Russell Ferrante Interview
Why or what got your interest to start playing the Piano?
My father was the choir director at our church and had hopes that I would one day be the choir accompanist. Both my parents loved music. My father was a wonderful singer and my mom also sang and played violin and piano.
What were your first attempts at playing like? What do you remember?
I began piano lessons at age 9 and learned the basic classical piano rep, Bach, Chopin, etc. Later when I got interested in jazz, I learned the pop tunes of the late 60’s along with songs from recordings by Ramsey Lewis, Les McCann, and Eddie Harris.
PRACTICE / TRAINING
Did you take lessons or are you self-taught?
I took classical piano lessons for 8 years. When I got interested in jazz at about age 15 or 16, I took sporadic jazz piano lessons with several different teachers in the SF bay area while at the same time, learning on my own.
What is your practice routine like?
After getting interested in jazz, I practiced a lot! Sometimes all day but often several hours a day learning tunes, transcribing solos, and devising technique exercises.
How would you define your style of playing?
A mix of all the styles I love, classical, blues, gospel, and jazz.
What one piece of equipment would you advise all Pianists/Keyboardists to own?
Seems obvious but an acoustic piano! Digital pianos really don’t offer the expressive range and detail of an acoustic instrument.
What’s the most important bit of advice you could give to new Pianists?
Listen to and absorb great music of all genres!
Tell us about your recent release, “Inflexion”?
Inflexion or inflection comes from the Latin root inflexionem meaning to bend in, to change direction. This music is indeed very personal and intimate and one could say it bends in.
It is rooted in friendship, mutual respect, and the numerous points of connection we’ve shared over decades. I met Steve shortly after moving to Los Angeles in 1977 through our mutual friend, guitarist, Robben Ford. I met Michael years later when we began collaborating and recording with vocalist, Lorraine Feather. We all met Aaron ten years ago after Steve built a home recording studio and was searching for an audio engineer and some musicians to kick the tires. I didn’t have a home studio but I did have a few tunes that needed their tires kicked. As we worked on the music it became clear that Steve, Michael, and Aaron were perfect collaborators. Their generosity, sensitivity, commitment, and talent is what made this recording possible. It has been an exhilarating, sometimes humbling, but always rewarding experience to shape this music together. Thank you for bending in with us.
Did you have a concept for this album and/or what inspired you to pick these songs on this album?
Compared to my work with Yellowjackets, which some may be familiar with, this music is more intimate and acoustic. This music represents three facets of the trio’s personality. First, there are my compositions for Yellowjackets reimagined for acoustic trio. Second, there are brand new compositions like Inflexion D and Inflexion A and New Glen which explore asymmetrical rhythmic ostinatos. Lastly there is the trio’s take on well known standards. We have a great love and respect for the jazz tradition and pay homage to jazz composers like Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, and Thelonious Monk.
Let’s talk about your creative process. How do you approach writing original music?
I wrote most of these songs at the piano, exploring each hand playing something completely different at the same time. It’s a fun challenge to keep an ostinato going in one hand and freely improvise against it in the other. At the same time it’s not enough for this to simply be an intellectual exercise, rather it must serve the music.
Who musically inspires you on the Piano?
So many! Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Richard Tee, Chick Corea, Brad Mehldau, Aaron Parks, Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Lennie Tristano, Vladimir Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Martha Argerich and many more!
What other types of music or artists do you derive inspiration from?
I love Brazilian Music, Liturgical choral music, the music of composers like Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Bartok, Mahler, Copeland, Barber, and many more.
What’s the most important bit of advice you were given by another musician?
Listen and serve the music.
LIVE | STUDIO
What equipment do you use live and in the studio and why?
Live I play acoustic piano (Steinway preferable) and a Korg Triton (old school!) or Novation 49 key midi controller running Logic or MainStage. My audio interface is an Apogee Duet. I’ve been using this gear for years and feel I can be expressive using it.
In my studio I also use the above plus Dexibell Vivo S7 Pro, Korg Kronus, and lots of Logic plugins.
What’s been your proudest playing moment?
Too many to name, I’ve been playing professionally and touring since 1970.
What’s the biggest disaster you’ve ever had onstage and how did you cope with it?
In the early days of performing with sequencers I recall a Yellowjackets’ concert in San Francisco where everything crashed! Our entire set was built around the machines and sequences so we really had to improvise to finish the set, but we did!
Do you warm up before a concert and if so how?
I don’t generally warm up unless there might be a piano backstage which is a great luxury but an all too uncommon one.
What profession other than music would you like to attempt?
As a youth, I played basketball at the college level and aspired to be a professional athlete. Honestly though, I can’t think of a more enjoyable and fulfilling career than being a musician!