September 09, 2020
Artist, composer, and trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire has a truly unique way of expressing himself. During his career, Ambrose has paradoxically situated himself at both the center and the periphery of jazz, most recently emerging in classical and hip hop circles. He’s on a perpetual quest for new paradigms, masterfully weaving inspiration from other genres, arts, and life in general into compositions that are as poetic and graceful as they are bold and unflinching.
Ambrose was referred to Audeze by our mutual friend David Breskin. Here is our chat:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?
I would probably say the last album I recorded entitled On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment.
The album features my quartet which consists of Sam Harris on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Justin Brown on drums. I love all of them dearly and I appreciate their contributions to this recording. They are all super amazing, and did I say I love them?
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on?
My main role to the music is to be a conduit for it to come inside me. In my band, I feel more like a conductor.
How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed? Any role models you can call out?
My grandmother had a piano in her house that I banged on every time I walked past it. My parents then decided to put me in piano lessons. I first played music in church. I simply chose the trumpet because I thought it would be easy. Then I fell in love with it because it wasn’t easy. I love all trumpet players—from Louis Armstrong to Jeremy Pelt. Young trumpet players—so many. I love the artistic choices of Adam O’Farrill and Wallace Roney II.
My mother is from Drew, Mississippi and my father from Lagos, Nigeria. On one end we have music from the Delta and the other end traditional music from Nigeria. So specifically speaking, I grew up listening to blues and West African music since I was born. Once I was a little older and started attending church with my grandmother, I began listening to and playing gospel music. The sound of my environment was hip hop so I listened to that also. It’s hard to point out specific people that have influenced me at this point. I’ve gone through a lot of different phases and I’ve always checked out a lot of music. But, Joni Mitchell + John Coltrane + Booker Little + Clifford Brown + Bjork + Mary Lou Williams would be mainstays in terms of people I return to most often. I like that all of these artists lead with both their ugly and beautiful parts equally.
From my point of view, jazz has helped to broaden the appeal of other genres. Also I think the beauty of the music is that it’s stylish and a bit unconcerned with what everyone else is doing. It knows that everyone’s watching it. I love the problem solving in the moment that improvised music has.
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?
I lived in NYC for a total of 10 years. I left and moved to LA just to pursue other interests and to get a different perspective. After being in LA for a year or so, I started to feel uninspired and like I just wasn’t hearing anything to play. It took me a while to realize how dependent I had become on outside energy to feel inspired. Once I realized this, I began to focus on motivating myself. I’m glad it was a long journey because I really learned a lot. A lot of the things I learned during that period are helping me to survive this pandemic.
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?
I’m kind of old school in terms of process—so pencil and paper. I have recently started to program in Ableton LIVE on my Keith McMillen K-Board. I mostly compose at the piano.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own lives or careers?
We are humans first and foremost. Be honest about your boundaries and check in often to see if they are still where you left them. Once they are set, don’t cross them—EVER!!! Musically, it’s the opposite.
My only concern is to continue going forward. I hope that people would be able to say Ambrose inspired me to be me by being him.
Would you like to see changes in the world inspired by the art you produce?
What have you been working on since getting your LCD-X headphones?
I’ve been sitting here utterly amazed. The clarity and depth of these headphones are truly unimaginable. I’ve been using them a lot for composing and mixing in LIVE. I have never heard music coming out of headphones like this. Thank you for bringing me on this journey.
These days I find myself collecting and processing sounds created in the environment I live in (Oakland). This process up until recently was exclusively internal.
Currently, I am completing a couple of commissions for solo instruments and a few film related projects. I recently released my 5th album on Blue Note. So now I am in the harvesting part of creating- but I am sure the sounds I've been spending most of my time with will find their way into my next recorded project.