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In this interview Goran Ivanovic and Fareed Haque share with us their thougths about music, guitar and their projects, also they give us an insight about the music that they are working on at the moment and some useful advise for all guitar players

For more information about Goran go to and for more infromation about Fareed go to
Seven Boats
GUITARRA MAGAZINE: We are here with Goran Ivanovic and Fareed Haque. We're going to talk about their projects and their approaches to music.

GM: Fareed, can you tell us a little about your background?

FAREED HAQUE: Sure. My father is from Pakistan, my mother from Chile. I spent a large part of my childhood traveling. I began playing piano at a young age, guitar after that, and a little bit of string bass. Eventually I started studying classical guitar in college. Although I started classical guitar very late, I always had an interest in classical guitar and Spanish music; that is, world music, really. I had contact with a lot of Pakistani and South American folk music in the house. My mother has always been an enthusiastic music fan. She took me to see McCoy Turner when I was 9 years old, took me to see Pat Metheny, and bought me my first Pat Martino record. So all kinds of interesting musical influences came from my folks and from traveling. I went to North Texas State University on a Jazz scholarship, studied there for a year, and transferred to Northwestern, where I began doing gigs around Chicago and got a degree in classical guitar. When I was a Junior, I was on the road with Paquito de Rivera and his group, and began to run on a regular basis. I played with Sting for a little while and got signed with Pangaea Records, Sting's label. I did two albums for Pangea and then went over to Blue Note Records and did 3 records with them. During that time I was touring with Dave Holland, Bob James, Javon Jackson, and still with Paquito on and off. I began playing as a leader and as a co-leader with groups, joined Garaj Mahal in 2000, co-founded that group with Allan Hertz, and did some gigs with Joe Henderson and a group called Summit including Zakir Hussein, Jorge Brooks, Kai Eckerd, and Steve Smith. That is basically what I am doing now, touring with a few different groups and playing with the Fareed Haque group, Garaj Mahal and Goran.

GM: You have a very extensive background playing different styles of music, especially Jazz and Classical. As a guitarist, how do you think playing Jazz and Classical complement each other?

FH: I think that a lot of the modern classical repertoire is particularly influenced by folk music from around the world. Folk music necessarily involves a certain amount of looseness, a certain amount of understanding the tradition, a certain amount of improvisational ability. I think the typical classical mind-set does not really lend itself to the music in general that is being played more and more. I think that classical music benefits from a much looser, more spontaneous, more improvisational approach. The cadenzas of classical music are in most cases left out by classical musicians, and I think that's a mistake. Many parts indicated in the scores of Mozart concertos are usually not even played. There are numerous elements of improvisation that we usually hear incorrectly performed, but I think improvisation is at the central core of music and that a musician who can't improvise cannot really be considered a complete musician.

GM: Playing all these styles of music and being proficient at all of them is a difficult task. How do you develop this ability in the most efficient way?

FH: Hmmm?I don't have a good answer for that question (laughter) ?

GORAN IVANOVIC: You have to be interested enough, I guess?

FH: Yeah! That's part of it. You have to be interested in all kinds of music. When I hear something that really excites me and get very much into it, I listen only to that music for a while and practice it a lot. You know, I have a lot of ideas about musical projects that excite me, demand a lot of time, and inspire a lot of work. So instead of telling myself, "I want to play classical guitar, so I'm going to practice very hard," I say, "Wow! I love this piece of music. I want to play it, and I am going to program it into this concert." That creates a deadline for me to meet. If I have a type of instrumentation in mind, I say, "OK, I am going to book a gig with this instrumentation and these musicians." That way I will have to write the music and do a concert. So I set goals for myself, hopefully realistic goals and deadlines to keep the projects moving forward. I am truly into it. I am not afraid to work hard. Many musicians, I think, are afraid to work hard. If it does not come very natural to them, they will not pursue it. I have always done pretty good work I believe. I am able to accomplish a lot. I don't want to say this in an arrogant way, but in speaking from experience. Having taught for 10 to 15 years I have seen many students not well organized, not very intelligent about their use of time. I tend to be mindful, naturally, about organizing my time, and the more I have to do, the more organized I am about it, so I can accomplish a lot in very little time.

GM: You were saying that some students poorly utilize their practice time. How would you advise students who want to become proficient in several styles to organize themselves?

FH: Well, depending on what level you've reached, if you are in a stage where you are doing a lot of basic practice, having a little notebook on how you practice is useful. It is something that was useful for me for a long time. The more experienced and the older I got, the less needed that notebook became. Now what matters to me is to understand the music. If I don't understand the music, there is no point in repeating a phrase 50 times. It's not going to get any better. At the moment I understand the music, in my ear, in my brain, when I understand a difficult phrase, much of the difficulty goes away. Often it has to do with mental preparation. I see a lot of students who work really hard but don't accomplish anything because they don't really know what they are trying to accomplish. They have not understood the music. I will spend a fair amount of time just dealing with that one piece of music. So I think it boils down to understanding the music and budgeting your time; these two aspects are vitally important.

GM: You and Goran have been playing together for quite a while. Can you guys tell me how this partnership started?

GI: We met when I first moved to Chicago in 2001. FH: Actually, Goran just called me out of the blue?

GI: Yes, Fareed was one of the first guitarists I heard of in Chicago. Everyone I asked to tell me which guitarist in Chicago I could learn from or play with mentioned Fareed Haque. So I decided to check this guy out. I called Fareed, and he gave me some gig dates. I went to see him in a club. Of course I was blown away because he was playing great Jazz and doing his music with his band. Also I saw and heard him play some Barrios pieces. I had never seen anyone play both Jazz and Classical at that level. So I went and introduced myself. One of the things that I will never forget is what he told me that day. He said I was either an "annoying kid" or a "great guitar player."(laughter) A few weeks later, I played for him. I guess he liked how I played, and we did some studying together. I went to NIU for a very short time. (laughter from everyone)

At first I was greatly interested in learning how to improvise, but did not realize from whom I was learning. I could not appreciate as I do now that very useful experience. For a long time I could not understand Fareed's approach in making music, how to be an improviser, and how to be involved in something else besides classical music. 4 or 5 years later, here I am talking to you and playing with him ? (laughter)

FH: I think that for someone who has studied classical music as you have, Goran, there is a completely different way of thinking about music. In fact, that's one of the things I find difficult about classical music-failing to think about it in a looser, more open way.

GI: Yeah. One of the first things I remember from studying in Salzburg is that everyone was working on scales, sight-reading, getting their sound rounded and full, and playing pieces without mistakes. But once you achieve this and are able to obtain the looseness that Fareed is talking about, a new window opens up for playing music in general. Knowing more about music means having more freedom to play whatever!

FH: Also, to be fair, as I was observing Goran, I was thinking that the reason he plays with so few mistakes is that he is not concerned about all this other stuff. He thinks more about the notes and the sound. That really interested me and has helped my classical playing a lot. I learned to be more directly focused on what is happening at the moment, basically to focus on achieving a classical mind-set for that moment. So I think that by playing together we taught each other a lot of things.

GM: Now, let's talk a little about your recordings. You have released, so far, one duo CD, "Macedonian Blues". It is a very interesting piece of work, combining classical guitar with some improvisational sections based on Balkan folklore. I want to know what has been the reaction of the audience, critics and other players regarding this CD.

GI: Well, a lot of people tried to categorize the music right away. Some critics called it Jazz, others called it Classical, and still others called it folk. I think we are not doing anything different than making arrangements of folk songs, specifically Macedonian folk music, and having a lot of room for improvisation. This is nothing new; folk music as a basis in classical music has been used already in the last hundred years, for example, by Dvorak and Bartok. The only different aspect that we have is the mixture of our styles. In Fareed's case it's everything from flamenco to Jazz and Indian music. In my case it's trying to be true to the sound of the Balkans and trying to understand it.

FH: It has been an interesting project, and our audiences have responded well to it. One of the reasons that I am so interested in this music is that I have always believed that in the west, particularly in the United States, there's a notion that people can only understand simple music. We define this as music written in a single major or minor key and expected to be played in 3/4 or 4/4 time. In my experience Indian and Pakistani folk music has been music that people dance to, sing to, and get off to on a regular basis. It's very simple music, but in western culture it's considered unbelievably complicated melodically and rhythmically. The same is true in regard to Balkan music. It is a very hard concept to understand because we are used to thinking about odd meters as some sort of mathematical formula.

It has been very gratifying to see that people generally (besides guitar players and aficionados) love the melodies, and find that this is very accessible music. The fact that there are a lot of 7, 5, 11, 9 meters as well as various combinations of meters, and that we are coming up with these arrangements together on the spot, working them out, improvising a little bit, gives a natural feel to the music.

GM: Your medium of expression is, more or less, the classical guitar. Do you think that this type of playing would help classical guitar develop and get out of the box that confines it nowadays? Do you think that will happen with your music?

FH: I think it is happening, but there is a sad part to it. I think there is a certain elegance, a certain restraint in classical music that some audiences admire, but I am afraid that it's not serving the music well in the long run but, instead, removes the actual experience of music from a lot of people and limits access to this type of music. I think that for classical guitar music to survive people must be willing to conceive it outside the traditional environment. I remember playing a recital at a guitar festival. I went to the stage without a program-or, if there was a program, I paid no attention to it. It was a good recital, there was a standing ovation, and I was feeling very satisfied about it. Then an audience member comes to me and says, (imitating voice) "It was a great recital, but you did not follow the program? I was looking at the program, but you did not follow the program? You can't do that! It is classical music." (laughter) It was not funny to her. She was really upset that I did not follow the program, and I realized that there is a certain mentality that appreciates a certain formality, a certain distance. Some listeners are there not so much for the music as for the "sit down, be quiet, be calmed, meditative kind of experience." This has nothing to do with music for me. I have played the Green Mill (jazz bar in Chicago) with 300 people there, and everybody was chatting. But when I start playing very softly, all of a sudden everybody got quiet because they wanted to be quiet, not because I was making them be quieter, not because there was someone in the balcony flashing a light making them quiet. I think that when this level of attention happens naturally it's great, but that forcing people to get this attention is not going to be helpful in the long run. I think that for classical music to survive it has to leave the classical arena.

GI: Of course I agree with everything Fareed says. One of the things I can add is that when I do music I am not thinking about what kind of audience I am going to target, or whether to play more classical festivals or jazz. My idea is first of all to make myself happy and make good music. I really do not feel like releasing 3 albums a year playing Latin American music and then Indian and then Balkan. Even though I am from Yugoslavia, it took me some time to understand the music just by playing it and listening to recordings. The first step is to be true and honest in what you do. Now back to what you were asking, about bringing the guitar out of the box? I do not know how helpful we are to the general guitar audience, but we get a lot of guitar students and teachers interested in our project. Sergio Assad is publishing the music. So with time I think good results will happen.

FH: I think it is interesting also that Raphaella Smits is playing a lot of 19th century repertoire in a much more spontaneous way than it has usually been played. I think all of us love Julian Bream, we all love Segovia, we love Williams?. Many of us, I mean, love Segovia. (laughter) But I think that although that style of classical guitar playing is wonderful, maybe the time has come for a more historically accurate, more spontaneous approach to that repertoire. There a lot of classical guitarists who are not afraid to improvise. Nowadays it is considered quite strange if a musician can read music, play well technically, and improvise, but that was not an anomaly 150 years ago. It was common practice. Back then, if you could not improvise, you were not a musician. If you could not read and play, you were not a musician. I have had master students at the university taking baroque counterpoint, and I say to them, "This harmony that you're playing does not really work. What do you hear there?" The students say, "I don't hear anything. I am just following the score." Then I ask, "Can you play the chords and sing the melody?" Or taking it a step further, "Can you play the chords and sing the melody to 'Happy Birthday'?" And the students cannot do that! It is not because they don't have the talent, but they have not been encouraged to accept that as part of what musicianship is.

GM: So you think that there is a wrong approach to music education in the school system?

FH: Absolutely. We have people who can't improvise, teaching musicians. We have musicians who are comfortable only within the box, teaching young musicians. As a result, they're trying to promote only what they are comfortable with. It's not anything evil, just a natural habit. Whatever makes you comfortable in this world, you try to promote it. So the schools end up promoting the very thing that leads to the death of classical music, the death of music in general. So I think all this breaking out of the box is going to be good in the long run. I think it is important for people (audiences, universities, critics) to begin to appreciate and value those things that don't necessarily fall into the traditional box. To be able to appreciate the kind of gift Goran has in an academic setting is really important, because people don't know? They hear and they like or they dislike, and in their doubt they look for some support, some encouragement, some approval of the artist that they like. Someone comes to me and says, " I love Kenny G? Is Kenny G a good musician?" I have to say, "Well, in certain ways." But why do they have to ask me? The truth is that people like to know that what they like is valuable. I think that it is going to be important in the future to value talent; that is, to respect and appreciate that it is ultimately valuable. This is tough because as a society we are apt to value only those things that are lucrative, things that are traditional. It's hard for those values to change. The fact that Sergio Assad is looking at what we do and considering it valuable means a lot.

GM: You are about to release a second duo CD called "Seven Boats"? What can you tell us about it and how it came to be?

GI: Well I just felt the urge to write and put the music somewhere. In this album we have one large work and 3 waltzes that I wrote for solo guitar. Lately I've been writing for solo guitar, and I felt that I had to store that music somewhere before I forget it or something happens. (laughter)

FH: Before a truck hits you? (laughter)

GI: Or my playing crashes? (laughter) But in a way we wanted to create a sequel to "Macedonian Blues". Even though this album in particular does not focus on traditional tunes, except for one or two arrangements, it includes other tunes that I wrote and Fareed and I put together. I would not say that this album is as folksy as "Macedonian Blues". It is a little more modern.

FH: In a certain way it is a little more melodic. The way it came together was a little different too. There is more counterpoint, more interplay. The arrangements are?I would not say more difficult or less difficult, but they are different.

GI: "Macedonian Blues" was a great lesson and a good beginning point in our learning how to arrange music and knowing what sounds the best for us, not necessarily for other players, just figuring out what we play the best. In the case of the new album, there are things that we are sure will work for us. There are a few tunes that we came up with just before going into the studio, and we were perfectly happy with the recording, because we know what we play well and what we can pull off.

FH: I actually remember a review that we got, where the reviewer was comparing two different albums, one straight classical and?

GI: It was the same magazine?

GM: Yes it was Guitarra Magazine?

(big, huge laughter?.)

FH: Oh? But anyway, it was interesting. The reviewer gave a very good review to both albums. He said that the classical album was nearly perfect but maybe a little dull, and that our album was not quite so perfect but very exciting. I am being very general here. When I read it, I had the sense that the reviewer was not aware that we were improvising. If you hear Wynton Marsalis improvise, he sounds great; but any improvisation has more rough edges to it, because you are coming with all of this on the spot. Of course if you hear Wynton play a concerto, every note is going to sound perfect. It was an interesting comparison, and I learned from the review that what we are putting together in an improvisational way was actually sounding as if it had been studiously worked out. I think the more we play together, the more our improvisations are going to sound "composed," which is really gratifying. In this last album ("Seven Boats") there is a lot of that, where you really get a sense that the improvisation comes across like a big arrangement, especially in the last piece. I think that that demonstrates how much you, Goran, have learned how to improvise.

GM: Are you going on tour to promote the CD?

GI: We are planning on it, but Fareed is working in a lot of projects at the same time and, thank God, I am starting to work with theater, film, and my own group. It is going to be hard to organize a tour, but we expect to do one before the end of the year.

FH: One of the things that I am shooting for is to have us tour outside the traditional classical guitar venues. First of all, they don't pay enough, and most of the work that we get pays a lot more. Besides, I have a family to support, and he's got cigarettes to buy?


What we are finding is that there is a lot more progress to be made playing outside the classical guitar world. Of course, there are guitar festivals here and there that we will play in?

GM: That's a good idea. That way you are opening a door for the classical guitar in other venues.

FH: Exactly. Right now I have a few booking agents who are starting to shop the different performance art centers, and hopefully we are going to do couple of tours, east coast, west coast, Midwest? We are going to play loud!!!! GM: I wish you the best?

When is the CD being released?

GI: The CD is to be released on April 26th and we have a record-release party at the Hot House on April 4th that's going to be a challenging gig to do. We have done a lot of gigs in Chicago, and the crowd seems to follow. They can't wait for the record to come out.

GM: That's all very interesting?

Now, what kind of advice do you have for our readers, mostly classical guitarists? If they want to learn how to improvise, what would be a good path to follow?

GI: Well, a jazz musician, who plays classical as well, told me that as an exercise everyday you should play around on the guitar without thinking about scales, modes, harmonies. Just try to create, experiment with the sounds of the guitar, and get comfortable with it. I think this is a good beginning point. Play around, figure out what sounds good to you, make arrangements, and transcribe tunes. After that, try different harmonies, and play counterpoint against the same melody. That has worked very well for me.

FH: I think that is all very valid. The first thing that you can do is to create a musical challenge. Take a simple familiar melody and put a harmony to it. This is a first step, to be able to hear what kind of harmony can go with this melody, to create a challenge that way. Then say to yourself, "OK, now we play this melody in a different key. Let's move the melody into the bass, harmonize it in 2 voices, in 3 voices?" So melody and the conception of how to harmonize might inspire a whole creative flow that will allow arrangements to come out. This is a great way to encourage improvisation. Another way that you can work on improvisation as a classical musician is to realize a figured bass. It demands a controlled improvisation but gets you on the principles of improvisation. Go through your favorite classical sonatas. For example, Giuliani supposedly wrote the same piece 500 times. (laughter) You can take all 500 of those pieces, make links for them, and put together your own cadenza. If you look into a lot of Giuliani's cadenzas, you will find a lot of the same elements there. If you look into Charlie Parker's solos, you'll find many of the same elements there too. Also, if you look into Coltrane's solos, you will see the same effect. This is called style. People sometimes get upset and say that all of Giuliani sounds the same. Well, that's what Giuliani is; otherwise it would not be Giuliani. This is not a bad thing. I think this is a good way to start exploring improvisation in the classical world. Begin working at the art of playing cadenzas. It can be very simple at first and then advance gradually. Unleash this challenge by looking at the candenzas that Sor, Giuliani, and Carulli wrote. Also a look at the candenzas written in the big piano concertos would be very interesting. I think this would be a good approach to improvisation for the straight classical player.

GM: Goran, you mentioned something about working with your band. Can you tell us a little about it?

GI: The Band is called, for now, "Balkan Jam Band". The members of the band are Doug Rosemberg on sax, Kalyan Pathak on tabla, and Matt Ulery on double bass. Each of the members comes from a different musical background, especially in the case of Kalyan, who comes from India and plays all the Indian classical music. We are focusing on working with Balkan Music. We have played a few gigs around Chicago. It is still developing, but I think it is a very worthwhile project?

GM: I wish the best with your band?

GI: I have a question, Fareed. How has your experience with amplifying acoustic guitar been? What would you recommend?

FH: My experience has been miserable. (laughter) It is very difficult to find a really, truly clean amplifier these days. I have used the Acoustic Image, which is a wonderful sounding amp. But then I started playing with Garaj Mahal, and they are louder. Now I have a carbon amp with 300 watts per side.

The problem with amplification is that if you push the amplifier too hard you lose the acoustic sound. The amplifier has to be halfway on and the speakers have to move comfortably in order to amplify the full register of the instrument. It needs a lot of power, plenty of speakers, and a good sound-person. When I played with Dave Holland, I was playing classical guitar. It was a soft band, all acoustic instruments, and we used beautiful microphones. But even with no amplifiers on stage, just monitors, we still had trouble. It sounded great, but it's not something that you can do by just walking into a room and playing.

I would recommend the Godin guitars, a good option. They are not great, but they are the best. World pickups sound very good although they still need some work. I recommend the B&B. But eventually all the pickups start to sound plastic and thin, which is a big problem. That's why I like the World pickups mixed with a good microphone. This would be a good solution?but I really don't think there is a great solution.

GM: We have to wait for better technology ?

FH: Not wait for, demand better technology, and not be so accepting. Look at Sharon Isbin. She has a microphone inside the guitar, and it does not sound bad. But when you go to almost any auditorium, the sound-man just cranks the reverb up. I heard her live on the radio in Minnesota, and she sounded like someone on the bottom of a well. So it was not the system; it was the sound man.

I am not convinced that most classical guitarists don't know enough about sound to be able to make the distinctions and the demands that are necessary. I have done a handful of live concerto performances with really competent sound-persons, and the guitar sounded fabulous. All the great recordings that we listen to are made with superior technology. So it is not impossible. We just have to demand it as classical guitarists, and educate ourselves.

GM: Thank you very much for your time.

GI & FH: You're welcome.