As a pilgrim who cruises places of hyphenated cultural influences, French jazz saxophonist Jacques Schwartz Bart knows how to connect hidden dots and uncover unspoken truth as well. His latest project, inspired from Haiti's sacred and popular music revisits classics and standards of the voodoo repertoire. Jacques expands the genre out of its Haitian boundaries to give the music a new exposure. From the "Festival des Banlieues Bleues" in Paris to the "Gnaoua World Music Festival" in Essaouira, Morocco, this well acclaimed project raised unanimous positive interest. As a prelude to the July 8th event in Long Island, NY, KariJazz is pleased to share thoughts with the artist on this brilliant project.
KariJazz: Thanks Jacques for giving this interview to KariJazz. Can you tell us briefly about your itinerary and how your great adventure in Jazz began?
Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Thanks to you guys for giving me the opportunity to talk about my music. This great adventure started with my life itself. My mother was a Racine Music enthusiast, and knew by heart an impressive number of songs from the traditional Voodoo repertoire. Without understanding the spiritual message behind it, it was part of my natural environment. Therefore, I thought about mixing it with my jazz language for a long time. But I couldn't find the right approach. Having completed 2 records involving Gwoka music -our Racine music from Guadeloupe- I was able to understand how to create a synergy between jazz and Racine music, from all angles: the playing, the composing, arranging, and overall conception of the music.
KariJazz: When we look at your previous projects, they are so personal. I am thinking especially of "Sone Ka-La" and Abyss. What drives you in conceiving such out-of-the-box projects?
Jacques Schwarz-Bart: I was born out of the box; mixed races, mixed cultures. I am from nowhere and from everywhere. That allows me to find unusual paths and feel comfortable in odd concepts and situations. I often say jokingly that I feel at ease in between tectonic plates. But I don't seek oddity; I just try to reconcile all aspects of music that moved me as a child: Racine, Gwoka, jazz, soul music. I try to go back to this early stage where music was simply sounds, voices and emotions, without awareness of stylistic distinction.
KariJazz: In your drive to uncover new truth, your next project involves the sacred and popular music from Haiti. The melodies are indeed the ones that have soothed most Haitians' childhood. How this project came alive and what was the prime motivation that drove it?
Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Although the dream of creating a Racine jazz project has been in me forever, the decision to act upon it can be traced to my encounter with Gnaoua music: this mystical tradition from the descendants of African slaves in Morocco. This experience allowed me to fully embrace the mystical side of music. And my attraction to the sounds of voodoo became stronger than ever. Coincidentally, I was asked to present a creation for "l'année de l' Outre-Mer". I immediately submitted the jazz Racine project. The idea captured the imagination of the head of the" Festival des Banlieues Bleues" in Paris. And the project was picked to headline the opening. The abundant coverage on Arte and Mezzo gave the project immediate visibility.
KariJazz: Are there major differences between "Gwo Ka" and "voodoo Jazz" because both movements seem to advocate the exclusive use of local drums (not the traditional drum encountered usually in Jazz)?
Jacques Schwarz-Bart: I just tried to find a term that defined what this music is about. Top notch jazz musicians and powerful "hougans" performing a music that I composed, drawing from voodoo chants fused with original compositions. I wanted to create a space where the two aspects of the music would participate in the same message and become one. How is it different from voodoo jazz? I can't answer this question; my concern is not in the name but in the content of the music.
KariJazz: A few Voodoo Jazz musicians have similar explanations of their music. How do you see the coming event At Mirelle's on July 8th? What do you expect from the New York Haitian Community?
Jacques Schwarz-Bart: I really hope that the Haitian community in New York will embrace this project. It represents Haiti as well as the Caribbean at large, but also New York as it relates to the Jazz aspect. I hope the event will be a source of pride and joy for this community.
KariJazz: Thanks again for sharing a few moments with us.
Jacques Schwarz-Bart: It was a pleasure!
June 17, 2011