Maghreb Voices – Tunisian Jazz Pianist and Composer Wajdi Cherif, Part II

A Sweet Newness in the Exchange of Musical Traditions

Wajdi Cherif, Fuzzy Colours, 2009, Jasmine, 2006

Wech Records

?I have my own particular sorrows, loves, delights; and you have yours. But sorrow, gladness, yearning, hope, love, belong to all of us, in all times and in all places. Music is the only means whereby we feel these emotions in their universality.?

H.A. Overstreet

(part 1 of this interview appeared last week)

Origins

Wajdi Cherif began playing Arabic and pop music by ear on the keyboard as a child in Tunisia, teaching himself music with the few books and recordings he was able to find.

Learning jazz on his own was a little harder, but in university he had the benefit of borrowed records and method books, which he studied while taking classical piano lessons and studying English literature.

?I feel that the new generation is lucky to have the Internet,? he says, ?because you can learn jazz and music anywhere on the planet if you have an Internet connection. There’s a tremendous amount of good quality pedagogical material and also videos of great jazz musicians available to the public today.?

Having begun his formal music studies relatively late (in his early twenties), Cherif had some catching up to do. ?I was a professional musician and a language teacher in Tunisia when I started composing and playing my music with local musicians. The first time I went to a jazz workshop in Europe it was shocking for me to hear young musicians play at such a high level.?

Wajdi ended up moving to France to study under pianist Bernard Maury, a friend of Bill Evans. In the next eight years he was to work with a host of notable French musicians and release three albums.

Feeding the Creative Self

In order to continue being productive as a composer and musician Cherif feels the need for an unusual amount of intellectual stimulation. ?Generally,? he says, ?I feel inspired after a major event happens in my life. I also need constant change; I hate static things and I get bored easily, even in music. I need to explore, discover, and experiment with music. I also get inspiration from different musical styles, not just jazz. I can listen to country music, rock, blues, traditional music, classical, etc.?

?The book Effortless Mastery by pianist Kenny Werner has had a big influence on my playing. He teaches an approach I tried to put into practice and that helped me a lot to improve my piano playing.?

?I’m a big fan of science fiction movies and TV series that are based on real facts and scientific theories, the kinds of things that can really happen in the future. This inspires me a lot and was part of the inspiration for my latest album, Fuzzy Colours, which features compositions inspired by astronomical observations.?

Some highly prized albums in Cherif’s collection: Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, Keith Jarrett’s Standards Live (1985), and the Bill Evans Trio’s album Portrait in Jazz. Says Cherif: ?I didn’t transcribe much from these records as jazz musicians are supposed to do, but I listened a lot to them for many years.?

Composing

?When I compose I sit at the piano and improvise. I come up with interesting ideas and then I work them out. I start with melodies and work out harmonies for them. I’m not very much into intellectual music; for me it has to be melodic?the melody has to sing, and the flow of the music should be natural. And it should express something. I love harmonies too, beautiful harmonies like those of Keith Jarrett or Bill Evans.?

Spirit

?I’m not a very religious person, but I believe that man has to be in harmony with nature, the universe, and his own inner being. Modern life makes us depart from this principle. We live more and more in the virtual world, and people think they can get whatever they want without much effort. I think we’re getting too far from nature and spirituality.

?I practice martial arts and this helps me stay balanced and connected with my inner being and with nature. It also helps me discipline my body, which is very important for a musician. There are many similarities between piano-playing and martial arts and a lot of similar principles which are also general principles in life.?

Maghreb Voices celebrates the art, culture, and struggles of the peoples of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, in northern Africa.

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