A life in music seems to have been destined for Artem Ramsay from the day he was born. Better known as Muhammad Abdul Al Khabyyr, the renowned trombonist and fixture of Quebec’s music scene and beyond for more than 40 years can’t remember a time when music wasn’t prevalent in his life. His professional career has spanned a multitude of genres, from jazz, to rock, pop, and classical.
Ramsay’s new song, “…and all the leaves stood still,” came to life in the wake of death and is completely performed on piano. Sitting on his porch after the loss of someone dear, the air and large trees that enveloped him were still. Suddenly, a golden maple leaf appeared on the ground in front of him. Ramsay understood; all those leaves had stood in honour of that one fallen leaf. Yes, leaves are like people, no different.
Listen to ‘…and all the leaves stood still‘ and check out our interview below!
Can you talk to us about the inspiration behind your single, “…and all the leaves stood still”?
I would say that more than being inspired, perhaps it has to do with affinities and connectivity. Sometimes i feel that everything that has ever taken place and has yet to take place, actually happen at the same time. To my knowledge, the phrase from the movie, Lawrence of Arabia..”It is written” has never been disproven. However, the existentialist statement was challenged with “Nothing is written” It makes for a lively debate. This still life tone poem, …and all the leaves stood still, speaks to life, grace and wonder.
How do you think your community has contributed to your success?
Last time i looked, we’re in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, France, China, Italy, Kazakhstan, England, South Korea, Germany, Middle East, Africa, Japan and more. I have traveled to many different countries around the world. Music is the language that needs not a translator. I am thrilled to be able to have this conversation.
What was the first thing that got you interested in music?
In the 60’s, my dad often performed with the great folksinger, Tom Kines. Mr. Kines would invite us all to his home during the Christmas holidays. He had an amazing assortment of guitars and lutes scattered everywhere. But it was that home-made eggnog, spiked and ladled out of a punch bowl that got my interest! …or maybe it was the always empty classroom that housed the harpsichord at the Conservatoire. Between classes, i would let myself in and play. Played what? I have no idea, but i played endlessly …or till my next class. ..or was it during my college years and hearing the album, Thad Jones & Mel Lewis Monday Night at the Village Vanguard. That album, what a vibe! That was probably the first. I decided then and there that i wanted to be part of something like that. Maybe i already was and didn’t know it. I have always been slow to catch on. Not necessarily a bad thing. Funny how 20 years later I’m performing on Broadway with my hero from that recording, Jerome Richardson.
Describe to our audience your music-making process.
Typically i will find time to sit at the piano and tickle the keys. For the most part, that’s where writing happens, or not. I consider the act being more like a scribe than say, a composer. The high and low tides of the ocean change daily or thereabouts. The high tide at the piano, i.e. when the music comes in, may happen only after a low tide (nothing or almost) that can last for months. When that high tide finally comes in, there are usually a few more not far behind and yes, they come in waves. During those empty months of low tides, occasionally a broken off piece of something comes ashore. That’s why i always make it a point to find myself at the piano as much as possible. With all of that, patience is required. I hear where it wants to go and often have to find it through trial and error. It can be a very tedious process and usually is. During that process, you do not want to be anywhere near to hear the repetitions, the struggle. I try not to analyze the music until i feel that it is completed. I don’t want to have what i have learnt to rule over what the ears hear. Music is always evolving and i try not to interfere with where it wants to go. Hence, the academia side of things can be constraining.
Often times, theoretical hard and fast rules are accorded to compositions as if the composers were following those rules. Not. However, theory is to be respected and it is very useful. I just choose to look at it only after ‘writing’ the composition. Occasionally, theory will help out to expedite a repair. The new work doesn’t let go day and night until it’s all been siphoned out. The melodies and harmonies racking the brain saying ‘let me out’. That’s why it’s more like being a scribe. Because the music’s already there, as if inside of a bottle and we take the lid off. Simply a scribe. The process or time line of it, we have no control over. One evening while noodling at the piano, the electricity went out. It was suddenly totally dark in the room. I leaned over my left arm which i had slung on top of the piano. I lowered my right hand (thumb, index and middle) onto the keys. The three simultaneous notes spoke and i followed the sound right through to the end. Right there. And remembered it back to the beginning.
It’s entitled, Frozen in Time. I hope to record it for Still Life Tone Poems – Book II Other songs sometimes have taken years to complete, the bridge forgotten then somehow re-remembered or the realization after many years that separate works in fact belonged together. Frozen in Time, was most unusual in that it was ‘written’ in basically the same amount of time as the time that it takes to perform it. Starts out a little like ‘Nadia’s Theme’ and then ventures out somewhere else. It is one of my favourite compositions. I just followed the thread. Whenever i add lyrics to music, the seed might be one sentence or a title, whatever. When i sit down to follow it through, an hour or two usually takes care of it with maybe a tweak or two over the next couple of days. Although the music’s melody is pretty much already set, often the added words and inflections will create differences from the original instrumental melody. As they say, it’s all good. Must be open to change. And after all, nothing is ever the same, anyway.
What advice would you give other musicians?
Some advice that i have given to musicians: Your reputation precedes you. … How you conduct yourself is as important as how you play. …. Never underestimate the audience. …and for gosh sake, Have Fun!
I recorded 10 songs at home in early January of this year. A couple of months later I’m at a jam session at Upstairs in Montréal. Jim West of Justin Times Records is in the audience. Now, almost 40 years ago i sent Jim a demo and he was interested in only one of the songs. It was the only one with solo piano. It also had voice with no lyrics. Jim wanted to do something with that tune but i never followed up. Well, maybe i did. So here at Upstairs and having 10 solo piano songs in the vault, i approach Jim and ask if he would be interested in listening to the recording. He hemmed and hawed a little but said that i could drop off a copy at his office, which i did the next morning and now here we are today. Obviously i am ecstatic about the release.
And finally, if you could collaborate with any musician/band, who would it be? And why?
It’s not easy being in a candy store and having to choose. This summer i have consumed many a popsicle. The boxes of thirty have three different flavours, all fantastic. Orange, cherry and grape. Now, i can look in the box and pick one of the three but i prefer not to look and pull one out, whatever it happens to be. As a kid, i was taught how to make boomerangs from popsicle sticks. You need five sticks to make one. As a popsicle has two sticks, if alone, i need three popsicles to make the boomerang 🙂 Similarly to picking and not looking, there is something very special about opening a book to a ‘random’ spot that your thumb grabs hold of and start reading immediately at the spot that your eyes land on. Life. It hearkens back to Forrest, Forrest Gump. “…like a box of chocolates…you never know what you gonna get.” I have been so lucky to have met and performed with many of my childhood heroes that to now have to choose would be liken to looking a gift horse…. There is however, an extended work from way back that i will hopefully one day get around to score for a symphony orchestra. At that time i will try to find an orchestra that would like to try it. All i can do really, is take care of the music. As for the rest? The saying, “Build it and they will come “and then more emphatically expressed by James Earl Jones,” People will most definitely come “Don’t you just love the movies?