A Panoply of Perspectives from Guitarist Jean Chaumont

Jean Chaumont 2

With his new CD “The Beauty of Differences,” guitarist and front man Jean Chaumont has created something that fits his philosophy of using different lenses through which to experience and create music. Eschewing the concept of declaring a “favorite” this or that- be it melody, harmony, riff or beat- Chaumont has instead come out with an album that reaches the emotions in different ways.

The moody drag of “Marathon of Love” has the tenor sax at its glowing center. There’s something delicious about a beat that never hurries and the way this piece breathes, particularly from the light hand of the piano on melody. Even when the pace intensifies (and the piano shimmers), you crave a return to the slow, sultry pull of the piece and are not disappointed. “Renewed Perspective” gives a funky-boppy intro, guitar so centered you hear each string sing, and the ensemble comes more fully together, stirring up the pot and gathering up steam. Chord changes, puzzle pieces, micro melodies and unexpected meters characterize the surprising journey-round-the-galaxy feel of “Audrey’s Code.” Stay with it; its disparate parts are glued together by inventive drum work.

With many musical guests who bring their own jewels to the necklace, this collection challenges the notion of uniformity while remaining highly accessible; it doles out treat after treat with something unexpected and remarkable about each track.

What was the inspiration behind “The Beauty of Differences”?

The first impulse was diving into a different culture; the excitement of discovering new surroundings and new peoples, away from friends and family.  As I reflected on the differences between my own culture and the one I found myself in, I was inspired. 

In those first months of immersion in the United States, I realized that there was a recurring pattern of discussion: I was asked “what is your favorite this, or favorite that?” and found it always hard to pinpoint something.  For example, when I was asked about my favorite musician, I couldn’t pick one.  I love the music of so many different players for different reasons.  I persisted in the mindset that there is incredible beauty in differences and I can refuse to see one as more valuable than another.  The songs I composed adhere to this same idea of beauty in differences.  

How long in the making?

If we only count composition and arrangements it took two and a half years. I started to compose in January 2015, just few months after landing on the East Coast (August 2014) and finished “This One is For You” the day before our second-to-last day in the studio (June 29 2017). 

What kind of feel are you going for? Do you believe you have achieved that?

Stylistically, I didn’t have a specific goal besides writing something that sounded good to my ears. I wanted to have an album with simple melodies that you can almost whistle, not just themes and blowing but polished arrangements, varieties of forms, ambiances, feelings with the addition always having an intent embedded in each song.  I also wanted to have the musical space for honoring each musician.

I don’t think perfection is a realistic goal, but I’m really happy with how the album turned out.  It was amazing to see how we came together as a band even if we had never played together before.  Also, I’ve been receiving messages of people who are moved by the music and this is very rewarding. 

Jean Chaumont CD cover

Do you find the jazz sensibility is different depending mostly on one’s culture; or is it more of an individual phenomenon?

I think it’s more of an individual phenomenon although obviously the culture has a strong influence.  I think of it as a kind of multidimensional thing. 

For example, I found strong musical similarities between Ike Sturm’s writing and mine even though we’re from very different cultural backgrounds.

I think that in the end it’s all about who you are as a person, whom you listen to and whom you steal from (as Picasso once said).

How did you select these musicians?

I was looking for well-rounded musicians with strong sensibilities and warm tones, who aren’t afraid of being lyrical in their solos.  As a listener, I get quickly tired of solos that sound like scales and practice exercises.  I want to connect on a deeper level with the music and hear a story. 

Before calling each musician I would take an extended time listening to their music and “envision” them playing the music on the album and what their particular sensibility could bring to the project. 

I was also hoping that the musicians wouldn’t just consider it as just another gig, but that they would offer generous, soulful performances and inhabit the music.  I was so pleased that this was the case.  Everyone took the music to heart and I think that really comes through on the album.  

Michael Bond brings lots of harmonic colors rooted in the tradition and he is a good listener so that guitar and piano don’t step on each other too much.  Ike Sturm is super solid and clean with a gorgeous wide and generous bass tone.  Sam Sadigursky’s tenor tone has a fragility and warmth that moves me.  Rudy Royston pushes the band like no one else could; he answers and triggers non-stop.

What was the feeling like to launch this CD/play it for the first time out in public?

I had two premieres actually.  The first one was between the two days of recording in June 2017 (in Princeton, NJ) and one year later in NYC (June 2018) which was the album release concert. 

The feelings were very different at these two concerts.  The first one was full of excitement because it was right in the middle of this week of recording so all the emotions that come with that were transmitted to the audience.  My wife and I co-produced the second one with Subculture which of course brought a lot of additional pressure.  Overall it felt like an accomplishment though to play in such a nice venue and to see people travel from all over to come to the concert in New York.

What has been the audience reaction to this new music? 

I received many messages from people excited by the new music who heard it in concert or on the album.  Some of these people are completely foreign to jazz and some jazzficionados. I like that my music is accessible to all the people on this spectrum.  Take for example this message from Matt: “Saturday evening was an unforgettable event for me, a highlight of 2017. I don’t fancy myself as any expert when it comes to jazz, but unquestionably the concert was world class, and it held me mesmerized for the whole time.”  I have been really moved by the audience reaction to my compositions.  

What track was the most fun or challenging to produce and why?

“This One is For You” was really fun to record because I wrote it (for my wife Andrea) a couple days before the session and didn’t have a demo so I discovered it while we were recording. 

Do you have a favorite?

Ahah the hard question, honestly no I don’t. 

Did you write this music to feature any instrumentation in particular?

After I had written a couple of songs, I realized that I was writing a quintet instrumentation and so I just stuck with it.

It’s hard to pinpoint a melodic role of mine throughout the album as I sometime play counterpoints, swells or background colors, comping, doubling the melody or playing a harmonized melody. 

Which came first: film scoring or writing jazz and how does one inform the other?

Film scoring came first.  In the family archives, I found one of my old compositions that I wrote when I was around 8 years old. It was kind of an ambient, floating, meditational song that could have made a good background music for a meditative scene in a film. 

With Tema we played the song “Folk March” that I originally wrote for a documentary and with Goud we played “Luminous” which I also wrote for a documentary. The reverse hasn’t happened yet: using a song originally written for a jazz ensemble in a film scoring context. 

I don’t see much difference in my mindset while composing for film or for writing jazz.  In both cases, I am trying to put on paper what I hear internally.  

What clubs do you particularly enjoy in the Tri-State region?

I like Subculture in New York.  It is such a beautiful spot.  I also like the electricity in the air at Smalls.  I loved playing at The Deer Head Inn.  I like the history there and family atmosphere.  I also like the sound at The Jazz Standard. My favorite club to jam in has been Chris Cafe in Philadelphia.  Victor North led this jam and it was super welcoming.  

Where would you most like to tour this album and why?

Everywhere!  I’d love to travel and offer this music to different audiences and find out what they think about it.  I would also like to invite local musicians for one or two songs to spice it up and meet new artists.

How do you view marketing – a chore, a pleasure, a means to an end?

Such a chore, it’s so hard to sell yourself even if you believe in the product.

What was the biggest surprise in these songs?

As I worked hard on the songs, I created demo tracks for each one.  I heard those demos a little too much and got really tired of them before playing them with the band.  So I was surprised when they “took life” again when we all came together to play, through the interpretations of the musicians.  It was so exciting, uplifting and surprising. I just want to do that again!

Your plans for the rest of this year and into 2019?

We are on a family adventure.  We decided to establish ourselves in a new city and we picked Seattle.  We plan to settle down in our new community and start getting to know people since my family is all about making connections with others.  We can’t wait to explore Seattle together and have already enjoyed some good restaurants, the Seattle Center and local parks and playgrounds with our two-year-old daughter.  There are challenges to moving to a new place, but we also see the possibilities before us.

I want to tour with this album, so I will be contacting venues and festivals in 2018 with the hope of sharing the music in 2019.  I can’t wait to play this set again. 

Thank you so much Debbie for your great questions!

For more information, visit www.jeanchaumont.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Jean Chaumont. Top photo © Jim Neumann.
© Debbie Burke 2018

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