Q&A with multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer Kurt Rosenwinkel - an undeniable impact on music in the 21st century

"Music has always had a power to change lives and even to change society. Music is a powerful social force. I think it always gives strength to people in difficult situations, much like we are experiencing now. Music gives us hope, it gives our soul relief from the struggles of the world and can be a motivator of change. I want my music to be a touchstone through which people can feel the unity of humanity and the beauty of the cosmos."

Kurt Rosenwinkel: One World, One Music

The conceptual influence of Kurt Rosenwinkel’s music can be readily observed on a global scale. Whether in concert halls, basement jazz club wee hours jam sessions, conservatory practice rooms or radio station airwaves, Rosenwinkel’s distinctive voice as a composer and guitarist has had an undeniable impact on music in the 21st century. The American multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer has gained international recognition for his deft artistry and unabated individualism since he first appeared on the New York music scene in 1991. His legacy as the pre-eminent jazz guitar voice of his generation is plainly evident on his eleven albums as a leader, each one the inspiration for legions of musicians young and old across the globe. Kurt’s aesthetic vision and multi-genre facility has caught the ear of some of modern music’s most prominent stars; collaborations with Eric Clapton, Q-tip, Gary Burton, Paul Motian, Joe Henderson, Brad Mehldau, and Donald Fagen are but a few highlights from a remarkably diverse and extensive catalogue of over 150 sideman recordings.

In the winter of 2016, Kurt formed the independent music label Heartcore Records with the focused intention of signing and promoting a new generation of musicians whose exacting standards match his own. Heartcore has also allowed Kurt to flourish in yet another dimension of music making, that of the record producer. He self-produced his eleventh album, 2017’s “Caipi”, and was more recently involved as a producer and guitarist on Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Pedro Martin’s 2019 release “Vox”.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Jazz music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Probably the most important part of what it means to be an artist in any field and certainly as a jazz musician, is to know oneself. So, despite the fact that I have traveled all around the world many times the biggest journey I have taken is the one inside myself.

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?

It's hard to describe the sound without going on endlessly about the qualities that I am seeking in the music and in the guitar. When I hear something that I find inspiring I imagine how those qualities can exist and be incorporated in my own music. Sometime just by listening to something, it starts to show up in my playing through osmosis. So, my philosophy is to be natural. Important concepts to me are creative visualization and entertainment. I am driven to manifest the music I feel inside myself to realize as much as I can while I am here.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The most important meeting was about two days after I was born when I met my childhood best friend Gordon Townsend - we fell in love with music together and from the time that we were nine years old we were pretty much as serious about it as I am now. Of other important meetings - and there have been very many - I would list my collaboration with Mark Turner, Ben Street, Jeff Ballard and being a part of the Smalls Jazz Club scene in the 1990's in NYC. The best advice I've ever got was - If you don't give a 110%, you will never make it in the chicken business.

"Probably the most important part of what it means to be an artist in any field and certainly as a jazz musician, is to know oneself. So, despite the fact that I have traveled all around the world many times the biggest journey I have taken is the one inside myself."

How started the thought of Heartcore Projects? What touched (emotionally) you from the kids around the world?

This initiative arose from my amazing assistant and label manager Michaela Bóková who was inspired to use her August month in the year, which many people have vacation, to travel to some part of the world to help our underprivileged children and teach them music. I asked her If she would make that a project for Heartcore Records and she excitedly agreed and "Heartcore for the World" was born.

This year we finished the third installment and we are hoping that she will be able to go to Brazil this year, depending on the world condition. The project is very beautiful and is long in its scope. She's already been to Zambia, Mumbai and Ukraine and for each one we have a song made with the local children. After 10 years we will have a full album which will be a triumphant and inspiring culmination of all of these worldwide efforts. It is moving to see how music can have such an uplifting and enlightening effect on people and especially children who are in challenging conditions in their young lives.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I don't miss anything from the past. I am happy to make my music better in the future and create new opportunities to help other artists and myself to grow. I don't really have any fears for the future because I am too busy watching porn. Lol just kidding. I have Tourette’s (laughs.)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would make it so that musicians were paid fair price for their music, especially with the streaming services. This idea that music should be free is threatening music itself and the people who make it.

"This initiative arose from my amazing assistant and label manager Michaela Bóková who was inspired to use her August month in the year, which many people have vacation, to travel to some part of the world to help our underprivileged children and teach them music. I asked her If she would make that a project for Heartcore Records and she excitedly agreed and "Heartcore for the World" was born."

Do you consider the Jazz a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

I think "jazz" is a word that is kind of useless because everybody has a different opinion about what it is. "Jazz" was originally a word used to describe black music in America. For me the lineage and continuum of that culture and music through all of its permutations and incorporations of other influences from Broadway songs and the Great American Songbook to Afro-Cuban rhythms and Brazilian music and Western Classical music is what I mean when I say jazz. So, in that sense it can never only be a philosophical concept, although to be a jazz musician means that by definition you are outside of the mainstream of society and ways of thinking which makes it a unique “state of mind”.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Music has always had a power to change lives and even to change society. Music is a powerful social force. I think it always gives strength to people in difficult situations, much like we are experiencing now. Music gives us hope, it gives our soul relief from the struggles of the world and can be a motivator of change. I want my music to be a touchstone through which people can feel the unity of humanity and the beauty of the cosmos.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would like to go back and hang out with Charlie Parker for a day in NYC.

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