The point is to increase gradually the level of the understanding, cultivation and practice of musical art. This task falls particularly to the new Academy.

Liszt to Antal Augusz

Péter Sárik: „For me, it is crucial to be in harmony with the person I make music with.”

14 September 2018

Péter Sárik, jazz pianist was interviewed by György Szentgallay for the 11st Concert Magazine of the Liszt Academy. 


What makes a jazz musician popular? Many say that they should play with taste and fire, they should be innovative and be aware of the unique musical traditions of the genre. It is vital that they be capable of communicating with the other musicians, and there is no harm in mastering their instrument quite brilliantly either. There are, however, a fundamental, non-music-related factors, which are also rather important: the personal aura and the attitude. These are mentioned less when talking about jazz, and they are virtually impossible to teach at school. Is there possibly a way how we lay a fundament to harmony with the audience and with our fellow-musicians beyond the actual professional part? These were the questions that I asked the profoundly gifted and charismatic jazz pianist, Péter Sárik, who is always welcomed by the audience with exuberant enthusiasm both as the head of his trio or as a collaborating musician in other productions.


Based on your shows, it seems you can handle your audience very well. How does it feel to be the lead figure in a band?

Last year it was 10 years since I founded the Trio. When I set it up, I intensely longed for my own group of fellow-musicians, who would make a real team and achieve great things. I had prepared myself for being the lead performer consciously: in 2008 I stopped partcipating in sessions and quit my teaching job in order to put all my energy into my band. Being in a close contact with my audience is a natural need of mine. I feel good, if they feel good, and I treat the audience of our concerts with sincerity and friendship. But this of course must also be learnt. Our independent concert in MüPa in 2012 represented the turning point. Back then, I was so nervous that between the pieces I said words I had written down and learned by heart. Today I chat and joke with the audience spontaneously. For this, I’ve had to work a lot on myself.  


Does this role mean a special challenge to you?

The head of a band is always under much more pressure than the members. All I require from my team is to come to rehearsals and concerts prepared and to be loyal to me. I also want them to discuss their problems with me first. Apart from these, they have nothing else to do; I am responsible for all other things, which is often an enormous burden.


Péter Sárik. Photo: László Arany Tóth


Are you more of an introverted or an extroverted person?

I am perhaps both at the same time: I love initiating conversations with random unknown people even in the street. I also feel at home on the stage. From the perspective of the audience, it may seem that I always smile and am absolutely open, but I let only few people come beyond a certain internal line. This is why jazz proves to be a great choice for me: even the most famous jazz musicians of the world can stroll about in the city centre without being recognised. I could’t stand and take the popularity involved in pop music.


I would presume that for introverted artists, a life full of travelling and stage performances may be overwhelming. What is your opinion of this?

There is truth in what you are saying, but I doubt that it is travelling or the performances that cause these artists the actual problems. Much rather it is their inability to manage or „sell themselves”. If an artist wants to be successful, they have to gain control over their own fate. Beyond practising and preparing ourselves musically, we also need to become marketing experts and business people to some extent. This seems humiliating or appauling to some, as they think – and rightly so – that this shouldn’t be their job, and so they are waiting to be discovered by the world. This happens relatively seldom. In my experience, it is not „showbiz” that consumes their soul, but the lack of acknowledgement and the feeling of being pushed aside. This is how these people turn into misunderstood artists, which is a real tragedy, as excellent musicians remain unknow for ever, just because they cannot or would not be open to changing their ways while seeing the new tendencies.  Today, though, it is much easier than it was 10 years ago: you can reach hundreds of thousands just by clicking on a key on your computer keyboard, and if someone is really original, extraordinary, then they can be known all over the world within virtually minutes. But for that, you must hit that key. By the way, if we read the biography of any great composer, we’ll see that their lives were full of trivial troubles, and no matter how pure their heart was, they had to solve these practical problems.


Besides the stage presence, what other qualities can create harmony between the band and their audience?

It takes quite a few things: a team consisting of excellent musicians, who love doing what they do, who have their own unique personalities, who complement, are fond of and respect one another, who are uninhibited in a good sense, that is they are able to be free, make music and play with each other on the stage with a child-like joy, and who of course put meaning, thought and feeling in what they do. If these factors are present, success is definite; the audience will love them. But if a group has no charisma, a captivating energy and personality, then no matter for how many decades they have been practising hard, how many degrees they have earned, no magic will come about. In jazz, there are hardly any pre-composed segments that you could cling onto, behind which you could hide; the miracle is born or is not born spontaneously.


Do you find it important that jazz musicians learn how to create stage presence and to be in contact with the audience?

In my opinion, the task that we all have is to get to know, come to term with and come to love ourselves, so that by liberating ourselves from our constraining inhibitions, negative, self-destructive thoughts, we can proudly live with our personalities. Schools too ought to guide their students – musicians or no musicians – into this direction. If someone reaches this stage, they will ooze harmony, and no matter how they behave, they will be natural and authentic, and the audience will appreciate them. They will then also find a way to get in touch with the audience with or without words.


What type of band leader do you consider yourself? How do you search for harmony within the Trio?

No band, no enterprise can function well without a firm leadership. You need a boss, who has a vision of the joint future, who coordinates and takes responsibility for all. It is similarly important that members feel that it is their band too. They must all feel that their personal presence is crucial and useful, and that they share their goals. I want my band members to feel good, feel no constraint, no forceful push. Of course, it can come up that someone wants to explore new directions or that the above-mentioned factors are not absent wholly or partially. In this case, you must take farewell, as it is not worth forcing to keep alive anything.


Do you bring ready-made composition and orchestration ideas to your band members or rather only fragments that you jointly complete?

I normally orchestrate the pieces with my computer at home: I prepare the composition model for the bass and the drum. Then I put this on sheet music, and I send this almost finished work to the guys. This is the starting point at the rehearsal, where each one of us adds his ideas to it. At the concerts then, we never play the same thing twice the same, and as we develop, so do our old songs develop and become richer.


What do you think a musician can do to work harmoniously with others?

It is simple as tea, yet only few manage it: practise, learn new things, come prepared to rehearsals and concerts, be on time and be honest. If you are kind and fun to be with, even passionate about what you do, you’ll have so much work that you’ll have to make your phone number unlisted so that you have a bit of peace and quiet sometimes. The above-mentioned qualities are all about respect for fellow-musicians. If we observe these, we will be able to work efficiently, in a good atmosphere and in harmony.


Péter Sárik Trio. Photo: Csaba Aknay


Have you ever had bad experience with other musicians in the sense of not finding a common denominator?

Yes, I have, but fortunately, not too often. The few cases, however, that I’ve had are unforgettable. In these situations, you have a miserable time on the stage and can hardly wait ’till the end of the your suffering. For me, it is crucial to be in harmony with the person I make music with beyond the professional level. If this doesn’t work out with someone, I will not collaborate with them long-term. I have often been criticised that I should be more tolerant, more easy-going, but I cannot change this. I am more sensitive to people’s aura than most people, and I don’t feel good if I’m not in harmony with someone. This obviously does not mean that those who I cannot get on with are bad people, it just means that we don’t make a good match. This is why I cannot work with anyone just out of some shared interest, which has brought quite a few disadvantages in my career, but this is the only way I can feel comfortable and contented.  


You seem to be a positive and poised person on the stage and outside it. Have these qualities contributed to your success? 

Success in my profession and poise or contentedness are not related, I think.  The history of jazz is full tragic fates and broken lives. Many a very successful and world-famous musician were lonely and unhappy people outside their stage life. Unfortunately, depression, alcoholism or drug-abuse are quite common phenomena with artists, as we are much more sensitive than others, and there are some of us who can endure existence only this way. By no means do I want to judge anyone; I have no way of knowing the weight of the burden people have to carry. I only cross my fingers for them to find a better way, as it is dreadful to see that miraculously gifted people are lost and are unable to run the course that was available to them, sometimes in their art, sometimes in their private life, sometimes both. I have worked hard for my poise and my positive outlook on life, and this work for becoming a better, more positive and freer person is still an ongoing process. It is quite painful and tough to face your fears and overcome the shadows of your past, but it is worth it. I believe that in art, it is possible to experience depth and height despite contentedness and poise. Fortunately, there are lots of good examples for this, which can fill all of us with hope.


György Szentgallay

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