The following interview is in conversation with Jameson Nathan Jones, a pianist and neo-classical/ambient composer. In conversation with Jameson we talk about his musical upbringing, Sanctuary Sessions, improvising and more.
Where and when did music begin for you? In particular, composing?
First, I’d like to say I’m a huge fan of what you’re doing at Contemplative Classical. I’m sure I speak for all the other artists who are a part of this community when I say, thank you!
Both my parents are trained musicians, so I was exposed to a lot of music very early in life. I started piano lessons at age 8, and while all my formal training was classical, my dad would play old progressive rock records from the 70s that he grew up with. I was blown away by bands like Yes, ELP, and Rush who had incorporated electronic instruments with classical forms and themes.
I toyed around with composition through my teens, but really got serious once I started college. My local school, the University of Southern Mississippi, just happened to also be the home of composer-in-residence, Luigi Zaninelli. Mr. Z was a pupil of Menotti at the Curtis Institute, and was able to learn a great deal directly from Samuel Barber during his time there, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to study with him. At that time I was so concerned with making mistakes that I was creatively paralyzed. He really gave me “permission” to try things even if they failed. It was a crucial time when I realized that composition is an empirical process, so I could stop waiting for divine inspiration and get to work trying different things. I finished my master’s in piano performance there and continued to teach private piano lessons, as well as serve as organist and choirmaster at First-Trinity Presbyterian Church in Laurel, Mississippi.
We love your latest album. Tell us about the process of making Sanctuary Sessions.
Thank you so much! This album was a direct consequence its predecessor, What Dreams May Come, from last fall. That album was a big undertaking and the largest solo project I’ve done to date. There were string players to write parts for, track, and mix. There were tons of sound design elements that involved a lot of experimenting, and overall just a lot of musical ground that I wanted to cover. As an independent artist who was responsible for every stage of the writing, production, and marketing, I was exhausted by the end of it.
Rather than take a hiatus for several months, I decided it would be nice to go minimal and get back to the piano as a kind of palette cleanser. Granted, there are a lot of incredible solo piano albums in our genre today, but most seem to focus on the instrument in a small, intimate space. My idea was to record it in a large, acoustically vibrant space, but keep the felt on and the mics close. I’m sure it’s been done before, but the results were so inspiring for me when I would sit down to improvise.
Do your compositions tend to stem from improvisation? Or do you have other approaches for creating music?
It really depends on the project. I wanted Sanctuary Sessions to be improvisation-based. “Approach” was probably the most ‘planned out’ of the pieces (as can be seen in the video). Others, like “Carry Me Slowly,” were done in one take. I still have an affinity for pencil and paper when I’m developing more complex melodies and harmonic progressions. When you work things out on paper it helps prevent muscle memory from taking you to familiar places. My piece, “Asleep” from What Dreams May Come for example – that was a result of a more meticulous process of crafting an idea.
Where would you like to see yourself, musically, in the next five years?
My main goal is to still be making music that excites me. That’s all that I can really control. I’ve been interested in scoring to picture for as long as I can remember, so that’s certainly an area I’d love to explore further.
On this day two years ago, I hadn’t released a single thing as a solo artist. It hadn’t really even occurred to me as an option. Where I’m from, as a pianist, you teach and you perform at local educational institutions. That’s it. I’ve met so many wonderful, encouraging people since I decided on this different path. It’s remarkable to me! I’m excited to see what the future holds, but ultimately I can only create things that I’m passionate about, and hope that it speaks to at least a few other people as well.
Tell us more about “Modern Classical Collection.”
My playlist is definitely a collection of music that I personally love and has inspired me in some way. Funny that you should ask about it, since I’m in the process of reimagining it to some degree. It’s about to become a smaller, more frequently refreshed playlist that will contain both new discoveries and old favourites of mine. Essentially, I’m just blatantly copying Simeon Walker’s new playlist format for “Sad Piano Music.” Thanks Sim! 😉 I think it’s a nice contrast to all the great long format playlists, such as your own, to have a couple more compact ones, so that’s the direction I’m taking MCC.
Do you perform your music?
I have yet to hit the road and perform any live shows, and unfortunately, there’s not much of a modern classical scene in my corner of the U.S. However, I live-streamed a performance of Sanctuary Sessions on Saturday, May 26 at noon EST (that was 6:00 pm for the UK). It was on my Facebook page: facebook.com/jamesonnathanjones
I’m also hoping to pay a visit to all my friends in the UK and Europe next year to meet some of you face to face and maybe play some shows, so I’m very excited about that!
Are you working on any new music?
Over the summer, I’ll have a little extra time to experiment with sounds (synths) and use some of the musical toys (mostly synths) I’ve collected over the past year. There’s another installment in my electronica series, “Evolutions” coming very soon (more synths), and likely some A/B singles as well. Maybe a collaboration or two thrown in there as well. And maybe something with synths??? 🙂