Alex Goodman and his guitar have seen a fair bit of success….and a lot of airplanes lately, not the least of which is placing 1st in the Montreaux Jazz Festival Guitar Competition! Spectrum Music Artistic Producer Shannon Graham chats with Alex about his recent globe trotting and upcoming concert with us: Journeys on Dec 6th.
1. What was the competition like?
The Montreux Jazz Festival Guitar Competition was a great experience. It was an amazing opportunity to meet, hear and play with some really great guitar players from around the world. Switzerland is a beautiful place and to be performing right at the center of one of the world’s most vibrant jazz festivals was a real pleasure. The competition took place over three days with two rounds of performances. The semi-finals featured all ten guitarists and the finals narrowed it down to three. Winning the competition was a real honour being amongst such great musicians.
2. When did you write the music and why did you chose this instrumentation?
I started writing music for string quartet and guitar in the spring of 2012. I was playing with Richard Underhill’s quartet in Mexico at a festival that featured classical and jazz musicians. There were some incredible players there that came from all over the world to perform. I found some time to write a piece for guitar and string quartet while at the festival since it was such a fantastic opportunity to play it with the musicians there. I’ve revisited the composition since then, but that first piece, “The Reminder” will be performed at the concert on December 6th. I wrote the suite in the fall of 2013. I had lived in New York for just over a year and wanted to write a post-tonal composition that reflected the difficulties in starting up again in a new city and country.
“[I] wanted to write a post-tonal composition that reflected the difficulties of starting up again in a new city and country.”
The instruments in the string quartet are so expressive and come together wonderfully as a unit. Writing for string quartet has always intrigued me and I’m excited to continue writing for this instrumentation well into the future. I listen to a lot of music with strings and have started to write for orchestra and smaller ensembles with strings in the last two years. The possibilities for contrapuntal writing, varied textures and dynamics are all very exciting to me. Including the guitar with the traditional string quartet is also an interesting addition since it allows for so many new textures. I really tried to vary the way I used the guitar in the different pieces I’ll be presenting. For example, one movement of my suite is for guitar with a variety of effects, while other movements apply a more acoustic approach to the instrument.
3. You recently took a “journey” to relocate to New York City. Does your music reflect this?
The suite that I composed for this concert is related to my first year in New York City. The challenge I imposed on myself while writing the music was to abandon traditional harmony. I wanted to compose thinking primarily of intervallic techniques instead of tonal harmonic progressions. This was new for me and I wanted the music to speak through reflecting something very concrete in my life. I did this since I felt it would help to maintain a sense of storytelling in the music.
Relocating to New York City is a pretty overwhelming experience. The vibrant cultural scene is inspiring but can also be overwhelming at first. I think that the first year in such an intense environment can be difficult for many people. I was excited and learning about music extremely quickly in my first year, but there were also major challenges associated with living in such a different place. I wanted to tie my post-tonal composition to reflect these challenges so that everything I wrote maintained personal meaning for me.
“I was excited and learning about music extremely quickly in my first year [in NYC], but there were also major challenges associated with living in such a different place. I wanted my post-tonal composition to reflect these challenges so that everything I wrote maintained personal meaning for me.”
4. Where does the music we are going to hear on Dec 6 reside on the “spectrum” between improvised music and through-composed music? Is this a departure for you or characteristic of your musical voice?
“I really increased my attention to symmetry between themes, movements and the piece as a whole. There is also is a palindromic approach that I tried to apply and maintain to the entire piece as well as in movements, sections and themes.”
I think that the music I wrote is characteristic of the music I’ve put out so far. There is a lot of through-composed material with sections of improvisation. My musical identity is centered around being an improvising musician and I wanted that to come out in this music. However, the music is very carefully planned and I took a lot of attention to develop my ideas in all the pieces. In particular, I was extremely focused on the form of my suite when composing it. I really increased my attention to symmetry between themes, movements and the piece as a whole. There is also is a palindromic approach that I tried to apply and maintain to the entire piece as well as in movements, sections and themes.
5. Lightning Round!
If I wasn’t a guitarist I’d be: a degenerate
Top five tunes on your itunes playlist right now:
Some stuff I’ve been listening to in the last month or so:
Charlie’s Buttermilk Reel – James Shipp
Dépaysement – Matthew Sheen
Accordion Stomp – Darren Sigesmund
Song Without Words – Julian Lage and Fred Hersch
Rapper’s Delight – Suger Hill Gang
Favourite movie: Koiaanisqatsi
Favourite food: All you can eat sushi
Guilty pleasure song: Rapper’s Delight – Sugar Hill Gang
Best show you’ve seen recently: I’m watching Breaking Bad right now… in French. It’s vraiment bon
Tickets to Journeys are selling fast! Get yours in advance online.
WATCH Alex performing at the 2011 Montreal Jazz Festival: