Ryan Villamor is an accomplished piano improviser, living in Manila, Philippines. He sees himself as pianist, a harper, a teacher and a learner. He is currently working on his own original renditions of popular/alternative songs and resonant improvisation.
Ryan believes that music improvisation is a spiritual opener. To submit your higher self to the unknown is the moment you let go of the notes you played. And that gives you the capacity to create new ones. Letting go is an act of humility and a mist of faith towards grace.
I asked him about his love of jazz and where it came from:
Q: Hey Ryan, jazz is such at cool art form. Where did it come from?
A: As far as I know, Afro-American claimed that it started from them around late 1800s to early 1900s. They called it hot music in New Orleans. New Orleans was the capital of trading black slaves by that time when Americans were trafficking black people from Africa.
One significant element that makes it jazz music is primarily based on rhythm and syncopation which is common in Africa. African slaves makes music by chanting/singing in improvisation to express themselves, to express their grief, frustrations, joy and celebration of life. For them, jazz music is part of their daily lives as a social gathering where they feel free to express themselves through music. It’s their outlet, it’s their music therapy, it’s their prayers.
I think it came first from Africa, then it evolved in New Orleans where they started singing blues scales which is actually based in pentatonic minor modes.
Q: What instruments are in a jazz band?
A: There’s also a history of jazz band and its evolution. From an old marching band to big band and Small jazz ensemble to jazz trio. In a jazz band, you can have any of these instruments; saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, vibraphone, piano, guitar, double bass and drums.
But today, jazz has already evolved. It has something more than the music. It’s a philosophy of evolution, an organic way of using different musical disciplines not only jazz music, but classical music, asian music other forms of music.
Jazz is a World Music. Did you know that blues pentatonic scale is based on asian pentatonic scale?
Q: If someone wanted to learn to improvise or improve their improvisation, what do you suggest?
- Listen to jazz music. Jazz standards. Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, etc.
- Learn simple American jazz blues tunes. Melody and chords.
- Learn blues pentatonic scale and how to improvise with.
- Learn how to play jazz turnarounds, chords and jazz theory.
- Most important is train your ear to play by ear. Music notes are only instructions but you have to learn how to play music without them, so you can gain confidence learn to improvise along the way.
Q: What should someone wear to a jazz concert or club?
A: I usually were Black Coat and Tie.
Q: What’s the best ways to listen to jazz?
Through SPOTIFY. Type “jazz standards” or “Bill Evans,” “Brad Mehldau” “Miles Davis,” John Coltrane” and others.
One more question… can you talk a little bit about how you use your harp when you’re playing jazz?
– I don’t really play jazz on harp. But because of my knowledge on jazz piano especially the chords and jazz music theory I can apply some of it on harp. When I improvise on harp, my musical mind (chord progressions and harmony) is still attached to the piano. My ears recognize the unique quality of the harp’s tones so I let my ears follow the sound while my music theory helps me to execute what my ears hears.
In jazz, it’s very important to learn harmony because it’s your vocabulary and how to expand your music. I’m more of harmony/chord progression based improviser though I also think of modes sometimes. Musicians/improvisers have their own way of making music. Some musicians are leaning to modal scales, some are just playing whatever they hear, some are super gifted and they can play and compose beautiful music without knowing music theory, some are very leaning to chord progression and song form, some musicians are also rhythmic based improviser.
I think harp is an underrated instrument when playing jazz. Jazz chords, piano chords and harmonies sound very beautiful on harp.
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