Artist Spotlight: Nick Semenykhin, jazz guitar soloist in Opus One
I met with Nick at Bar 6, a favorite bar of New School students due to its proximity and student discount. Nick and I had played together in a Brazilian Ensemble at the New School before I graduated, but it was nice to sit down and talk to him without our instruments present. We sat at the bar and chatted for a bit and ran into Daniel Zinn, founder of New Orch, before starting the interview. I appreciated Nick taking the time and meeting me by school, because after the interview he had a 90 minute commute home to Staten Island! Thanks, Nick!
Nick is a jazz guitarist, composer, and arranger playing shows in NYC and studying jazz at the New School. Be sure to check out his website, www.nicksemenykhin.com and his facebook page facebook.com/nick.semenykhin for information about upcoming events, recordings, and current projects.
...my first real electric guitar teacher showed me Wes Montgomery. So jazz came into my life and consumed me, for better or worse.
Samantha Marshall: What made you become a musician?
Nick Semenykhin: So my parents got me into a music school when I was 5. SM: And this was back in the Ukraine?
34S: Yes. So they have seperate programs for music specifically. Over there I started playing classical piano first, for like 10 years or so. I was thinking about doing the next step and applying for conservatory, but I felt like I didn’t have the chops. I went to Moscow one time with my parents and met this guy and he was just playing like this chanson guitar, something very simple, but it sounded so good and I was like ‘damn, this is a nice instrument, I want to learn to play it.’ So I got into that and then electric guitar after a while, and then my first real electric guitar teacher showed me Wes Montgomery. So jazz came into my life and consumed me, for better or worse.
SM: How did you decide to come to the New School?
NS: At that time I was 3 years into conservatory in electric guitar ‘jazz major,’ but since they didn’t know much about jazz or how to teach it I had to look outside. So I found this website with recorded lessons, and when you do one of the tasks you can upload your video and get feedback from professionals. Then I was told to check out schools in America, so I looked online and sent in my tape and the [New School] Jazz program was the one to give me the chance.
SM: Where are you living?
NS: Staten Island.
SM: Wow, how’s that commute?
SM: How do you like life in NY?
NS :Interesting question, and it has two sides to it. I love it. The possibilities and the chances, how many things are happening here. So many things are available to you, and the music scene is great. Basically someone amazing is playing every night. (If only we had the money to go and see each one of them.) But on the other hand, it’s kind of tough to life here, financially speaking, and there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of people, it smells. So I guess ideally we could have that music scene but somewhere smaller and somewhat more personal. But you’re gonna end up here either way. At the end of the day, it outweighs the negative.
SM: Where are you living?
NS: Staten Island.
SM: Wow, how’s that commute?
NS: Terrible. Hour and a half to get here. [The Village.]
SM: How did you get involved with NewOrch?
NS; One day kind of late, Louis called on me ‘Hey Nick!’ That expression of his, so excited all the time, it’s crazy. ‘Hey Nick!’ I’m like, ‘hey what’s going on.’ There’s a long introductory to what you guys are trying to do and I’m like ‘that’s a great idea, but what does that have to do with me?’ and then ALL the way at the end he’s like ‘do you want to open for one of those shows?’ I’m like ‘sure. Yea.’ it’s just a great idea, and not a lot of people are exposed to that kind of [classical] music, especially after hearing you guys perform over there and getting chills. It’s so good, man. It has to do with the performance and with the environment, because changing that- all the people that I know who are not musicians I feel like are intimidated by classical music and the way it’s presented. They feel like they have to be upscale, they have to go to one of those symphony halls and they have to commit to it, they can’t just chill and listen.
And [spotify and youtube is] not the same experience as seeing it, especially non musicians who don’t appreciate music as much, they can’t feel the energy in the live situation.
SM: Was your performance always going to be solo guitar or did they ask for an ensemble? NS: Louis asked me to do solo. And I don’t get to play solo shows as much, actually I had never played a solo show before.
SM: How did you prepare for 45 minutes of uninterrupted solo jazz guitar?
NS: Well it’s the kind of thing that as a jazz guitarist you kind of always do, as part of a practice, and daily routine. It gives you a different perspective of knowing the tune. Cause now it’s not-it’s like a different kind of approach. If you’re playing with a band there’s certain parameters you have to fit in, there are certain rules. At the same time they limit you and at the same time free you up, because when you’re in those situations you have to figure out what to make of it creatively. When you’re playing solo there are literally no boundaries, and you can do literally anything. Sometimes that's scary. So you have to figure it out, if I can do anything, what would I like to do? So specifically for that show I just chose a bunch of standards that I like, that I’ve played live, that I know well and would like to go deeper in them. And I thought that would be a good choice for people who aren't really jazz aficionados. So I just looked at it and was like “what can I do with it? So I ran through it a couple of times and then just left it up to improvisation on stage, I didn’t put too many plans going onto that stage. Just kind of see what happens.
SM: How did it feel being up there all by yourself?
NS: Good. It felt good. It felt surprisingly good. I thought I would be somewhat intimidated by it but once I got up there I got the kick of it and started having fun with it, and it doesn't really matter. It was just fun.
So when I was getting there, once the sidewalk has ended, I’m like where am I?
SM: What did you think of the venue?
NS: I had two different reactions. First was when I was getting there, and second was when I finally got there. So when I was getting there, once the sidewalk has ended, I’m like where am I? Is this the place where I owe something to Louis that I forgot about and he’s gonna do something to me? Then I finally got in there and I was surprised, it’s so atmospheric. It has this vibe. It’s big, it has these huge ceilings and a backyard, and you can make 2-3 stages. And the sound, I liked the sound, especially for orchestra. The wooden walls and big ceilings made it work without any extra weird architecture like on the 5th floor at the Jazz School.
...And the drinks. People like your performance way more after a couple of drinks. That’s why there a two drink minimum at the jazz clubs.
SM: What did you think of the piece?
NS: Wow. Just write that, ‘wow.’ It was amazing. It’s one of those types of experience that you know something is special. You listen to it and you lose yourself in that piece, you breathe with everyone. It’s hard to get that effect with a lot of pieces, but I felt that. Even the people next to me, they were literally breathing with the tune. Holding their breath and then one part would end and they’d let the breath out, it was deep.
SM: What is next for you?
NS: I have shows coming up, mostly minor, around town. I have my website you can check out that says where I play. I’m working on that, I’m composing, I have about 50 tunes by now, maybe more. I’m working with my group, Heady Simon Quartet (HSQ) a name given to us by Dave Douglas as part of his class. I’m working on a new band, we’ll have some stuff out soon. In January I’ll be going to a festival in Florida to play for a week, it seems like a good project and I can’t wait to see it come to life.
SM: And you’re finishing your degree, what year are you?
NS: I’m a senior, so I have one semester left. Maybe I’ll try for my masters. SM: Would you stay in New York?
NS: Yea, it’s here or nowhere, really.
SM: Anything you would like to add?
NS: I just hope that this project picks up and more venues will be open to having it. It’s really going to get what it deserves. I feel like it has a chance of sustaining itself, a big chance based on what I’ve seen, I just hope the stars align and everything happens for you.
Interview by: Samantha Marshall. Musician, Artist, Teacher. www.sammarshallarts.com
IG: @sammarshallflute Twitter: @samanthaflut359