Strings on Fire – Scott Tixier

Scott Tixier 2

The “Cosmic Adventure” that violinist Scott Tixier offers us on his newest CD hits right between the eyes with the artist’s versatility, grace and lack of inhibition. He infuses more than emotions, more than feelings, and employs incredible ease in switching from songs as different as “Misty,” with a lovely, wide lushness to “100,000 Hours” which skips with light jig-like energy. Tixier shows remarkable phrasing and often bursts outside the seams of the rhythm to surprise and please the ear. The slides, near-glissandos and fast-and-furious burning up the strings on “Nil’s Landing” find a counterpoint in the cello-evoking, melancholic lower range he plays through on “King of Sorrow.” The album comes to its conclusion with the track “Beam Me To Mars” with enchanting drum work and a stellar runaway piano solo.

The unique tonal qualities on this CD achieved by instruments slightly unusual for jazz (harmonica, violin) plus the often breathtaking pace make for an experience that fills the senses on a “cosmic” level.

Why did you first pick up a violin?

Because I followed my intuition, I was attracted, intrigued by this instrument. I heard the Mendelssohn violin concerto when I was 5 years old and I felt the need to get a violin. 

Were you classically trained? 

“Classically trained” could mean so many things, depending if you learned from the Russian method, Suzuki method, European conservatoire, Conservatoire in Cuba… So I don’t really use that term, plus it has a pejorative connotation as if they were only one way to learn music. But I was at the conservatory since age 5, in the very European Conservatoire learning the Russian Method, Solfege, Analyse, Choir/Maitrise and Violin. 

What composers helped you transition to jazz?

Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, Paganini were all known to be extraordinary improvisers. More than the composers I was drawn to jazz by artists that inspired me such as John Coltrane or Stephane Grappelli.    

What grabbed you about jazz when you started? Have you always heard the violin as a jazz instrument?

Jazz is freedom, and it’s intensity; this grabbed me! I never heard any instrument like a jazz instrument. Jazz is about individual voices, I hear people voices, visions, and personality not instruments.  

What are the challenges of playing jazz on the violin vs. other instruments?

Intonation and time feel/swing with the bow are probably some of the main challenges when it comes to improvise on the violin. 

What are the benefits of this instrument (double stops etc.)?

None 🙂 I don’t know maybe the ability to carry it anywhere. except on United Airlines … More seriously, all instruments have their particularity, you can play rich voicings on the piano, you can be loud on the trumpet with no amplification, you can shift and slide with the violin and so on. To consider those benefits or disadvantages it’s a whole other story. 

Is the jazz world different right now in the US than France and if so, how?

What’s the jazz world? the industry? the musicians? Today people are ultra-connected and most are using the same apps, same recordings and the same methods to learn, all around the world. Globalization didn’t only affect the economy, it affected every aspect of the world including how people perform, learn and view music. New York is different from Paris, it’s harder in New York, everything is more expensive, rent, food, transportation, even people are a little bit more hard on you. So yes it affects the jazz scene and put the level higher.   

Your favorite type of ensemble to play in?

I don’t have a favorite, I like to change it up and discover new configurations.  

What is most exciting about improv on the violin?

Improvisation itself – it’s the most exciting.  

Your most gratifying collaborations ever and why?

I have learned a lot working with Stevie Wonder because he has been one of my favorite musicians since I was 6 years old so working with him and learning about his process, how he works, how he direct and how he warms up, all of this was some real music lesson and life. 

What inspired you to write “Cosmic Adventure”?

Love inspired me. Have you been in love before? Well “Cosmic Adventure” is that feeling. When you fall in love and you enter a new dimension. 

How would you describe the spirit of this CD?

Love, Imagination, Possibilities. 

What was the most fun track?

All the tracks. They are all part of the cosmic journey, all necessary and interconnected 

Talk about the creative decision to pair violin with harmonica on this album. What were you after? Did you achieve it?

I have been playing with Yvonnick Prene since I was 14 years old, he is one of my best friend and favorite musician. Over the years we have created a sound together and I wanted to showcase that sound. violin and harmonica, that sound but also our voices. We grew up together so we have a lot in common musically and as people too. I didn’t try to achieve anything specifically, not intentionally or intellectually. I just wanted to play with this texture and so we did. 

Favorite small venues anywhere?

What was big yesterday could look very small tomorrow. I don’t have any favorite. Some of recent ones I have been performing at and that I enjoyed were, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, Black Cat in San Francisco, Le Bab-ilo in Paris, Blue Alley in Washington DC, The Smoke Jazz Club in New York and La Petite Halle in Paris. 

Upcoming projects?

It’s coming, I am writing and looking forward to talking about it once it’s ready.

Useful advice you had received that you would pass onto new musicians?

Follow your path, stay focus, be kind, be strong and if music is a necessity for you. If you can’t live without it then never stop no matter how difficult it is going to get. 

Other comments?

Thanks for the interview and take care.

For more information, visit

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Scott Tixier.
(c) Debbie Burke 2018


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