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Lynne Arriale...with Inspiration

Pianist Lynne Arriale believes "singing to oneself is very important to have a vocal quality to the music, but more than a vocal quality, a heart connection." It is this heart connection she is delivering to her audiences in live performances, and in her trio’s new release Inspiration on TCB records. Critics dubbed her "the new queen" of the Montreux Jazz Festival after her performance there in 1999. Her technique may dazzle, but her ability to connect with and hold an audience is what sets her music apart.

Jazzreview: Your new CD, "Inspiration" is some of your best work yet. You selected compositions from a wide variety of sources like Keith Jarrett, Leonard Bernstein, even Lennon/McCartney.

Lynne Arriale: These are tunes I’ve heard for so many years and they have always been favorites of mine. We love playing these tunes, so I thought it would be great to put them all together in a compilation of some of the many people that have inspired me. We don’t select tunes based necessarily on just the composer, but on whether the tune itself resonates for us.

For us, repertoire is so critical. Repertoire really shapes the experience, not only on the CD but also at a concert. Everything is very finely tuned and scrutinized. Sometimes we’ll put a tune in our repertoire, and after a while say, "I don’t think so, this isn’t it!" and we let it go. It really takes time, but we’re so committed to presenting a variety and to make each individual tune kind of a universe unto itself.

JazzReview: What’s important to you as a jazz musician when you are playing for an audience?

Lynne Arriale: The most important thing for me in music is to reach people and give them an experience through music. We’ve thought a lot about that. We’re really trying to reach people in their hearts. It influences our repertoire choice. It influences how long a tune is, because we want to keep their attention and not get self-indulgent. If we wanted to play for ourselves, we could just do that at home.

It’s a very big deal to us that they’ve come to the concert in the first place. Hearing music live is such a different experience than just listening to a CD. As wonderful as recording technology is, there is something about having the intimate experience of sharing that time with artists. Our choices of tunes for "Inspiration" are familiar, but they go in different directions. In a sense, we’re inviting people in with familiarity. Opening the door with something they’ve heard before, then creating twists and turns that take them on a journey and give them a different experience of that song.

JazzReview: You have a wonderful empathy with your drummer, Steve Davis.

Lynne Arriale: We’ve been playing together for about eight years. He’s a remarkable musician. He has a great ability to create different colors in the drum set and hear music beyond just what he’s playing on the drums. He has a great time feel, a great groove, and tremendous flexibility.

JazzReview: Previous to bringing Jay Anderson on board, you and Steve had several different bassists on your trio recordings including John Pattitucci. Were you just looking for the right bassist or did you want to bring in new ideas to keep the ensemble’s sound fresh?

Lynne Arriale: With Jay, we had played together a couple of years back and I thought if he could travel with us, this would be it. I really fell in love with his sound and how he plays. The other bassists I worked with were great, but the light definitely went on when we played with Jay again. His note choices are unbelievable. There’s a fine line when playing in a trio of playing too much or too little in terms of the bass. Steve and I have a fair amount of interaction going on, so it really requires someone who understands when to play and just when to kind of hold down the fort.

JazzReview: Is that synergy something you’ve talked about together or has it just intuitively developed?

Lynne Arriale: The interaction just kind of developed, but it has to do with our musical tastes as well. We all favor the trio approach as opposed to a piano accompanied by bass and drums where they are in the background. I like to think there are three voices. For example, during my soloing there is a lot of interaction going on, and I am relating to what they are doing and vice versa.

JazzReview: One thing that is really intriguing about your solos is how you’re almost singing the lines that you’re playing. As I was listening, I was thinking you should get Shelia Jordan in on a session and she could improvise the lyrics!

Lynne Arriale: I do sing when I’m practicing. However, sometimes I focus on other things in my practice and forget to spend time singing, and I hear my playing on a tape. I am usually unhappy with what I hear, and although I know it sounds like jazz, it doesn't sound like 'me' to my ears. Then I make sure to take my hands off the piano during my practice, and I just sing.

Our hearts are closer to our voices than our hands are. It’s very easy for our hands to play what we’ve practiced or what they know. When we take that away and just sing, it’s very intuitive and we begin to hear melodies. I think it expands the universe of things we can draw upon, because there are no limitations when you’re singing. There’s a freedom. I require my students to sing, because I tell them this is your door to your deeper musical self. There are no two ways about it. When we’re on the road and I’m in the hotel room, I have a little practice keyboard but it has no sound. I try to play silently what I’m singing out loud in order to teach my hands what to play.

JazzReview: Could we talk a little about your development as a jazz artist? You were classically trained at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Is your classical training a help or a hindrance to playing jazz?

Lynne Arriale: In classical music, we have the piece already written and we have to bring it to life by phrasing and executing it properly. If you listen to different recordings of a particular piece, there will be different shapings of lines, the timing will change, certain dynamics might be different depending on the player’s interpretation, but they’re all looking at the same score.

Now take a jazz tune like Gershwin’s "Summertime." We all know the melody. Jazz musicians have the option of playing it in any key, at any tempo, with any kind of feel. It could be a Latin feel, it could swing, it could be a ballad, it could be a tune in ¾ and that’s just the melody! Then in the improvisation, we are expanding upon and extending what was already written. Some players play one beautiful line after another. Others take a seed idea and develop it. I tend to want to play that way, to develop an idea and then another comes along and is developed.

JazzReview: You’re currently touring the U.S. in support of Inspiration and will be touring Europe again. A lot of American jazz artists tour Europe, but I don’t see nearly as many European jazz artists touring or releasing CD’s in the U.S.

Lynne Arriale: There are certainly many great jazz musicians in Europe, but the music began in America. New York is the great epicenter of jazz. There are so many great jazz musicians there. I’m not saying that European jazz artists couldn’t cultivate an audience here, but I’m guessing the promoters are reluctant because they don’t know if they’re going to draw. It’s kind of a Catch 22. There certainly are European groups that come through the States, but it isn’t that frequent. Also, in Europe there are a lot of places to play. In Germany alone, every little town has a jazz society and they have concerts a couple of times a year. Musicians can stay very busy just working in Europe.

JazzReview: I’ve heard some people criticize European jazz artists. I read an article that claimed they just didn’t have the same feeling as American musicians.

Lynne Arriale: I wouldn’t say that at all. People in America may not have heard of many European artists, but there are great players all across Europe. Similarly, in America, for every player that has become famous, there are probably several that play just as well. For different reasons, business realities, or career issues, you might never hear about them, yet they’re brilliant.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Lynne Arriale
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