American Jazz: an espresso with Derel Monteith

December 3, 2019

Jazz in USA

Derel Monteith is a brilliant American piano player. He has just released his new trio album, “Quantity of life”. We interviewed him.

> Iug Mirti

Why did you choose to play piano? And jazz music?
I started playing piano at age 7. We had a piano teacher at my school and many of my friends had been taking lessons from her. Also, my mother and sister were taking lessons from a different teacher and my family had recently bought an old, inexpensive upright piano. I think all those things made me want to take lessons and try the instrument myself. I played unusually well in my first couple years of lessons and I soon switched to a more intense teacher. All those experiences caused me to choose to continue playing.
Until I went to college, my piano lessons focused on classical music. I did not begin to develop an interest in jazz until age 16 or 17, but I was not listening to the “straight ahead” jazz of the 1950s and 1960s at that age. Instead, I was listening to jazz fusion, especially the music of Miles Davis from the 1970s and 1980s and the music of Keith Jarrett. I had always been a fan of rock music, so that interest and my classical piano background both made fusion interesting to me. Also, I was working at a record store that was owned by a man who encouraged me to check out fusion albums, so he contributed to my interest. I enjoyed the freedom and variety of expression I heard in the music, and as I started improvising on the piano I became more connected to jazz as my own musical focus. That focus then intensified in college, because I chose jazz as one of my major areas of study and became very involved in “straight ahead” jazz.
Can you explain us the title of the record, “Quantity of life”?  
I named the record after my song “Quantity Of Life,” which I wrote during two different periods when family members were in the hospital. People often talk about “quality of life,” but I noticed that eventually the quantity of life becomes the main concern. Also, I believe the amount of energy we invest in our lives is very important—the “quantity of life” that we bring to our days. I named the record after that song because I am particularly proud of the song and I believe the messages behind the song are relevant to the whole record.
Your music seems simple but it is not: how do you write compositions and arrangements? 
I begin writing most of my songs by improvising at the piano or by singing melodies into my phone.fter I capture my basic ideas in those ways, I expand upon them by improvising and experimenting with different options at the piano. While I write, I usually pay very close attention to melodies. I believe my melodies, particularly the ones on the “Quantity Of Life” record, make my music sound simple. But you’re right, there is some complexity occurring under the melodies that hopefully adds depth to the music.
I would definitely say that every composition tells a story. do you agree? 
Other people have had this reaction to my music too. I am always happy to hear it, because I believe people find meaning and connection in stories. When I write, I think more about moods, emotions and impressions, and I try to go where the music leads me. So I am not really thinking of specific stories as I write, but again, I am happy that people have that reaction.
How do you choose the musicians you play with? 
I look for people who can listen and react to my piano playing and compositions in ways that add to the performance without taking away from the main ideas I am trying to express. I want them to express themselves musically and have a sense of musical freedom, but it all needs to happen within the mood and framework set by me. So to succeed in my band, they need to have enough musical knowledge and technical skill to strike that balance.
The piano trio has had countless records: how did you find your own “voice”? 
I am always trying to find and develop my voice, so it’s a constant process. Writing and playing my own compositions is a critical part of that process. I think it is harder to develop an individual voice when you play standards or other people’s music, because you are not the first person to play that music and you may be heavily influenced by other people’s approaches to it. For instance, I like the standard “All Of You,” by Cole Porter. As a pianist, I especially like how Red Garland, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett approached that tune on the records. So when I play “All Of You,” I am playing my own fusion of those influences. My approach will be unique to me, but a knowledgeable listener will be able to hear the influences. That’s fine—and I really enjoy playing standards—but my voice will not be as strong as when I play my own compositions


American Jazz: an espresso with Derel Monteithcopyright Jazzespresso 2019.


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