Jazz Monthly: Our guest at JazzMonthly.com is a young man in his twenties who it seems that musically has come “full circle.” By that I mean that he has learned many of the lessons as a performer and also in life in general where it usually takes musicians a few more decades to learn. Sometimes, jazz purists can limit their own expressiveness. Well, alto and soprano saxophonist, composer Justin Vasquez has evolved away from that kind of “jazz snobbery” and limitations, and kind of like a child at the beach, he is able to take it all in and be open to a wide variety of musical styles in his creative processes. No musical boundaries for this very talented and sensitive young man. He calls Austin, Texas and New York City his homes. Performing, composing and just sharing his beautiful talent with anyone who has the good fortune to experience his music is what Justin Vasquez is all about.
His self-produced recording debut as a leader titled, “Triptych” is getting some well deserved great reviews. Including, by yours truly. Justin Vasquez is our guest. Welcome to JazzMonthly.com Justin.
Justin Vasquez (JV): Hi Joe. I just want to thank everyone at JazzMonthly.com for giving me this opportunity. I’ve put a lot of work into this record and I’m glad people are enjoying it.
Jazz Monthly: Absolutely, and we are going to talk about that shortly. You’re a jazz musician and Justin, you’re also a very sensitive young man and a composer. Do you like being called a “jazz musician” or is it just a bit too confining for you?
JV: It’s not confining for me but what I find is that the term “Jazz” carries a lot of baggage with it. This thing that happens when you mention Jazz… you can take ten different people and you’d say; “What is Jazz to you?” One person would say “Oh that’s Big Band Music with Glen Miller and that style” The next person will say; “Oh well, that’s Bebop.” The next person will say; “That’s John Coltrane.” The next person will say; “That’s Miles Davis, or Pat Metheny or Wayne Shorter". So what ends up happing is, when you say “jazz” it means something specific to someone. I kind of use the Wayne Shorter approach to the word “jazz” which means that, “Jazz is just anything. It means you can take from any style of music or any aesthetic and incorporate it into your style – whatever you’re doing."
Jazz Monthly: Yeah. Hey Justin, I’m about to quote YOU now. Hey isn’t it great! You’re still a young man and I’m quoting you in JazzMonthly.com. How does that sound? (Justin laughing). Well, Jazz as Justin says “is all inclusive,” and I think you define it as “ New American Folk Music” right?
JV: Well, that’s what I feel what I’m doing. At the same time, I grew up listening to Jazz, and I grew up listening to Country and Folk music, and the sort of Mid Western style of Pat Metheny and all the different jazz musicians that came from that and after it. I was born here in America and I’m using a lot of American influences. Jazz was born here in America. I think this is an American art form, and I’m certainly a new person on the scene. In a way, I think of it as a New American Folk Music.
Jazz Monthly: That’s a good description. I know you were born in Corpus Christi, Texas, and you grew up in little towns in Texas. Now here’s the key; this is kind of the turning point in the young life of Justin Vasquez. Now I know you were a long distance runner and you kind of “pounded the pavement” a little too hard and you hurt your knee. This was sort of a blessing in disguise, right?
JV: Well, what happens with me is that I’m absolutely obsessive about everything that I do. If I’m writing a paper, or if I’m in school or running – whatever it is I do – I do it to a point of absolute obsession – bordering on insanity at times as my friends and family will tell you. (Joe laughing) It just so happens to be that my obsession in music actually helps me out. I’m lucky that I didn’t go into something like video games… something that wouldn’t have an impact for me, you know?
Jazz Monthly: I know what you mean. You’re putting you’re obsessiveness forward. Let’s face it, anyone who did anything – whether it was Charlie Parker to Thomas Edison – was obsessive! Right?
JV: I think anyone who’s doing anything creative, goes through those periods where they can’t help but think about anything else. I certainly have gone through different periods of that. When I hurt my knee, I had to take off for six months, to have surgery. I didn’t want to have surgery; so I said, “I’m going to stop running for six months.” Now I had all this time that I spent outside being active and my dad – he’s sort of a “jack of all trades”– had a saxophone that he borrowed from his cousin. So, I basically “stole” it from him (both laughing) and the first moment I start playing it, I was drawn to it like nothing else before… and nothing else since!
Jazz Monthly: We say obsessiveness in a good way. As we mentioned earlier, anybody who was anybody: a genius, an inventor, an artist, a Rembrandt… or anyone, had to be obsessive during one or more periods in his/her life. You took the same love and passion; wanting to be the best that you can be. You had that free time on your hands.
You’re father had an alto sax that he borrowed?
JV: Yeah, his cousin had an old beat up Beuscher (sax) from when she was in high school, and it could only play about five or six notes. I ended up messing with it around the house. I just did everything I could to get as many different sounds out of it as I could. I was absolutely enthralled by this instrument for some reason. I never really thought of music in that sort of way before. I didn’t play piano; there were no other instruments in my house. I actually failed my first music class playing the recorder. (Joe laughing) It’s like something just happened when I start playing the sax. I was hooked!