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Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series
Hailing from Toronto, Canada, guitarist/composer Jamie Bonk has graciously agreed to become a contributing editor to NewAgeReporter.com. Jamie will be conducting a series of interviews entitled Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series. We look forward to his contributions for they are both insightful and offer a unique artist-to-artist perspective over the typical interview. We hope you enjoy them.
Other Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series:
A Conversation with Alien Chatter, May. 2004
A Conversation with Oystein Ramfjord of Amethystium, Apr. 2004
A Conversation with Rob Eberhard Young, Apr. 2004
<<-later interviews | earlier interviews->>   <<- all interviews ->>
Jamie Bonk
A Conversation with Jeff Bjorck
June 2005
Impressions in Black and White, pianist/composer Jeff Bjorck's latest album, takes a slightly different artistic direction than his first two releases. As Jeff writes in the liners notes: "I hope that these Impressions will give my listeners the emotional, classical-styled music they have come to expect, while gently introducing them to my more energetic side!" I'd say he's done just that. If you loved Jeff's first two records, Portraits and Panorama, pick up a copy of Impressions, you're not going to be disappointed!

A self-described, "hyperactive kid who grew into a hyperactive adult", Jeff has an incredible number of diverse interests. And that's truly an understatement. Jeff's a clinical psychologist, researcher, and professor at Fuller Seminary's Graduate School of Psychology; he serves on the Board of Lifewater.org; he's a weightlifter who has participated in competitive power lifting competitions; he's into photography, gardening and landscaping; he's active in his church where he occasionally preaches and teaches; and he's an avid hang glider pilot. Clearly, as an artist, Jeff has a lot to draw on!

To learn more about Jeff, please visit his website at PurePiano.com.

Jeff Bjorck
"The simple fact that I can make permanent recordings of my compositions never stops being a thrill for me..." - Jeff Bjorck
Jamie: It's been a few years since our last conversation and you're back with a new record, Impressions in Black and White. What's changed for you since your last release and what remains the same?
Jeff: Good question, because both change and "sameness" are present on this CD. Regarding change, titles with three "P" words (i.e., Pure Piano Portraits, Pure Piano Panoramas) are now a thing of the past! I think the phrase "Pure Piano" still conveys a lot about my music, which is why it makes sense as my (BMI) label, but my CD titles from here on out will have a bit more variety! Second, whereas my first two CDs reflected my love of nature, this project also dips deep into my childhood memories for inspiration. In addition, because I found that many people wanted to know the origins of my compositions on the previous two projects, I have included the story behind each piece right in this new CD's liner notes. I would encourage people to read the notes as they listen. I feel that these stories can really make the music come to life. A third change for this project is the range of tempos. There are still plenty of pensive pieces (e.g., "Feather's Flight") on Impressions, but a number of the melodies provide a small window into my more energetic side (e.g., "Sun Shower"). I was a pretty hyperactive kid who grew into a hyperactive adult. In fact, I remember the superintendent of my high school speaking about me at some event and saying I was the only person he had ever known who could make a piano bounce! I certainly don't go that far on this CD, but "faster and louder" is actually a more relaxed style for me.

What has remained the same? First I would note that Impressions in Black and White generally stays true to the Pure Piano byline: "Quiet music to calm the heart in a noisy world." Second, like my past work, these compositions generally started as spontaneous playing, where I felt like a third party listening to their development. (This was not true for every piece, however.) Third, I again bookend the original compositions with my own arrangements of classic hymns.
"...' faster and louder' is actually a more relaxed style for me."

- Jeff Blorck
Jamie: When you play spontaneously, is there a set framework for the composition? Do you have a general sense of where you want a piece to go before you head into the studio?
Jeff: Oh, absolutely. By the time I am going into the studio, I have pretty much complete editions of each piece, although nothing is written down and it is all in my head. There are a few exceptions to this, where I have literally composed by playing spontaneously based on a theme in my head, and then cut, pasted, and cross-faded sections together later to create the actual piece. For example, I had never played "Be Thou My Vision" (on my first CD) before I did so in the studio.

When I say I generally have "complete editions," however, I mean the general structure of the composition versus every note. My truly spontaneous playing occurs at home earlier in the process, and it is during these casual times that melodies and themes "emerge." Then, I develop them over time. So, by the time I go into the studio, each take definitely sounds quite similar. I then listen to each take and use the sections I like best from all the takes for the final production. By "best," however, I don't simply mean execution, but rather I mean the phrasing and or melodic nuances that particularly strike me.
Jamie: And those phrases were recorded just beautifully! Impressions was recorded at a top-notch studio, Citrus Studios. What was studio and engineer/co-producer Bill Pearson's role in the outcome of your performances and the overall sonic quality of the album?
Jeff: Thanks for the complement! I will pass it on! Bill Pearson of Mindseye Productions is a brilliant artist in his own right. He does a great deal of composing for film and is well respected in the industry. On my first CD, I thanked him for doing the work of a “double-genius,” and he just keeps getting better! (You will note that I thank him in the Impressions liner notes for doing the work of a "quadruple-genius", which was only to be expected after he was a "triple-genius" on Pure Piano Panoramas!) Bill pops his hard drive out from his own studio, brings it to Citrus, and plugs it directly into the system there-recording directly from their Neve console. He sets the mix off four mikes (two in the piano, one on either end of the room) and is solely responsible for the sound. He is also my second set of ears in the studio, continually giving me feedback on my various takes. Then, it's back to his studio for Pro Tools magic. Because I never play a piece exactly the same twice, virtually all my finished compositions consist of a variety of edits (sometimes only 2 or 3, sometimes more). In this way, I actually "compose" in production as well as before my recording session. Bill is a master with Pro Tools and is able to seamlessly cross-fade my various takes into unified wholes. My role in production is saying, "Let's use this and cut that." Bill makes it happen! In short, I give him 100% credit for the sonic quality of this CD, with hats off to Tim Jaquette and the Citrus Studio crew for providing a tremendous recording venue. "I actually "compose" in production as well as before my recording session."

- Jeff Bjorck
Jamie: Let's backtrack a bit... You've been working in a similar manner for the last twenty-five years --composing/recording/performing with varying amounts of, as you say, "spontaneous playing". Has it always been this way for you? Have you also spent time working with other styles/forms of music?
Jeff: Well, actually it's been over thirty years now! Time flies, eh? First, I should note that I rarely perform, which makes me an artist who is particularly thrilled with the wonders of technology! The simple fact that I can make permanent recordings of my compositions never stops being a thrill for me, because my life is so full of so many interests that I really don't have the time to be a performer. I have said it before and will do so again: I have an amazing respect for persons like you who do this full-time. My small contribution to the music industry is at least enough to give me a healthy appreciation for what extremely hard work is involved in being a full-time professional musician. A lot of folks think that an artist like you can simply walk on stage and play some songs. I know that just ain't so! I would love to perform, but my other many interests and pursuits really make this impractical.

Now back to your question. When I first started to compose at about the age of thirteen, I loved hard percussive energetic playing. Figuring out for myself how to play songs like "Proud Mary" and "Pin Ball Wizard" made the piano come to life for me in ways it had not done before. It also gave me a place to funnel my hyperactive energies. As I said before, I had the reputation in high school of being able to make a piano bounce, and I had two preferred volumes.... loud and louder! This type of playing extended through high school where I played in a performing jazz band for the school. My spontaneity was already present, and I was thrilled to be exposed to music that simply posted chords and basically implied "figure out the rest by yourself." That was right up my alley! I guess my piano style during those years was primarily somewhere between boogie-woogie, rock and roll, with some good old R&B mixed in. Earlier influences for me instrumentally were Elton John and Carol King, and later I was especially drawn to the music of one of the earliest Contemporary Christian artists, a guy named Keith Green. I also thought Rick Wakeman (of the band YES) was amazing, but he was so good that listening to him mostly prompted me to think about chopping up my piano and going home!

It wasn't until graduate school in the mid 1980s that I started putting a tape recorder on the floor when I played (the technique I still use today). It was also during that period that I discovered my love for quieter, more delicate music as a major genre. In all fairness, I should note that my CDs tend to reflect this gentler "new age" style predominantly due to the available market niche, and conversely, the relative lack of a niche for "some guy pounding on a piano by himself!" On my most recent CD, however, I do get a tiny bit more energetic in spots as I noted earlier (e.g., "First Carnival"), which I hope will be a nice expansion of the listening experience.
Jamie: Personally, I think it's perfectly fine, and maybe artistically healthier, to have interests in many genres. For my own music, playing and listening to a wide variety of genres is key -- it feeds my curiosity and helps me to maintain a fresh perspective.

Since you brought up your other interests, I have to ask: Are you still hang gliding?
Jeff: Well, you picked a bad year to ask, given that this has virtually been Southern California's year of the highest rainfall in recorded history!! I actually flew last Friday for the first time all year! Given my work schedule and many interests, I typically "budget" one day a week for hang gliding. Since January, that day has been Fridays (and then I can work on Saturday). This year, however, I would be willing to bet that there have only been maybe 5 or 6 flyable Fridays, and unfortunately, those were days on which I had unavoidable obligations. So as you can imagine, my flight last week was wonderful!! It was kind of like your first drink of water after a walk in the desert! I had to maneuver my landing in a newly designed landing zone, however, because the floods literally washed the old one away!

Fortunately, my imagination lets me fly "in my head" when I can't actually get out. If your readers have interest in hang gliding, they might enjoy pictures of my launch from 7,400 feet up at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park a couple years ago. There are also links to other hang gliding information at the bottom of this page, including a clip of a composition that was inspired by hang gliding, "Soaring Mesa Cliffs".
Jamie: Man, that's wild! So what's scarier for you...hang gliding or music?
Jeff: Well, whatever I don't DO much is scary. So my launch and landing on that recent flight were a bit edgy since I hadn't done it in over six months! Likewise, since I almost never perform, performing is always somewhat scary for me, especially since if I blank, there is no music in front of me where I can find my place! :o) Having said that, I would have to say the BOTH hang gliding and music are way more fun than scary!
Jamie: Well, I'll have to take your word on the hang gliding part of that :)

You're right that performing can be scary -- no one likes to look bad in front of a group of people -- myself included! Still, I wish there were more performing opportunities for new and emerging artists. I'm obviously biased here, but there seems to be an imbalance in the live music scene with signed/or have-been-signed artists getting the lion's share of the gigs. I suppose that's true for most of the business though...

You have three albums out now -- you're a veteran! Can you offer some advice to new, non-performing indie artists on how to market and sell their records?? What works best -- Internet, radio, print, retail?
Jeff: A veteran? Wow...it doesn't feel that way! I feel like I am still learning, so that is the basis for my first bit of advice. Don't stop learning! This business changes every day. It has changed dramatically even in the last 5 years. For example, who ever knew what digital downloading would do to the industry?

As for advice for newcomers who want to sell records without performing, my first advice is, "Don't waste your time on retail." Most retail stores are parts of large conglomerates who only wish to deal with large distributors. Getting placed as an indie in a retail store is extremely difficult unless it is a local mom-and-pop and/or you know someone in management. If you really want to get into the retail market, focus on getting picked up by a distributor. This can be challenging, however, unless you have evidence of a significant fan base. Don't despair, though, because my second advice is, "Get a web site that performs for you!" For example, CDBaby.com is a great avenue for that and I highly recommend them. For a small investment, you can have a presence on the web that gives potential customers a place to actually hear your music with the touch of a button.

Having said that, I would also encourage newcomers to consider the following fact: Frequency of performing and quantity of web traffic are directly related. Without a fan base, your web page is basically just one listing in the biggest yellow pages on the planet! WITH a fan base, you have a growing group of people who have already heard you and want to know where to hear more. Conversely, if you want traffic to your site without performing, you need to pay for it (e.g., search engine submissions, pay-per-click advertising like Overture.com, etc.).

I would also advise nonperforming indies to KEEP YOUR DAY JOB!! :o) Without full-time live performance, your chances of supporting yourself solely from your music are very small. If you plan to be a performer, it is still challenging but much more feasible. Finally, I would strongly recommend that you learn from those who have already helped to shape the Internet-indie world and learned a great deal along the way. One recommendation would be to the resources offered by David Nevue at www.rainmusic.com. Among many other resources, David has written a downloadable book (which he continually updates) entitled, How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet. The title says it all, and I benefited significantly from investing in this very affordable book. Another resource I would recommend is Ed Bonk's Lazz Promotions! If you are a newbie, it makes total sense to use a professional in promoting your CD to radio stations, etc., and I have only heard good things about Lazz. :o) Such promotion can connect you to a vast network of potential airplay sites.
"...I would also encourage newcomers to consider the following fact: Frequency of performing and quantity of web traffic are directly related."

- Jeff Bjorck
Jamie: Ha! I've heard a thing or two about Lazz too : ) ... To be fair there are lots of great promoters out there. Ultimately it's up to the artist/label to develop the right team -- to find the right mix. It's tough to know when to hire someone for a specific job and when it's best to simply roll up your sleeves and do the work yourself. Probably there's a different (and right) answer for each artist/label. And thanks for letting me know about David's book... I'll definitely check it out.

Thanks for taking the time to do this artist-to-artist conversation -- it's been great talking with you again! Best of luck with Impressions in Black and White!
Jeff: Thanks to you, Jamie, for your great contribution with this "Artist Conversation" feature, and of course, for your wonderful music! It's always a pleasure talking with you!
 
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