Tara Shaskey talks to Wellington’s award-winning jazz musician Kevin Clark ahead of his New Plymouth performance.
What sparked your passion for music, and more specifically the genre of jazz? I grew up in South Africa, there was always live music at home. Music is a huge part of the South African culture, and the sound of tribal African music was everywhere in the small town where I was schooled, and Cape Town, where I spent my university years, was a hotbed of jazz. Jazz is one of those genres that draws you in as a musician. It’s very technical and challenging and there is so much to learn. It is not fast-food music.
You once worked as an architect, what prompted your shift from this to full-time musician? Time for a change, do further post-grad music study, more playing, teaching, composing and recording albums.
What process do you undertake when writing music? I always start with a groove and some sort of an idea of what I’m trying to depict or have been inspired by. Sometimes just anything, for the sheer hell of it. Computers have made the process easier now. I use most of the accepted techniques and devices in composition, but usually make conscious moves away from standard or predictable forms, and strive for creative originality.
How does jazz sit in today’s music scene, is it a dying genre? “Jazz ain’t dead, it just smells funny” – Frank Zappa. Jazz had its heyday from the 20s to the 40s with the ‘Jazz age’ and the big band swing era, then bebop or modern jazz came along in the mid-40s and alienated a huge part of the audience who turned to emerging rock ‘n’ roll and pop. In recent decades jazz has been revitalised by musicians in other parts of the world other than America. The audiences are rebuilding, although still small. It will always be a minority interest. The word ‘jazz’ has become devalued.
What’s your greatest achievement as a musician, thus far? I prefer to reflect on satisfaction, which for me was my last jazz-orientated album of challenging Spanish and Latin flavoured originals, Zahara. In terms of achievement I guess being musical director on the weekly live to air Brian Edwards TV show at age 34 was quite something.
What’s next for you? I’ll keep keeping on, as long as I don’t lose it. I practise daily, searching, developing and experimenting. The gigs roll in regularly. Fortunately no arthritis problems with my fingers. I have enough new original material for another album, but the delivery and sale of music has changed so much recently I’m hesitating. I’m working on putting together an album re-mastering and revisiting some old recordings.
Kevin Clark will perform with his quartet at The Mayfair on Sunday, May 7 at 4.30pm.