1. What is the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
I think the hardest part of being a musician is to realize that the music has been commercialized to the point of not encouraging creativity and originality. The instability of work as a performer is also a downside, nowadays live music is not so common so normally you have to share a small number of venues with lots of bands, and sadly enough quality is often not the factor that will get you selected.
On the other hand, the best part of being a musician is the experience of it. If you manage to survive on music, or even take it as a side activity, you will find you are working on probably the best and most fulfilling form of art. Live music is a time-bound art form, that meaning it happens in time, you have to be able to listen and adapt to what is occurring around you, so you have this feeling you are living the present, and expressing in real time.
2. How did you know the piano was the instrument you wanted to play?
I always say I’m a pianist because both my grandmothers used to have pianos or keyboards in their houses, so I would “play” with them as a kid, and find the joy of creating sound. But I’m pretty sure I would have ended playing any other instrument (probably drums) anyway, music is something that lives inside you and if you have the urge to express it, it will come out one way or another.
Now, I have to say piano is a very complex instrument, you can play up to 10 notes at the same time, and can have each of your hands doing different things, but is also very rewarding, you can play alone and create whole atmospheres and landscapes. All instruments are complex in their own way, so if you want to get deep on any of them you will probably have to commit your whole life-time to trying to master it.
3. How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
I believe that mistakes are part of music, they are unavoidable; so once you accept that you should only try to fit your mistakes in music, make them sound as part of it. There are no “wrong notes”, all notes are no more than half-step from a “right note”, and you can make them all sound good, with the correct listening and concepts. But, having said that, there is this feeling of frustration you can often get when your brain is sounding one way and your fingers are going a different way… It will happen less as you master your instrument, and you should learn to shake it off in a matter of fractions of a second, so that it doesn’t affect your attitude for the rest of the piece.
4. Who has musically influenced you the most and why?
I’ve had lots of different influences along my life. When i was a really small kid my first connections with music where listening Michel Jackson, and some salsa orchestras that where popular at the time in Spain. A bit later, around age 6-7, somebody gave me a cd of “The Blues Brothers”, the sound track of the movie. That made me a blues fan for life. But then I found jazz (Duke Ellington, Ela Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson), and bossa-nova. Later I would discover Miles Davis, wich was a great influence, not only because of his minimalistic approach to music, but also because he was able to evolve and play very different styles. Funk, soul, acid-jazz and afro-beat also made me realize that there is a common denominator to what we call “Black Music”, and that changed my way of playing. But my probably most influential pianist is Herbie Hancock, I just think he is a genius.
5. What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?
I think specially for beginning students (but not only), the most important concept you should transmit to them is love for music. They should have fun with music, a good musical experience is extremely addictive, and once they are hooked they will never stop. On a more practical level, I think listening and leaving space in music (silence), together with a strong rhythmical approach are the most useful tools for musicians on any level. For more advanced students I think the concept of tension and release should be made very clear, and all the tools you can use and how to use them to apply this concept (harmony, rhythm, dynamics, melody…). Also I think harmony can be a tough topic for most students, so the earliest (and more “ear-training” oriented) you work on it, the better.