I had the privilege of carpooling to SFJAZZ rehearsals with Ryan Ayres, so I can speak to knowing his mind a little bit. He is a fan of the same geeky, high-brow humor as I,* and he is drastically well-informed on...well, everything. I learned a few things on those rides, listening to him and my son talk and laugh. I can also tell you that along with his eloquence, he is as school-smart as he is music-wise: many AP classes were on his transcript, along with several extra-curricular bands and talent awards (by the time you get to the list of annotations at the end of his interview, you'll understand not only what he wishes to convey, but that he is eloquent, meticulous and multi-talented). He appears to be thriving at college with his choice of major, Music Composition. Listen up, people! Remember his name, you'll be hearing it again.
Primary Instruments: Baritone saxophone, bassoon, composition
Secondary Instruments: Clarinet, bass clarinet, alto and soprano saxes, flute, piano... it's complicated!
Music I play: Minimalism, classical, jazz
Music I listen to: Minimalism, orchestral, band, and chamber classical, renaissance, jazz big band, rock, electronica- a whole bunch of stuff!
Private lessons: 5 years jazz saxophone (alto/bari), currently 2 years deep in bassoon and composition lessons
Graduated HS: 2012
College: University of North Texas ~ Denton, Texas
5 Q's for Ryan
1.1. How do you approach improvisation?
As a composer, I tend to see improvisation as composition in the moment. When I compose, it takes countless hours to consider all of the factors that go into making a great piece - melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, and so on. In an improvisatory setting, these decisions are made much faster, and are inevitably crafted with (at the very least) less foresight and planning. Each note I choose to play next is chosen in the context of what just happened before it and in what general direction I want to take the phrase as a whole. I might start with a very rough idea of what I want to play based on what tune I'm playing or what I've been listening to recently that I want to emulate (or even steal!), but that rough idea changes as I being to play and interact with the other musicians I'm playing with. Whereas composing is a very calculated, distant, logical process, improvising is the exact opposite - a fully spontaneous, interactive, emotional experience. It won't always go exactly the way you intend, but the beautiful thing about it is that it's in the moment - you adapt as time passes.
2.2. What makes you play the way you play? (Influences? Where do you find your inspiration? Group vs. Solo?)
For most of my musical career, I've been influenced by the two very distinct worlds of classical music and jazz. As I've learned how to play both, my knowledge of one genre has blended with the way I play the other, and I consider this a strength. I'm as much influenced by Steve Reich1 and Stravinskii2** in my jazz playing as I am by Maria Schneider3 and Pat Metheny4 in my classical studies. It's all music - you can always learn something useful on whatever instrument you're playing. My other influences range from Charlie Parker5 to Frank6 Zappa7 (did you know that he released a classical album? Great stuff!), Josquin de Près8 to John Coltrane9, Bill Evans10 to Aaron Copland.11
As far as style preference goes, I've always appreciated simplicity and structure. I can listen to Philip Glass12 for hours without getting bored; my attention never fades in Coltrane's Africa Brass13; Count Basie14 manages to keep me on the edge of my seat with his piano playing and compositions despite them being very simple and sparse. For me, the simplest way to play or write something is the most musically gratifying. You'd think my preference for simplicity would mean that I like solo playing15 more than group16 performance17, which tends to be more involved and complicated. Despite that, I still prefer playing in larger groups- I love the feeling that comes from cooperating with a group to produce something larger than ourselves. Nothing else comes close!
3. When you're frustrated and want to quit, what makes you come back to your instrument?
I'm always working to be the best possible composer and performer I can be. If I feel the negative pressure getting to me, I remind myself that all I can do is present the best possible version of my musical self to an audience. As long as I am trying my hardest to present a good, polished performance for my audience there's nothing else I can ask of myself. I don't beat myself up over mistakes before they happen; it does no good to let any kind of criticism (worst of all, self-criticism) get in the way of playing well. In my book, play as well as you can, and let the dice fall where they may. If you make a mistake, so what? That's just another thing to improve in the future!
5.5. Parent support directly affects musical achievement. How does parent support look in your family?
I'm extremely lucky to have parents that didn't gulp nervously and recommend I go to medical school when I said I wanted to compose and perform for a living, and that I had no backup plan. They've always encouraged me to develop my talents and do what makes me happy - and if I can manage to make money doing what I love the most, they've always wanted to be there in any way they can to make that possible. I would not be where I am today without my parents' support!
* An original joke, simultaneously co-written by Ryan & Shamera ~
Q: What do you call a person obsessed with math homework?
(or someone who willingly chooses to study Applied Mathematics in college? :))
A: A 'Mathochist'
** Ryan informs me that Igor Stravinsky's birthname was originally spelled with the 'ii' ending.