7 Questions w/Corey Christiansen
Dedicated to the democracy of jazz, more interested in the ensemble as a whole than himself or other group members, Corey Christiansen is a champion of the music and player for the people. A college level educator as well as renowned musician, Corey has some deep perspective on material, approach… and problematic youngsters at society gigs.
1. Tell us about the Afro-Cuban album you’re working on this month and how you came to be working with the other musicians involved.
I’ve been working with percussion guru Michael Spiro for years. We met while we were both commuting to teach at Indiana University. He was coming from San Francisco and I was coming from Logan, Utah. We were we colleagues and started playing a few gigs together when we were both in town. We have a great friendship and he has been a part of my last three albums. He always brings something amazing to my projects! Anyway, I decided I wanted to write a bunch of music and have it interpreted by masters of Afro Cuban Music. I’m really excited about what I’m going to learn from working with these guys, and to hear how my music evolves through the process. I’ve had some rehearsals with some of my colleagues at USU wherein this music was played, and what’s interesting is how my music retains a very personal and original quality.
2. While many players teach and teachers play, it seems that being great at one doesn’t guarantee success at the other! Tell us about your approach to teaching.
My goal is to find the deficiencies in the most basic aspects of the players I’m working with. Most players who hit a wall have some kind of breakdown in the fundamentals and I try to assess that and then create a custom plan to get them to another level. The fundamentals are housed under three big umbrellas that I like to address: Harmony, Melody, and Technique. If I can get inside those areas of music with a student and really work the basics, the potential for advanced playing is increased.
3. What was your first experience with Henriksen amps, and which do you use?
This was years ago. I was playing and teaching at DU, where Sean McGowan is teaching, and he had some of your amps. I think they were pretty early models and I was totally impressed with them! Since then, I have six amps at the school. We have five Buds! The other amp is the JazzAmp and we use that for the bassists. The students and I love them; so easy to move from room to room for rehearsals, and super dependable. And, they sound great! So these amps have really been a game changer for us at USU. It’s amazing to see how having a great sounding, portable amp can make life so much easier for literally everyone. They are easy to store because they’re so small. The gig bag protects them and makes them easy to get to rehearsals while carrying a backpack and a guitar. Such a great design.
4. What’s your go-to “most interesting (good or bad) gig you’ve ever played” story?
Oh man. I have a million of them! I started playing clubs when I was 13 years old. I’ve played so many good gigs with some of the best players on the planet, and that’s always a blessing – and I never take it for granted. I will share one funny story, though. I don’t play a lot of society casual gigs these days, but I will for friends. I was playing for a friend’s wedding with another great friend of mine that happens to play the bass. Duo gig. On the way there, I had a mishap with a water bottle (trying to stay hydrated, you know) and spilled it all in my lap so it looked like I had wet myself when I walked into the gig. That wasn’t the biggest of deals, but before we were starting to play a little kid (three years old) who was related to the groom walked up to me. I started to make friends with him; I commented on his shoes and his bow tie. Well, I guess we bonded a little too much because when I started playing he ran up to me with this little sock monkey in his hand. I was soloing but still told him I liked his little stuffed animal. After this, he started to bang my guitar (I was sitting down) with the sock monkey. The bassist says, “Well, we know what he thinks about your solo.” I kind of stopped him from hitting the neck and strings with the monkey, but then he started to hit my strings with his hand! He was a little excited and out of control, but obviously a good kid… just got excited. Anyway, I was soloing on a tune that required some focus (it wasn’t Blue Bossa). I stuck my hand out to try to control his hitting and I must have had my distances wrong and pushed him back a little harder than I’d meant to. So… while I did not hit this child, it appeared that I may have shoved him. I was mortified! And so was he. Ha ha!
His mother ran over and picked him up and coddled him but she was not at all angry with me. I think she saw the whole thing and was apologizing and eventually the kid came back and we were friendly again. Because of the work I usually do, I’m just not used to kids running up to my guitar in the middle of tunes and attacking my instrument! It was all cool and the family was super nice and as I mentioned it was a favor to the groom and the family knew that, but still… I was super embarrassed and mortified about how that must have looked to someone just looking over for a split second.
5. As a guitarist, when are you happiest – where do you need to be, what do you need to hear or feel, etc?
I’m happiest when I’m playing with musicians who are serious about the music and concerned about the sound of the group more than themselves. I love playing standards but I also find a lot of satisfaction in having my original compositions played. I like hearing what different groups of people will do within my framework. I don’t arrange much of my music on a high level – I really want people to bring their own personalities to the bandstand. So I’m really happy when great musicians feel comfortable and free to interpret my music THEIR way. Jazz is about democracy. I know we hear that all the time, but it really is. Even when it’s my music, it’s all about how the group will decide to present it. I love that about this music! There’s a certain amount of control that has to be given up so others can do their best work, and that’s what I’m all about – letting others do their best work. And frankly, that’s what I want on the bandstand. It’s not about me exactly; it’s all about what we are doing together.
6. What recorded work or performance do you feel the most proud of to date?
That’s a tough one. I think a lot of us have a hard time being completely happy with our own work. It’s easy to hear how things could have been better rather than how they ended up. Having said that, I was very happy with how my Factory Girl album turned out, even in the context of struggling to listen to my own music. I was especially happy with how the vinyl edition turned out. The Coke Bottle Translucent Blue vinyl is just simply very cool. I almost didn’t release Dusk because I was having a hard time with some of the concepts I put forward on that album, but on the advice of some close musician friends I released it, and I’m very glad I did. Having said all of that, I have done a few recordings with Chuck Owen, and his project Whispers on the Wind is truly a masterpiece (and garnered four Grammy Nominations). I was very honored to be a part of that project and hope to be a part of his future works. I love that he uses two guitars in his big band. The piano has to take a back seat to all the guitar textures. It’s so inspiring to hear his band play this music. He is one of the best writers and arrangers in the business and his music always makes me think about my own trajectory as a writer. If you haven’t checked out that record, I suggest you do. It really is a special album.
7. What should your fans be looking forward to from you in the near future, and how can they get in touch for lessons, performances, and other opportunities?
I’m going to try to do a lot more touring this year. I hope to see everyone out on the road! I’m really stoked about getting this Latin-based album done. Nervous, but stoked, ha ha! Everyone can follow my artist page on Facebook (My personal page is full) or follow me on Instagram. my website is www.coreychristiansen.com
and there’s a contact button there where anyone can email me if needed. Thanks for all you guys are doing at Henriksen Amps – you guys ARE making a difference in the music!
Learn more about Corey Christiansen and catch up on his latest goings-on here: http://coreychristiansen.com/