Reflections

  • solo piano mixtape vol. 3

    Mixtape vol. 3 

    After Orfeo ed Euridice:

    1.      “Dance of the blessed spirits” (Theme from “Orfeo ed Euridice”, Christoph Willibald Gluck, transcribed for piano by Wilhelm Kempff)

    2.      Improvised variation of the theme

    In Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Opera “Orfeo ed Euridice”, refering to the Greek myth of Orpheus, after calming the furies with his play, Orfeo enters the elysium and reunites with Euridice. This is where the well-known “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” takes place and the famous flute-theme is being heard.

    “In walked Nicki”, is a study using some compositional ideas referring to Oliver Messiaen. Its also a blues, which I tried to strip down to its rawness and holiness in the middle section. It is a dedication to my cat Nicki.

    It’s always a hard question in what way to refer to a musical heritage from another time. As any musician is making decisions based on a musical legacy that has influenced him. This mixtape is a freak example of bringing together opposite poles and “mixes” musical styles in the truest sense. I’ve gone back in forth with this approach, as it tends to muddy up things. The initial idea to this series was to document a working process and channel it as some sort of output for the listener to experience. The music on these tapes therefore is what a recording of a “hands-on-working-process” must be: Raw.

    In that sense, I want to encourage you to explore the sources of this specific mixtape:

    The original theme: Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787); Reigen seliger Geister (Dance of the Blessed Spirits); Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFWcTqLCbdM

    Wilhelm Kempff plays the transcription:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZmZ_26zWYI

    recorded march 2018 in zurich by Johannes Höcketstaller on a steinway piano.

  • solo piano mixtape vol. 2

    This is the second volume of my solo piano mixtape series and features three pieces first a free improvisation, followed by a composition by Muhal Richard Abrams, and concluded by the last movement of the g minor Sonata (op.47) by Wilhelm Kempff.

    Listen here!

    Peace On You (Muhal Richard Abrams)

    Peace on You is a composition by Muhal Richard Abrams that I got of his solo piano record Afrisong (1975). I tried to bring a narrative, almost poetic quality to the improvisations. Rather than forming nice melodies I tried to create a flow of notes, like a speaking voice that makes sentences and long phrases yet is full of little rhythmic details and variations. It seems to me that Abrams has this quality on this album, especially through the rhythm, when vamping on simple harmonies but letting the rhythm speak – letting the body speak. This is what makes this music sound so natural and free flowing to me. Since it’s a solo record it shines a light on him as an improviser in a unique and personal way.

    Please enjoy this piece like a meditation that helps connect with what is happening at this very moment and acknowledge this, rather than worrying about consequences.

    Peace on You follows an Intro, a free improvisation in which I tried to embed the previously described qualities, in a different musical context.

    “My understanding of our degrees determines many levels of creativity as seen through the eyes of respect, love, and infinite curiosity”

    -          Muhal Richard Abrams

     

    Wilhelm Kempff: Sonata in g minor op.47

    III. Introduzione e Toccata

    This is the last Movement of Kempffs 1947 g-minor Sonata. The movement is full of hope, as it goes from a mystic Intro (Introduzione), full of difficult harmony, through a fast and demanding Toccata to finally arrive at the hymn like theme - marked as “maestoso” in the score -, that breaks through the dark clouds of harmony like a beam of sunlight. Born 1895 Kempff, fought in both World Wars (though in WW2 only as part of the “Volkssturm” in 1945). As a German intellectual he witnessed the degrading oblivion of the most basic human values. All this while playing German music that stood for up for those values. This movement to me sounds like a hymn to a better future, one that had to arise from the ashes of a destroyed, degraded and guilty nation.

  • clip from the second mixtape session

  • About my solo piano mixtape series

    Here are some thoughts about making the mixtape series in general.

    Harsh but real circumstances

    As the recording industry enters the digital age, young instrumental musicians like myself, who operate in the so called “jazz scene” or more generally speaking creative music scene, are facing a shift in how music is being presented, sold and ultimately perceived. When this shift occurs, recorded music functions in a totally different way than it used to. In the recording industry that we used to have, the price for a physical product (an LP, CD or Cassette) resembled what consumers were ready to pay and what the actual product was worth. As my generation starts to consume music exclusively through streaming, be it on Spotify, Apple music or YouTube, people start expirence recorded music differently, in fact giving it much less attention and appreciation. When one uses a streaming platform, (like myself, I use Qobuz), embedded somewhere in this “transaction” is a lack of recognition for the artist; because a free or cheap product in a market based on free-access also connotes with cheap production and product. The only price the consumers pay is their invested time while listening and reflecting. Their span of attention resembles what the product appears to be worth. From a consumer’s perspective, the musician’s energy, effort and musicianship, the process of making an album in a “conservative” way is not a part of the equation, since the new system of endless free flowing music which is pumped into the world wide web represents a totally different market. Unlike the film industry, the music industry has largely accepted presenting and streaming content for free (or through an subscription at a streaming platform with ludicrously low remuneration for musicians) as a certain and given circumstance of this new century. A protectionist argument may be, that musicians these days are underpaid, which is wrong, we are being paid exactly what the market bears, which means we are being paid what we are worth. Today recordings serve as a promotional tool for live concerts, which are the only way left to generate profit.

    The series as a new approach

    For me, making this series was a way to push myself into this digital age, mainly by working with Lukasz Polowczyk from Initials LP (www.initialslp.com), who inspired me to seek new ways of presenting my music, may it be through social media, better visual implementation, or by using a cassette as the physical object to release my music on. The idea was to present my music in new and creative ways, break the pre-set mode of releasing it and at least symbolically restore some of this lost value that I mentioned before. Simply put, this is a way of symbolically ascribing value to something as intangible as recorded sound, and thus honouring the music that I make.

    I like the idea of presenting new music on regular bases (roughly every 2 months) to highlight what I have been working on recently. Plus, releasing the music in the form of a single long track (taken from the idea of a mixtape) forces the listener to take a short time off to listen to the music as a whole, rather than skipping through tracks and avoiding what might appear to be boring on first encounter.

    Presenting the series hand in hand with my blog is also a key idea. I’m trying to connect with YOU the listener and offer some extra insight on the music, that will shel light on what I do. And hopefully also makes you return soon to hear and read more.

    In essence it’s about making music personal, and supplementing or even subverting the online experience. Thanks for listening.

    Interview with Lukasz from Initials LP: www.initialslp.com

    For Jazz musician a lot has changed about how music is being presented today, especially since the music is streamable for free and making records means losing money for most artists out there. 

    What forms of music presentation will be present in the future and why?

    This isn’t just the case for Jazz musicians, but for musicians from all music genres, and pretty much anyone who chooses to release recorded music. And it’s not that you’re set up to lose money by releasing records, it’s just that things work differently nowadays, and your revenue streams will come from different places. Most of your income will probably come from shows, merchandise, streams and, if you’re lucky, sync options. 

    In regard to presenting music, I think that videos are definitely still king. They’re very immediate and they amplify the emotional affect of music, if they’re done well, of course. They’re the quickest way to convey maximum information about your music, sort of what the LP cover used to do back in the 70s. I could imagine that video streaming will grow in the next few years, with folks getting more creative with it. It’s all pretty shabby and basic right now. But a live stream could, technically, be as good as a great music video. I think that portals such as Spotify will start integrating video content soon and, possibly, live streaming as well. VR will have its moment too, but mainly as a novelty. Whether VR will really work, that really depends on how widely accessible it becomes for an average consumer; right now it’s still very niche. But, at the same time, as the experience of music becomes progressively more intangible, the demand for physical products and real experiences will grow in response. There’s a reason why people are selling cassettes right now. I can imagine that more musicians and labels will invest in limited edition products to stand in for their releases in the coming years. When you go to Bandcamp it’s already a proper industry. All this aside, what mattes most and will always matter is the actual quality of the music and whether it has something to give to world.

    social media.

    What would you recommend people from jazz communities and alterative, creative music scenes about dealing with social media?

    If you have something to say, then social media are your friend. However, like with any other tools you have to learn how to use them effectively. If you treat your social media channels as a chore or just throw random things on there because you think you have to say something, it’s not going to work. The most important thing is to define your communication strength and choose the appropriate channel for you. If you’re great with words, use twitter. If your strength lies in images and videos, go for Instagram or youtube. The point is to be able to create great content that is an extension of your music, and that helps to understand it and contextualise it. If you don’t know how to do any of these things, find people that are good at it. And I don’t mean just the online marketing mavericks, but visual artists: graphic designers, illustrators, videographers etc. Work together with them to create a world around your art.  Have fun with it and treat it all as an opportunity to explain yourself and your art using different media, because, in essence, that’s what you’re doing. And if you’re working with visual artists who have a voice and something to say then what you are doing is facilitating the creation of more art. And that’s a beautiful thing! Which is why I always stress this point: do not treat the visual tools as mere packaging or branding devices. Of course, they also have to be effective in these way, but they should also match your music artistically and emotionally. Look at the cultural impact and the longevity of classic LP covers. The great ones live on twenty, thirty, even 50 years on down the line and are being quoted, remixed etc.

    Music.

    Visuals.

    How do visuals serve the music in the digital age? What would you recommend to musicians from a creative music scene?

    Music and visual expression are great partners and they always have been. I really can’t think of any relevant music scene (historically) that didn’t have a visual component to it. Design, typography, fashion, the marriage of music and film – it’s all there whenever a new music subculture emerges. Music doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s a voice in the polyphony of culture. It’s funny that current-day Jazz aficionados, at least here, in Europe, tell upcoming musicians to forget about everything, but the music. But when you look back at the beginnings of Jazz and how it evolved, it was all about style and personal expression; and great photography and painting. Blue Note set a standard for embodying music in visual form, and I would even argue that thanks to them the record cover became a true extension of recorded music, and was recognized as a piece of art. The difference now is that most indie labels don’t handle the artistic direction and the production of visual tools for the artists and that it all falls back on the artists themselves and their own resources. Some artists are very capable in this field, others not so much. So, I always tell upcoming artists, invest in your community. Find out who’s doing interesting things around you. Ask around about photographers, illustrators and painters. Check out your local galleries, and if you see a great piece of design, see who made it and reach out to them. Find people that you connect with and make things together with them. Collaborate. And, most importantly, stay loyal to them and grow together. When it all happens organically and it’s about the joy of creating things with other people, that’s when great things happen. That’s how all the amazing scenes in the past came to be – from passionate people just doing things they love, together. 

  • ´╗┐Solo Piano Mixtape Vol. 1

     

    This is the first outlet of a new series I started, that aims at documenting the solo piano music I’m working on regularly. My Friend Lukasz Polowczyk from Initialslp came up with the idea of making a mixtape series, meaning that I will be releasing 15-20 minutes of music every second month starting from December on 50 cassettes and online. He is also the artistic director of the visual frame work that you are seeing. The design is itself is by Maciej Grochot.

    The recordings were made by a simple set up with two mics and on whatever piano I had access to work on at whatever particular place I was staying at the time. In this sense what you are listening to are field recordings. This first mixtape was recorded in New York and in Winterthur.

     

     

    1.      Advertency is an original composition of mine that I wrote in January 2017. It’s build out of two sections. A vamp that serves as an Intro and solo section that gives a lot of room for free improvisation and a very agitated, Schumann-esque, through composed, section that is originally based on the harmonics of Cole Porter’s song “From This Moment On”. On my Soundcloud you can also listen to a trio recording of this composition featuring Dominique Girod on Bass and Fabian Arends on drums.

    2.      Stardust – Hoagy Carmichael This is one of my favorite tunes from the great American songbook. For this Ballad specifically, I’ve been thinking about new ways of inner voice leading and reflecting my approach to solo piano arranging. Listening to jazz solo pianists I kept wondering how much freedom they give themselves as far as the arrangement goes. How much is figured out beforehand and what sections are improvised using harmonic concepts that they have taught themselves? What is that relation? On my stay to New York in December I’ve been talking about this with Glenn Zaleski and Fred Hersch. This Song was recorded during this stay on the piano I was working on during those days. It is out of tune and not in best shape but has its own charm.

    3.      Scherzo – 2nd movement from Piano Sonata op 47 in g minor (Wilhelm Kempff) Wilhelm Kempff, famous for his interpretations of works by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann has been inspiring me for quite a while now. His musical legacy goes beyond his famous recordings. As a composer he has left us with symphonic works, chamber music and solo piano music, as a writer with two books and many essays. He survived both world wars as a German artist and was active up until his death in 1991. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about German identity and the history that we carry with us. I resonate with this man’s story and music as he helped me understand more about my north German roots.

     

     

    Listen here!

  • Essay

    The Shape of Jazz to come today? A young European perspective

    (…)

    When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.

    (…)

    And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.

    In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.

    Martin Luther King, opening notes for the Berlin jazz festival 1964

     

    Preface

    If it is true that music reflects the times, what can we learn about the times when listening to today’s Jazz music? Or what can I learn about these times when listening to my generations music? Or what can I learn about myself when listening to my music? As a young, German, Jazz pianist based in Switzerland, the following words, are my personal take on where I see Jazz in our time, what we musicians can do with it and what it is expressing today.

    The times have changed for sure. Jazz is as global as ever. The world wide web connects musicians all around, informs them, opens opportunities and puts us all in competition. Economic pressure is high, due to the increasing number of young jazz musicians trying to make a living through music. And with it comes the ever-growing field of jazz education that is at a peak, yet to grow. Inevitably, jazz programs, schools and colleges are as influential as ever.

    If you want to know who you are, you must know about your roots. As a jazz musician, you want to know about African American music. You want to know about the history of the community that formed the legacy you are standing into. Now, as Europeans we have different roots, yet the history is entwined which creates some identification problems.

    In this sense, I hope other European jazz musicians can resonate with the ideas expressed in here. However, I also write this with my American friends in mind, who love their cultural heritage and are reflecting about the future of it.

     

    New York

    I studied at Manhattan School of Music in 2013/2014 for one year. New York and the people I met there, changed my life. I can’t imagine what it is like to be a jazz musician and not knowing the city.

    New York is a center of today’s jazz world and the history of this music. So, whatever happens in New York can change the world. New York musicians are being heard all around the world especially in Europe. One of the things you quickly realize as a European jazz musician though, is that New York musicians hardly know anything about the scene in Europe.

    Things in the big apple have changed too. The unsurpassed number of musicians creates great competition and a scene in which musicians play mainly for themselves and their peers. Also, the young generation of jazz musicians are almost exclusively college graduates or students, which forms a dynamic in which American musicians tend to come from a wealthy background.

    Speaking of colleges: Jazz education in the US tends to focus on the history of pre-60s jazz. So, while students are very informed about Bebop, Hardbop and earlier Jazz styles, they are less informed about free jazz, the rise of avant-garde and the AACM. There even seems to be a notion among a big part of young college students, that the music of the 60s, free jazz and everything associated with it, is hard to access or even “weird”. Over in Europe however, the music of that time formed the main source for its jazz history. The Ideas and the spirit of that time fascinated musicians in postwar Europe and inspired them to follow the lead. The music of that time was heavily connected to what was going on politically and socially. The civil rights movement and the search of African Americans for a new cultural identity is what formed the music of that time. Now: Rights exist to defend the demands of minorities in a functioning democracy. They therefore form a threat to authorities who try to push through the will of the majority. The civil rights movement was a democratizing movement and the individualism that it stood up for, transcended the music of that time.

    However, does the music presented by todays jazz college graduates still demand for this individualism? Listening to young Jazz from New York these days you will have a hard time searching for the remains of that spirit. You will have a hard time finding subjects like concepts of free playing, shamanism, ethnicism, fascination for nonwestern cultures in general etc. that flourished during the time of the civil rights movement. What you will hear though is an ever-strong influence of the jazz education body. Players are very informed harmonically and melodically. They use technical expertise to play very virtuously and execute it with a strong use of abstract concepts. The aesthetic of these days really sounds like a fusion of advanced bebop with modern day pop and rock music.

    With notable exceptions, of course. These tendencies apply to a part of a young upcoming generation of jazz musicians in the city, not to its scene at a whole.

    But, back to the beginning question of what we can learn about the times when listening to today’s jazz music, in this case in the jazz metropole of the world. The answer is that young jazz represents the values taught through jazz education and since college education in the US tends to be for the wealthy exclusive, it represents the values of upper class America.

    And to dare to go a step further, if the music reflects the times you must ask: “Has the will and call demanded by the democratizing movement of the 60s been fulfilled in America?”. Facing modern days political situation, the gap of upper and lower income classes, the prison industry, the influence of establishments from the finance and industrial sector on politics and the situation for African Americans in the US in general the answer must be no. And as long as Jazz represents upper class America, you will not hear the spirit of the 60s and you will not hear the will and call for change in the music.

    So, who am I to take a stand on this? If you are an American musician reading this, you might ask yourself in what way this matters to me. As European jazz musicians, we notice quickly that people in the states are not aware of the scene in Europe the way Europeans are about the scene in the US, especially in New York. Studying at Manhattan School of Music, I also felt a sense of inscrutability for European Jazz. Now, since European Jazz finds its roots in free jazz and the 60s this inscrutability and unawareness turns out to be the same notion of “weirdness” described earlier towards the music by American jazz musicians associated with free jazz. Now ironically, to all those notable young American musicians who are aware and in love with the American music of that time: You might find this legacy to be carried on in Europe today!

     

    Europe, scattered observations

    However, I have noticed Americans having a hard time trying to access the scene over here. A lot of young players in Europe have troubles identifying with American Jazz music, swing, bebop, jazz standards. The result is that a lot of players, who are “qualified as jazz musicians” are not really playing Jazz. A lot of times the jazz scene isn’t as easy to separate from other genres as in New York, where you can find clear “jazz communities”. Plus, language barriers and no clear meeting points can often make it hard to get in touch with people.

    In any way: This generation of European jazz musicians is in large numbers. The future of this music will strongly depend on what’s happening over here.

     

    I 'localize,' which is to say that I think always in “a given space”. I rarely think of the whole of a solo, and only very briefly. I always return to the small part of the solo that I was in the process of playing.

    John Coltrane

     

    Going through a Jazz program in Zurich, Switzerland I realized, that there are some differences in musical aesthetics to what I was used to from US jazz education. Different musical parameters became weight, others weren’t emphasized as much. One thing that I quickly realized was, that Jazz musicians over here (in Europe in general) kept talking about “sound”. “Being aware of your sound” seemed to be extremely important. This phrase very much comes to term with “being in the moment” or “being in the moment with sound”, which is something that I had heard in New York from musicians from the “improvised music scene”. What this really refers to is your state of awareness, or so to speak what you focus on while playing. When playing Jazz (and hopefully improvising) one can be aware of the larger form and structure of his or her playing which is an intellectual, abstract notion. Or he or she can be aware of what is happening “in a given space”. To arrive in this “given space” one must use his or her senses which has a lot to do with presence and intimacy.

    Or to put it in Keith Jarrett’s words: “Jazz is about closeness to the material, a personal dance with the material, not the material itself. (…) As a soloist in Jazz you have the responsibility to have a strong quality of affection”

    So, breaking with the chains of our modern day, western society and digging to the core values of human necessity, back to the spirit of the 60s: This Notion of awareness of sound carries through a lot of young European jazz, which makes me see this demand for freedom and love, rooted in the African American dream of the 60s, shimmering through.