Noshir Mody talks to Jazz Guitar Today
Noshir Mody talks to Jazz Guitar Today contributor Joe Barth about his influences and his new album, A Love Song
JB: Growing up in Bombay or now Mumbai, India, how old were you when you started to play jazz guitar and what was most helpful in your personal development as a guitarist?
NM: Growing up I listened to and appreciated a lot of jazz as my father had quite the record collection but I never really pursued playing jazz on guitar because at the time I felt it was beyond me. I instead started with pop, rock, and making up my own tunes. I started playing improvisational jazz only after coming to New York and primarily because I had serendipitously rented a room in Atilla Engin’s house which immediately exposed me to several world-class musicians. In 1985 Atilla was awarded Composer of the Year in Denmark. So now it was 1995, I was twenty-two years old, from a different country and suddenly I had access to observe, listen and learn from a bevy of accomplished and amazing musicians. That was a watershed moment for me.
JB: You moved to New York when you were twenty-two. Did you study with any well-known musical personalities, or are you self-taught?
NM: I am self-taught on guitar but I’ve been directly and indirectly mentored by many. I don’t recall any of my mentors ever telling me what I should play with respect to notes and scales but we talked a ton about life, philosophy, humanity and how music plays a fundamental role in our existence.
JB: What are three of the most influential jazz guitar albums and why?
NM: At the top of my list for three jazz guitar albums that influenced me the most would be Al Di Meola’s Elegant Gypsy, and even more specifically the track “Mediterranean Sundance.” It’s the reason I decided to pursue the guitar. I first heard that album when I was in India, I may have been about eight or nine years old and my mind was blown. I had never heard such speed and articulation on the guitar and it made me feel absolutely euphoric. Next would be Pat Metheny Group’s The Road to You (Live). When I first heard this album, I was already in New York and devoted to developing myself as a guitarist and musician. The chemistry of the band, the blistering guitar lines juxtaposed with the other soulful guitar performances, the sophisticated compositions, and the fact that it was executed live made a major impression on me. Finally, Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Deep Song. I remember being so taken up when hearing this album with tracks like ‘Brooklyn Sometimes’ and ‘Use of Light’. For me it was a refreshingly original sound, I loved the complexity in the melodic lines and Kurt’s unique improvisational style.
JB: Practice and listening aside, can you pinpoint one or two ‘things’ that really boosted your profile and career toward where it’s at today?
NM: In my late twenties, for approximately eighteen months I had a steady gig at a coffee shop in Madison, NJ. It was Atilla on percussion and me on guitar and depending on the gig we would be joined by various other artists. When this started, I don’t believe we even had any music prepared and we would just improvise two sets in roughly three hours. We were subsequently joined by Adam Armstrong, Dan Jordan, Dan Willis, and many others and the gig began to have some structure but still the sets were largely improvisational. I felt I learned my craft there. Listening, interacting, supporting, taking the lead, and making music with an audience. After the gig, we would go to a diner and discuss the mistakes made as well as what worked. At the time it was tough to receive some of the criticism but overall, I believe it was an experience that was instrumental in shaping me as an artist.
The other and more recent occurrence is when I joined the Recording Academy as a member. I feel that getting involved and participating in our music community has allowed me to meet, collaborate and get to know so many incredible artists which in turn has inspired me to make more meaningful music.
JB: Tell us about your goals in making your new album A Love Song with Benjamin Hankle on flugelhorn, pianist Campbell Charshee, drummer Ronen Itzik and bassist Yuka Tadano.
NM: We have all just been through the pandemic and for many reasons I feel that life as we knew it has changed. Many of us have had a chance to pause and assess what is truly important in our lives. To compound issues when everyone was leaving Manhattan, my wife and I decided to go against the stream – sell our home in Westchester and return to Manhattan. The tracks on this album were all birthed during that time and the title track of the album, which features Kate Victor on vocals, has the lyrics that embody the values that I have come to live by. I think A Love Song will resonate with listeners because it’s ultimately a narrative that culminates in how we forge a relationship with ourselves, to manage adversity, adapt, and evolve.
JB: What influence does your native Indian music have on your compositions?
NM: Being immersed in a culture during one’s formative years leaves an indelible mark. At this point, it’s quite unconscious on my part but at the same time, it’s not something I’m trying to change. I actually love that my melodies and phrasing sometimes have Eastern sensibilities. I find that my ear naturally gravitates toward that sound since it is so familiar to me.
JB: Tell us about the making of the album Sakura which went on to win a Grammy for Best Global Music Album.
NM: I’ve known Masa Takumi for a number of years now. Early on, we had performed at a San Francisco showcase for independent artists where both of us were using a looper pedal for our guitars, which got us talking. I’ve enjoyed his music over the years and last year when he asked if I would be interested in playing on his album, I said yes. This all happened very quickly, I recorded my parts in New York and sent them over to Japan where the album was mixed. Leading up to the Grammys there was a buzz about the album and when the Grammy was announced we were all ecstatic. It felt great to see Masa win and he handled himself with grace through the entire process.
JB: Tell us about the guitar and amp that you use.
NM: I’ve been using the same electric guitar since 2008 – it’s my main axe. I bought it second-hand from Rudy’s Guitar when they were still in midtown Manhattan. It’s a 1995 Gibson Custom Shop Howard Roberts Fusion III which has been set up to use 13-gauge, flat-wound strings. I run the guitar through a BOSS GT-1000 effects processor, on which I’ve spent countless hours dialing in my sound and as much as possible I try to stay amp-agnostic. I do have a Roland Cube 60 and Fender Frontman 212R for practice and gigs but my preference in the studio has been the Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb amplifier.
JB: Are you able to perform in India much these days? If so, tell us about the jazz scene there.
NM: Unfortunately, due to a variety of reasons, I have not but I do hope to change that in the future.
JB: What do you enjoy about serving as the musical producer of other people’s projects?
NM: Having produced seven of my own albums I have a soup-to-nuts understanding of the process. I personally enjoy delivering an artistic vision, which can take many forms. I view the producer’s role as someone who eliminates obstacles and impediments in achieving that goal, especially when budgets are tight and there are many moving parts that need to be coordinated. I enjoy being a problem solver.