Jazz interview with jazz violinist Samuel Savoirfaire Williams. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Samuel Savoirfaire Williams: – The “ Black Church “ is where my sound and almost all Jazz , Blues and RnB ,American Rock , as well as Gospel comes from more specifically Gospel was invented in Chicago at a church down the street from ours ….my parents were members of a small black church in our neighborhood our pastor had a vision that our small church would grow to be very large and that one day we would have a membership large enough to build a bigger church that would support an orchestra. My parents believed in that vision and before I was born my mother put me on a waiting list to take Suzuki violin lessons ( there was a back log at that time three years long ) because it was a new system to the US at that time in the 70’s . When I was born I was consecrated to God and baptized to be a musician for God . We attended church services 7 days a week and there was singing and a church band and the music was just like black secular music except all the lyrics were about God or Jesus or the Bible … I started taking lessons at three and I was required to play at church because our family was supported by the church family and we all were dedicated members so I was improvising with the church band from the very first moment I could hold my instrument. From the age of 17 I began to seek out jazz mentors and teachers and jam sessions I studied at home with Jamey Abersold books and Disc’s I played along with Jazz records and then I went to jam sessions- here is a list of my jazz teachers Milt Jackson, Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, Roscoe Mitchel, Vincent Davis, Don Moye, Billy Bang, Rodney Whitaker, Reggie Willis, Johnny Frigo, Christian Howes, Harry Hunt Jr.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the violin? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the violin?
SSW: – Violin has always been apart of my life I’ve been playing since I was 3 my first concert was at 5 on stage at Symphony Center here in Chicago … I went to all the notable music schools for children in Chicago and performed with all the Chicago youth orchestras and studied with most of the important string teachers here. I had great classical violin teachers for Violin technique (Richard Ferrin from the CSO, David Adelson from Interlochen and a host of teachers from childhood but I also had private lessons from Harold Geller a student of Iván Galamian. As far as jazz is concerned I was effectively playing jazz since childhood in church everyday but I didn’t understand jazz theory until I had my first lessons at Interlochen with Milt Jackson and the Interlochen jazz big band when I was 17 . That’s when I really began and that’s when I decided to become a jazz musician to dedicate my life to jazz and learning as much as I could about the history, biographies and lifestyle of notable jazz musicians and systems study and various approaches to jazz theory . I had learned basic music theory as a child and I could sight read and write music already before the age of 10. Milt Jackson ,Ari Brown, Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, Roscoe Mitchel, Vincent Davis, Don Moye, Billy Bang, Rodney Whitaker, Reggie Willis, Johnny Frigo, Christian Howes, Harry Hunt Jr. were my most important teachers and influences for Jazz. I never liked he sound of jazz violin very much once I heard jazz violinists I always enjoyed horn players more until I started to study horn players licks then I discovered my sound … Johnny Frigo had been recommended to me by Wynton Marsalis and I really loved his sound and his approach and he is where I got my start conceptually … then I discovered the Avant Guarde and was inducted into the AACM and the combination of Traditional and Avant Guarde became the bedrock of my sound.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
SSW: – I went to jam sessions and ( battled / traded solos with ) horn players.
I studied practiced and performed regularly with the “Greats“ and professional musicians. I had many mentors. I listened and continue to keep up with contemporary trends in music and new releases. I see live performances and support my friends who are Great cutting edge professional musicians.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
SSW: – I practice 6 hours daily everything from classical and jazz etudes , scales, abersold series … it usually depends on what professional work I’m preparing for performance wise.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
SSW: – I have no specific preferences all sound is my palette…my main focus has always been quality of tone purity of intonation , sound projection and audible clarity. My definition of beauty is based upon my ability to accurately express my current emotional state within the context of whatever music I play. Personality wise I tend to be solution oriented so I enjoy resolution, dissonance is beautiful to me as well as long as it’s for a purpose with the purpose being to come to a place of clarity and resolution, like life.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
SSW: – I constantly self assess in order to ensure that I’m staying focused and honest with my self expression. I also keep notes on my progress in certain areas and I stay on track by not copying any particular musicians style outright. I try to find familiar themes or licks in musicians the si admire’s playing and then I take those ideas and integrate them into my own lines.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
SSW: – Each musician should be expressing their authentic selves so the balance comes from how honest a musician is with himself and how consistent they are with their musical expression. The purpose of developing self expression is to be able to communicate to your audience the balance is found between how honest the musician is with his own self expression and his or her ability to express to the audience if you lose your audiences attention you have lost the balance. When you can control illicit or manipulate responses from an audience you are Mastering the balance.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
SSW: – Sometimes I give them what they want; again it’s about my own integrity first, how do I feel and what am I trying to communicate but also it depends on what I’m hired to perform as well. When you are hired for a specific purpose you should execute what is expected or don’t take the gig. It’s not often that a musician is allowed to truly play what they want to play specifically. If one can get work performing consistently within a specific genere that’s usually as close as you can expect to get.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
SSW: – One night I had a sideman gig with a great rhythm section Vincent Davis (drums), Josh Ramos (bass), Tom Hope (piano), and Pharez Whitted was playing (trumpet) I was hired by Erin Mcdougald to record a live show at a studio with a live audience… earlier that day I ran into Violinist Christian Howes and I invited him to come sit in if you showed up. Low and behold he showed up and my friend and great violinist/ composer Harry Hunt Jr. was there and he was able to record the encounter with his cell phone it’s on YouTube now … Jajajaja
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
SSW: – The challenge is preserving a language, more and more young people are learning about Jazz but Jazz is so vast there are generes within the genere, the fundamentals of the language have been recorded theories have been developed and now it’s a massive vast structure that one must explore and decide where to concentrate focus. As long as people continue to patronize the art the musicians will continue to share knowledge with those who take interest. I have observed many youth eager to learn the art form and it’s going to continue to grow.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
SSW: – John Coltrane’s music was a great source of inspiration to me like most horn players I immediately loved and sought out his sound in recordings. I looked for his biographies read everything I could read about him and his life. The two things that most resonated with me was his since of integrity musically and his work ethic. Also his desire to be a force for good the purpose of life is to leave the world a better place than we found it.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
SSW: – The one thing I would change would be to create a fund to subsidize living expenses for practicing musicians.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
SSW: – I listen to all styles of music usually recommended by friends that are musicians many times it will be from social media posts from personal acquaintances.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
SSW: – I would go forward to see and hear what musicians are doing in the future. I’m very curious about what Violinists would be playing in say 500 years from now.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
SSW: – What expectations do jazz critics have when evaluating musicians? How important is it for you to know your subjects of critic personally? What value do you place on the art form? What does the critic of art add to the value of the art form? How should the public benefit from the critic of the art form?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Many thanks for the interesting questions. The expectations from jazz critics should be frankness and in art form we have the first turn. Jazz critics does not add to the value of artistic form. In my mind, this is not a matter of jazz criticism. The public benefit from the critic art. this is the main question, which we often ask in our articles: The fact is that mostly in jazz and blues, critics often think that it is not easy to criticize musicians because they work hard our times. But it’s not right. Garbage should be called by their proper names, good: their own, ray: their own. And do not think that they will be offended. It is necessary to clear the fields from the impregnators and it will be good for them to leave the audience.
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
SSW: – Well … I guess I would say that a lifetime of experiences are necessary for each of us musicians to have something to express and the act of expressing the human experience is the purpose of the performing musician.
Latest Web Article: Chicago Artist Resource
Samuel "Saviorfaire" Williams - Jazz Violinist
Strike a Balance ... and Don't Give It Away
"When are you going to wake up and realize that if you are not making a living playing music then you are not a professional musician?" That's what Don Moye, drummer for the Art Ensemble of Chicago, told me in 2001.
When I came into the Chicago jazz scene ten years earlier, in 1991, I was an ideological seventeen-year-old kid with a dream of becoming a full-time, professional concert soloist. I immediately discovered that the scene was fragmented between North Side and South Side factions that traced the socio-economic borders of ethnic neighborhoods. I had arrived during a period of transition from the old guard to the new generation of jazz musicians soon to be known as the “new sound” of the Chicago underground. I wanted to make a name for myself and learn how to play authentically the music of my birthright.
For years I tried to establish a name for myself, playing all the jam sessions and pick-up groups, bouncing from club to club. I got my nickname, "Savoirfaire," for my ubiquity on the scene. "Savoirfaire is everywhere." I was constantly asking questions of the "successful" jazz elders about the inner workings of the music business. It was a double-edged sword. I got advice that boiled down to one-liners like "you've got to fake it to make it.” I find one-liners distasteful. Without specific, detailed information, they do not help you to develop useful strategies for success. Like clichéd licks, they tend to become substitutes for original ideas.
So I joined the musicians union and was inducted into the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) the same year. There were more lessons to learn regarding music and business than I expected. The economics of making art in any form is exceptionally challenging. I had read all the books on the business, yet I was only earning an average of $40 a day. All professions have standards for a living wage, best business practices and a historic precedent for a successful career. Music is no different. However, many musicians, even today, will rationalize realities in order to keep their egos intact. According to the Department of Labor, the median federal income is $38,000 for musicians. The median income for a single Chicagoan is $51,600. Do your math, do your homework, make a personal budget and document everything professionally. Calculate how much income you need—daily—to be productive. Budget your projects and performances accordingly. Treat your art as a business; because that's what it is. You are an entrepreneur capable of hiring sidemen and promoting and selling your product.
Calculate how much you will need for health care, savings and retirement. All too often musicians and artists undervalue their art at one extreme and overvalue their ego at the other extreme. It takes a high sense of self-worth to be an artist in the first place. You have to believe you are investing your time in cultivating a valuable skill. After all that investment—time spent practicing, purchasing the proper equipment, producing a sound that you think is worth sharing with your community—why undervalue it by performing for free?
The over-eagerness of the "aspiring" artist/musician has eroded the Chicago music scene to the point where most businesses don't consider it necessary to pay for live music. You can find a significant number of local festivals and "non-traditional " music venues that allow amateurs to play for exposure. Chicago is a wonderful, culturally-rich city with sprawling networks of serious artists practicing various disciplines from music to dance to culinary and visual art. There are resources here from federal, state and city grants, and from local not-for-profit arts organizations including the Chicago Federation of Musicians union. I have come to believe that upwards of 80% of public performances are not paying musicians at a living wage. A very small percentage of musicians are actually making a living at venues that have the budget to pay them.
I believe that few people who consider themselves musicians are really interested in performing for a living. I attribute this to the pervasive myth that there is no value in music as a profession, a result of the "fake it to make it” falsehood. Too often musicians will play for exposure or for free or for the price of admission without any guarantee. And most venues find it appealing to save money by allowing their venues to bill "aspiring" acts. Each musician’s path is unique. We all have different goals and skill sets, but we must pay more attention to the effects our collective choices have on how we present our work. If it’s not worth being properly compensated, why not just perform for your friends? Why perform at a public venue? (Ironically enough, for me street performing has actually been the most rewarding, both personally and financially. I can perform with little overhead cost and people respond to the music immediately.)
Ultimately the measure of success in anything is a matter of personal priorities. Mine are, and have long been, very clear to me: “Today, I will play something truly inspiring that will bring peace and balance to the world.” I think of myself as a “Light-Being” placed on this planet, in this realm of existence, by the Creator to bring peace and balance through sound. I am responsible for the lives of my wife and children. This is who I am. That is my purpose. I ask, “How may I be of service to you?”
And I provide my service at the highest level of performance. I will be performing for someone, somewhere, because this is what I do for a living, every day. I have measured my success as an artist by the quality of finished projects, the ability to pay my bills, raise a family and improve technically as a musician.
As Fred Anderson once told me, "Keep your instrument in your hands and everything will work itself out." I'm still living, so he couldn't have been far off. I would add as well that you should work to this end: Find a sustainable balance that suits you, and don’t diminish professional standards in the art form.
Samuel "Savoirfaire" Williams is a classically trained professional jazz violinist. In 2000 Samuel was voted into the Chicago Chapter of the elite jazz organization AACM. After releasing three independent albums of live recordings, Savoirfaire was discovered by Bob Koester, owner of Delmark Records, and received critical international acclaim for his album “Running Out Of Time"(Delmark 562). Savoirfaire continues to perform with his group Savoirfaire Jazz Quartet and has recorded numerous albums and International Jazz Festivals worldwide as a session string player for Otis Clay and R Kelly. Savoirfaire continues to trail blaze as a composer, producer and arranger breaking down industry barriers by integrating contemporary jazz with other forms of music such as hip-hop, rock, and world music.
Courtesy of savoirfairejazzviolinist.com
SJQ World Class
The Savoir Faire Quartet brought world class entertainment to the Velvet Lounge in Chicago's South Loop; with the debut of their weekly Monday night live Jazz set. World renowned violinist, Samuel "Savoir Faire" Williams' unique style sounds like a fusion of jazz, classical and R&B/Soul music. The house band: Nils Higdon, drums and Alex Wing, upright bass; blended with the violin to create symphonic melodies.
Drummer, teacher and producer, Charles "Rick" Heath IV joined the band for a couple of selections. The special guest was lead guitarist, Augustine Alvarez, who was featured in the main set. Augustine also celebrated a birthday that night. During a "jam session," Corey Wilkes, trumpet, and Bengi, guitar accompanied the band. View the video from the set here.
Known as a mecca for young Jazz musicians, The Velvet Lounge atmosphere is relaxed yet refined. This set is a great way to get rid of the "Monday blues." The bar is fully stocked. You can also enjoy a meal from the pizzeria ajacent to the club. The Savoir Faire Quartet will play every Monday Night at 7p.m at The Velvet Lounge 67 E. Cermak Rd. For more information about the quartet or booking visit the Savoir Faire website, email them or call 312-834-9099.
Savoirfaire Performs Open House
Sara Benson " Testimonial "
I sincerely thank you for your contribution in making the event a success. Further, it was a pleasure to meet your family.
Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!