Name: Yvonnick Prene
Location: New York/Paris
Years Playing: 20
School/Major/Degree: Paris Sorbonne University, Music Research MM, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music BA
WHEN DID YOU FIRST BEGIN SERIOUSLY STUDYING YOUR INSTRUMENT?
When I was 17, I started playing the chromatic harmonica. Prior to that, I studied classical guitar at the conservatory in France and sporadically played diatonic blues harmonica.
WHO ARE YOUR GREATEST INFLUENCES?
Difficult question. Sugar Blue was the first harmonica player that I heard that really made me want to play harmonica. I was 7 or 8 years old. Later on, I would say my greatest influences (the people that I have the most carefully listened to and transcribed) are: Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Kenny Garrett, Herbie Hancock, Lester Young, Django Reinhardt, Toots Thielemans, Freddie Hubbard, Shirley Horn, Joe Henderson, Kenny Dorham, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Mark Turner, Wayne Shorter, Chris Potter, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kevin Hays, Gregoire Maret, Seamus Blake, Joshua Redman, Peter Bernstein, and Olvier Ker Ourio.
WHO DID YOU STUDY WITH?
While I was at The New School, I had the chance to study with Lee Konitz, Reggie Workman, Charles Persip, Peter Bernstein, Ben Street, Aaron Goldberg, Jerome Sabbagh, Andy Milne, Kevin Hays, Dave Glasser and Jane Ira Bloom. They really inspired me practice consistently and play to the best of my ability.
WHO OR WHAT GAVE YOU THE CONFIDENCE TO PURSUE MUSIC AS A CAREER?
I think it is my inextinguishable love for music that pushes me in spite of all the obstacles that I have encountered. I just love to play on stage for a crowd. And without a doubt, I also find inspiration in the excitement that is triggered when I am discovering new things, while setting original projects for myself, and the overall the feeling that one can improve everyday as a musician.
DO YOU THINK ANY OTHER SKILLS ARE NEEDED ASIDE FROM THE ABILITY TO PLAY? YOUR INSTRUMENT WELL?
It takes determination and courage. When I came to New York on an exchange program with Sorbonne University in Paris, and The City College, I realized very soon that I was not at the same level as the New York musicians. I was certainly discouraged first. So, I then said goodbye to my illusions and embraced the tough realities. At this turning point I had the chance to meet up with Ben Street and Jerome Sabbagh whom were honest with me and pointed out my weaknesses. They gave me new directions and hope. Eager to learn, I started with a fresh perspective and went back to the woodshed with a healthier approach. I spent literally two years in the practice rooms, working on my musicianship, transcribing and learning tunes. It was not always easy to get in a lot of work by yourself, when your friends were out having fun and you wanted to be with them. I made sacrifices.
Moreover, I would say love, friendship, and kindness are essential too. I believe human qualities will nurture your music. People skills are as important as being able to play your instrument. You have to be a trustworthy person so bandleaders can have confidence in you. It means you need to act as a gentleman, be punctual, and thank the fans and people who are supporting your projects. Also being humble and knowing your weaknesses helps.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU DID BEFORE YOUR CAREER AS A PERFORMER BECAME AS SUCCESSFUL AS IT IS TODAY?
I did several things before getting 100% into music. After High School I studied History at Sorbonne University in Paris for a bit. At the same time I worked different day jobs. Then, later on, I registered for the Music Research Department where I studied with pianist and arranger Laurent Cuny. I ended up writing a 150 pages thesis on Lee Kontiz in 2011. In New York, I was an intern at Universal Music at Decca for 6 months while studying at The New School. I used to give French lessons also…
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR GOALS MUSICALLY FOR THE FUTURE?
My new cd “Jour de Fête” was just released on March 10th. It has received positive reviews and has been chosen Revelation 2013 by Jazz Magazine-Jazzman, France.
These days I am writing music for two projects that I am proud of. First, my gypsy jazz quartet “Padam Swing”. Our first album is being prepared now. We should be heading in the studio beginning of July. My second project Yvonnick Prene Quintet is a continuation of “Jour de Fete“. We have a tour schedule in France next October.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR CAREER AS A PERFORMER/RECORDING ARTIST?
The money. Just kidding…
DO YOU WRITE MUSIC? WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION?
Most of the time I write when I hear a few notes or a rhythmic idea pop into my head. Usually it happens when I am by myself walking in the city or in the Subway. Melodies come more naturally when I am outdoors. I can get really inspired away from home even in a crowded street or in a noisy bar. That’s why I carry a little Sony recorder in my pocket, so I can record myself singing. At the source, inspiration comes from your musical influences, your own taste and your feelings at any given moment, the sounds of your city or nature, and more generally your environment.
WHAT WAS YOUR LAMEST GIG AND HOW DID YOU LEARN FROM IT? WHAT WAS THE BEST?
My worst gigs are usually when a server told me that the manager in charge to give the band the check at the end of the night has already left the club.
The best gig was in Los Angeles last year when I played the “Sorcerer” in front of Herbie Hancock (he composed the piece). Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Heat and Kenny Burrell were also present in the room. It was intense!
HOBBIES OTHER THAN MUSIC:
Reading novels and essays. I always carry a kindle with me during the day wherever I go. I also like working out at the gym, running and swimming.
WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE FOR AN UP AND COMING, YOUNG MUSICIAN?
Practice, be curious and strongly believe in yourself.
Where can we find more information?
Web Site: http://www.yvonnickprene.com
My Gypsy Jazz Project: http://padamswing.com
My Harmonica School:
New releases and projects coming up:
Get Yvonnick’s album “Jour de Fête” on Amazon