Audeze interviews guitarist/composer/producer Kurt Rosenwinkel
March 31, 2021
Kurt Rosenwinkel- Guitarist, Composer, Band leader, Multi instrumentalist, Producer, Engineer, Label owner of Heartcore Records, is one of the most influential figures of his generation in Jazz guitar and modern music. With a career spanning over thirty years he has created an extensive body of work, transcending boundaries of style in his own work and collaborations with artist such as Joe Henderson, Q-Tip, Eric Clapton and Donald Fagen.
Here's our chat with Kurt:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?
In 2003 I made an album called “Heartcore” where I played and recorded most of the instruments myself and used my home studio as a composition tool to let my imagination run wild. I also collaborated with Q-Tip, the legendary Hip-Hop artist. My idea was to use modern recording and production techniques and apply them to my music. I am proud of how this album turned out, and I named my label after this album and concept: “Heartcore Records” I also made a kind of Heartcore II album called “Caipi” that was the first album released on my label that I am also particularly proud of: I spent about ten years letting this creation build organically in my studio in its own pace. I played all the instruments mostly and recorded it in my studio. I am looking forward to making another album with this approach, especially during these times when I’m at home and can really dig into it! Songs: “Casio Vanguard”, “Kama” and “Summer Song” from the album “Caipi”, “Simple #2” from “Angels Around”, “Star of Jupiter” from “Star of Jupiter”, “All the way to Rajhastan” from “Heartcore"
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?
I am constantly working on projects as a leader, where I am producing, recording, mixing, and playing a variety of instruments from guitar to bass, drums, keyboards, piano, percussion, and singing. Then I am producing other artists' albums where I am overseeing the whole conceptual direction and then adding some parts and tracking things, and then either mixing myself or working with an engineer to mix the album. Also working as CEO of my label so I am overseeing the promotional activities for each artist and artwork, publicity and manufacturing/distribution. I am also very active as a teacher, creating multimedia masterclasses that are organised over zoom and integrating professional camera and green screen effects and power point tech to deliver an immersive experience.
How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?
Both my parents are pianists, and I started to write songs and have bands since I was 9 years old, it progressed logically towards jazz music but I grew up with rock music, popular hits, and Motown. In my mid teens as my tastes developed and my obsession with music deepened, I discovered Jazz in Philadelphia which has a beautiful and serious music tradition. I became part of that continuum and very grateful for this upbringing with all the incredible musicians who showed me what the music is all about. I have continued to develop as an artist and composer and its always an inspiration to imagine what new music can be made.
Can you name any factors you feel majorly influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?
Standing next to Joe Henderson before going onstage at the Atlanta Jazz Festival listening to him warm up… Spending ten years touring with Paul Motian… having a weekly gig for 6 years at Smalls Jazz club in NYC was a major factor in developing my musical language. I would write new songs and rehearse them every week and then play them on the gig, developing the music and the audience. It was a beautiful time amongst the best musicians in the world as young men and women all together in that scene, influence and inspiration bouncing everywhere from person to person. A magical time.
Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?
Intellectual mind trying to take over from natural mind. Solution: tune the guitar into an unknown tuning… at a certain point I became frustrated with my intellect always calling things out in my mind as I played or listened to music, stealing the enjoyment and natural connection away from the musical experience. I realised I could turn the tuning keys of the guitar and obliterate all my knowledge and get back to a more pure state of relation with sound…it resulted in stumbling upon a particular tuning with which I wrote some of my best songs and I made an album playing in the tuning, called “The Next Step."
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?
Be brave. Work hard. Push through self judgment. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something.
How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?
I love using headphones, I prefer it to speakers, although it's hard to find ones that you can mix with! I use headphones to record and mix, to check mixes particularly for stereo imaging and level automation. The Audeze LCD-4zs are a total game-changer to my music creation and production. Absolutely glorious sound: detailed and revealing yet huge and warm soundstage. Now I can mix with confidence and my music making experience just got a whole lot better in every way! Thank you!