During my time analyzing independent musicians, I’ve rarely encountered classically trained and oriented performers. In this review, however, I have the opportunity to delve into the music of Scott Tixier, a French jazz violinist who is quickly making a professional name for himself through his many impressive outings and supporters.
Having been trained classically from a very early age, Tixier immediately delved into his lifelong pursuit. Through his teenage years and into adulthood, he became an award winning musician, eventually becoming featured by dozens of performers and bands. More recently, he performed on the soundtrack for the 2014 action thriller ‘John Wick.’ He’s also been voted upon favorably in Downbeat, sponsored by Corelli Savarez strings, and signed to the American record label Sunnyside Records.
So, let’s dig deeper into Tixier’s actual music. I was presented with a number of tracks, and immediately, the production value of the music was excellent. ‘Bushwick Party’ introduces Tixier with a very modern club-style jazz sound. His violin sound is electrifying, penetrating the space unlike any other violinist I’ve heard. The same skill is amplified throughout his performances, haunting the listener in ‘Facing Windows’ and intriguing them in ‘Elephant Rose’ and ‘Arawaks.’
The excerpts are from his album “Brooklyn Bazaar” released in 2012 on Sunnyside Records. They prove that Tixier is an incredibly satisfying and skilled performer.
Tixier’s instrumental prowess demands attention in the songs. His chemistry with the rest of the band is superb, and his performance feels elegant and tactful. He doesn’t spend needless time circling in endless motions through the song, but rather he delivers a strong performance through brevity in his playing. He seems to be a rising star as an instrumental violinist, and his portfolio suggests he could translate his skills to many different scenarios and genres extremely well.
Here, The Levity Ball spends some time with Scott to learn more…
You are a highly decorated violinist, having played everywhere from Carnegie Hall to movie scores to Broadway. What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
“I am very grateful but I don’t really see things that way. Everyday it’s a real challenge to be here in New York and make music as a living. I do remember some incredible moments like the day I got a call from Harvey Keitel to play at his birthday, “Can you come play a song for me we are just a few friends at a friend apartment in Tribeca”. I ended up at Robert DeNiro Apartment playing for Sting, Whoopi Goldberg, Jean Reno, Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel.
On another note I remember having a gig for Dave Douglas at the FONT festival playing the music of Ornette Coleman that hadn’t ever been played since he wrote it 30 years ago. They sent me the music but my mailbox got robbed by my junkie landlord and I never got to see it before the rehearsal the day of the show. I arrived and everyone was like “did you check out the music? It’s so hard, I practiced for days.” Ornette Coleman was sitting in front of the stage and we had to start the rehearsal. That was probably one of the most stressful and exciting moments of my life. My brain just went into turbo mode and I made my way through the music. I took the music during the break and practiced until the showtime.
For the past 2 years I have been performing at Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, The Apollo Theater and David Letterman Show. Those were kind of the highlight performances.”
You have collaborated with some music giants: Josh Groban, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight. Have you ever thought about collaborating across the classical genre with someone like Joshua Bell? Has his career in bringing the violin into the spotlight inspired yours at all?
“I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to do these collaborations with such iconic musicians. Every time it’s a new adventure in the sense that you can never expect what you are going to learn working with someone who has a unique and strong vision on music and art in general. I have heard some work from Joshua Bell and he is a great musician. Talking about classical violinists, I also have a great admiration for Hilary Hahn. I have listened to her recent project with Hauschka and I have also been blown away by her concerts and recording of the Bach sonatas and partitas for solo violin. Collaborating with classical musicians is something I have been doing to a certain extent. I’d love to do it more and write music that I can use for this specific concept.
When I was a teenager in Paris, I used to hang out with Gilles Apap and Ivry Gitlis in the basement of my violin maker’s shop. They are both fantastic classical violinists and they are open to improvisation and music of all kinds, like Yehudi Menuhin was.”
The violin is one of the most challenging instruments a child can learn to play (as you might remember!). What was the impetus for you to pick up the violin and how has it kept your interest all these years?
“My mother is a dance teacher and an accomplished pianist, my father is a comedian and theatre director. When I was 3 or 4 years old they decided to send my twin brother and me to the conservatory initiation class to learn some basics. Later, at 6 years old, I was listening by accident to a recording of Mendelssohn Concerto for violin and I was blown away. The next day I asked my parents if I could start violin lessons.
I don’t have the choice about playing violin… as in, when I don’t play my violin for 1 day I start to feel very bad physically and I get very irritable.”
Music delivery in 2014 is largely a completely different animal than it was 10 or 20 years ago. How do you think music is best delivered and how do you attract new fans to your work?
“Seeing musicians play live is really the best way. Of course you can have recordings, videos or whatever interface but hearing, seeing music in a live concert setting is definitely best.”
Has the digital age hurt or helped music, in your opinion? Especially with regard to a younger generation? Do you think the exposure to classical instruments such as the violin has helped grow a new crop of budding violinists?
“There are many ways to listen to music. We had cassettes before, we still have CDs, vinyl and also online streaming or even YouTube, they can all be good! I don’t think that it’s hurting the music. It certainly hurts the business and has affected sales, but music itself is mainly hurt by the very poor selection we have on radio, TV, and Magazines these days. They’re selling music like any mass consumer product and the result is a poorer, dryer, uniform music designed to get the maximum benefits. Popular music used to be swing, bebop, rock, funk, soul, classical, romantic, reggae… today, popular music feels more generic.
That’s not only a music concern; the whole society is like this. That’s a fact that most of the people are not aware of it, they are sleeping throughout their lives, eating, listening to everything that is marketed and brought to them without paying attention. Paradoxically, it seems that in this time of economic crisis with narrower space for art and music, creativity remains solid and flourishing all around the world.”
Tell us a little bit about what you like to do outside of playing. What do you do for fun?
“When I am not playing music, I like to cook crepes or bake cakes, read articles about the world, politics, science and I still play videos games sometimes. I also do some paintings and really get into the zone.”
Who do you go hear in concert?
“New York has so much to offer in terms of live music and I like to go hear different kind of music. Recently I have seen Ani Difranco, Mark Feldman & Sylvie Courvoisier, SF jazz collective, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Hilary Hahn, Hess Is More, Mariachi Flor De Toloache.”
How do you unplug at the end of a tour or long day?
“It’s a tough question, I never really unplug unless I am sleeping. That could be a problem but I am working on it.”
Who has been the most inspirational jazz musician for you in your life? What makes them stand out?
“It’s a combination of a lot of inspirational people and I said “people” because it’s going further than “jazz musicians” or music in general! It’s not possible to name them all but here are some who come to my mind: John Coltrane, Jasha Heifetz, Gandhi, Lester Young, Leo Ferre, Anthony Braxton, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, Dexter Gordon, Stephane Grappelli, Fred Astaire, Albert Camus, and Einstein.”
You’ve recently performed with Stevie Wonder. What were some highlights?
“Playing with Stevie Wonder at the Madison Square Garden was a thrilling experience. I remember getting the call when I was on the bus from Boston to New York and couldn’t believe it, then I barely slept for a few days. Steve is the ultimate genius. He is probably one of my favorite musicians of all time, and being on stage with him in front of 20,000 people is like being in the arms of Superman when he is flying above New York. (haha). At the sound check he was just playing Giant Steps (John Coltrane Song) as a warm up song, by himself, improvising on the piano. I also remember when he started crying after the first song during the concert because he was so touched by the warm audiences.
I got to meet and work also with Greg Phillinganes, who is the music director for Stevie Wonder. He also used to be the music director and pianist for Michael Jackson. I mean, does it get better than this?”
Tell us about your first place award in 2007 of “Trophees du Sunside” in Paris. What did that mean to you and how did it advance your career?
“I usually don’t like competition or awards but when I was 19 years old I submitted to participate to this jazz competition in Paris without any expectations. There were the best cats there including the guys from the prestigious Paris Conservatory. I really didn’t even think I would be selected, so when I won it was a shock. My next concert was broadcasted live on the biggest radio station in France (Radio France) and I got some gigs here and there. A year passed and things in France looked like they weren’t moving, especially for a young new comer. But Jean Luc Ponty suggested that I should move to New York if I wanted to play more music and move forward in my musical journey. The next year I moved to New York City.”
You are quite young and have a long career ahead of you. What do you hope to accomplish in the next year? Next five years?
“I have been working on and recording many projects for the past few years with people that have been inspiring. Right now I am hoping to be able to release my second album for Sunnyside Records next year. In the next five years I want to learn more about music, about life.”
Do you play other instruments? What plays second fiddle to your violin?
“I don’t play any other instruments well enough. I do use other instruments when I am composing a song, including piano, bass, drums and my voice, but I don’t play these guys in front of an audience.”
I noticed you are listed as an instructor on the site intotheshed.com, what attracted you to that site and how much does teaching mean to you?
“A few friends were listed on this website and they recommended I check it out. I think it’s a very unique site with a strong concept, a way to reach some of the jazz musicians you want to learn from anywhere in the world. Teaching has been a big part of my life for many years. In fact, I started teaching when I was 18 years old as an assistant of the jazz string class part of the summer camp affiliated with the Jazz Festival “Les Enfants du Jazz” in the South of France at Barcelonnette. I actually started as a student there when I was 14 years old. Over the years I am discovering and re-discovering new things about how teaching positively impacts my approach to music. I am developing my own concepts that have come with the experiences of teaching others what I was working on or the things I had forgotten I knew. It’s a way to always stay in touch with the basics, as well as a way to share and try to transmit my passion for music.”
What is next on the Scott Tixier calendar?
“Playing as much as possible with my new project including some shows at the Blue Note NY and other New York venues, as well as touring with my previous project “Brooklyn Bazaar” in Europe next summer. Also the recording of my “Charlie Parker Project” with Yvonnick Prene on harmonica and Pasquale Grasso on guitar. They are both jazz masters on their instruments, I am lucky to get to play with them often.”