Ahead of Baku’s 18th International Jazz Festival, we speak to one of the headline performers, grammy award winner, Gregoire Maret, about Jazz and what this festival means to him
Baku: As a musician who was born in Geneva but is now living in New York, what would you say are the most striking differences between the music scenes of the two cities?
Gregoire Maret: I left Geneva for New York when I was 19, so I didn’t get the chance to spend a lot of time as a professional musician in Switzerland. There are great musicians everywhere now, but the most striking difference, to me, is the intensity of NY. It’s quite unique, and you feel it in all the music you hear in the big apple. Everything seems to be more intense there.
Baku: What would you say are the defining characteristics of Azerbaijani jazz, and how do these contribute to the broader landscape of international jazz?
GM: A new approach that is developing now is to take elements of traditional music and mix them with jazz elements to create something unique. That’s an approach that works really well with Azerbaijan jazz, which has a rich heritage.
Baku: What makes the harmonica unique, and why is it your instrument of choice?
GM: In essence, every instrument is unique. I love how the harmonica is so close to the voice in terms of the expressions and emotions you can create with the instrument. No other instrument is quite like that.
Baku: The instrument is usually associated with blues and folk music – what inspired you to incorporate it into jazz?
GM: I play a chromatic harmonica, which is vastly different from a diatonic harmonica or blues harp. The chromatic harmonica has the chromatic scale which means one instrument can be played in all 12 keys. The diatonic harmonica has access to only 1 key; it can be expanded with bends and overblow, but the basic instrument is in one key. That makes a world of difference on what we can play and how.
The sound is also very different, because the chromatic instrument uses wind savers against air leakage and the diatonic doesn’t. That simple feature makes the sound of both instruments vastly different.
To play the way I play, I can only do it on a chromatic harmonica. The type of harmonic and melodic development I play wouldn’t be possible on the diatonic.
Baku: Who is the most awe-inspiring musician you have worked with, and why?
If I talk about Herbie, I would say his ability to embrace any musical situation, no matter how challenging, and make it incredibly beautiful and intense. He embraces the moment completely without any judgement. A true genius.
Baku: How would you describe your signature sound?
GM: I’m trying to have a really beautiful sound. I worked with Suzuki to make 2 signature harmonicas that sound really good, but different. The first one, G-48, has metal covers and sounds a bit brighter. The 2nd one, G-48W, has wooden covers and has a darker sound. A little bit like a saxophone with different mouth pieces, medal and wood.
Baku: How important is it that there is a global and diverse focus in a music festival?
GM: Live music is really important. We live in the age of the “voice”…everything with a voice has more impact. There was a time where it was common to have hits that were just instrumentals as well as ones with vocals. Now it doesn’t exist anymore; it’s only vocal music. I love it, but I love diversity as well.
It’s important that instrumental music be supported as well, because it is something really special. When you listen to a piano concerto or a choir, which is better? They are both amazing. For me they are complementary to each other, and not competing. That’s also how I see it in Jazz, Pop, R&B, and other genres.
Baku: What was the inspiration behind your album Harp vs Harp with Edmar Castañeda?
GM: Edmar and I met with Marcus Miller in Monaco. We were both guests on Marcus’ show. During the soundcheck, Edmar and I realised that our sound was really beautiful together, and that that combination had never been done before. That’s when we realised we had to do something together. Edmar invited me first to be part of his world ensemble and then we decided to do a duo together. The rest is history…
Baku: What other acts are you most looking forward to at this year’s Baku International Jazz Festival?
GM: All of them.
Baku: What does the Baku International Jazz Festival mean to you?
GM: Baku is a special place for me. Amazing people, beautiful culture, music and incredible food. I always love to come to Baku. It’s really special to be able to play our music in such a magical city.