by Dirk Binsau:
Q: Please tell me something about your musical influences and your musical journey so far.
Michael Adkins: Well, in terms of influences I would have to mention my early musical inspiration. We always had a piano and in my neighborhood it seemed like every kid on the block played a musical instrument. Our neighbors across the street were professional musicians and my grandfather could play many different instruments, could sing, entertain, and do this stuff that I thought was unbelievable. My older sister played saxophone and my brother took guitar lessons as a youngster and I would go to their school band rehearsals, just sitting in the back listening. They had an incredible school band and I was in love with the drums at this time. My older sister’s boyfriend was also a tenor player and a huge John Coltrane fan. That’s how I was exposed to improvising music. I idolized all these older kids that were totally into jazz and my teachers would tell me stories about these creative musicians who would develop their art like jazz monks or something, and I would get all inspired. I started buying the recordings, really listening and getting engrossed in it. It became an escape for me. As I played more and more I met other musicians who were extremely gifted and creative people. I learned so much from them. I was very fortunate to be around many musicians with incredible skills and integrity. Those were the experiences that were so inspirational for me, spending hours and hours listening to music, practicing together, going to hear live music every night, then being in cities like Boston and New York that offer so much musically. That’s the basis of my experience. I learned that it was possible for an individual to find a completely unique voice in the music and that no solo or no two people could ever sound exactly alike. That was a big attraction for me.
Q: Most jazz musicians these days seem to take the safe road with their debut by recording mainly (or only) cover versions. I like that you took the other road and recorded original compositions only. Please tell me more about your motivation behind this move.
Michael Adkins: I guess I like the idea of taking a chance and thought the composing would highlight my voice more. It was all an experiment, a process toward more growth. I worked hard and was not under any pressure so I tried to make music that I liked. The ideal in mind was to express individuality and not to copy or force it. I thought this was a good way to do it.
Q: Please tell me more about the inspiration behind the eight songs on your debut album.
Michael Adkins: I knew when I started thinking about recording that I wanted to make something with all original tunes. I felt strongly about this. All these compositions came together in a very short period of time. When I am involved in a certain regular project or rehearsal situation I start getting ideas for things I want to do and start writing everything down and working with the things I like and discarding what doesn't work. The key for me is to start the writing process and no matter where it begins to keep working everything so that eventually it becomes something complete. I have definite concepts that I absolutely will want to emphasize or express throughout. In the end hopefully you arrive at a statement. With this album I had a number of tunes that we recorded. Most of this album is first takes and at the most we did three takes. There was an immediate musical connection from the first bar when we began rehearsing for this album and it just seemed like everything worked. There was a lot of effort to get it to a certain point but when we were actually doing the playing, everything was extremely easy. Anything else inspirational probably comes just from the experience of the New York music scene itself.