, it's desirable to be more free, bold, and spontaneously expressive. At the same time it also has to be fresh and interesting to the audience so your ideas have to be quite palpable even as they are absorbed from that unpredictable realm. Intense preparation is demanded while openness to the moment, seemingly an oxymoron, must occur at the same time. It is that which is most addictive about the live event. The interaction with the live audience is also a powerful element and highly desirable. Now I know there can be an equal and opposite argument for the antithesis of what I just said.
Q: How did you choose the material to cover?
A: In this case, they were arrangements I'd been working on and comfortable with for awhile, having performed them several times and with the trio. They all began as inspired ideas and they suggested a certain theme, a coherency. I wanted to have an openness, an inviting appeal, a gregarious charm and a warmth about the album. Esoteric is good, but it must be balanced with heart-to-heart. This was like a greeting to the public, saying that I'd like to stimulate, enhance, enthrall, enchant, uplift.
Q: Besides being a musician, what do you do for a living?
A: I teach music, mostly privately, though in just a few days I'll be co-teaching a jazz program with Richard Simon (http://www.richardsimon.com). I'd like to say that I'm one of those people who got a law degree, practised legal work with a major corporation, got disillusioned and decided to risk it all and play music. Sorry. I've been intensely with music all of my life, my parents being beyond supportive of such things. I think that I was more interested in the artistry while the idea of making a living was distantly secondary. Certainly the idea of a law degree or medical degree seemed like a desirable alternative at times, but I was always distracted by whims and wisps of inspiration. I was able to develop and understand many facets of my talent, and my being, having been somewhat of a free spirit. Now I think I know how to weave together those fragments of the infinite.
Q: What advice would you give to young, aspiring jazz artists?
A: Find your voice, of course. Let those who have paved a way before you be sources of inspiration, not limiting constraints. Bring creativity into the practice room and always achieve the impossible.