7VJC Interview: Silvan Joray

Silvan Joray is a Swiss jazz guitarist and composer currently based in New York City. He has gained recognition in the jazz community, having won special prizes at the UNISA International Strings Competition in South Africa 2022 and the Smietana Jazz Guitar Competition 2019 in Poland. He has performed at prestigious jazz festivals including the Krakow Summer Jazz Festival, Offbeat Jazzfestival Basel, and International Jazz Festival Bern, and has toured in Germany, Norway, Poland, Spain, and Israel.

Joray grew up in a musical family and began his formal training on the classical guitar, which he studied for eight years before discovering jazz and switching to the electric guitar. He was initially interested in playing jazz standards and influenced by guitarists such as Wes Montgomery. However, his studies with renowned jazz guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel at Jazzcampus Basel broadened his musical horizons, inspiring him to compose his own music. This eventually led to the release of his debut album “Cluster” in 2020, which was artistically produced by Muthspiel and co-produced by Swiss Radio SRF2.

Joray’s upcoming album, “Updraft”, showcases his forward-thinking original style characterized by a transparent tone, crispy articulation, creative rhythmic ideas and extended techniques like quarter tones and „tapping“ which are not traditionally associated with jazz guitar playing. Joray embraces both the openness of European as well as the rootedness and swing of American jazz. While the music on „Updraft“ is clearly influenced by the American jazz tradition, it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not and is totally content with being in its own category.

How did you learn to play? Where did you study?
My mother is a guitar and ukulele teacher, so I initially started studying with her – first the ukulele, then the classical guitar. As a teenager, I discovered the electric guitar through workshop bands at my high school. We played mostly funk, but it was also a great introduction to jazz. I got really into it and started practicing a lot. I abandoned my initial goal of going to college for classical guitar, I now knew that I wanted to be a jazz guitarist. After graduating from high school, I did the pre-college at Swiss Jazz School in Bern. This one-year program laid the foundation of all my skills today and involved a lot of ear training. After that, I went on to study at Jazzcampus Basel with Wolfgang Muthspiel, Lionel Loueke and many others. In 2020, I graduated with a Master’s degree.

Who are the musicians that influenced you the most?
My biggest early influence was my teacher at the time, Wolfgang Muthspiel. His music and having him as a teacher deeply shaped my musical aesthetics and understanding of jazz. Wolfgang was also the artistic producer of my first album „cluster“. Another big influence was Lage Lund. I remember listening to his record „Idlewild“ almost every day for about a year. I also went have most of his video masterclasses and even got to study with him for a few lessons during my time at the Jazzcampus. He completely changed my approach to left hand fingering, when playing single note lines. Before, I was doing a lot of so-called mini-bars, meaning playing notes on consecutive strings in the same fret with the same finger. He taught me to mostly avoid these mini-bars and instead use different fingers when playing notes in the same fret on adjacent strings. There was definitely a time when I was trying to sound like him. Studying with Lionel Loueke then kind of moved me away from that. We talked a lot about finding our own style and it eventually led me to the ideas that I’ve been developing since, to make my playing more personal.

What are your thoughts and opinions on today’s jazz scene?
It is definitely a difficult time as a young jazz musician today. There are so many new young players coming up every year and colleges and easily accessible resources have made the overall technical and musical level grow tremendously. At the same time, the jazz audience worldwide is deteriorating, making the supply much bigger than the demand. I also feel like today it’s increasingly difficult to find your own style because there’s so much that has already been done at this point. I’m from Switzerland and moved to New York City in October 2022. Here, jazz seems to be more present in everyday life, it is more frequently played in restaurant, bars etc. In most cases, people don’t really care about the music though. I would say that in Europe, it’s more commonly recognized as an art form and people go to listen to a jazz concert like they would go to listen to a classical concert. Coming to NYC and realizing that sometimes even at great jazz clubs like smalls people would shout over the music was quite a shock to be honest. Also the pandemic has left its marks on the NYC jazz scene. Many clubs closed and there are less opportunities to play than a few years ago.

Can you tell us more about your experience with the 7 Virtual Jazz Club?
7 Virtual Jazz Club is a great opportunity for people to get their project seen by an international jury. I’ve taken part in the competition many times and most of the times ended up as a finalist, which of course I’m really happy about. The highest rank I’ve reached was the 3rd place in the Under 25 category a few years ago. I hope it will keep going for a long time and I’m going to keep taking part in the competition as long as I have new material.

What are your upcoming projects?
I’m about to release my new record called „Updraft“. It will be available physically and digitally on November 3rd and features Nadav Erlich on double bass, and the legendary Jeff Ballard on drums. I’m really excited to share the new music with the world and will have a release party at Threes Brewing Gowanus in New York City on November 8, at 8.30pm.

After that, I will be touring the record in Europe, including concerts at the Vortex Jazz Club in London on December 7th, in the south of Spain, Switzerland and Germany in the end of November and December. As I’m writing this, I just finished a week of traveling in the south of Chile and am now on the way back to the capital Santiago where I’m going to play a pre-release show at the renowned Thelonious Jazz Club.



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