I was searching for new jazz music on Bandcamp.com in March 2011 and came across this release by guitarist, Alex Pinto, called, Inner State on Pursuance Records. I was so moved by the music that I featured one single, “Chai Kinda Day”, as a ‘TuneCrush’ here on the site. Alex was kind enough to take the time to talk with me about his foundations in jazz music and Hindustani music, as well as engaging younger audiences to jazz. Be sure to visit the links below our conversation to purchase this great music.
GLM: Alex, you’ve mentioned in your bio that you were turned on to jazz by your middle school band director. What was the initial attraction? A certain song or artist(s)? A certain instrumental style?
AP: Frankie Ball was my band director in middle school and one of the first people to open up the jazz world to me. I was lucky that my school had a teacher as committed as him; he retired with nearly 30 years of public school teaching under his belt and inspired hundreds of young kids like me. He gave an opportunity to play guitar at school and it was one that I took up.
I think at first I was intrigued by jazz music because it involved improvisation. I studied classical guitar for about 5 years before I got an electric guitar and suddenly there was all this music that I could play that wasn’t written down. Improvisation was something that immediately grabbed my attention. One of my early guitar teachers, Fred Wilchek, showed me some pentatonic scales and it was sort of away I went. I was into Jimi Hendrix and he improvised so much is his music so I think I was going to discover jazz at some point given how much improvising takes place.
The first jazz guitar album I checked out was actually a George Benson compilation on the “This is Jazz” series that Columbia put out. I was at Costco and at this point had been moving towards checking out jazz music and my mom said George Benson was a great guitarist and one I should listen to. She actually also bought me “Electic Ladyland” on cassette when I first got my electric guitar so I figured I could trust her. “Clockwise” is the opening cut on the compilation and I was floored that someone could play guitar like that! From then on there was always the next series of discovery, whether that be checking out new artists or gaining more knowledge on how to play but I was sold from about grade 6 onward to jazz music.
GLM: Your music was my first encounter with the term, “Hindustani music”. What is its make up? What are the sounds and (world) regional marks of such music? Also, how challenging was it to blend it into jazz?
AP: JW, this a tough question to answer Let me give it a crack. Hindustani is the storied classical music tradition of Northern India. It dates back hundreds of years. There is a strong vocal, instrumental and rhythmic component in the music and very often a devotional quality. I am by no means a scholar on the origins or the practice of Hindustani music, but got exposed to it on my many trips to India to visit my father’s family. I also studied it at CalArts with Ustad Aashish Khan and continue to study it at the Ali Akhbar College of music in San Rafael.
Generally a Hindustani music performance involves a soloist and an accompanist. Most often the soloist is a singer or instrumentalist and the accompanist is tabla player. Tablas are the North Indian percussion instrument. The performance is centered around a raag, which can be though of as a scale, and a tal, or beat cycle, which we can think of as a time signature. The performance will include an introduction to the raag, a composition and then improvising within the raag over the beat cycle. Improvisation is a prominent feature of the music.
The challenge of informing my jazz music with Hindustani melodic and rhythmic concepts mostly involves how to take a melodic structure, that’s not necessarily designed for western harmony, but to weave it in a way that it is integrated. Lots of fusion music will showcase one style then another, then back to the original but I was really interested in building chords from the raags, improvising with raags over western chord progression and also using the rhythmic cycles in my jazz pieces. Hindustani music has form, melody, rhythm and implied harmony, not explicit harmonies like in western music, so it lends itself to be used. Sometimes the challenge is simplly to be genuine in the integration; I’m always working on ways to include the rhythmic patterns in my soloing and the melodic inflections in my playing so that I’m not turning on a “Hindustani” switch and then a “jazz” switch when I’m playing.
GLM: Another one of my favorites from your CD, Inner State, is the track, “Outed”. Describe what’s happening musically in that song. Any particular story on it?
AP: “Outed” was the last piece I wrote for Inner State. It was inspired by the music of a great young saxophonist, Ben Wendel, who plays in his own band and in the group, Kneebody. My favorite pieces of Ben’s feature long, unison lines that stretch way over the bar lines. There’s also lots of clever and refreshing ways of playing rhythms in his music. I was just really inspired to write something in that style and “Outed” came out. It was a challenge for the whole band, including myself, to finally “get” that song, but it’s now one of my favorite pieces to perform and I’m glad we can all glide through it now.
GLM: Let’s talk about your audience. I’ve heard jazz artists lament the lack of younger listeners. Being under 30 yourself, do you feel you’re attracting some of those listeners, or is that even a concern of yours?
AP: It’s always nice to play for your friends and young people. I think jazz does have a young audience, it just needs to be in front of that audience a bit more to maybe gain some more traction. I think when I perform I am always looking to include a Radiohead song or something maybe not so traditional in the set because that one tune may resonate a bit more with some younger people who may be at a jazz show for the first time and then they’ll stick around. When I play, the group and I want as many people as possible there, because we feel that they’ll like it. And it’s great when that audience is full of young people.
Be sure to Alex’s website for tour information, pictures, and, of course, more music.