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