Jazz standards: an espresso with Corey Christiansen


22 december, 2021

Corey Christiansen has demonstrated for years that he is personal and recognizable both in his qualities as a guitarist and as a composer of original scores. We interviewed him this time on the eve of the release of a jazz standards album. 

> Ivano Rossato

Where does the need for a standards album come from? 
Most of my first experiences as an adult professional musician were as a jazz musician playing standards. I have always loved playing a variety of styles, but jazz will always be my musical love and I absolutely love playing standards. I have done a lot of recording playing my own original music and the original music of others, but one of my favorite things in the world is to play standards with my friends… or people I just met. 

There’s a musical honesty and integrity that exposes itself through playing standards. 

You made the arrangements during the lock down, recorded everything live and used analog recording techniques … it seems like an approach oriented to the “past” … does the pandemic have anything to do with it?
I’m not sure the pandemic had much to do with that aspect of this project. I had plans to record this material before the pandemic hit. I think the time at home and by myself with my music eventually led to how the music was going to be arranged, but the plans were always in place to record live. Originally, I wanted an audience of 30-60 in the studio but that was just impossible with the way the pandemic worked out. But yes, we recorded to two-track tape (with digital backup, of course) and there are no edits or overdubs. It’s a live album. Carl Allen and Ben Williams played so beautifully on this album. I think it was a great experience for all three of get back into the studio and do some playing. 
You have almost always published material composed by yourself, how does your approach change in reworking compositions by other artists? 
That’s a really great question. I think the process is very similar for me. I tried to select standards that were speaking to me at the time. I also try to create arrangements that will be original to my voice and lend themselves to my style of playing. Sometimes I get a great idea from just working on an intro or an ending for a tune and then the arrangement starts to work itself out. Some of these arrangements are ideas that I’ve been playing live for quite some time. I’m usually trying to stretch things in live settings and when something works, I usually write it out after the gig, or archive the recording for later reference. Eventually some of the best stuff works its way into my recordings. This album was one of the best examples of that. There are things on this album that are a result of letting loose a little in the live settings. 
Why did you choose the trio format for this project, and how did you choose the musicians? 
To me, trio playing is the high art of jazz guitar. There are so many directions it can go if all the players are in the zone. That’s the key, being in the zone together. The guitar trio can do it all. I feel like I can play it straight or rock it a little in a trio more than just about any other format. The directions are limitless.
I’ve played a bunch with Carl Allen over the years and he’s a very good friend. He always brings such depth to the music. He has played with so many of the greats, that he is a great barometer to have. He knows when it feels right. He knows when it feels good and it’s based on real experience. He’s the real deal and I love playing with him. This was actually the first time I’d played with Ben Williams for real. We may have played at a jam session years ago at a festival we were both playing at, but this was the first REAL playing we’d done. I’ve been a fan since he first hit the scene. I love his feel and his beat and his general attitude toward the music. He has great ideas and it was evident from the first tune we rehearsed (we played a concert the night before the recording) that we were going to be on the same page. I absolutely LOVE playing and just being around Ben. He’s a great musician, but like Carl, he’s also a great human being. These masters were just so fun to play and record music with.
What are your plans for live shows with the trio?
There are some things I’ve lined up starting in March. I’m always looking for places to play, but sometimes it’s tough to keep a band together. Often, it’s easier to tour as a single and pick up people in different locations. I’m hoping this album get us enough press and attention we can play together often on the road. These days, I’m not too worried about a lot of touring. I want to do the best touring even if it’s less. I think this trio will warrant those kinds of opportunies. 
What do you think is the future of the musician profession? 
I’m always an optimist. It’s tough though to be honest. Nowadays it seems that people are more worried about marketing and watching who’s “popular” on social media more than really knowing what is truly good and (maybe more importantly) deep. I think there are a lot of opportunities for everyone though. Musicians just need to understand that they need to be good but also have some marketing hustle. I don’t like that in some ways, but it seems to be necessary these days. I will never loose my faith in music and the musicians though. We are very important to our society and we need to keep creating. Even if it’s just for our own small group of followers.
How will the music market need to change after these difficult years? 
I have no idea. I’d like to see it change so that musicians are fairly compensated for their work, especially their recorded work. I don’t know how to get that done though. There are a lot of people working against that cause. There are good people working for it also. I hope it gets better, but as for now I’m going to try to make the best music I can and play it live as much as possible for the people who want to hear it and will appreciate it. I’ve been very blessed to have fantastic supporters. There are many people who have stepped up in big ways for my crowd funding campaigns and made it possible for me to do my last five albums. That’s really incredible when you think about it. It’s individuals that love the music who are willing to take chances on artists like myself and support them so we can do what we are good at and what we love and offer it to the rest of the world. So, as tough as things are, my faith in good people is alive and well. It’s a wonderful thing to make a living as a musician. Not all the rewards are monetary, but all the rewards are worth the effort.
Jazz standards: an espresso with Corey Christiansen copyright Jazzespresso 2021.
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