Music has the power to transport us to different places. It stirs powerful emotions upon us and, at times, it allows us to enter inside a dream-like state of mind. This description certainly fits the music of the Jacques Schwarz-Bart Quartet, which the Alliance Française de Washington will bring to DC this weekend. Playing a double show (8:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.) this Friday and Saturday, the Bohemian Caverns will be sounding like never before!
I had the opportunity to engage in conversation with Jacques Schwarz-Bart himself, and it is through his insightful answers that one can best come to understand his music.
You worked for the French Senate after having graduated from Sciences Po, but decided to change direction and dedicate your life to music. How did you go about making this decision? When did music begin to occupy such an important place in your life?
JSB: I started playing the tenor sax when I was 24 years old. It was love at first sound, so to speak. It was then when I knew that playing this instrument was my true calling in life. At that time, however, I was a young adult already committed to another profession. Also, I was of an age when most talented musicians already have a career. Before making any drastic change, I decided to continue working on my musical development while still holding my position at the French Senate. After three years of self-instruction, I realized that I had made enough progress in order to take the risk and pursue what I knew would make me happy. At first it seemed as if all the odds were against me, and I am by far the latest bloomer amongst accomplished jazz musicians. But I am glad that I found the guts to try. I am a happy man today because of this.
How would you best describe your musical style?
JSB: My musical style is total expression, involving body, soul and mind altogether. I need to explore rhythms that will make my body move, attain a degree of sophistication that challenges my mind, and produce spiritual melodies that will touch my soul. Lately, the spiritual aspect has become more of a focus in my work. Being able to dream while being awake and sharing that dream with the other musicians in the quartet and ultimately with the audience, is at the essence of my work.
According to your website, The art of dreaming is an album that was inspired by dreams: “musicians manage to dream while being awake (…) that has become a musical quest for me.” Would you say that you daydream whenever you play music? How does this make you feel?
JSB: I would say that the type of dream I am referring to is the opposite of daydreaming. This dream is built, directed, nurtured, and developed with persistence and pugnacity. It is about receiving energy from within and riding that energy wave with impeccable intent, until that energy becomes a part of you. Only then can you let go and let the magic take over.
What have been your most memorable musical performances and why?
JSB: My most memorable experiences are those where my perception shifted to the point of total vulnerability, and I was able to feel everything as if I experienced it for the first time and share this feeling through my playing. It doesn’t happen everyday, though. But you have to cherish those rare occasions.
How would you describe your relationship with Hans van Oosterhout, Baptiste Trotignon and Thomas Bramerie? What is your secret to playing together as a quartet while still respecting the individual musical characters of each one of you?
JSB: The secret is chemistry. You can’t really anticipate it or control it: it is either there or it is not… and you can’t do anything to make it happen if it’s not there! And yet you can’t take it for granted, you have to nurture it by respecting each other’s space and needs, never loosing track of the ensemble or forcing something onto others. Staying open-minded during the performance is essential.
Which musicians do you admire and why?
JSB: Coltrane and J.S. Bach are my favorite musicians. Their spiritual power is overwhelming, their emotional palette is limitless, their originality unrivaled, and their mental strength is extra terrestrial.
In an era where digital production of music is on the rise, how do you see the future of music developing? Do you think that digitally-produced music can reach the same level of quality and creation as music through instruments?
JSB: I think that there is no short cut to artistic accomplishment. Creating music without dedicating enough hours to master an instrument, harmony, composition, etc. can only lead to dummy-down type of music. Similar to what we hear on the radio nowadays: 3 or 4 note-melodies, songs with 2 or 3 chords with no sophistication or depth… That’s why there will always be room for creative music, be it jazz, classical or various forms of musical expression.
Your concert on October 5th and 6th will not be your first time playing in Washington, D.C. What are your expectations for this new set of performances? Have you prepared something special for those two evenings of music?
JSB: I love playing in DC. The audience is very interactive and open to embark onto a journey! I expect to have an amazing time and continue to share my love of music with other people.
A city/music festival that you are looking forward to playing at next?
JSB: After our shows in DC, I’ll go to Guadeloupe to perform and be the patron of a jazz festival; I will then play in NYC at Dizzy’s club (Jazz at Lincoln center), followed by performances in Montreal, France, DC again, Martinique, Haiti, and more. It really never ends when you do what you really love.
What: Jacques Schwarz-Bart Quartet
Where: Bohemian Caverns / 2001 11th St. NW, Washington, D.C.
When: Friday, October 5th and Saturday, October 6th
For more information, visit the AFDC website here.