How did composing, or music in general come to be the focal point of your career?
I don’t know how it happened. Composing was and still is something I did as a reaction to the music I heard throughout the years. Music called me. I wanted to be a dentist, but was doing horrible in Biology in my Undergraduate days. I would hear stories of musician friends of mine who went on to pursue a career in the medical field, gain success, but confess that they didn’t have time to produce, practice and/or perform music. I couldn’t see myself living my life in such a way where I didn’t have time to produce, practice and/or perform music because of my “career.”
Your music seems to be personal and unbiased in nature. Are you hoping to influence others with your positive messages? How and Why?
I am definitely hoping to influence and inspire others through my positive message, and the music I create. I am showing the world that music needs to get back to the place where it used to be, with more depth, substance, movement and color in the lyrics and tone as well as creating a positive message for society as a whole. 8 bar loops are cool, but I bring depth and definition to the body of a song. Let’s get away from the gimmicky campaigns and get back to celebrating the real artistry in music.
Furthermore, I feel that jazz musicians need to stop being so intellectual with the way that they write, perhaps writing simpler melodies with more simplified chord changes so that we can convey a deeper and wider connection with our audience and fan base. I hope to do this by creating soundscapes that resonate with the current times we live in and/or a time when things were better. The reason for this is because there aren’t any positive messages out there that challenge society to evolve and be better. Everything is a gimmick, some sort of a marketing campaign. One of the reasons why I feel like the music back in the 50s — 80s, and possibly maybe even into the 90’s was so powerful and potent is because the artists back then spoke to the times and circumstances they were living in. Stevie was living for the city. Marvin Gaye asked what’s going on. Lou Rawls tapped into the romantic side and said that you’ll never find someone that’ll love love like he does. Later on, Luther defined what Home is. Barbra Streisand reminded us that the luckiest people in the world are people who need people. Donny Hathaway believed that someday we’ll all be free. The Beatles told us that sometimes we have to let it be. Whitney believed the children are the future and we should teach them well and let them lead the waty. I can go on, but if you look at today’s music, a lot of it sounds musically empty, the lyrics don’t present a message that positively speak to society, and/or challenge society to evolve and be better and we need that today, if this world were to ever be a better place.
What do you believe separates you from other artists?
My ethnic background brings about a sense of diversity. Growing up as a Haitian American, I’m influenced by the music in Haiti, the music in France, the music in the US, Africa and other countries. In light of the previous statement, I believe what will separate me from others is my ability to effectively communicate through the music from different angles. I can talk to you from a cool jazz perspective, a Caribbean perspective, a soul, pop, gospel, country, Brazilian and so forth. The music I present is aimed at present different angles of my musicality, as opposed to just presenting one genre in different tempos. With my sense of diversity, I believe my music can reach more people. In addition, I speak 3 languages fluently and another language not as fluent as the other 3. Because of my upbringing in church, I am fluent on the piano and the organ as well.
Who would you say are the top 3 artists that inspire you and influence your musicality when creating your projects?
Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Mario Canonge (the jazz pianist from the Island of Martinique), Jacky Terrason, Bill Evans, Robert Glasper.
Performing live is a major constant in your career and most artists become much more comfortable in their skin on stage the more they perform. What have you noticed to be the biggest change in your stage presence over the years?
I now think about how my music will connect to the crowd/audience. Years ago, my mindset was I present the music, the audience watches, and I’m done, but that’s not a healthy approach to live performance. I would like to know that when I perform live, that the music that I present connects with the crowd. Doing this increases the probability that someone will speak about my music and/or want to get to know about my music. In other words, due to what an audience member or fan may experience at my live shows, they are likely to share that experience with a friend. My music and presence has grown exponentially over the years via word of mouth from my live performances and that means the world to me!
You are about to drop your new project. What can fans expect from your newest works?
You can expect to hear jazz fused with different genres of music. Expect music that will make you dance, reflect and smile. A variety of soundscapes. Expect to hear singable melodies, one that you can actually hum when you’re not listening to the project. Expect a musical journey as this record will take you to a few places. Expect to hear my heart through the melodies, improvisation and the interaction with the band members.
Do you feel that there has been a resurgence in Jazz as a genre?
In some regards yes, but what I’m noticing is today’s music is exploring a variety of rhythms/time signatures, and now more than ever before, fusing other genres in their music to express their message. I’m not hearing too many straight ahead records these days, as I did 10–15 years ago.
What has been the single most significant moment of your career to date? Was it on stage? In a studio with another artist? A compliment from a fan? Share the story with us please.
I was talking with Chick Corea in his dressing room after his performance at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City. Chick knew me from the days I was playing with Kenny Garrett. Kenny introduced me to Chick. I’m talking to Chick and just sharing about life’s journey, and he ends the conversation saying “the next time I come, I want to hear what you’re doing”.. I felt all kinds of ways, because Chick is one of my favorite musician/artist, and for him to take akin to me, and my music….. It says a lot to me…. Has me a little nervous as well, if I may be frank…… But I feel confident, regardless of my skill level/level of proficiency/facility on my instrument, I have a few musical statements that I can make. I believe that I have several songs that can carve out and define my place in musical history such as the greats we have experienced over the years, Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Janet Jackson or Quincy Jones.
What else in store for Johnny Mercier in 2020?
I’m looking to release more music, that express diversity, with different soundscapes, looking to release a series of projects that reflect my spiritual roots (been working on that on and off for 14 years), and I’m looking to expand my musical borders beyond performing and making records. I’d like to make some scores.
If there is one thing that you could change about the music industry, what would it be and why?
There are a few things I would change if I could. For starters, the quality of talent in today’s industry is sub-par to the talent that existed back then. Auto tune is proof that the previous statement is accurate. The business is dead. Quincy Jones says that there isn’t a music industry. I would put music lovers at the helm of those who run record labels, as opposed to non-music lovers who are only interested in generating money (at least back then it was generating money). And I’d change the landscape on how artists are compensated for their work.