An Interview with Lynne Arriale - Looking Back

Lynne Arriale

Lynne Arriale’s music has been crossing demographic boundaries by thrilling both non-jazz and jazz fans alike ever since her CD Live at Montreux catapulted her to the forefront of the jazz community. Her lyrical style and her dedication in selecting material that allows interactive conversations from all styles of music (Beatles to Monk), has placed Arriale on the list of leaders. She defies trends to follow her heart and intuition, and breathes life into the jazz/music world today.

Lynne Arriale Trio Live is set for release on October 17th (available on itunes and emusic now). The CD was recorded live at the Burghausen Jazz Festival and is accompanied by a DVD of the show. Also contained on the DVD is a half-hour version of Profile of a Performing Artist (PBS television special on Arriale) and an interview of Arriale by Woomy Schmidt. The CD/DVD set really allows the listeners to experience the magical interaction of Arriale and her trio.

H. Allen Williams: What qualities in your personality have enabled you to achieve such success as a musician?

Lynne Arriale: Well, thanks, first of all. Perseverance and I have been very lucky to work with great people. Jay Anderson (bass) is brilliant and Steve Davis is a tremendous drummer. It is really about the music at the end of the day, and when we play, we have a real sense of connection, spontaneity and discovery. That is the reason I am playing, to have that connection with other people and to communicate that to the audience.

H. Allen Williams: What, if any, personal sacrifices have you undergone to pursue a life as a performing and touring musician?

Lynne Arriale: Everyday is spent in the business of music and refining the craft and art of improvisation, which is very different than a 9-to-5 job. In other words, there is no end. So I might start my day at 8:00 in the morning and finish my day at midnight. I’ll be practicing piano right up until I go to sleep, because I might not get to the piano until 6 at night. There are a lot of life things that need to be taken care of during the day and the business, as well. To get a group out on tour requires a lot of time, many e-mails, and phone calls checking up on things to make sure they go as smoothly as possible. That is very time consuming.

H. Allen Williams: So not only are you an excellent musician, but you also have to have great business skills to keep all of this up and running.

Lynne Arriale: Absolutely! You learn them over the years, sometimes the hard way. Things can go wrong very easily, especially when you’re traveling with a group, even with the best laid plans. Someone might not be there to pick you up or they might have forgotten to give you work permits. Any number of things can happen. We’ve seen it all. The bass has been lost a couple of times and you have to spend hours calling different places to find where the bass actually is and how to get it where you need it.

H. Allen Williams: Jazz is still very much a grass roots (for a lack of a better word) type of music. I doubt pop artist like Prince has these types of problems. However, the level of musicianship has to be so high and to also keep up with the business world is a very hard thing to balance.

Lynne Arriale: It definitely is and it takes a lot of energy. That is just what we do and that is all just a part of the experience of playing this music. We have to get the music out there to audiences. Even the booking of gigs takes effort. Some people assume that we just get calls for the gigs and we say sure I would like to do that, but in reality, we are sending out press kits all the time. There is a lot involved by the artist in getting the music out there.

H. Allen Williams: How do you keep music fun?

Lynne Arriale: I keep it fun by cordoning off a certain amount of time, even if for a few minutes, where I just play free. Other words, I just listen to sounds--I am not trying to create anything. That seems to balance off the work aspect of practice. When I am really working on things, I am working on technical things. I am working on expanding my vocabulary in music, which is very much a thinking process. There is really a very methodical way of practicing to have more tools to work with, kind of like always increasing your vocabulary, which takes a lot of concentration. To balance that, sometimes I will just sit and play sounds as if I have never played the piano before. What that does is somehow balances off the intellect with the intuition. It is very relaxing and that helps me.

H. Allen Williams: Following your intuitions seems to be a big part of your music and life. Have you always been in touch with your intuitive side or have you done things to specifically cultivate that connection?

Lynne Arriale: Yes, I tend to be the intuitive type in general. However, it is really a combination of heart and mind, because our intuition can be so off. I am sure we have all experienced that at some point. Our intuition might say one thing, but our mind will say, "Wait a minute, that might be dangerous," or "What are the risk involved?" We are all blessed with hearts and minds and we have to learn to use both.

H. Allen Williams: That is the hard part, balancing the two.

Lynne Arriale: Right.

H. Allen Williams: Talk about your observations with regard to advantages or disadvantages of being a female musician in the jazz world today?

Lynne Arriale: I think people are getting use to the idea of having women in jazz, but I believe it is still very difficult for women. We will never be able to really find out what the truth really is. Because it is not for example, like corporate America, where you can say here is this particular job, and a man is making this much and a women are making this much, and it is the exact same job! We will never know. Talking with other women and my own experience, I think there is definitely an issue.

I don’t think about it though, I just focus on playing. Music is beyond gender, it is about expressing the widest range of human emotion. We all feel. Every person on the planet has a huge range of emotions and as artist, we put that into music. That goes way beyond gender!

H. Allen Williams: Exactly! That brings me to your latest project, which will be your 10th CD! Can you tell us about the new Lynne Arriale Trio Live CD/DVD set?

Lynne Arriale: Yes, this was a very fun concert for us. We played at the Burghausen festival (Germany’s oldest and most prestigious jazz festival). We had a great time, the audience was wonderful. We really had a chance to stretch out on the tunes. That is one of the interesting things about doing a live CD; we didn’t have to keep each tune less than six minutes. We just played. I think that will be fun for our listeners to hear, because it is a live performance and it will have a different energy.

H. Allen Williams: Right, because most of the material was previously released in a studio version. Now we get to hear the live version of those tunes.

Lynne Arriale: Yes, and some of the things have changed. Some of the tempos have changed and of course, the solos are different every night. So that is always interesting to hear the change and evolution of the tunes.

H. Allen Williams: Was it your intention to document these songs in a live recording or are these tunes just some of your favorite selections?

Lynne Arriale: Well, we had no idea that this was going to become a CD/DVD project. So we were promoting Come Together, and we would be playing on a typical night compositions from Come Together and Arise, it’s predecessor, and other earlier CDs. It was not until later that the idea of making a CD/DVD project came about.

H. Allen Williams: That takes a lot of focus to perform with cameras everywhere. That has to be result of a lot of concentrated focus that you have developed over the years to be able to ignore all of that and just focus on the music.

Lynne Arriale: Yeah! That is definitely a challenge.

H. Allen Williams: Can you tell us about the players on the new CD/DVD set?

Lynne Arriale: Jay Anderson is on bass, whom I have played with and recorded with for many many years, and Steve Davis is on drums. This is my working trio and we really have a connection. We have a lifetime personal connection because we have been together for so long. I believe that comes through in the music.

H. Allen Williams: Oh, absolutely it really does!

H. Allen Williams: How does this release represent an evolution in your music and the trio as a unit compared to the 2004 release, Come Together?

Lynne Arriale: Things have opened up more, there is more play. Anytime you play compositions for a year in many different places in your travels, at concerts, new ideas start to pop in. We might try different tempos, new feels on a particular tune. There is just a natural evolution that occurs.

I will give you an analogy. When you have known someone for a really long time, it is past the initial stages of getting to know someone. If you have met someone for the first time, you might feel a connection and really like them, but imagine over time the relationship evolves. Eventually, you will feel a sense of comfort, but you will also feel a sense of trust and freedom when you are with that person.

H. Allen Williams: This is good to have when it comes to improvisation, because you never know where it is going to go.

Lynne Arriale: Absolutely, there is really a huge element of trust. You are holding each other in your hands in a sense. When we are playing together, there is a sense of fragility and excitement as to what could possibly happen.

H. Allen Willaims: Can you talk about the individual roles of the piano, bass and drums in the trio and the conversational qualities of their interactions?

Lynne Arriale: There is definitely a strong conversation between piano and drums. It is not always an obvious call and response, where I play something and Steve plays it back. I hear everything he is doing and depending on what he does at any given moment, it certainly can effect the direction of my line or conversation.
I always think about it as a room full of bubbles. And if you had a room full of bubbles and you moved a couple of them, at some point it would affect all the other bubbles. So everything that goes on affects everything else.

Jay is an incredible lyrical player. He has an excellent balance of knowing when to hold down the fort, when to be there and when to interact. That is a very delicate balance.

H. Allen Williams: Is your greatest focus on the rhythmic aspect and you just let Jay follow you harmonically?

Lynne Arriale: We are always interacting, but if it’s my solo, I lead a little more. If it is his solo, I am really paying attention to the shape of the line, where he is playing on the bass and the density of what he is playing. If he is playing very actively, then I will be just supporting that. I am not going to be jumping in with my two cents. I will just pad the chords. It is very intentional and that time is not about me at all. It is about making sure he is comfortable and that whatever I do will validate whatever he is doing. I believe he does the same for me when I solo. It is a very subtle balance.
When I’m playing a solo, I am playing what I hear at that moment. Again, it is a very subtle delicate balance. It is not that I am just playing what I am playing and nothing else matters. It is also not, well I’m like a feather in the wind and blowing whichever way they might be going. It is neither of those. It’s somewhere in the middle. Most importantly you are hearing the melody of the song while you’re playing. If everyone is hearing the melody in their heads, we are all focusing on the same thing and coming in at different angles and vantage points.

There is an analogy that I always use. For example, three people are looking out a window and seeing a tree and saying things about the tree. Oh what a beautiful tree. Our focus is on the tree. However, we are also hearing each other speak about it. Even though we are hearing each other, the big focus is on the tree. So we are hearing each other almost peripherally. We are hearing each others voices, but we are not looking at each other. We are always focusing on the tree itself. There is a conversation going on between three people, but we are focused on one thing all together.

H. Allen Williams: Like thinking out loud, but then interacting with each other on a sub-conscious level or intuitively, because all of your focus is on that tree!

Lynne Arriale: Absolutely, and the tree in this case is actually a melody in a song. So we are hearing each other, but we don’t have 100% focus on each other. That would take on a whole new thing. That would mean every time Steve did something, I would be in a sense always chasing him. What he did is already in past tense, it already happened. Or he would be chasing me if he constantly responded to everything I was doing. So rather than being in the past with what just happened, we are in the present looking at something together--focusing on that and having a collective experience.

H. Allen Williams: Your playing is very lyrical. How have you developed a singing quality on an instrument that is percussive with immediate decay of sound?

Lynne Arriale: By singing--by singing melodies without playing. By always singing, I can remember and constantly teach my fingers how to sing. It would be very easy to sit at the piano and just play. I know that the fingers are not lyrical in and of themselves. We have to first connect to how the phrase should be shaped and how I would sing it. If it is a tune with lyrics, and most of them are, I will sing the lyrics and find the most natural way to phrase the melody, just like a singer would.

H. Allen Williams: So basically, you are a singer that transfers her voice through an outside device called a piano.
Lynne Arriale: Yes, that’s what I’m trying to do. I think when it is working people get it.

H. Allen Williams: Oh yeah! That is one of the beautiful things about your music, the lyrical quality. It is not just notes, the notes sing. The DVD, accompanying interview and profile really allows the viewer an opportunity to connect with you and the trio. Was the intent of the project to extend your ability to connect with live audiences and transfer that same feeling to the listeners at home?

Lynne Arriale: Yes, that is what we want to happen. We always want to connect with the audience. During a performance, I am so focused on the playing and I like the music to speak for itself. In life though I am very talkative, I am not shy. I love talking to people and that is why I make myself available to talk to people after the concert.

H. Allen Williams: Wow, you always make yourself available to the audience after a performance? How has that affected you on a personal level or as a performer?

Lynne Arriale: Oh it’s great! We’ve finished playing and I love the interaction with the audience after the performance. It is a high point for me. It is fascinating when you meet people from all over the world. I am always struck by the feeling of you never know who you are talking to. By that I mean, you never know when you are talking to another person what they are going through and their life experiences.

When you think about it, it is very profound and very touching. You could be talking to someone that just lost their loved one or it could be financial problems. We never know what their situation is in a three or four minute conversation. Just thinking about that really opens my heart. For me, that feeling creates a unifying feeling with every person I meet every day. It is just an "open your heart" quality.

H. Allen Williams: Through music, you can take people away from all of that. Both good and bad experiences can be placed on hold and the music can take them someplace else.

Lynne Arriale: We hope. In the best sense, music can take us on a journey and let us let it down for a while and just be here. We hope there is a sense of relaxation and complete absorption of what is going on.

H. Allen Williams: You also stay very connected to the up and coming jazz performers by offering clinics on jazz and improvisation.

Lynne Arriale: Yes, we do a fair amount of clinics. I am also a guest faculty at the University of North Florida. I am teaching full-time.

H. Allen Willams: Full time! Oh, so you didn’t have enough on your plate?

Lynne Arriale: [Laughs] The students are wonderful and I am having a great time. It is a wonderful jazz program. Bunky Green is the head of the program and he is wonderful. The whole faculty is great and I am having a really good time.

H. Allen Williams: Will you tell us a little about the program and the points you hope to instill in the younger generation?

Lynne Arriale: Teaching them about focus and concentration. When they are learning a language, it takes a tremendous amount of repetition. For example, when learning a foreign language there is a tremendous amount of verb conjugation that we have to do even just to get basic skills. There is nothing creative about that. I give them tools and show them what to do, but there is really just a lot of repetition involved in order for them to be comfortable with the language when they get up to perform.

I teach them about taking little melodic ideas and developing them. Changing them just a little and coming back to the original idea, changing them just a little again and coming back to the original idea until it starts to tell a story. I believe that even at an early stage of development, it is very important that we are teaching improvisation, creativity and focusing on making sense musically. Because even if we have a limited universe of choices as a beginning player, we can still communicate to an audience and have the audience comprehend what we are playing. The audience can follow the musical thought process. Even if I give the player just four notes to play and I say that is it. With those four notes you can start making little melodies. Once they can do that and a light goes on, they start making musical sense. Then I give them the rest of the notes.

H. Allen Williams: In your opinion and experiences, what qualities do all great improvising musicians have in common?

Lynne Arriale: A sense of discovery. They develop an idea so that one idea organically leads to the next, so whatever the next idea is; it grows out of the previous idea. When we listen back to the performance it feels like everything is in its proper place. They choose the perfect notes at the right time.

H. Allen Williams: What is next for Lynne Arriale?

Lynne Arriale: We will be tour supporting the Live CD/DVD project. We also will be recording another album in November.

H. Allen Williams: So it’s back to the studio?

Lynne Arriale: Yes, I love the studio. It is Steve Davis’ studio and he gets a phenomenal sound. He is an incredible recording engineer, as well as a great drummer.

H. Allen Williams: That means no pressure; it is like being at home.

Lynne Arriale: That’s right.

H. Allen Williams: Is there anything else you would like to add to our conversation here today?

Lynne Arriale: Yes, that ultimately the reason we play is to reach people, communicate with them and share an uplifting experience with people. That is the whole reason for playing. We never forget that. We always appreciate that people have taken the time to come to hear our concert and we have a great responsibility to reach out to them.

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H. Allen Williams