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Van Morrison interview: What is this thing called Jazz? - Van the (jazz) Man?

2008-11-29 16:08

M-WEB: Was it ever an ambition of yours to be on Blue Note?
Well, I mean I never thought back then that I'd actually ever make a record. It never entered my head that I was ever going to be on any record. So, no...

M-WEB: Okay, but being signed to Blue Note is pretty hip?
Well, it's much better than being on one of these pop labels! That's the whole point. You know I wanted to be on more of an adult label, there's no point on me being on a pop label because they don't know how to market the records or promote them. Or there's nobody to communicate with, there's no communication, they don't know anything about music anyway! So you're dealing with this corporation and all they want to do is sell pop records and they don't know what to do with me and it's been this way for a while! So it's only a logical rational conclusion to arrive at you know? (laughs)

M-WEB: On "Goldfish Bowl" you seem to take issue with critics who continue to pigeonhole you as a rock singer and demand you write some "hits"?
Well...it's just what came out in that song, part of getting tired of the clichés and the mentality, kind of like (critics) think they know you and they write these little pieces about who they think you are. Well, you know? I'm not actually "rock" - that's not what I do, I do this. I just don't know why they bother writing them. I guess because I'm a name. So... it's my freedom of speech. My only weapon is the songs because of the all powerful media and the people that control the all powerful media. That's my only way to express where I'm at in this... But it's not a preoccupation at all. In fact, I wish it wasn't even in the frame at all.

M-WEB: On the new album you seem to wear your love of jazz, blues and soul openly?
VAN (muses):
Well, it's like the old proverbial philosophical saying. It's like the philosopher said, follow your heart. I mean, it's as simple as that. Do what you like and this is what I like so that's why I'm doing it. For a long time, you know it wasn't that simple, but now I've simplified just to do what you like to do and proceed from there. So, I have all those influences you know? The Ray Charles with Strings the R&B, it's all influenced me at one stage of the game, it's all inspired me to actually do what I'm doing.

M-WEB: What do you say to purists who reckon this isn't strictly a jazz record?
VAN (immediately):
It's not total jazz, it's "blues-jazz" or you know it's approaching blues jazz in its various forms of that. But without being a loaded word, it's the approach that's jazz, you know? It's not like I'm a new kid on the block using jazz... I mean Astral Weeks was a jazz album. "Moondance" is a jazz standard by now. It's been recorded by loads of jazz people. I performed it with Gil Evans at the Hammersmith Odeon. So it's not like this is anything new, like "wow, Van Morrison is doing jazz now!" I mean if you look through the whole catalogue, I didn't suddenly just have this idea now. It's always been this approach. But now it's more defined because I've actually got players that understand what I'm doing, where I'm coming from. My stuff is more like mainstream, more like rhythm and blues and you have to know those genres to play this. So this band is kind of closer to the kind of band I've always wanted from way back. And really what I do best is blues, that's what I'm most comfortable doing. So this is why it makes more sense to be on Blue Note, to be doing this.

When premier jazz label Blue Note released veteran singer songwriter Van Morrison's new album What's Wrong with this Picture? many cynics might've dismissed the move as little more than a savvy late-career shift to revive flagging sales. Yet by avoiding faux jazz for a rich tapestry of brassy rhythm and blues, organ-fuelled Celtic soul and wry autobiographical meditations Van maps the sound of a songwriter reconnecting with the rich musical legacy that inspired him to start singing in the first

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