Interview: Andy Waddell

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Q: What are your goals as an artist?

A: My main goal is to create music that touches people or at least moves someone who is listening. Even if it reaches only one person in the audience, in my mind I have succeeded. Since I am an instrumentalist, obviously the music I write doesn't have any words, but I hope that it can paint a detailed picture in the mind of the listener. My music is very emotional because it reflects the roller coaster of my life for the last five years, from the darkest hours to the brightest moments; my intention is to pull the listener in several different directions, much as my life has been. Of course, it would mean something different to each individual.

Whether we realize it or not, different sounds and tones create different emotions, and emotions cause us to remember certain experiences in our lives, or to spark our imagination to envision new ones. I don't want my music to just be about ripping choruses over changes (even though that is, of course, a part of it that I enjoy immensely). I hope to create an emotional and imaginative experience for the listeners. I hope to inspire people just as a few others, whom I will never forget, have inspired me. I want to continually progress in pushing my creativity into new realms, and with modern jazz, the possibilities are endless.

Q: Growing up, what kind of music did you listen to?

A: I listened to a lot of different music as a kid - rock & roll, pop, grunge, and a variety of other music (such as Frank Sinatra, courtesy of my parents) and always of course, the many jazz greats. I was very lucky growing up that I was exposed to jazz from a young age. My dad was a jazz lover for as long as I can remember, so it was always playing at home. In fact, I couldn't escape it even if I wanted to because he had his stereo system wired all throughout the house from the living room, to the hallway, the back yard, the garage, the dining room. It was intense. Good thing I always loved his music.

Q: What artists have had the most impact on you on a creative level?

A: This is a tough question, but I would have to say definitely Joe Pass changed my life from the first time I heard him. I'll never forget that night. Most of my family was out for the night so it was just me and my dad and he put on a compilation DVD of various Pass concerts. I was utterly amazed. I couldn't sleep that night because my mind was freshly opened to the incredible possibilities on the guitar. I practiced for hours that night, and so began my journey. Bill Evans was also a big inspiration as was John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, and Michael Brecker.

Q: What inspired you to become a musician?

A: For one thing I was never good at anything else. Every time I tried a sport I was always the worst on the team. I was never a great student, but music just made sense to me, and I always loved it. I used it as a tool to escape the realities of life, and it became my everything. For so many years I didn't care about hanging out with friends and socializing with girls. My guitar was my best friend and I knew what I wanted. I've always had a one-track mind and could deeply focus on one thing, to the exclusion of all else. I wanted to become a musician because it truly made me happy, and it gave me a place in this world. I also don't think I could ever handle having a boss or a regular job.

Q: Who taught you to play guitar?

A: I began playing music around the age of 7. I started on piano, taking lessons for several years, then started playing the trombone in the school band along the way. I later picked up the guitar when I was about 14-years-old, but by that time, it was easy to start because I already had training on the other instruments. I had already been playing trombone in the jazz program in junior high school for a couple years before playing guitar, so the jazz concept was already engrained in my mind. I was fortunate to end up in a high school that had one of the best jazz programs in Southern California. I had a couple guitar teachers in my early years, but the first one that really changed my life was Joe Jewell. I remember the first lesson I had with him. All those things that I was trying to grasp before just made sense right off the bat with him. My eyes were really opened, and I was more motivated and inspired than I had ever been in my entire life. He later put me in contact with Frank Potenza whom I studied under for a couple years before attending USC. Frank really helped me out with chord melody and playing tunes in all keys which is very important to the real world of being a jazz musician.

When I got to the Studio Jazz Guitar Department at USC, I studied with Pat Kelly, who really opened my eyes to writing. I had never written anything of my own before then, but that year I wrote more tunes than I ever imagined I would. Before that I always thought of myself as a player and not a writer. But now I would probably consider myself a writer just as much if not more so than a player. After that I studied with Bruce Foreman who is a master of bebop, and his style of teaching was very introspective, which is what I needed at that time.

Q: How would you describe your artistic evolution since you began?

A: During the beginning of my serious years as a jazz player, I was primarily focused on bebop. However, when I finally began writing, it took my playing and way of thinking about improvising in a whole new direction. It was around that time when I really began to develop my own sound.

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