IMPROVIJAZZATION Nation - Issue # 88
INTERVIEW with Rapster
I've played in over 65 "bands" . We will highlight a few of these bands in this (and future) issues.
CLICK the PLAY button to listen while you read - or don't, totally up to you! You can also PURCHASE these tracks, if you'd like to support our efforts; no obligation to do that, but the option is there if you'd like!
Here's another feature Zzaj Band - 2 of 'em in fact, so you can listen while you read the interview. First is "The Old Neighborhood", with Eric Wallack on guitars, Ernesto Diaz-Infante on guitars and found street sounds, & me on my trusty old Kurzweill. Both albums, as you'll hear were in the "experimental zone" to the max:
I first ran into Rapster on one of the OMD's... Gourd, it's been so long I can't even remember which one, though it was most likely the original MIXPOSURE... as happens with most of us, some kinda' conflict erupted, so he moved on (I know how that feels, I've done it myself more than a few times)... I always loved his jazz riffs, though, so have kept in contact when/where ever possible... believe you'll all enjoy reading about him... he's a really cool guy & a PLAYER, no doubt!
Zzaj: I'm showing "Switzerland" as your home-base (on your SoundClick site), yet I know I've seen "California" somewhere - & yer' HAT looks much more like California.... you know th' skinny, man... our readers wanna' know where you came from, where you ARE, & how you got there.... give us a bit of a biography, ok?
Rapster: Doc thanks for letting me rant and rave but I will try to behave..
I was born in San Francisco, grew up in Vallejo and the east bay, Berkeley, Oakland.. later Sonoma County, Cotati, Santa Rosa, Russian River, Sonoma Coast - always been on the water, even
here in Switzerland where I've lived since the late 80s; I've lived more or less lakeside on the lake of Zürich for the last 20 years, until July 2008. now I'm in the alps with Margot in our lovely old wooden house. I came here through music and have stayed here through music.. I've been a musician since I was 15.. back then there weren't many teachers and no books, tapes, CDs, Google and YOUTUBE. I learned lead guitar because the other guy could play the chords and I couldn't. I learned from everybody cause they all knew more then I did. I wore out out all my records learning licks and songs man. we learned by ear. and by eye. I learned a lot by watching and memorizing the fingerings and chord voicings then going home and trying to find it on my guitar. maybe I didn't find what they had played but I found similar things that worked for me. you know, developing a style. but the important thing is that it was all by ear. and there were no tuners man.. we tuned BY EAR.. I hope tuning by ear is not becoming a lost art along with all the other real instrument playing skills. it's clear music is changing. the sampled phrases are so good now that everyone sounds like they are great musicians and composers. the virtual instruments and virtual phrases allow everyone to put samples together to make musical structures. it's not composing anymore really, it's more like putting Lego blocks together. and we know that some fantastic things can be made out of Lego blocks.
Zzaj: You seem to have a healthy respect for jazz players, yet yer' stage name is "Rapster"... are you a jazzer, a rapper, or what? OR, is there no "label" we can respectably hang on ya'?
Rapster: I grew up playing in bands and already at 15 I had gigs. growing up in the bay area at that time was great for music. I had always been in a band if i wanted to and always made my money from gigs - lots of gigs. I started with rock and blues then funk and all the other 70s genres, fusion and jazz. I played with some famous people like David La Flamme, who I toured the western states with for almost 3 years. then also the band CLOUDS I was in which made a name for itself in the bay area fusion/jazz scene and we also backed up guest artists or opened for famous soloists like Woody Shaw, Jon Hendricks, Cal Tjaeder, Bobby Hutcherson, Julian Priester.
so after about 12 years of continuous band playing I decided to finish college and switched to classical guitar! I sold almost everything I had equipment wise and bought sheet music and a Ramirez classical guitar. I practiced my butt off for about 5 years and played modern music and Bach for my diploma concert! I then became a freelance composer when I came to Europe. I have about 40 classical compositions in my catalogue. then miles died in what 92? and as if reborn I started playing jazz again and have been ever since. and to me, jazz is not classical music, by now jazz has it's own classical forms and styles but that's not what contemporary jazz musicians should be doing IMHO. you know, copying, repeating. jazz must continue to grow, it must continue to change, to reflect the times. I love to play swing tunes for fun but you won't hear me playing to swing beats in my music. I hope my music is hip and really does swing but it's going to be with contemporary beats. heavy or hip hop or funky ambient beats and backgrounds. trane also believed in a world music. a jazz blending many genres and cultures. so yeah I was doing rap tunes when I discovered the internet music world and that's who I first appeared as, RAPSTER. I probably have about 70 songs directly involving some kind of rapping. but now on the jazz sites I go to I appear nicky quick, my old guitar nick name. Nickerson is my last name so you see where the nicky comes from. you can hear my progression from rapper/singer back to jazz guitarist, songwriter and singer in my 105 soundclick songs if you want to :-) www.soundclick.com/rapster
lately I've been using my real name, like on my new 2nd CD it says Joe Nickerson. but I always have preferred nicky to Joe. but what I'd really like is for my music to speak for me. http://cdbaby.com/all/rapster
Zzaj: Is "live" playing something you do often, or do you work mostly in the studio environment? If you DO play live - where/when?
Rapster: well I frequently played live in bands and also solo for the first 20 years of my music life but for the past 20 years I only play infrequently.. maybe 5-10 gigs a year.. but my compositional side is free to flow in the studio mode.. probably 125+ songs since I came online with my music in 2005..I wouldn't have written all those songs if i'd had other venues to express myself musically.. and documents are what will out live our physical lives.. if you just play, it dies with you.. but if we write songs, compose and record, leave musical documents behind.. then who knows? we might join Mozart and Beethoven someday :-)
Zzaj: I'm assuming you have a LOT of different guitars (that comes from listening through nearly all of your 105 tracks on SoundClick)... what is your FAVORITE guitar to play?
Rapster: Actually I'm what we used to call a "horse trader". as a musician, I sometimes had enough money to buy equipment but other times just enough to live on so I usually had to get rid of one guitar to get the next. I think once I did have 7 guitars at once. late 70s after the la flamme band. and now actually I have several again. my fave and that which you hear on 90% of my songs is my PRS custom which was made I think in the 1980s.. I also have used my Washburn wings with dimarzio pickups on a couple like "got that mojo on" but it has some intonation problems and only 22 frets :-) I have 4 and 5 string basses, nothing expensive and a couple of old acoustics but they are pretty beat, I need a good acoustic. and I have a not bad classical guitar too.. thinking of getting a tenor sax :-)
Zzaj: Some of the music you term as "metal jazz funk" comes across as pretty nearly "psychedelic"... do you GET in that "psych-zone"? If so, how do you accomplish that? I mean, is it purely through the playing, or are there substances involved (at all)... you know, coffee, coca-cola, Jim Beam, or anything like that?
Rapster: Well I drank a bit of tequila back in the band days and I still like a couple beers before I play. and yes I do get zoned.. I've always been lucky in that way. I think it's what kept me practicing. I like to describe it as out of body experiences where you are suddenly listening to yourself play and it comes out like something you've never heard before and you're thinking "this isn't me!" it's playing that's on another level but you recognize yourself in it. awesome man! just zoned.. like when Kobi or Lebron light it up for 60 points in a game. so of course you want to get to that place everytime you play!! and I have been fortunate that I continue to get zoned moments from time to time in my music. I think that, for example, "flashin" and "playin the blues" are 2 of my recorded zoned tunes and solos - at least by my personal standards..
Zzaj: If you have a "musical hero" - who is it & why? (Ah, it's OK if yer' hero is yourself, OR if you don't have one at all; just tell us about it)
Rapster: an easy answer that could have a long explanation of why but let me just make it clear if it isn't already: John Coltrane..
Zzaj: I notice that you seem to do a LOT of collabs with other players I've known on various OMD's... I won't name names here (though you're welcome to if you want to)... despite a lot of the haggling we see happening on the sites, I assume this means you've picked up a LOT of musical friends from there. How has collaboration affected your own playing? Do you play differently now than when you started the collaborations?
Rapster: you are right there Doc.. I owe a lot to all the people I've collabed with online since 2005.. they have given me dozens of inspired and inspiring beats and musical themes to work from and with.. I loved to take ambient beats like house and make songs from them.. all the sections.. the more changes the more the challenge! but now I like to keep the music simple. that way the solo lines can be more complex. I think really abstract "out there" music with out there solos maybe great to my ears but most people aren't going to follow. if they can't follow they don't listen. I'm trying to blend many genres into my jazz. keep the lyrics universal and simple. the music catchy and strong but not too complex, not a lot of tempo, meter and time changes. no 5/4 to 7/4 to 3/8! and not lots of wild chord changes. I like extended and poly chordal jazz harmonies but avoid changing rapidly like for example a tune by Alan Holdsworth. I'm sure Alan would be a huge international star if his music were simple and his guitar solos stayed awesome and phenomenal! but with such abstract songs AND solos, he loses most people. but of course that's the musician's decision. I myself have always been interested in "musician's music" - music by musicians for other musicians because we all know the listeners won't keep up with us anyway. we must decide who we are playing for. I've always idolized great musicians so I've always wanted the respect of my fellow musicians.. I would call my music "musician's music"..
Zzaj: You know that I like free-style (jazz, spoken-word, etc.) & play a bit of it myself... do you dig on improvising, or would you rather have a bit of structure in the things you play?
Rapster: I have played quite bit of free jazz in my time Doc.. on some of those psychedelic substances you mentioned.. with Tony Deanna, a pianist from LA who had had a successful mainstream career before he dropped out and let his hair and beard grow.. awesome musician.. and I'll never forget the many sessions with Steve Joselle from new york.. a mad drummer if ever there was one.. Elvin Jones meets Sun Ra and Dave Weckl!! I think in free jazz what we are trying to do is make structure out of chaos.. when I did "Hunger!" to Brian Mattson's driving abstract cyber funk beat that's what I tried to do, give it all a form and structure through my additions of vocals and guitars. so I guess I do like structure but it can be a very spontaneous, one-time-only structure too..
Zzaj: In addition to all the musical energy you project, I'm assuming you (like me) have to do some kind of "day job" to survive these times... what do you do to keep cookies on the table? If it's ONLY music - tell us HOW you do it - we'd all like to know!
Rapster: well I teach guitar and bass in 2 local colleges here in Zurich.. I have a degree that's well respected here so I a have good job..
Zzaj: Since you've so clearly got HEAVY talent, brother, put aside any gripes you (may) have & tell all those YOUNG players reading this why music is a career (or a hobby) worth pursuing... OR, why it ISN'T!
Rapster: Well I could only ever say great things about music.. I don't mean the business.. I mean MUSIC.. if you love it as I do then there's nothing else you can do, you gotta keep doin it. hobby or pro doesn't matter if you just love to make music.. keep doing what you love and you'll be happy :-) thanks for having me doctor jazz.. it's been real cool chattin with you..:-)