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Up Close and Personal with Mitch Forman

Think of all the performers you know who've performed or recorded with Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, Mike Stern, John Scofield and John McGlaughlin. Ok, what about adding Andy Summers, Enrique Iglasias and Stan Getz plus one who runs his own label for which he does his own solo piano and group recordings as well as records other like minded artists? To most musicians and many jazz fans he needs no introduction, it could be only one person: pianist Mitch Forman. Mike Brannon was fortunate enough to have caught up with Forman recently for an exchange on his career, new label and views on various aspects of creativity, composition and the current state of music production. What were your original influences?

Mitch Forman: My first heroes were Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Chic Corea.; still are, I guess. What have you currently been listening to?

Mitch Forman: Leni Stern new CD ("The Kindness of Strangers"), Joni Mitchell, Brahms symphonies, Herbie Hancock "Crossings", 2 new CD's that I'm preparing for release. Where did you study and who among your teachers had the greatest impact and why?

Mitch Forman: I started taking lessons at age 7. Got up to about 3 a week at some point. Classical piano, jazz piano, trombone, etc. I graduated from Manhattan School of music in NY. I had two teachers who fired me for not working hard enough. ;One , in high school named Bert Konowitz. He had a great way of melding classical and jazz into his lessons. Improvise in a baroque style, etc. The other was a teacher in college named Don Funes. He just was a great inspiring man whose love of music was quite infectious. How do you go about composing?

Mitch Forman: I need something to start with; either a groove, a sound or a phrase. I either just play the piano and write down the things I like, or mess around on a sequencer and just save the parts I like. The computer way seems easier, but I might get better songs out of the pencil and paper method. Have you done film work?

Mitch Forman: I've done a bit. One feature film (straight to video) called "Jezebel's Kiss", a few shorts for some friends and a whole lot of TV commercials. I've also played on a fair amount of films. More when I was living in NY. What are your philosophies of music?

Mitch Forman: This is where the questions get hard, I suppose. For me, music is the easiest way for me to express myself. performing and improvising:

Mitch Forman: When I'm on and performing, I have a total loss of self. I know that if I spent any time watching myself play I would be very self-conscious. There's a great feeling of freedom for me when performing. teaching:

Mitch Forman: I have a great respect for all teachers. I happen to be quite bad at it myself. I tend to teach everything I know in about an hour and a half and then wonder why the student can't absorb it. side work:

Mitch Forman: I've learned a great deal from being a sideman; watching some truly great musicians play beautifully night after night no matter what the conditions were(ie Gerry Mulligan, Wayne Shorter, John McGlaughlin) spirituality:

Mitch Forman: It seems to me that spirituality should be the goal of most musicians. My favorite music to listen to and to play is music that takes you on some sort of a journey; a place where you can't get to on intellect alone. I think my favorite musicians have a profound spiritual side that is quite tangible in their music. What made you decide to start and maintain your own label?

Mitch Forman: I was looking for a deal for myself and met a distributor who offered to help. I realized that by starting my own label, I could release whatever I wish and help others put out music which could be outside of the system. Thoughts on inspiration and intuition..

Mitch Forman: It seems that inspiration comes to me quite quickly when a deadline approaches. If I have 2 months to finish writing for a project, I usually get a lot of work done in the last few days. I don't think this was true when I was younger. Now I have a few more work and family obligations and my time just sitting and writing is a bit more sparse. Thoughts and comments on working with Metheny:

Mitch Forman: I was fortunate to work with Metheny and Gary Burton on the Reunion CD. I recall one long trip in a rented car with just Pat and myself. He was quite down to earth, funny, and very devoted to his music. Working with Stern on "Upside Downside".

Mitch Forman: That was quite a long time ago. I just spoke with Mike the other day. A great musician and a wonderful funny man. Mike's record was a great joy to work on. Working on the "Blue Matter" session(s) w/ Scofield.

Mitch Forman: I would like to hear that one again. I believe it would still sound modern today. I sure think it holds up. How about working with Shorter, Mcglaughlin and Simon Philips?

Mitch Forman: Wayne was amazing. I recall playing at Den Haag with him (1984?). It was one of the best concerts I have ever played at. A huge crowd; and Wayne and the band was on fire. Talk about spirituality, Wayne was overflowing with it. I remember the point after a few months of playing with John Mcglauglin when I began to recognize his musical vocabulary. It was a revelation for me that even he had some kind of a bag of tricks to fall back upon. As with all these other gigs, I recall just having a fantastic time and playing great music. It was through John that I got to meet Miles a few times. Simon is one of my favorite drummers. It was a great joy to work with him on his record and I hope to do some more playing with him in the future.. The group with Bill Evans and the live at the Bluenote disc.

Mitch Forman: The band with Bill was extraordinary. He was one of the first of the guys my age to take his own band out on the road and make it work. That Petite Blonde record was quite strong. How about the Metro group?

Mitch Forman: Metro is a great combination of personalities to work with. Somehow, Chuck Loeb and myself force each other to find a middle ground and present some music that I believe is very powerful, yet accessible. Wolfgang Haffner and Victor Bailey have also played a large role in shaping this group. We did a tour in Europe and the East Coast a few months ago. The band sound as good live as it does on record. We had almost too much fun both on and off the bandstand. Who's in your own group now?

Mitch Forman: I've been playing lately in LA with Dave Carpenter on bass and Joel Taylor on Drums. Some quintet gigs also include Brandon Fields on sax and Walt Fowler on trumpet. Current projects -

Mitch Forman: I've been working mostly on finishing up 2 CD's for an April release on my label. One is a live Mitchel Forman Quintet form the Baked Potato called "Mr. Clean". The other is a CD by LA Guitarist, Mike Miller. I've become a bit of a Pro Tools addict and have been mixing and remixing for quite some time now. I plan on beginning to write and record a new CD in the next couple of months. I'm also trying to keep the record company alive. I'm finding that I need to put in some more time to keep it going. By the way, the name is changing from "Sanctuary Records" to "Marsis Jazz". It seems that Sanctuary was the name for Iron Maiden's record company and I got tired of answering emails regarding heavy metal.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mitch Forman
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