A quiet revolution against the easy way

I had a flirtation with the violin when I was 23. I had moved to L.A. at the time and there wasn't much to do. I was trying to make contacts.

I was going to the library a lot and I found a biography of Mozart who had written all of his violin concertos by the time he was 24 years old. And I thought: "I have to get a violin and find out about it."

So I got an old violin, a bow and a case for about $25 and I was too stupid to know that probably it had been in the shop for years and that it needed to be fixed. I just came home and started playing it. It was horrible ! I struggled with it for a while and gave it up.

Years later, again an accident. I had a cheap guitar I'd given to a little music store to sell for me. I wanted $250 for it. So I went in the store one day to see if they had sold my guitar. They had sold it, but the guy didn't have the money. Instead, he had a violin worth $250, so I took it home. I didn't have a bow, but then a very strange story : I was playing a jazz trio and a guy who repairs violin's bows walked in. He listened for a while then came up and introduced himself. He told me : "you left your violin bow with me and you never picked it up." and he handed it to me and left !

It is a very difficult instrument, very demanding. You should really start when you're five years old. It's an in and out instrument. I think the violin is the most living of all musical instruments, more so than the guitar would ever be. It talks to you, it tells you what it wants you to do and you have to listen. I'm not just talking from my standpoint. A lot of great violinist have said that. Then, there are little secrets about how to play and everybody has to find their own - because technically speaking it is impossible to play this instrument in tune and it has never been played in tune. We think it is in tune, our ears tell us it's in tune but you have to be able to hit something that is less than 1/10th of a millimeter with something that is 3 millimeters cross, how can you ? It is impossible. So by pushing it and hitting the note not quite right but by having your ear correct it in 100th of a millisecond, everybody thinks it is fine.

And to improvise on the instrument, that's where it becomes really difficult. It is not like playing a piece of Bach, where the notes are right in front of you. In jazz there are no notes, so you have to hear them. It's an instrument that demands that anyway, no matter if you're playing classical or Celtic Irish music or folk music... you have to hear the notes you want a split second before you play it - and that's a requirement in jazz, no matter what the instrument is.

Probably in some small way it was kind of my own intellectual rebellion against technology because you cannot push a button and play the violin.... a quiet revolution against the easy way."

From Art Johnson's interview on Jazz Break

Art is a natural part of the elite musicians of the south and participates in jazz events of the French Riviera.  Accompanied here by Ronnie Rae Jr. on piano, Jean-Luc Dana on drums and Marc Peillon.

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