Interview with Frank Vaganée: This new knowledge is mastered in the best possible way: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist and artistic director of Brussels Jazz Orchestra Frank Vaganée. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Frank Vaganée: – I was born on March 19, 1966 in Mechelen. Mechelen is a medium-sized city 25 kilometers north of Brussels. Together with my brothers and father, we quickly entered the world of fanfares and harmonies. It was there that I learned to read musicnotes and started playing an instrument. At the age of 7 I wanted to play the trumpet from the beginning but after a few wanderings I chose the alto saxophone.

A year late I went to the local music school. After going through all 12 years I went to the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp. Not to learn jazz, because that course did not yet exist at the conservatory, but to get my basic diplomas in solfège and a number of additional subjects.

It was by coincidentally hearing a big band play that I got the jazz virus.

I was 14 years old when I started playing in the local big band. By coming into contact with musicians from this big band, I started taking improvisation classes at a brand new and very first private jazz school in Belgium. That was at the Jazz Studio in Antwerp. I was taught there by Maarten Weyler and the American saxophonist John Ruocco, among others.

Since I came into contact with jazz I have always formed small formations to play with. A quartet, a sextet and in the meantime I was more and more asked to play in amateur big bands in my region.

From 1986 on I was asked to substitute regularly in the jazz orchestra of the Belgian national broadcasting company. I was a regular part of that until the band was disbanded in 1991. It was due to the lack of a professional big band that I founded the Brussels Jazz Orchestra with colleagues from the same generation in 1993.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

FV: – In the beginning, I had a fairly classical saxophone sound. This was mainly due to my classical training. Although my teacher already found that I produced a louder and in a different expressive way my sound. Not really appreciated in the classical world. When I started playing jazz I listened a lot to the great examples like Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley but also to John Coltrane, Art Pepper and Lee Konitz. I gradually and quite intuitively developed my sound by copying them. I learned a lot about my sound playing together with my fellow saxophonists in the saxophone section of the big band. Looking for the ultimate blend. By nature I am an expressive player, the sound has shaped itself accordingly. Flexibility in the tessitura of the instrument, a carried sound, voluminous but also soft when needed.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

FV: – I got my basic skills regarding rhythm and timing mostly from reenacting solos of my examples. For me, the bouncy dance feel is very important. The result of my playing depends enormously on rhythmic consistency. Especially demonstrable when playing solo, without accompaniment and still needing to maintain tempo and groove. The interactivity between the orchestra members when improvising is a driving force but also an inspiration to bring rhythmic variation in your playing.

The method of obtaining a reliable rhythmic basis also depends on the correct melody lines you improvise. In my lessons I start first of all with improvising 4 to the beat bass lines. At least what a bass player would play during his walking lines. So 4 quarter notes in a 4/4 time. Taking care of a constant forward motion, keeping the tempo and playing the correct melody line by making the right note choices. This is why transcriptions of existing solos are hyper important.

Than it evolves into 8th notes, then 16th notes, etc..

Always practiced using the metronome. Not to play along but purely to check that the tempo is still right. That’s why the metronome doesn’t tap on every beat but we start with one tap only on beat 4 and later on the last swinging eighth of beat 4. In this way you develop a reliable and constant rhythmic flow.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

FV: – Especially in the first years of the thorough study of the instrument and jazz improvisation by focusing on one and the same idiom. Going for it with blinders on, so that as a saxophonist you become very strong, master your instrument, your musical personality also becomes a recognizable voice.

Even though I have had a broad interest in all kinds of music styles from an early age, I concentrated on the thorough study of my instrument and the improvisation techniques linked to bebop. It is because of the broad interest that you look for and find your own voice when playing other styles of music.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

FV: – Basically, this is not really different for me than for many of my colleagues.

First of all, I make sure that I have mastered the knowledge and mastery of the repertoire to be played. That means that there is already a basis on which you can build during the performance. You’re already in a certain state of mind when you leave home, you try to make your way to the stage in a relaxed way. The sound check also ensures that you can start the concert in a comfortable way. Not too many outside influences are taken into account beforehand. You recharge backstage, in peace and quiet. You make sure you eat something healthy. Not too much and alcohol in small amounts.

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JBN: – Ism is culled from a variety of lives dates with various performers over the course of a few years. Did your sound evolve during that time? And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?

FV: – Partly because of the first WOW concerts. Zediam is an example of that. It was through the experiences we had during these first concerts that we were able to make a thorough assessment of who could eventually be considered. The experiences with earlier DJ’s made us choose Grazzhoppa and the original vocalists proved to us that we needed someone who could stand up to the big band machine and provide the extra energy, color and groove.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

FV: – I seek the balance in which the intellect serves the soul. The study and theoretical elaboration of ideas feeds and expands the creative possibilities. This new knowledge is mastered in the best possible way so that your personal organic interaction becomes part of your soul.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

FV: – I don’t hold out to give the audience only what they wish to hear. As a creative musician, you have your own standard, your own desires. It’s in that way that you also improve. Your performance on stage is honest and therefore highly appreciated by the audience.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

FV: – For me, making music is one of the greatest motivations as a human being. Although there are other important ones such as my family life, because, for me, one cannot exist without the other, the lack of it, as we experience now with all the measures regarding covid, is very evident. Since the lockdowns I feel I’m missing something. Something that matters to me. It’s a heavy time!

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

FV: – A new way regarding the distribution of music. The big data controls everything and are calling the shots. It is the power of the big number. For 99.9% of musicians, income has been decimated. Composers, musicians have absolutely no control over the income of their work.

We jazz musicians getting small pieces of peanuts. When I see my income with respect to all kinds of rights I start to laugh spontaneously…of misery….

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

FV: – Since the beginning of my musical pursuits I listen to just about everything that interests me. It doesn’t matter what as long as I feel something with it. This ranges from classical music over folk music, to world music, soul, contemporary improvised music to jazz in all its forms.

JBN: –
What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

FV: – Enthralling the audience. Positive vibes and energy. Whether it’s a smile, or a tear, or danceable energy. As long as the audience goes home after the concert with the feeling of having experienced something worthwhile.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

FV: –  – There are a few moments in musical history that I would have liked to have been present for:

– Seeing Charlie Parker play.

– The premiere of ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’ in Paris when the audience revolted against Stravinsky’s new composition.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

For the press - Brussels Jazz Orchestra

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