Take Five With Brian Charette
Published: March 6, 2014
Meet Brian Charette:
Grammy-nominated organist/pianist, Brian Charette, has established himself as a leading voice in modern jazz. Besides being a critically acclaimed composer and bandleader, he has worked with many notable artists such as Joni Mitchell, Chaka Khan, Lou Donaldson and countless others.
Charette is a Hammond endorsed, SteepleChase and Posi-Tone recording artist. In 2013, Charette released Borderline(Steeplechase), his sixth as a leader and was rated with 3 ½ stars inDownbeat. His recordings have been dubbed as “Reliably burning” by Jazz Times and he has been called a “Master of space and time” by WGBO. In the Spring 2014, Charette will releaseThe Question That Drives Us and Square One for SteepleChase and Posi- Tone respectively.
This year, Charette has been playing very successful engagements in NYC, Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland, New Orleans, Spain, Indonesia, Czech Republic and Germany. He also just placed 2nd in the 2013 Downbeat Critic’s Poll for “Rising Star: Organ” for the second year in a row.
Mr. Charette is an active educator. In addition to writing for Keyboard Magazine, Downbeat, andMuzikus, he teaches master classes all over the world, and is on the faculty of the Czech Summer Jazz Workshop at Jezek Conservatory in Prague. He also has a new Hammond Organ instructional video on mymusicmasterclass.com and is featured prominently on two new Mel Bay instructional DVDs by Rodney Jones and Sheryl Bailey.
Outside of music, Brian is passionate about chess and White Crane kung fu, which he holds a black sash.
Piano and organ.
Teachers and/or influences?
Kenny Werner and Charlie Banacos.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when…
I was three and would wander down to the piano, open a book called Folk Songs to a two page song called, “The Great Wall.” I would stare at the animated picture of the Great Wall of China with people walking, merchants selling, and a horse drawn ambulance while improvising for hours.
Your sound and approach to music:
I play jazz but I would have to say I’m more of a rocker in my approach. I can be very angular and aggressive in the way I play. I try to balance this with extensive use of space and compositional devices. The solos in my groups are often very short and the motives of the pieces can be very minimal and trance inducing.
Your teaching approach:
I try to show students how to spend time practicing only things they are weak in. After they identify the problem, I tell them to only focus their practice on one weak area at a time until they really internalize the concept they are working on. For example, I had one student practice only in the key of Ab minor for a month. At the end of the month, the student always sounded amazing when we got to an Ab chord change and before had always stumbled over the chord.
Your dream band:
I already have two dream bands with the trio and sextet. I do have a fantasy of playing piano duos with Chick Corea. I would also very much like to play with Roy Haynes.
Road story: Your best or worst experience:
One time, 20 years ago, I was playing in Brussels. The King of Belgium had just died a few days before. We were playing in a very big festival with about 8,000 people. There were huge video screens on the side of the stage. The singer picked up a picture of the king that had just died from a cigarette machine backstage and held it up to the audience. There was a camera on him and all the people started to cheer. The road manager on the side of the stage started to wave his arms furiously to put the picture down. The singer gave the road manager the bird and told him to relax. Unfortunately, one of the cameras was on him, and all 8,000 Belgians saw was a big middle finger in front of the picture of their beloved king. They threw rocks and beer at us for an hour. We made the news and left very quickly the morning after the show never to return.
My favorite place to play is Small’s in NYC. It has the best vibe of any jazz place I have ever been. I also feel so supported by Spike Wilner and the whole gang at Smalls.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
My favorite recording is definitely my new Posi-Tone record Square One. I feel like this is best sounding and looking recording I’ve ever made. I’ve been friends with Marc and Nick at Posi-tone for quite a while. We planned this record for about two years and the musicians, photographer, and graphic designer were very thoughtfully chosen. Yotam Silberstein and Mark Ferber are great friends and play my music like they wrote it themselves. I also love the sound of the organ in Michael Brorby’s studio. Nick is amazing at mixing, and Marc is great with producing, radio and press. I feel like we make a great team and I have very high hopes for the future with Posi-tone.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
Jimmy Smith, Unfinished Business (Mercury, 1978).
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I think I sound very different than the other jazz organists. I have the tradition in there for sure, but my compositions with the sextet and new trio recording are very unusual and very easily identifiable. I’m so influenced by rock music and world music. I think my writing reflects that and is very eclectic sounding. I also play in a different harmonic system sometimes. I often use the concepts of Olivier Messiaen in my playing and writing and I know of no other jazz organist using this system.
Did you know…
I hold a black sash in White Crane Kung Fu. I was also deaf until the age of nine.
CDs you are listening to now:
Matt Mitchell, Fiction (Pi, 2013);
Tigran Hamasyan, A Fable (Verve, 2011);
Grant Green, Grantstand Blue Note, 1987);
Kenny Dorham, Quiet Kenny (New Jazz, 1991);
Vijay Iyer, Tirtha (ACT, 2011).
Desert Island picks:
The Beatles, White Album (Apple, 1968);
Deep Purple, Machine Head (Warner Brothers, 1972);
Hank Mobley, Soul Station (Blue Note, 1960);
Kiss, Alive II (Cassablanca, 1977);
Emerson String Quartet, Debussy-Ravel String Quartets (Deutsche Grammophon, 1995).
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
I think jazz is in a great place. There are tons of great artists, especially in NYC. I feel very inspired by my peers and I love to listen to their music and get new ideas about my own writing and playing. I am friends with Sam Yahel, Jared Gold, Pat Bianchi and all of the NYC organists. I love to listen to their albums and live gigs. Because their level of artistry is so high, it pushes me to get better also.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
I think we have to make music that communicates to real people, not just musicians. That’s not to say that it can’t be complicated. I think people are actually pretty smart. I feel like a lot of jazz music is very selfish though, and the cats can be a little dark. This turns people off to the music. I think if we, as artists, thought more about communicating to our audience, many more people would be interested in jazz albums and concerts
What is in the near future?
I have two albums out this month, a trio recording, Square One, on Positone Records and a new sextet recording for SteepleChase called The Question That Drives Us. I have a CD release for the trio recording in March 12 at Smalls at 9:30pm in NYC with Yotam Silberstein and Mark Ferber. I’ll be on tour in the Midwest and Northeast for the next two weeks. I’ll also be on tour all throughout Europe for three months. My website has my full itinerary http://brian-charette.squarespace.com/
What’s your greatest fear when you perform?
My greatest fear is that my instrument won’t work, or that it will play a minor third higher like it did in Thailand.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
“Nowhere Man” by The Beatles.
What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?
“You’ll never Find” by Lou Rawls. I’m always singing it.
I have never worked!
If I weren’t a jazz musician, I would be a:
A gardener or martial arts instructor.