Leading Questions: Cuong Vu

Posted 21 September, 2009 in Leading Questions, Seattle Jazz - Comments Off comments

Photo and Interview by Steve Korn

Someone once told me that “there’s no money in music!” That’s it. No follow-up to this “heaviness.” What a dumb-ass.

If I could do it all over again, I’d be more fearless in pursuing whatever I wanted. The first reason is that I’ve finally learned that the things I fear about myself…my insecurities…the things that I’ve spent time on in the past, worrying about what people think of what I musically put out, or how I play and sound…none of it matters because people aren’t concerned about me. They are primarily and pretty much always concerned about themselves.

The second is because I’d know that it’s all going to be alright in the end.

Practice is one of the most important ingredients that makes the difference – between a great musician and a mediocre one, a winner and a loser, a person who knows himself/herself or not, a successful person and a failure. It’s not just mindless practice by rote though. I feel like I have to put a lot into the why of what is being practiced and really believe that it’s all about putting in the thousands of hours of focused thought and action on developing my skills and ideas to get to my musical ideals. That alone has been a huge factor in learning about myself. A nice “side effect” of it is becoming a better musician with a constantly growing awareness everyday.

When I look at where I’m at right now, I am surprised that I’m here and could have never guessed that I’d get here. But when I trace the steps, it all makes perfect sense. And it’s fucking crazy. I bet it’s like that for most people.

Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m happy, at ease, and inspired by something that has recently had a deep impact on me. On the flip side, I rarely do my best stuff when I’m stressed. I may be more productive when I’m stressed. I just don’t think that the product is as good.

Fear is something that needs to be constantly managed and kept out of the way. Sometimes they are little thoughts that seem insignificant but can all come together and be debilitating if they aren’t addressed. They need to be smacked away like pesky little mosquitoes.

Motivation is what it’s all about…isn’t it?

In the big scheme of things, what really matters is taking action.

People ask me “what’s it like playing with Pat Metheny?” or “What’s Pat Metheny like?” I really wish they’d stop.

Right now, I’m focusing on being patient. I’m incredibly impatient with inefficiency, especially in people who get in the way. I always feel like I have to get as much in as I can in my life time cause it can be taken away unexpectedly so I’m usually in a pseudo-hurry.

Musically, I’m working on optimum efficiency in practicing the trumpet so that I can have more time to focus on writing.

The thing that makes me nervous on stage is playing with musicians who aren’t listening or aren’t 100% committed to each other. Or me being unprepared. Or my trumpet chops feeling weird. Or when I feel like I have to impress somebody which I try not to ever think about or do.

When I’m performing well, it feels like the music is playing me.

If I could have made a career on another instrument
it would have been voice and the guitar, or drums.

Some musicians just don’t understand that they NEED to understand and do whatever it takes to figure it out.

Discipline is what it’s all about…isn’t it?

Change is crucial and is part of how the whole universe works…isn’t it?

Your audience is one of the most important reasons for all of this. I think though…for me…that I have to approach it as that whatever I put out there – playing, writing, recordings, performing – when I try to please the audience, the audience is really just me. That there are a bunch of me sitting out there enjoying the music. That’s my way of staying musically honest, cause when I start trying to figure out what people like and how I can address that instead of how I personally interface with music, I think that I lose. Music isn’t fun anymore, and probably…it will suck pretty good.

Teaching has been one of the most rewarding vehicles of interaction that I’ve experienced. Along with seeing/hearing the students absorb and process the info while getting better and better at an accelerated rate, the thing that I wasn’t expecting to experience to such a high degree was my own learning and improvement from that process of information exchange. Another rewarding surprise is how open minded young people are to the possibilities of what music can be. I’ve always thought that young people are much more open then we “adults” are, but not to this extent.

Moving to Seattle from New York has been a great decision…so far. I moved back to find a balance that would suit me better than the intensity and stress of daily life in NY that had me by the neck for the 14 years that I was there. I was a little worried about whether or not I was pissing my career down the toilet by leaving but I haven’t lost any standing there or anywhere else. What’s really weird is that I mentioned my anxiety about this to a few people out there and they collectively said that if I don’t lose any drive and become stagnant, I would be surprised by how my “career thing” would elevate once I split and was less consumed by it. So far, it seems to be true.

The future of jazz is uncertain. If “key” people don’t start to re-evaluate what “JAZZ” is really all about, the music will certainly prove to be dead and will have been dead for the last 10 – 15 years. These “key” people that I’m thinking of are the ones in the position of deep influence, whether they are the ones responsible for educating our young or putting the music out there to the audience. There is a persistent idea that the neo-classic jazz movement has been good for the music, being the salvation of jazz…I don’t know about that. While it’s proven to be good for jazz in terms of having brought back some of the audience and recognition, I really believe that it’ll prove to be only a symptomatic effect.

On the flip side, the venom with which the primary components of this movement have fervently used to discredit a huge amount of music that sits outside of its stylistic sphere, even if the music is innovative and ironically, even if the music is rooted in jazz (or at least deeply informed by it). They do this in order to validate they’re own belief system and agenda and it’s gonna prove to be the disease that wipes out jazz altogether. The only cure for this that I can think of is if more people with much more open and progressive views of what jazz was and is, inherit these “key” positions.

It’s mind boggling to me how it’s possible that jazz started out and had been all about progress and innovation up until the mid 80’s when these conservative minded people were handed the power to brainwash the general jazz audience into thinking that jazz HAS to be a specific sound and style. If you look at the history of jazz, with just about every new movement, came with it a tension between the creators of the new and the musicians of the older styles where the latter would criticize the previous for “destroying” the music. It’s a natural human reaction because generally, the older people become, the more they are detached from the trends of the present times and become more detached as they get older. I mean…for instance, it’s incredible to me that there are a large number of people in their mid 50s and up that either have no idea how to use a computer nor the Internet.

Anyway, this lack of understanding and empathy promotes frustration and resentment of the new. I even find myself thinking the same complaint that we usually identify with the elders which is, “Young people today! Back when I was your age, we didn’t…” This pretty much sums up this phenomenon. This I can understand and deal with. What’s un-F**KING believable about this neo-classical movement in jazz of the mid 80s was that it was led by a few young musicians who had the media and record labels behind them. *NONE of them have succeeded in ANY contribution to the progress/growth/innovation of this music, whatsoever, by the way.*

It’s been a little over 20 years now and I’m starting to see us coming out of this coma. Not that there has been a lack of innovative musicians…just that they aren’t supported nor recognized on a larger scale that’s more appropriate in terms of celebrating advancements in the music which would continue to feed and support jazz itself.

If the planets align, we’ll come out of it okay and we’ll hear some pretty amazing and new jazz, and jazz will live on. If not, we’ll still hear great music because these young creative musicians will keep on doing what they do for the love of it. It’ll still be amazing, innovative, new and informed/influenced by jazz, its discipline and its history. It just won’t be recognized as jazz and the musicians who are making it won’t want to call it jazz anyway if this general and simplistic idea of what jazz is or isn’t persists.

Kommentarfeltet er stengt.

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