Excitement rolls in like a drum from the very opening of Teymur Phell’s first-ever release titled “Master Volume.” In this generously portioned album of all-original songs, Phell has assembled a sparkling group of artists who mesh their different flavors together with admirable skill.
The high-energy track “Zero to Sixty” spotlights Phell’s amazing technical expertise to which the vocals add a warm, melodic counterpoint. The fatness of “Sweet Sweep” is low, wide and sassy, and the piano’s attitude-drenched presence on “Blues for Who?” pulls in guitar work that glows with a funky flair.
How would you describe your musical training? What lesson has stayed with you to this day?
I got my early education at home with my dad who is a piano player and composer but also at VIZO arts high school in Haifa, where I had wonderful theory and ear training instructors.
One thing that stayed with me was from an ear training teacher, and older Russian lady. She taught me how to hear melodies in my head while imagining how they look on paper. That was a great tip that really helped.
From classical roots to the music you create today, how did your musical background make you who you are today?
Listening to all kinds of music was a big deal. Classical, jazz and even rap… there’s something to learn from almost any style of music. You just gotta keep your ears open (that’s a reminder for myself as well!).
What prompted moving from Israel to NYC in 2010?
I always wanted to come to the US and NY because I knew there would be a much better platform here for me. The people I wanted to play with were in New York so it was the only thing that made sense.
I applied to City College for a Master’s degree and got denied. But I got on the plane anyway.
Where do you get that blend of jazz and funk?
It’s just the stuff I was listening to coming up like the Brecker brothers, Chick, Steps Ahead. The idea of using jazz language in rhythms that are beyond swing is still very cool to me.
Why did you decide to teach?
I started teaching at a very early age, I think I was like 16 years old and I had students over 30.
I like teaching and felt I had a natural way about it.
There are just a few basic concepts that everything is built on and that was it. Nowadays I mainly like teaching pros and guys who are more advanced, and to be honest I use their lessons to practice myself. So, for instance, the lesson might be what I myself am practicing that week and the student tags along. Win-win!
How do you help steer students when they’re considering jazz as a career?
I think the first thing students ask me is how to be successful, how to get gigs and moving to New York. You really first need to focus on how you play and sound.
I feel a lot of students these days are very quick to get those “likes” and that’s what matters to them. But their playing ability sometimes doesn’t match the number of “likes.”
Another thing is that they listen only to today’s masters but it’s important to listen to your heroes’ heroes too.
How does it feel to finally have this album out?
Well, this is the record I always wanted to do. I am very happy with how it sounds and having my own project and my own band was always the goal.
How did you come up with the name “Master Volume”?
That’s a great question! Master volume is the main volume knob on my F Bass guitar; it doesn’t come standard on other instruments. It’s the knob I touch and turn up all the time on gigs, basically helping me control dynamics both with my hands and the preamp.
The most fun part of making this recording?
Definitely, coming back from the studio and checking out the tracks. Not the mixing. That’s always the crazy part!
The most difficult part?
Transforming what’s in my head into reality, having a vision and sticking to it.
What surprised you here?
The fact that going forward, I’m going to want a co-producer.
It’s just too much work to do alone, and I feel if I have a second set of ears with me, I’ll be more free to focus on my own playing while a producer is there to listen to the rest of the band as well.
For more information visit www.teymurphell.com and http://www.mymusicmasterclass.com/artist/artists/teymur-phell.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Teymur Phell.
(c) Debbie Burke 2020