“The only mistake is fear.”
Sitting down with Jeremy Corren (CC ’17) is a bit like TED Talk-meets-music-podcast-meets-yin-yoga-class. Only this improv guru is preparing to record his debut solo piano album, plays in vibraphonist Joel Ross’ band, and somehow manages to pull off Prada specs sans pretension (that’s how you know). With an uncannily chill vibe and clarity of conviction, Jeremy chatted with us about improv, music’s importance at Columbia and elsewhere, and why Bach sounds so damn good.
Jeremy’s knack for improv stems from classical training–he cites French composer Claude Debussy and Russian Mystic Aleksandr Scriabin as two pivotal influences—that translates into a chameleonic classical-jazz improv idiom. After years of playing “rock songs on the piano” by ear, the intensive jazz education program at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts cultivated jazz as “the perfect outlet” for Jeremy “to express [himself] spontaneously” and lends his identity as “through-and-through a jazz musician.”
Upon attending the International Workshop in Jazz & Creative Music at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Jeremy discovered individual expression through improvisation. At Banff, Jeremy was told to “forget your language”–discard your influences–and just “go express yourself.” Improv took on greater autonomy, for “there’s rarely a ‘wrong note'” in context-dependent music. Jeremy mentioned in a characteristically sage manner, “the only mistake is being too afraid to make the move”–a departure from the constraint classically-trained musicians experience, when creative interpretation is subsumed under obeying the notated score.
jeremy’s take on improv
The paradox of practicing spontaneity for improv lies in “shifting your musical priorities from the demands of the score to the demands of your ears.” There is less of a “physical engagement with your instrument in real-time, and a lot more engaging with your ears and mind.” This singular kind of musical creativity requires a “two-part practice”: 1) engaging with one’s existing musical information (asking questions such as, “what kind of music do I love?”); and 2) studying improv, which is “rarely discussed.” When improvisers transcribe by ear, they are actually creating their own “listening études,” a common method of studying improv.
A common thread throughout Jeremy’s musical loves is Mitsuko Uchida, the legendary Japanese pianist revered particularly for her Mozart renditions. “Mahler 9, all the way” also made the cut, as did Uchida’s recording of Berg’s “thorny” Sonata No. 1. Argentine pianist Martha Argerich with Ravel’s Ondine procured some grins, as did Brendel’s recording of the transcendent aria from Beethoven’s final piano sonata, Op. 111. Others? “Scriabin 4 is just like, jesus. There are a lot of Bach fugues I love. Richter’s recording of Schubert’s Sonata No. 18.”
“This is all dudes, what the fuck?” – Jeremy, after listing his invitees for a musical dinner party
Aside from improv, Jeremy chatted about the Netflix documentary on Japanese sushi master, Jiro Ono, and his three Michelin-starred Tokyo restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro: Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It’s a film Jeremy claims “every musician should watch,” for in Jiro one finds the same qualities that musicians cultivate: discipline, perseverance, and work ethic. (Not to mention, a sushi critic in Jiro literally says, “Jiro’s sushi course is like a concerto…the last part like a cadenza.”) His favorite vegetarian banh mi at Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli sent Cindy into hysterics, and his current obsession with ConLaw had Jordan nodding her approval. A pet peeve? Overly-detailed program notes at new music concerts (we agree).
where’s he off to next?
“No, I don’t wanna do that,” was Jeremy’s ultimate take on grad school for composition. For him, “music is so sacred that if I found myself using those skills in a way I wasn’t 100% completely down with, I wouldn’t be okay with that” (snaps to that). He’s continuing work on his upcoming solo piano album, excited to play in D.C.’s Kennedy Center next season, and penning a string orchestra piece.
One thing’s for sure: whether improvising or not, Jeremy’s creativity has left us hungry for more, perhaps with a side of banh mi.
Follow Jeremy on bandcamp + soundcloud, and check out his website. We’ll leave you with some of Jeremy’s improvisations for solo piano below. Be sure to listen to the playlist Jeremy crafted especially for beets&noodz as well!
contributors: Jordan Lee, Cindy Liu, and Adrian Traviezo
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