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Interview by Arturo Mora Rioja

American guitarist John Stowell came last November to Madrid to teach a master class at Esmuva (Escuela de Música de Vallecas), as well as to perform a duo concert with Argentinian guitarist Guillermo Bazzola. Both of them visited Tomajazz contributor Arturo Mora to achieve an interview that ended up being a loose informal talk among the three of them.

From left to right: Guillermo Bazzola, John Stowell and Arturo Mora

ARTURO MORA: How about yesterday’s master class?

JOHN STOWELL: We had a great time. A small group of students, but they paid a lot of attention, I liked the school a lot. I can tell that the owner has really taken care that there’s an atmosphere for the students, although I didn’t see some of the regular students, but the atmosphere in this school is very nice. And the people who were there seemed very interested to come, they were engaged, I didn’t have to worry about them paying attention. We talked about complicated technical things that I think they understood pretty well. Guillermo did a nice job with the translating, we played a little bit and we invited them to play but nobody played.

ARTURO MORA: What are you up to these days?

JOHN STOWELL: Well, it’s about six or seven months of the year traveling. Friends like Guillermo help me find the jobs teaching and playing. Usually once a year I try to come over here, I’ve been going to Argentina for the last ten years, all over the States, a little bit in Asia, a little bit in Canada, so it’s just a little network that helps me travel. Also every year I try to do one or two CD projects for small labels, it’s an educational thing, so I have DVD’s and CD-ROM courses... with all these things together I can do OK.

It’s a small group of people that are famous, you know, Pat Metheny and John Scofield, there might be a hundred people, and fifty people on the guitar, it’s a small group. I tell students that it’s still possible to have a nice life in music if you want to do a few things, not only one thing. In the case of Pat Metheny he can only play concerts if he wants and he’ll be fine, he makes enough money, but he also likes to teach too, maybe. I like to teach, I like to do these little projects, I put these things together and it’s possible.

ARTURO MORA: Where did you two meet?

JOHN STOWELL: We met in Argentina in ’96, in Buenos Aires, and then we stayed in contact, we met one other time in Los Angeles in ’97, Guillermo was there for visit.

ARTURO MORA: Have you had many chances to play duo?

JOHN STOWELL: Not so many actually, our first gig actually is tonight [laughs], but I remember Guillermo’s playing from the times we’ve played before, I know we’ll be fine.

ARTURO MORA: Are you planning to do something bigger in the future?

JOHN STOWELL: One of the reasons to come this time is to try to maybe work a little more together in the future.

ARTURO MORA: Let’s trace back to the past. You had the chance to start studying with pianist John Mehegan.

JOHN STOWELL: Right, it was actually two people that I started studying with: Linc Chamberland was a guitarist and John Mehegan was the piano player, I met both of them when I was twenty or twenty-one in Connecticut. John had taught at Juilliard in New York and I think he was one of the first people to use the numbers for chords. I don’t know if he invented it but he was one of the first actually to put it in a book in the 1950’s, maybe ‘60’s. So I met him at about 1971 or 1972, because I met a man who was playing bass with him and I was just getting started with jazz. He had a duo job every week in this small restaurant in Connecticut, so he let me come and play with him, for free, I was happy to do it, so every weekend I would come and he would just play standards, he wouldn’t even tell me what the song was, he would just begin to play something and I would just try to figure out the key, I’m sure if I listened to it now it would sound terrible, but I just tried to find something to play, so it would really help my ear, and he knew that I was there to learn, so he was kind to me. I took some lessons with him and then with Linc Chamberland I learned some basics I needed on the guitar, fingerings and that sort of things. I played with both of them for two, three years in Connecticut and then I went to New York. At that point I knew I wasn’t good enough to get lots of jobs in New York but I said: “I can start to meet a lot of people and sit in,” so that’s what happened, I found some little clubs to sit in and start to work a little bit and then I met David Friesen, the bass player. I found this little club in the Village, in New York, that was piano duo, a little gig but many good people played there like Jim McNeely, Joanne Brackeen... So I would go down to sit in for free. Sometimes I’d go down like three times a week just to start to meet some people, I was living in a little town about half an hour north of New York. David Friesen had driven across the country from Oregon to New York. He had some experience already playing with Billy Hart, with Joe Henderson, but had not really freelanced to New York. He went to see if he could get some jobs, so he drove across the country, it’s a five-day drive, a big country, by himself, in the car, to try to get some work, and he came to this little club, and we sat in together. We liked each other’s playing and asked if we’d like to play again, so we became friends, and he said: “maybe I’ll come back again later this year,” and I said: “I have this little place not far from the city,” my roommate had just left, the place was very cheap, so I had the spare bedroom, and I said: “if you’d like to stay, it’s very easy to park your car there and you could be in the city in forty minutes,” so he stayed with me the next time, and then he came back a third time with the car in the same year, three times. He still works that way thirty years later. D’you know him? I think he’s played here.

ARTURO MORA: I attended a master class he gave a few years ago at a club in Madrid called Clamores Jazz, he was endorsing Thomastik strings.

JOHN STOWELL: He still does.

GUILLERMO BAZZOLA: I played that gig with [Carlos] Carli and [Marcelo] Peralta.

JOHN STOWELL: He’s got that special small bass from Austria. Anyway, the third time he came he said: “would you like to come to see Oregon?,” and I’d never been there, I had been one time to the West Coast five years earlier, but I didn’t really know the West Coast, so I said: “sure, I’ll come for visit, thank you.” The plan was to stay for three weeks, so I had someone look after my apartment. I’d never driven so far. So we got there and as soon as we got there he found me some work with him. I had never played jazz for a living, you know, I had a little teaching job at that point and I was just really trying to get started, I was 25. I stayed all summer. We were working four or five nights a week, he found these places, he works hard to find the jobs. We worked all summer together and then he was going back to New York again because he was doing a record for a small label in New York called Inner City. It was all original material but I knew all the songs at that point ‘cause we’d been playing together for six months and I knew the songs that he wanted to record, so he talked to the record company about using me for the record. I then thought that maybe this would be a relationship that would possibly go on for a while, so I said: “well, I’ll come back and see what happens.” So we were working for seven years together. I kept my place in New York for a little while until I finally let it go. So that was my introduction to travel with him. That was in ’76, we started making longer travels in ’77-’78, we came over here a few times together in ’79, we made a trip to Russia with Paul Horn, that was a few years later, we made one trip to Austria, we traveled a lot all over the States in a van we bought together, so that was my introduction to playing in the road with him. And then we felt we were kind of moving in different directions musically. At that point I was used to the road that I’d been doing with him for about six or seven years and I liked it well enough, so I thought I would just see if I could do it on my own. At that point I knew some people having traveled with him and sometimes we would go back to the same places. That was about ’83, so I’ve been doing on my own ever since. And I still see him sometimes, we’re still friends, he still travels a lot too.

GUILLERMO BAZZOLA: He’s living in Oregon.

JOHN STOWELL: He’s still living in Portland too. I don’t see him so often, I just saw him about a month and a half ago, but we haven’t played in about three or four years together. If we play again sometime in the future great, but it’s not like it’s a hard priority, he’s busy and I’m pretty busy too.

But that was how I... I mean I didn’t plan to live in Portland, Oregon, it seems like a funny choice if you’re a jazz musician to live in New York and go to Oregon, but it’s worked out OK. I think if you’re willing to travel you commute everywhere. I still like living there, it’s a nice place to live, I have friends to play with. I drive sometimes on the West Coast to do jobs, I drive up and down between Portland, Seattle, California, Arizona sometimes up into Canada. If I go further then I’ll take a plane.

I tell musicians that if you’re willing to do some travel for work you’ll find great advantages from playing with many different musicians ‘cause it exposes you to different ideas about the music, different repertoire and also playing for different audiences, which I think is really helpful, it’s a different energy.

People in Portland when I first came were a little bit excited, I was the new guy, the New York guitar player. Technically I was, but not so many people really new about me in New York either, but David could say I was the New York guitar player, so that people were kind of interested. At the beginning we were working, people would come, and now it’s almost 35 years later and people are not so interested to hear me in Portland, Oregon, ‘cause I’ve been there for so long, but it’s still a nice place to live.

Photograph: Mark Lamoreaux

GUILLERMO BAZZOLA: John is probably the hardest traveler I’ve ever met. I was impressed when I saw him in California in ’97.

JOHN STOWELL: Well, I’ve been doing it for thirty years, I’m pretty used to it. Everything’s far away in the States, I’m used to maybe doing twelve hours in the car, and usually flights aren’t longer than my trips in the car.

ARTURO MORA: You’re speaking about the West Coast, but the West Coast is big. From Portland to San Francisco...

JOHN STOWELL: ...It’s twelve hours. Seattle is three, which I do very often. San Francisco I’m gonna do twice this winter, in February and March. Phoenix is 24 hours, with breaks in between, so I’m used to it, and I’ve stayed with friends almost everywhere, so I found a little way to survive. I mean if you’re not famous you have to find a network of friends, you know. If you’re well known you have an agent and a manager and they’re booking the concerts in festivals ‘cause everybody wants you, but if you’re not famous... it’s a sales job really.

GUILLERMO BAZZOLA: But it’s kind of the essence of being a jazz musician, to play with different people and make your own living this way.

JOHN STOWELL: That’s the part of the job I really like, I like playing and teaching with many different people, that part I enjoy. But it’s a sales job, it’s a lot of time in the computer and in the phone and very often you hear “no.”

ARTURO MORA: I know [laughs].

JOHN STOWELL: I use to tell students: “Don’t take it personally if somebody says no, it doesn’t have to do with how well you play, whether they don’t like you,” it doesn’t have to do with that, it’s just the reality of everybody who has a position where they can book music, many people are contacting them, so if they say no, then you may try again. If you persist I think overtime some of these people will become your friends and will hire you, your relationship with them will make things easier. But if you can’t take the rejection you shouldn’t freelance, you should get a steady job teaching or doing something steady, you know. In my case the job is being able to travel long hours and still play well, put up with the rejections and being able to spend a lot of time in the phone and the computer. If I can do it I should do it, and I don’t complain about it really for the most part. I’m amazed that I can do it at all, really, ‘cause I’m not in demand, I’m not a famous guy, a few guitar players know me, that’s about it.

ARTURO MORA: I’m amazed that anyone can do it [laughs].

JOHN STOWELL: I figured out a way, my expenses are very low, I have no family, no house, I have my car and my equipment, that’s it pretty much, and I can save a lot of money this way, I’m glad that I have what I have, really.

ARTURO MORA: Let’s talk about this tour you made in Russia with Paul Horn and David Friesen. You were said to be the first American jazz musician to play in the USSR.

JOHN STOWELL: Many American jazz musicians had went over to play private performances, so they would go to embassies or consulates to play, maybe 200 people would come. But public performances... This is just my theory, I don’t know for a fact: jazz has always been in Russia, and the communist government realized that they couldn’t supress it completely, so they let a little of it happen, but very carefully monitored. Musicians we met said they sometimes went and had to play for committees to make sure the music was acceptable, not too western, you know. The government, I think, maybe made it appear that they would be in a position of power if they allowed it to exist maybe in small quantities.

That was a quartet with Paul’s son Robin on drums, he’s a good drummer, he was pretty young back then, he was 23, so it was guitar, bass, drums and Paul played flute and soprano [saxophone]. The reason we came was because Paul had lived in Canada for a while and he had kind of a citizenship, kind of a Canadian status, and he met a Canadian promoter who brought Russian artists to Canada. So this empresario brought Paul to Russia as if it were a Canadian group, although the authorities noticed that some of us were American. We played 18 concerts, 6 in Moscow, 6 in St. Petersburg and the other 6 in Lithuania, in Kaunas and Vilnius. In St. Petersburg it was the first public performance by western jazz groups since Sidney Bechet, which was ’27, almost 60 years later.

So people would come, even if they didn’t know jazz. There was this Russian historian who would talk for maybe ten minutes as an introduction to let know the people what they were gonna hear. People were very interested to come, and in some cases I think they did it at some risk. People would invite us to their homes, I don’t think you could really do that, you know. In Moscow it was impossible, ‘cause it was a theater and the backstage was closed. There was probably 1,500 to 2,000 people every night for six nights, so that probably means there were up to 12,000 people at the shows in Moscow. In St. Petersburg we were in big arenas, sport arenas. It was an open stage and people could walk up to us, and I’m sure we were being watched, but they said: “come back to our place”, and we went. We were in a painter’s house, kind of a communal house with other people. He wanted to give us a gift, that paintings that he made, some watercolors of St. Petersburg with special wooden frames, and he wanted to give us a couple of his works, and he couldn’t get them finished. So we flew off to Lithuania, he took the train with his wife and daughter, twelve hours in the train with his paintings, I still got them. People can be very generous if you’re their guest.

That was the first time in Russia, I’ve been three other times. I met a Russian and an Estonian at a festival in the States, and I said: “I’d love to come back”, and I had three small tours with them, so I went back in ’93, ’95 and ’98. It wasn’t as big as the concerts with Paul Horn, but we had some nights about 400 people, we were in cities in western Russia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kursk, which is where my friend the piano player is from, and the tenor [saxophone] player is from Tallin, in Estonia, I just talked to him about a month ago. Things are now much more open there, of course. Equipment is better, more personal freedom, still difficult, I think, for the average Russian for living. If you walk in the street in Moscow it looks like any western city. When we were with Paul Horn you walked in a store and you saw a glass cabinet with three little things, little tin cans, and you thought: “What are they eating? There’s no food for everybody,” and these long lines for bread, it was tough. Now it’s better, it’s very expensive to afford the things, but if you walk in a street in Moscow it’s like New York, you can get anything, it’s just expensive.

ARTURO MORA: Back to music, your guitar sound blends acoustic and electric concepts.

JOHN STOWELL: I use both together actually. All my guitars are electric, I have four or five I use in the studio, but I have a nylon string I use to play live, but in the studio I mic it. It’s like a hybrid guitar that’s very thin, built by Mike Doolin, who’s a great builder in Portland. I also use a hybrid technique with the pick and the fingers together, and I love the sound of the nylon strings to play solo. I have this guitar and I have some steel electric guitars that I put through the amp. And I have a fretless guitar and a baritone guitar.

ARTURO MORA: Even when you’re playing electric guitar you sound acoustic.

JOHN STOWELL: I try to, yeah.

ARTURO MORA: How do you work on that?

JOHN STOWELL: For recording I always mic the guitar, even if it’s an electric guitar, so you can hear the sound of the pick and the strings. I like to hear the pick articulation. And if I’m playing live I try to have a very clear sound, I use two or three amps together with a little reverb. Live is a little harder. I try to have the best pickups in the guitars and the best amp combinations I can find. It seems to be working pretty well.

ARTURO MORA: You mentioned luthier Mike Doolin, who’s now more known because he built an acoustic-electric bass for Esperanza Spalding.

JOHN STOWELL: That’s right, she’s actually from Portland. She actually came to sit in one night before she became famous when I had a little gig. I think she’s really talented, she can play the bass really well, she can sing very well, she writes, and she’s 25 years old, you know. She comes back to Portland in February to... I’m not sure if she’s the artistic director, but she’s involved in the Portland Jazz Festival. I think her mother is still there and she has friends still there. A talented lady.

ARTURO MORA: Yes, she is. How do you work together with Mike Doolin?

JOHN STOWELL: He’s great. He’s built two guitars for me now. We actually did one record that is seven different guitars. It wasn’t supposed to be a record, a lot of time ago, maybe six or seven years ago. Before he would send the guitar I would go over and record one song with the guitar, he’d just put the mics on a little portable recorder in his living room and he’d say: “just tell me when you’re done.” The nylon-string, steels, big bodies, small bodies, all different. And then he’d put a CD on the case of the customer. We did that for a year and a half and then I realized I had maybe 90 minutes of music all solo acoustic. So I picked an hour and... I have a friend with a label in Seattle named John Bishop, he’s got a label called Origin, a nice independent company, I’ve probably done four or five things for him, and John said: “OK, let’s make the record.” So if you go to Mike’s website (http://www.doolinguitars.com/) you can actually see a picture of that record, you can click on the cover and you can see pictures of all the guitars we used. He’s been a friend now for maybe more than ten years. The first guitar he built for me was kind of an experiment, because I already had a body and I said: “Could you build a neck for this?” and he said: “sure,” so we just put it together and that was my first guitar from him which I played for about five years. And then he said: “I can build you one a little better, I think,” and he built me the one I have now, which has a bigger body and a more acoustic sound, the first one had a solid top that was hollow, so this one had more of an acoustic sound, and it also looks nicer. I like it when playing duo, it has an intimate sound. So if I’m in the studio even if there’s an electric guitar I put the mic very close to the 12th fret and I can make it sound pretty acoustic.

ARTURO MORA: Why do you hold the guitar the way you do?

JOHN STOWELL: Because my hands are not so big and I like some voicings that are like in a piano, that stretch, and with the neck up it’s much easier in the wrist. If you look at anybody who likes extended voicings maybe the neck is not so high but it’s higher. Think of Allan Holdsworth or Joe Diorio. And also if you’re doing things up and down the neck it’s a little like in a bass, this angle’s better, for me anyway. I’ve been playing this way for more than thirty years.

ARTURO MORA: Talking about that pianistic way of playing guitar, have you ever tried odd tunings?

JOHN STOWELL: Actually I have a nice book from a friend in Italy, the whole book is devoted to odd tunings. Maybe if I have a weekend off I’ll just take the guitar and try these tunings but I haven’t had enough time yet. I have a lower tuning on a couple of guitars, but I’m still using my regular fingerings. There was a great guitarist in Cincinatti who died named Kenny Poole. He was about my age, he wasn’t so old, and he used this lower tuning, over a major third lower. I have a fretted guitar and a fretless guitar with that tuning.

ARTURO MORA: I read an interview in which you were talking about some works by Pat Metheny on solo guitar which you like.

JOHN STOWELL: I don’t know so much of Pat’s solo playing but what I heard I liked, yeah. That baritone guitar record with the Nashville tuning is nice [Pat Metheny - One Quiet Night]. I once played Joe Beck’s guitar, he got kind of his own tuning where the bottom strings where an octave lower, the middle two were Nashville tuning and the top two were normal pitch. It was very interesting. He and Jimmy Bruno have a duo record. I also have a friend in Germany with an eight-string guitar with a low D. It sounded great, but I wouldn’t know what to do with it, you know. Six is enough for me.

ARTURO MORA: You have always been very active in the field of jazz teaching. What’s your point on the Berklee methodology?

JOHN STOWELL: I don’t know much about it, I’ve given a few clinics for them. I know some of the guys teaching, they’re very good players. I haven’t spent much time looking at the books, but I know the faculty and some graduates from the program, and I think they’re doing a good job.

ARTURO MORA: Are you aware of the Barry Harris methodology and the controversy between it and the Berklee method?

JOHN STOWELL: I don’t know the methodology, I know his playing and that he does a lot of teaching also. The thing I tell students is there’s not one right way to do anything, you have to work with different people and look at different books. I talk about melodic and harmonic modes a different way. Instead of saying “superlocrian” or “lydian dominant” I just say: “take the melodic minor scale and move it around.” It makes sense, it’s easy, I never had anybody say: “I don’t understand it.” Is my way better? No. It’s one way. So I tell people: “study with a few different people, look at a bunch of books, go to hear people playing, take a little bit from everybody.” So, is Barry Harris’ method better than Berklee? Is one better than the other? I doubt it. Are there things you can learn from both? I’m sure. There’s not one way to think about music to teach it or to play it. Take it from different sources and assemble what’s easier for you.

GUILLERMO BAZZOLA: Yesterday John was talking about putting things together, about getting things from different places with the objective of getting your own sound, your own way to do things.

JOHN STOWELL: I think it’s really important for people to have their own voice. I never copy, I never transcribe.

ARTURO MORA: Don’t you?

JOHN STOWELL: No, and part of that is being lazy. In some ways I’m a good worker and in others I’m a terrible worker. I’m not good at sight reading, I did no transcribing, some little voice in my head said: “study and listen.” I’ve listened to everybody, and I still do. That way I made up my own vocabulary, and I’m still trying to make it. And there’s still things I don’t do as well as some other people, ‘cause I’ve tried to make them my own way, but I’ve found a vocabulary. I’ve been playing jazz for forty years, more or less, and I know how can I express myself not to sound like anybody else. If you like it it makes an impression, ‘cause it’s original. And the other nice thing is I can play with another guitar players and there’s never any competition, ‘cause I don’t sound even close to anybody else. On this tour I’m playing with all different guitar players. There are three gigs I’m playing with bass and drums, everything else is guitar. Five or six guys in Germany, this guy here, one guy in Italy and one guy in Sweden and Denmark. They all play well and they all enjoy the experience.

Sometimes a little friendly competition is fine, playing fast tempo: “can you do it?,” that’s a little bit fun, if it’s not really trying to make the person uncomfortable. And you can learn some things by watching someone else playing the same song. This music is not really about competition, it used to be in the really old days, in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s jam sessions trying to call tunes in funny keys or at really fast tempos, but to me this music is really about cooperation and enjoying playing together. If I’m with a student for a clinic I want him to feel comfortable, so the first thing I say is: “let’s play a blues,” or “let’s play something you like, let’s play on A minor for a minute” and see if he can get some sounds, make him feel comfortable, relaxed, you know.

Photograph: Mark LaMoreaux

ARTURO MORA: What kind of feedback do you get from writing in magazines?

JOHN STOWELL: Not so much, I guess I actually get more feedback in YouTube. In magazines, usually at the end of every article, there’s: “here’s my e-mail, if you got any comments or questions,” and I don’t know if I ever had a comment or question. I’ve written for six or seven magazines, starting in ’95. I haven’t done it lately. A couple of things for Downbeat, a couple of things for Guitar Player, maybe four or five for Canadian Musician in Canada, a couple for a magazine in Germany… I guess that’s it. But I think I get a lot more from YouTube, especially from the excerpts from teaching classes, I’ve got 50 or 60 clips in YouTube. One clip has about 25,000 hits, which for me is not bad, if they all showed up for a gig I’ll be happy, though it doesn’t seem to happen. I’ve got a lot of clips that have between 5,000 and 15,000 hits and people do comment. If it’s a great comment I’ll write back, I’ll say: “thank you for watching” and in some cases it’s become a friendship, you know. So more from the Internet.

I’ve also done some online teaching. I’ve got a few things for a company called True Fire in Florida, they have some CD-ROM courses you can also buy online and they put excerpts from the courses in YouTube. One of those has about 19,000 hits. So people are watching, maybe a few people come to the gig, a few people buy the CD… In my case nothing is big or fast, it’s little things all kind of put together. So I’m getting a little bit royalties from one instructional book, two CD-ROM courses, a DVD of just performance and then a bunch of CD’s. All these things together give me a little bit of royalties. It’s been forty years, it takes a while [laughs], but I see guys in their eighties still playing really well. Jimmy Wyble’s one of my favorites, who died this year, he was also 89 and he still sounded fantastic when he was 85. So I think unless I have bad luck, some problems in my hands… my best playing is still in front of me. I hope I play when I’m 80 years old, you know.

ARTURO MORA: It’s a philosophy of life.

JOHN STOWELL: Well, the music keeps you engaged. I mean the music, but it can be anything, you can like being a garbage man, you can be a fantastic garbage man and get up in the morning and love your work and do it really well, if it makes you happy and you’re fulfilled by that, and maybe you’ll be a garbage man for a long time.

ARTURO MORA: I guess we had garbage men like these here in Spain… [laughs] In the front page of this month’s British magazine Jazzwise, Denys Baptiste says: “If you want to be rich, don’t play jazz.”

JOHN STOWELL: Well, I think most of us realize that, after you’ve been doing this for a little while, most of us are not going to be famous playing this music. And I tell students: “if you love this music and your love of the craft is enough to keep you going you should be a musician, jazz or anything else.” But if you do it just to be famous, probably it’s the wrong thing to do.

GUILLERMO BAZZOLA: We are always complaining about the bad things of being a musician, but we’re still musicians, so we haven’t found any better job than being a musician [laughs].

JOHN STOWELL: That’s right, but the other thing is… I mean I complain a little bit too sometimes [laughs], but you have to look at your life in general, and think about the positive and the negative. The fact that I have no manager, no agent, no promoter, and I can go around the world playing this music is kind of a little miracle really. I’m working to make it happen, and friends like these guys can make it work, so I try to help my friends if they’re traveling. If I can help you guys too, if you’re traveling and I can help you I will, I’ll be happy to. If you’re gonna come for visit we can play music there, you know. So that’s how it works, it’s a little network in my case. And if you’re coming to the States this offer goes for you too, if you need help with the contacts I’ll be happy to show you.

ARTURO MORA: Thank you! What’s your point on the impact of the economical crisis in the jazz world?

JOHN STOWELL: It’s harder. In my case a lot of what I’m doing is freelance work, I’m doing workshops at schools, and their budgets are being cut, so very often I hear: “I’d like to have you with us but I don’t have any money this year for you,” that happens all the time. So there’s less money. There are some ways to maybe get around that situation, I was actually talking about this with guitarist Chema Vílchez (I met him in L.A. ten or twelve years ago and I hadn’t seen him again until tonight). I told him one thing I’ve been doing are these house concerts, I did two in Germany, I’ve done a lot in the States. You go to someone’s living room and you invite ten friends and you put a little basket on the table and suggest a donation, and very often it’s more money than you can make in a club. It can happen, you know, and I think what we can do it, if economy means that certain opportunities go away we can create our own opportunities. If I waited for the phone to ring, or if I waited for offers, I would just sit down in Portland, Oregon, nothing would happen. I have to take the attitude of being a salesman, I have to be a detective and a salesman both, I have to look for things. I mean Guillermo would not think of me to come here unless I told him that I wanted to come, he’s busy with his own… Everybody’s busy with his own life. If you’re Esperanza Spalding, no problem, everybody knows you and everybody wants you, but if you’re not you have to remind people that you’re available. It’s part of the job, being persistent. Being a salesman means 100% comes out, 5 to 10% comes back, a car salesman, a computer salesman, a musician. It’s a small rate of return. If you can’t live with that you shouldn’t be a freelance musician, you should have a work teaching somewhere full time. Those are the odds. Things are always changing. A lot of my friends have been doing this long enough, many of my friends in schools who have been doing this for twenty years they’re retiring, so I have to start again, now there’s somebody new who doesn’t know me. “How are you? My name is… Here’s my e-mail, that’s my website…” I have to start again. It happens every year, maybe two or three years, people are gone, they’re still my friends but they’re not at the school anymore. When my friends are leaving those positions I have to start again. Can I do it? Yeah, I can do it. I have to. If I don’t want to do it I just sit at home and there’d be no jobs, unless I would have a full time job, which I think I wouldn’t like. I was offered a few, but I like the variety.

ARTURO MORA: Finally, which are your future plans?

JOHN STOWELL: More of the same. I’ve talked to a few friends to try to do a chamber recording, maybe with a string quartet. I have some friends who can orchestrate. I’ve been actually writing more music, I don’t have a lot of music, I have maybe 15 or 16 tunes, but a few of the songs are pretty interesting, so I would like to have a few things orchestrated. I’m going to do another CD-ROM course for this company in Florida, True Fire, I’m gonna keep doing educational things, kind of a DVD I think. A few CD’s every year and DVD projects some times, more books, more educational things… I have a little body of work now, you know. If you get a lot more famous along the way what that means is that you can have opportunities for better work, so I’d be able to call a friend like this and say let’s do a week of touring. I can do that when I’m famous enough, and actually not so many people are doing it right now, just a few. How many working groups are there in jazz, maybe 50 or 100 people? They have a name, they can travel around the big festivals and clinics, maybe more. Not so many now. That I would like. I keep playing the music and I keep teaching ‘cause I enjoy it, but if that opportunity happened I’d be happy, and I’m trying to make it happen but I have no guarantees about that. I have a very small international reputation, it’s tiny tiny, you know. So if I’m lucky I can get 50 or 100 people to come to see me. Sometimes it’s 10 or 20. I’ve got something, I’m grateful for it.

Text and photographs (except where indicated) © 2010 Arturo Mora Rioja