Interview with Serge Robinson (Improvisational Pianist)

Recently writer and critic Robert Nagle made a list of 11 Incredible Musicians You Can Download for Free. Many of the musicians on this top list make their music freely available on Jamendo, a free and legal music sharing site. Several musicians  appearing on this  list also gave interviews to this blog  (Read the other interviews).  You can also download a free sampler containing full songs from artists profiled here .

Serge Robinson is a jazz piano improvisationalist who spends hours upon hours on the piano, inventing all sorts of new melodies depending on where his fingers take him. They recall the usual piano repertory (Chopin, Satie), and each improvisation consists of two parts (each about 30 minutes).   The melodies traipse and linger and pause; they are more impressionistic than melodic, with the occasional flourish and moments of solemnity or daintiness. Now here’s the punch line. Robinson has about 100 improvisational piano compositions, each lasting about an hour long. (I’ve only listened to about 20). I recommend #85, 87, 95, 105, 106, 112, 77. Email me in a year and I will tell  you if the other 100 albums are  just crap.  About Serge Robinson’s improvisations, Free Albums Galore wrote: “Serge Robinson has a soothing touch on the keyboard and enough virtuosity and imagination to pull it off….  any of the albums will give you a hour of deep and thoughtful music, reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s own improvisatory excursions yet mindful of classical and impressionistic influence such as Satie and Faure…. Each album has two thirty minute improvisations… jazz in style yet more suited to a lazy classical mood. “

Here is my interview which I did by email.

1. Can you talk a little about your creative process? What parts about making music are the easiest for you? What parts are the most difficult?

Initially, I made some recordings in order just  to hear what I played. When I’m playing and recording, my mind is so focused on improvising that I really don’t have the ability to hear what I’ve been playing. serge1 After a few months of doing these exercises,  I was not only making progress; I was also surprising myself.  I couldn’t believe I was able to play something like that. Technically speaking, I was just trying to be familiar with scales: C Major, D Major, E Major, F Major, G Major, A Major, B Major, C# Major, etc…

I continued playing and recording these improvisations. I didn’t really believe I could continue doing these improvisations, yet at the end of this period, it was hard to deny that I had a knack for it.

I have been always curious about how music causes us to feel an emotion. I tried to find some relationship between some a musical texture, musical chords and the  emotion they may imply.   From time to time, I let my emotions guide my improvisations.  While I am at  a piano, I will start by thinking about a word or an ordinary scene in my life and then  play with these things in  mind. By the end of the recording, I may have wandered far away from the word or physical detail which I started with. Some might  find that inconsistent.  But I don’t care. It’s fascinating to watch how an initial idea in my brain evolves into something different.

Improvisation is an exercise related to observing how the brain works.  You gain an understanding of what makes us human.  We can also think of someone who just sit down, admire the landscape, listen to the birds, the wind, etc… Meditation !

From time to time I like to play with technical stuff. I try to change scales very often (as I can) in order to observe the emotion produced by it.

Making music is a pleasure or just something you need to do (regardless of your skill level).  All my albums are improvisations. After it is played I cannot change anything. It’s just like talking or  breathing.  I play what I can; that’s all.

2. How has your biography or geography affected the kind of music you make? What do you think is unique or different about the music you make?

I have no ability to play music that doesn’t correspond to me.  But I don’t know what people can learn about me after hearing  my music. Obviously, I put something of myself in my music but when you listen, you put something of yourself in it as well.serge2 What you feel is obviously different from what I put in there. Anyway, we may feel the same thing from time to time.   My personal  history makes me who I am.  It has nothing to do with music even though it must eventually affect the  music I make.

3. What other musician or musicians have inspired you? Can you name someone who is not a musician who has provided inspiration for your creativity?

I think I can understand  Keith Jarrett’s approach to music. I love Ella Fitzgerald, and so on… Debussy, and many many more but I don’t try to be inspired by one musician or another. I’m probably inspired by all of those I like or all of music I’ve already heard. Anyway, I do not make any effort to do something like someone else. I only try to express myself… I have been inspired by some friends, my relatives, Sister  Emmanuelle and  Ingrid Betancourt.

4. If a friend or family member listened to your music, what parts of your personality would this person recognize in it?

People used to say that my music is so calm ( not always true).  The first time my mother  heard my music she said, “It’s amazing !”  Others said “it’s great”  or  “it’s too intellectual.” Some friends said “It’s so sensitive…”  I have already heard “I don’t like that at all…”  Someone called my music “melancholy.”  As I mentioned,  I don’t know what people  feel when they listen because  it depends on their own history. Thus, it’s not easy to guess what they can understand about my personality. I do not try to let my music reveal aspects of my personality.  My music is not supposed to be an advertisement for myself; it is just a collection of musical experiences which I can share.

5. What is the most difficult part about being a musician?

Why do you use the word “musician?” I’m just someone who plays the  piano. I don’t claim to be a musician.  Usually we use words to express something.  But sometimes  music can be the most appropriate way to express some other thing. Music gives us more tools  for communicating; Neither  words nor music (or any other way of communicating) are perfect. They are all limited… Anyway, it’s advantageous to have more than one  way to express yourself.  In that way, there is nothing so difficult as being  a musician.

6. Music seems to be an important part of videos and film now. Have you ever imagined what kind of video or film might be perfect for your music? What is the best situation (i.e., time and place) for people to hear your music?

Perhaps you are  walking in the forest or a gentle green  landscape or only wandering in your mind.  I  imagine a film in which we see someone meditating while my music is playing in the background.

7. Can you think of one event in your life which caused you to decide to “become serious” about music?

To become serious about music ? It’s always serious or it’s not serious at all. Is our life serious?

8. In what ways do musical people look at the world differently from nonmusical people?

I do not think musical people are special. Everybody should have some passion. Everybody should practice some meditation. Everybody should share good moments with others, etc… Music is just one of  several ways to make  life easier.



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