Take Five With Brian Prunka
Another time, we were in Haifa, and the promoter was tasked with taking us to lunch. He asked if we liked "Oriental" food. At first I was confused, because that made me think of Chinese food. Why would we get Chinese food in Haifa? But he took us to a tiny little Arab restaurant and told the owner to feed us. He asked if we wanted menus or if he should just bring out food, so of course we said to bring out food. He brought plate after plate of amazing Arabic food until we told him to stop. It was one of the best meals of my life.
Tonic and the Knitting Factory were both great venues that treated us well. Unfortunately, they are both gone.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Nashaz, because it is my newest recording and everyone should buy it! I'm very proud of what we've accomplished, which is to create a unique approach to bringing jazz and traditional Arabic music together.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
Thelonious Monk, The Best of the Blue Note Years (Blue Note, 1991).
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I think that's for other people to decide. Hopefully, my vision of jazz being a musical approach that can welcome influences from any style will bring an audience to both jazz and Eastern music. I try to write tunes that give a meaningful expression of what it means to be human. I hope that that shines through regardless of the other details.
Did you know...
The first album I bought was by the Stray Cats. I still like Brian Setzer.
CDs you are listening to now:
Riad al Sounbati , Ya Habibi (Jasmine Music);
Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfa, Jazz Samba Encore! (Verve);
Sly and the Family Stone, A Whole New Thing (Epic);
Anouar Brahem, Thimar (ECM);
Ahmed Fouad Hassan, Dance of the Hareem (Cairophone).
Desert Island picks:
John Coltrane and Duke Ellington, Ellington and Coltrane (Impluse!)
Bill Frisell, The Intercontinentals (Nonesuch)
Kenny Wheeler, Angel Song (ECM)
Enrico Pieranunzi, Racconti Mediterranei (Egea)
Oum Kulthum, Enta Omri (Voice For Music).
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
The music is great and there are so many really creative musicians making beautiful music. But there is less and less support for live music and jazz really is a live art form. It needs that spontaneity and unpredictability, as well as the near-telepathic connections that come from playing with people in order to achieve its potential. In addition, it is really about interacting with the audience, an aspect that is too often missing.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
I think that one way or another, the live music has to make a comeback. The club owners need to realize that they have to cultivate a community and not just offer a product, and the musicians need to make sure that the audience feels included in the event. Of course this is still happening in some places, but it is too few and far between.
What is in the near future?
I'm in the process of releasing a new CD with my band Nashaz, and we have some gigs lined up around that: Sept 17 at Drom, Oct 6 we're doing an in-store at the Downtown Music Gallery, and Nov. 9 we are at Alwan for the Arts. These are all in Manhattan, but I'm also working on some East Coast tour dates for the fall and winter.
What's your greatest fear when you perform?
Usually it is some kind of technical or equipment failure. I usually try to be prepared for gigs so that I know I can deliver a certain level of performance, but if there is a malfunction it can really throw things off. Of course, sometimes I'll be afraid that I'll blank on a piece that I memorized or that I'll flub a difficult passage! I think that happens with everyone. But I try to anticipate these issues and address them in the practice room.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
"Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus)" from Miles Davis and Gil Evans' Porgy And Bess (Columbia, 1958).
What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?
This changes all the time. My favorite thing to do is to compose in the shower!
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
Probably bluegrass musician.
If we're ruling out musicians, probably something creative involving computers programming of some kind, or graphic design. But I can't imagine not being a musician.