New Release ‘Freedom’

New Release 'Freedom'


Tell us about yourself and your music

My name is Ferenc Nemeth, I am a NY based jazz drummer and I am originally from a small village of 1000 people in Hungary. I came to the US after I’ve finished my studies in the classical conservatory and the Franz Liszt Academy’s Jazz Department in Hungary. When I was 20 years old the band that I was playing within Hungary invited legendary vibraphonist Dave Samuels to play with us. Playing with Dave was a life-changing experience. He told me about Berklee College of Music in Boston and encouraged me to go and study there.

In 1998 I applied and I’ve got a scholarship. At that time coming from Hungary, it was like going to the moon. I was super excited and during my first two-semester, I’ve met some of the most important people in my life including the “wizard” Hal Crook (who is still a mentor to me,) Gary Chaffee, Bob Moses, Greg Hopkins, John Ramsey, Bob Kaufman, John Abercrombie, and many others. Berklee was important not only for the teachers and mentors but also for the musicians/friends who became a core part of my life-like the co-led band GilFeMa members Lionel Loueke and Massimo Biolcati (who also designed and helped me develop my Drum School App), Francisco Pais, Daniele Camarda, Vardan Ovsepian, Walter Smith III, Peter Slavov, Dayna Stephens, Nick Vayenas and others. These musicians are all very important voices today on the jazz scene. I’ve finished Berklee in just 2 years and immediately I’ve got a full scholarship to New England Conservatory. I’ve started my masters but halfway through I’ve got accepted to the Thelonious Monk Institute (now called Herbie Hancock Institute), in Los Angeles. That was an incredible opportunity that I could not believe I’ve got. During those two years, we only had to rehearse/study and go on tour with the most incredible jazz musicians including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, John Scofield, Terrence Blanchard, Christian McBride, Kenny Barron, and many others. Later on, we ended up recording with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter for the début album of Lionel Loueke on Blue Note Records.
In 2003 I’ve moved to NYC, where I am still residing. I’ve recorded my first album as a bandleader when I was just 19 years old. Since then, I’ve released 4 albums as a leader and a couple of more as a co-leader. For me, it was always easy to be a sideman, as since I was 13 years old I’ve been getting the calls. But I always wanted to play my music with my band.
In 2016 I’ve decided that it was time for me to turn the table and focus on my band mainly. Meaning that I still work with other bands, but 80% of my time will be with my own group. It was very scary first, but I knew I have something special to offer. I started to go back to my roots and I did research on the Hungarian folk music that I’ve been listening to when I was growing up, music that I was emotionally attached to. I was 40 years old and I’ve been studying jazz for more than half of my life. Jazz is my home, but I also have something else, something deeper that I carry with me since I was a kid. I drew inspiration from those soulful folksongs and I started to compose. I started to compose music that became a big mix of jazz, Hungarian folk music inspired melodies, rhythms from South America, from Africa, from the Middle East, from Eastern Europe, harmonies from classical music and jazz as well. On top of this, I wanted to create a sound that is unique and very personal to me. In 2012, I’ve recorded my album called “Triumph” and I was only using Sax, Piano, Guitar, and Drums. No bass. I wanted to continue on this journey and that year I bought a Vocal Harmonizer. For many years I was even afraid to use it at home. ☺But for my latest album “Freedom”, I am not only using as part of the background, but I also have a solo piece with percussion and vocal. It was a big breakthrough moment to play and record this. As I mentioned, I wanted to continue the bassless formation, so the new record is a trio with Keyboard/Piano, Sax, and Drums.

Talk to us more about your latest release

The latest record is a trio album called “Freedom” and it features Greg Tardy on Sax, Tzumo Arpad on Piano/Keyboard and I am playing Drums, Percussion and doing all the Vocals. The title is actually controversial. On the one hand, we have so much freedom these days, in fact, I think we live in the best possible time period ever. Not too long ago there was still slavery, flying was a privilege, people couldn’t eat, drink, wear what clothes they wanted. Today we have the possibility and freedom to do almost anything we want. (I mean, we went to the moon 50 years ago!) On the other hand, there is still racism, hate, there are still wars in some parts of the world, terrorism, people are still suffering and many people simply don’t believe in themselves so they can’t break out of their limiting beliefs. I and actually we as a band collectively believe in equal rights. We represent different backgrounds, colors, cultures, and race and yet we are all the same. You see, we don’t know exactly where we came from and we don’t know exactly where we are going. In the end, we are only humans, nothing else just skin and bone. And I think we should always consider that in our everyday actions and act like humans. This is the main message of the album. Musically speaking, I’ve incorporated many things that I’ve learned, many things that I’ve experienced traveling around the world. The melodies are mostly inspired by soulful Hungarian folk music, but the harmony and rhythm are a big mix of inspiration from jazz, classical music, rock, hip-hop, electronic music and music from around the world including African, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, Middle-East and Eastern European music.

What inspired you to write this release?

A couple of things inspired me really. First, I started to do big research on Hungarian folk music. Music that I love, music that is close to me, that I’ve listened to when I was a kid, music that I’ve been connected with emotionally. These songs were the primary inspiration for the album. I’ve actually used some parts of those melodies or phrases in my compositions.
I was also inspired by the simplicity and the exciting sounds of electronic music that are not very prominent in jazz normally.
And finally, current events were inspirations for me as well. Traveling around the world and seeing what is happening made me write music that has no language, music that has no limits, that is borderless and can speak to anyone.
(As a side story, almost simultaneously when I started to do the research on Hungarian music, a grant writer from Hungary contacted me and asked if I had any project that he could write a grant for. I gave him my material, canceled all my engagement for the next 6 months and we got the grant, which was about $100,000! I was super inspired, but only until I found out that he was a fraud and he just wanted to use my name to get the money for himself. He offered me to do my project for $10,000 because he was in a financial crisis and he needed the money. Of course, I could not take part in this. Suddenly I found myself with no work and no money. So I used my time to write the songs, experiment and develop the project. I believe that everything happens for a reason and everything is as it should be and not necessarily as we want them to be. Sometimes a huge setback turns out to be on your advantage! Even though I did not get the grant, I finished the project, I’ve toured around the world and I’ve written and put together the best music I’ve ever done!)

Describe the writing and recording process

I write music all the time. Usually, the melodies come to me first. I might be in an airport, or waiting for the taxi, or visiting a museum, looking at some art. It could be anything really. I have hundreds of voice recordings. These are usually small ideas that I develop when I go home and sit down to my piano. Other times it could be a groove or a bass line that I start to work on and inspires me to make it a song. My go-to instrument is the piano as I mentioned. I’ve studied it since I was 12 years old. I am not a piano player per se, but that’s where I am the most comfortable writing. Once I finish a song, usually I don’t make any changes, only minor adjustments. But I also write music that enables the musicians to bring their personality out. My music is more like a road map. Every time we play it, it sounds different. Just like the difference between having a map or actually driving down the road.
The recording procedure for me has to be almost like a performance. I’ve recorded all of my albums in one day and they almost sound like a live recording. I believe that there is something magical about doing one or two takes. I think, knowing that you only have one day to record, puts you in a different mindset too. You have to bring the best out of you. There are no second chances. That’s how I play also, every time I sit down to my instrument.

Any plans to release a video?

Any plans to hit the road?

I just finished my European tour in November. On December 13th I will be playing at the prestigious Carnegie Hall with Lionel Loueke!

I am touring again in Europe in March in Italy, Spain, Hungary, France, and many other countries.

March 2 Vicenza

March 3 Verona

March 6 Bolzano

March 7 Venezia

March 9 Budapest

March 13 Budapest Radio Concert Hall

More exact tour dates and venues are being finalized now. 

As an indie artist, how do you brand yourself and your music to stand out from the rest of the artists out there?

I think the most important thing is to be original, be natural, honest and embrace who you are. We are all unique human beings. Everybody has different DNA, thinks different, look different. If you bring out that uniqueness, then your music will stand out. Many people try to copy what’s trendy, instead of focusing on creating music that has deep values, memorable and will stay for a long time. Connecting with your audience is a key element. There are 7 billion people on earth. We can’t please everyone but we have to find and connect with the people who resonate on the same frequency as we are.  And of course, you have to have a website, facebook, Instagram and other social media sites and you have to be consistent on all of them. Today it is even easier to find your audience with the help of the Internet than 20-30 years ago.

Who have you been listening to lately?

That’s a great question! I like to think that I am very open to almost any kind of music, and I constantly discover new and old things. But to be specific, I’ve recently downloaded Markus Nylund – Greatest hits Vol.2, John Coltrane – Blue World, Esperanza Spalding – 12 Little Spells, Kiefer – Superbloom, Chick Corea – Trilogy 2, and also music by Busta Rhymes, Massive Attack, Moonchild, Tinariwen, Miles Davis, George Adams, Arthur Rubinstein and many more.

Who are your biggest influences?

I have so many influences from so many genres that are really hard to narrow them down. One of the first jazz albums that I ever heard was Miles Davis’ Four and More. Miles has definitely been one of my biggest influences and with that also Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Philly Jo Jones, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Elvin Jones as well as Jeff “Tain” Watts, Brian Blade just to name a few in the jazz circle. My other influences are Bela Bartok, Beethoven, Chopin, Stravinsky as well as Radiohead, Sting, Phil Collins, and so many others.

Tell us about your passions

I love cars. My father was a mechanic originally and I’ve learned a lot about them. I enjoy driving them, watching car races and I like to fix things up too. I love art. I like to go to museums and I enjoy looking at the paintings from up close. I like to see the brush strokes and imagine how the painters must have done their work. I am also amazed by the vision they’ve had, imagining what the painting would look like from far away and what they had to do is close to the canvas. After all these years, believe it or not, I still like to travel and discover new places. I like historical cities and I like to imagine what it was like back in the days when people lived there. I feel that I am a romantic person. I like the beginning of the 20thcentury when there was still no electricity and no cars. I like stories like Sherlock Holmes of course. I like to read all kinds of books; I like science, self-development, and fiction as well. I also like sports, I do stretches almost every day, I run sometimes and I really enjoy walking. Some days I walk up to 8-10 miles. I like to help people, connect people and I also like a business in a way.

What else is happening next in your world?

I think it would be easier to say what else is not happening in my world :)
As I am writing this interview, I am preparing the last steps to release my new album “Freedom”. I’ve also created an Online Drum Masterclass series and I am working on the editing. Simultaneously I am learning about marketing and how to sell it. I have a drum-learning app called ‘Drum School’ in the AppStore and the GooglePlay Store and I am constantly updating it, adding new features and new content. I am also booking the tours for my band (although recently I’ve got an assistant, which helps a lot). In the rest of the time I am writing music, practicing and do everyday things.



Thanks for an awesome interview, Ferenc Nemeth



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