When the Prague Jazz website started one of the most exciting emerging musicians on the local scene was organist Ondřej Pivec. He had that star quality: a young player with technical skill but also a young writer with something to say in his music. He was clearly one of the guys who was going to “make it”, and it was only a matter of time before he headed out into the world to expand his horizons and his musical vocabulary.
Here we catch up with Ondřej’s story in the “city that never sleeps”. No, not Brno. New York, New York.
PJ: Why did you decide to go to NYC and how do you like it there?
OP: The primary idea was to go for about half a year, take lessons, play sessions with people and get better at playing jazz music. From today's point of view it seems like quite a silly idea, as I see that the real learning process takes years or even decades, if you want the outcome to have some kind of value. So overall I really love it - I get to learn so many new things I would never have in Prague.
PJ: How does the NYC scene compare with the Czech scene?
OP: Well, speaking from a jazz perspective, the difference is mainly in the fact that there are more people. So there are more good musicians, more great musicians and more bad musicians. More places to play at, more people to come and listen to etc. which creates a highly competitive environment and therefore a greater level of music. Also, if you are great at what you're doing, there is a chance for you become a member of or play with world renowned bands, which consist of major headliners or as I like to call them "jazz superstars". The prospect of playing with truly amazing musicians keeps everyone motivated and this is something that is unlikely to happen in Prague due to the scale of our jazz community.
Another factor that plays into this is the plethora of musical styles in NYC - something that almost doesn't exist in the Czech Republic. I am very slowly entering the gospel and RnB scene - only realizing the stereotype that "jazz musicians can play everything" is really really off. Especially in today's jazz music scene, when there is not much stress being put on stylistic accuracy and everything is played so "open".
PJ: What do you miss most about playing here, and what is the most enjoyable about playing in NYC?
OP: Well, when I was leaving at the end of 2008, Organic Quartet was in a very good shape and just finally taking off internationally. So it felt a bit sad - after six years of working on a project and leaving it just when the efforts start to pay off. But, I felt a strong need to learn much more about music and the best way I thought to accomplish that would be in NYC, where I would expose myself to new situations, which could lead to great musical learning experience. And that's what I love the most about being in New York - it keeps you on your toes and if you're open to it, you can learn something new every day.
PJ: What are your current projects?
OP: Besides playing for a Harlem gospel church every Sunday, I play every Wednesday at a war veterans' club with a be-bop trio of Jason Marshall (Roy Hargrove's baritone saxophonist) and I've also formed two new projects. One is a funk/fusion trio called CPR (http://www.cprelectrio.com/) and my second project is with an R'n'B cover band (http://www.bandwithoutaband.com/). I am very excited about both groups.
PJ: What are your long term ambitions and plans?
OP: I would love to be musically as versatile as possible, because that allows you to work on many different projects. Soon I want to start writing music again, which I haven't done for nearly two years. Because I took a break to absorb some of the new music I'm being exposed to. It's a never ending process; it seems to me that I'll just have "creative" and "absorbing" eras in my life.
PJ: Do you think you will ever return to CZ permanently?
OP: Currently I see my future here in New York, but like they say: "Never say never"...
PJ: Do you have any suggestions for young musicians who contemplate going abroad for getting more experience?
OP: Yes - do it! Being abroad forces you to adjust to and understand completely different mentalities and cultures, so you begin to understand that your point of view, no matter how strong and valid it is, is just one of many equally valid ones. And the lessons you learn from those experiences are invaluable.
PJ: Is there anything you miss from the Czech Republic that is unavailable in NYC (can be anything, food, things, events, people...)?
OP: I definitely miss my close friends and family members. Sometimes I wouldn't mind having a plate of svíčková or a baked duck witch cabbage and dumplings. Thankfully, they just opened a very good Czech restaurant on the Upper East side of Manhattan a week ago, which I plan to visit every once in a while for a memory of home.
Many thanks to Ondřej for taking the time to talk to us. Best wishes from Prague – we hope to see you here again soon. You can keep up with Ondřej’s work at his website - http://ondrejpivec.com/ - and here’s a clip of him in action. Enjoy!