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Interview: Derek Menchan
(Published: April 24, 2019)

Q: What was your introduction to music? How old were you, and how did it affect you?

A: I was introduced to music in my single digit years; there isn't a time, in my life's memories, that I don't recall being exposed to the greatest music. Works of Brahms, Beethoven, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Sam Cooke, Brooke Benton, Lionel Hampton, and more, were featured in the albums my parents collected, along with both of them being singers in the church of my youth, and my mom and maternal grandmother playing the piano and the organ, respectively, in that same church. I toyed with the piano starting at 4 years of age, and began the 'cello and the bass at age 8.

Q: Did you grow up in a musical environment?

A: So, my dad was, of all things, a virtuoso whistler! In the army, my dad was a medic in the Korean Conflict, and it was said that people would always know when Sergeant Menchan was headed their way because his loud and melismatic whistling would arrive long before he did. He sang in a glee club when in college and possessed a superb bass voice. My mom has always had a regal and elegant lyric soprano voice, and even my brother can sing. So yes, my whole family was musical and music always played a real and serious role in our households.

Q: What styles of music had the greatest impact on you creatively?

A: The interesting thing is that, since I was reared on swing charts from big bandleaders, and also symphonies of Brahms and Beethoven, as well songs of crooners like King Cole, Sinatra, and Ray Charles, I developed, early on, a deep and intuitive grasp of counterpoint--where several solo voices fit together in a wonderful tapestry of interdependent lines. And this trait, counterpoint, is found in the greatest "classical" works, as well as the arrangements of, say, Quincy Jones, who greatly influences me. I like to say that I never learned the musical separation of church and swing. This causes me to play "classical" works with a buoyancy and swing, and jazz works with an eye for precision and clear voicings so that the most baller harmonies can easily be heard.

Q: How would you describe your musical style?

A: I have a term, which truly applies to my music, alone: its "mruzick," and I use it to describe my sound, which is an amalgam of open fifths and fourths as found in Aaron Copeland, and thus is part of the "Americana" sound, along with exotic "added note" chords, a la Ellington, but with a touch of Prokofiev--and all that mixed with a rhythmic swag and punctuation featured in gospel, blues, swing and RnB--while not ignoring Stravinsky. So my mruzick is this truly Postmodern mix of disparate idiomatic traits with no lines of demarcation between them. I love it!

Q: What are your goals, artistically speaking?

A: My goals have always been simply to maximize the art--the talents-- I have in me. I have a whole lot going on in this feverish and incessantly working mind of mine, and I am fortunate enough to have the tools to be able to get a great lot of it out and into the recorded medium. I kind of have to; it's like exorcizing demons, for me-- only my demons are all dressed to the nines and are great dancers and singers. Some of 'em are mean players of instruments as well!

Q: When did you decide to be a musician, and what fueled this passion?

A: The first instrument I took really seriously was the 'cello, and, by the 6th grade, I knew I possessed a real aptitude for achievement on it, and so I set out, straightway, to become the very best 'cellist I could. This pursuit, soon enough, led me to meet a great lot of the best 'cellists in the world, a few of which became, not just my mentors, but personal friends of mine. From them, I learned the elegant and aristocratic sounds and phrasings of the golden age of the 'cello, and the personal sound I thereby cultivated led me on a truly singular and unique career path with which I could not be any more content.

Q: What artists influenced you the most growing up?

A: If I had to pick THE top musicians who influenced me most in my youth, they would have to be Count Basie, Duke Ellington, the wonder-cellist Slava Rostropovich, and musical demigod Quincy Jones.

Q: How have you evolved creatively?

A: I think that by learning, from an early age, to trust my intuition and creative spirit, and allow them to fully guide and lead me, I have seen myself grow from being one who only wanted to be a respected concert 'cellist, into a successful composer, arranger, singer, multi-instrumentalist, and scholar, musical and otherwise. My own life and it's trajectory, is all the proof I need that something greater than myself has always been in my corner and has approved, affirmed, and championed my goals and pursuits.

More Information: https://derekmenchan.com

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