February 21, 2024

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An interview with Simon Eskildsen: I do sometimes get very meditation-like states when playing – forgetting myself … Videos

Jazz interview with jazz pianist Simon Eskildsen. An interview by email in writing.

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

Simon Eskildsen: – I’m from a small suburb to Aarhus, the second biggest city in Denmark. My dad plays the piano, so i grew up with a piano at hand. Besides my parents saw that i had an interest in music, so they got me a snare drum for my 6th birthday! I remember playing that on drum in our livingroom, playing along to my dads beatles records. Must have been horrible for my parents… Music was always there, and i started studying classical with a pianoteacher when is was around 7.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the piano?

SE: – I guess it was a bit forced at times. Studying classical was not allways fun as a kid, so I remember wanting to quit several times. But mainly just because it was hard and i didn’t want to practise.. However, I never quit, and every year it became more fun, as i developed. Alongside that i started playing in bands and making my own music a little bit..

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the piano?

SE: – Growing up, the piano was always there, and I gravitated towards that more than the drums somehow – maybe the piano chose me?

I am a bit of a control freak, and the piano lets you be the whole orchestra at once – if you want. That fits my personality very much. Its such a rich instrument. You can play it like a drum!

All my teachers tought me very different and important things. My first classical teacher, Sten, got my fingers used to the piano and tought me that sometimes fingerings can save your life! Also, having a bit of technique in the early years gave me a big advantage later!

My first jazz teacher was Mads Bærentzen, who blew my mind with jazz harmonics. He was the first person to tell me to practise stuff in all keys! Shit, that expanded everything. And he tought me a lot of the jazz-language! It felt like starting school from the 1st grade again. I was perhaps 17 at the time, and playing jazz was completely new to me. I had listened, and tried a bit, but Mads put me on track. Mads also got me to apply for the conservatory, and helped me get in.

At the conservatory i met Butch Lacy – who blew my mind once again. It would take a few pages to begin to outline the way Butch teaches, and how he approaches music. You should write to him actually, and get an interview – I would love to read that!

Butch is from America, and has this more American attitude to teaching, which i gravitated to a lot. He could be ruthless on you – and a lot of students didn’t like him or agree with him. But for me, this was exactly the kind of ass-kicking I needed. Plus, he always told great jokes!

After that I had some other great teachers. I studied with Søren Nørbo who opened my harmonic and melodic understandings, and got me back into classical music. And Jakob Anderskov – a mix between a pianist and a scientist/mathmatician.

I met Brad Mehldau at a weeklong jazzcamp, which also changed my attitude to music a lot. He was very influential, and i listened to his Art of the Trio recordings so many times. At the camp, he would give a lecture with the piano. After the lecture, everyone was in tears! It was fucking amazing. And after a short break he played a trioconcert with Joe Martin and Jeff Ballard, who was also teaching there – it was allmost too much!

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

SE: – Sound on the piano is such an elusive subject. Its something i try to be very aware of when I play concerts, but its hard to practise – especially since every piano reacts very differently, and has a distinct sound – what works at one piano, might not really at another. I have been listening a lot to classical masterclasses in piano, to learn about sound. I think the Daniel Barenboim lectures are a great resource for that online. Especially the Beethoven ones. Highly recommended. I also heard another masterclass once online – i dont remember the musician unfortunately – but his point was that pianoplayers most always trick the listeners in their playing, since there is really only on thing you can do to the keys, and that is press them.. So you have a limited range of options compared to the strings for instance. I love the challenge. To use space and dynamics to form the sound.

I am not sure how my sounds developed – other than I worked hard to refine it. Some of my classical musician-friends have commented my touch – which makes me very proud. I practise a lot of classical, where you can really experiment with sound.

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

SE: – I practise a lot of classical music. It doesn’t really sound that good when i play Bach or Liszt, but it feels great, and i’m learning a lot from that. On the more rythmical side, I have some practise stuff, that i sort of made up on top of the 3 against 4 concept. The 3 against 4 in music is one of Butch Lacys big teaching points, and i sort of took his ideas and mangled them into my own ideas. Since most music that swings can be counted from 3 as well as 4, this is very relevant to get a feel for swing i think. On top of this i try to practise drums a lot as well. And i also play keys in an afrobeat band called AddisAbabaBand which sharpens my rythmic abilities i think.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

SE: – I have been a little out of the harmony-section for a while. I think the more modern jazz tends to overdo the harmonies a bit for my taste. I like to improvise on top of more old-school harmonies, and keep it a little more fun and less complicated.

That beeing said, I would love to dig deeper into the augmented scales, and actually try to learn more from that. I have been putting that to one side now for too long..

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album: <Introducing The Simon Eskildsen Trio>, how it was formed and what you are working on today. Next year your fans like we can wait for a new album?

SE: – The album was recorded live, and I love the fact that you can record so easily now. I love that we didn’t wear headphones, but justed played like we would usually do in the trio. I love Daniel Sommer (drums) and Thomas Sejthen (bass), who gives my tunes so much life and dimension. I love the sound, and i loved playing the piano – what a piano (a big ass Bösendorfer)! I am also proud of the compositions – even though we have been talking about playing standards for a future release. Though i can’t promise a new record next year yet.

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay
positive in this business?

SE: – I would say that the business side is my weakpoint – probably like most other musicians I know. I love playing so much, that I have to try to learn the business better.

For me, I try to learn from every step – if you fail at something, then thats were you learn the most!

Staying positive is about community for me. One of the best things about the music business, is that we all need eachother, and everybody is really good at helping out – as long as you remember to ask! I love the fact that my “business partners” is very much my friends.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

SE: – I’m not sure. Of course it would be great if there was a lot of money in the scene, and it was easier to live of your music. I think most creative fields have these issues.

I am also an illustrator, and the discussion seems familiar to that community. No one expects to pay much fo music these days – if you can have it for free, why pay a premium. This is the internet and sharing idea doing its thing. I can’t help being an optimist for this, even though it’s a very difficult time for many. I have no idea were we are headed – but I am not interested in going back to the pre-napster 90s. I love streaming and exploring music that I would never have found otherwise.

Some of the ideas of the illustrator business might be interesting to musicians. Stuff like Patreon perhaps, but i haven’t exactly figured it out yet. Have plans for a podcast though, to explore these things with fellow musicians.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

SE: – This is not a problem to me. Jazz is an improvisational language – and its younger than most other languages. I have no fear for improvisation, and jazz is a big part of that. Sure it is changing, and the standards may gradually become less important, but the idea of improvising and jazz is to my knowledge a fire that won’t be put out in the mind of young people with curiosity.

Who knows – maybe some new Miles Davis is picking up a trumpet for the first time somewhere right now, and the jazz tradition is about to have a major change!

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

SE: – I must admit that I have no idea. As far as spirit and music, I remain agnostic. Music is so many different things to different people.

To me, I do sometimes get very meditation-like states when playing – forgetting myself. My problem is that I will start drooling, and that usually takes me out of that state. Haha!

When playing concerts, once in a while you really get the sense that everyone – the band, the audience and you – are moving in sync through the experience. Like everyone is in the same rollercoaster. I love this feeling, and it’s very profound.

On the other hand, I do sometimes get people telling me that they had this experience in the audience, and how great it was – meanwhile I was struggling the whole time, and couldn’t focus at all! Still, I live for those moments.

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

SE: – My hopes are to keep evolving, and building some kind of bridged carreer with my music and illustrations (working hard at that right now). I have this great ambition to try to build more community in jazz – but still have only a very vague idea how.

I will also do my best to keep composing – this is the hardest thing for me for some reason, yet every time a have composed a piece, I get really exited.
My fears are mostly money based and probably stupid. Also, this road of creating your own stuff and putting it out there can be a bit daunting.

Sometimes i feel that it would be better to give more to society – in a more general sense that is. I don’t teach, so sometimes I can have the feeling that I’m not giving anything back. Being a musician can be a bit ego-centric at times.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

SE: – This is such a good question, that i have no idea how to answer!
Mostly, it’s being a better composer, and working with the trio to try an develop new ways of playing. I can get very fed up with the standard theme-solo-solo-drumchase-theme model, and would love to get away from the solo-part, and put the solo more collectively in the trio. But without loosing structure and momentum, which can sometime happen when form and expression is more free.

Also, I have an Organ-project that i guess could be called a frontier – for me anyway. It’s also with Daniel, my drummer from the trio and my oldest friend. We are currently making our debut album, which is going to be quite different from the trio stuff. Also, I am doing a lot of illustrations for this project. It’s called OrgelDuo by the way 🙂

Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
I would say. The obvious between jazz and folk is the idea of standards – that is a very folk-music concept and i love the fact that i could go anywhere and have a session with other jazzplayers.

I play a lot of afrobeat music, and see many similarities there as well. Maybe I bring a lot of jazz to that band from my background. The afrobeat music is usually no more than 3 chords though – so thats a substantial difference. Plus a lot more people come to those shows 🙂

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

SE: – Lots of different stuff! Dan Tepfer and Jovino Santos very recently. Also Sam Yahels Truth and Beauty where he plays a Hammond. And a lot of Fela Kuti, Pharaoh Sanders and a bit of Cannonball Aderley. Plus Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and have been rediscovering the Mariann McPartland Pianojazz episodes with Bill Evans and George Shearing among others.

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

SE: – My main piano is a Yamaha u1 from the 80’s – it’s the absolute best practise piano. Unforgiving and clear. Would love a grand piano in the future some time!

I recently bought a Crumar Mojo for my Hammond Organ playing. I love it so far. Playing a lot of organ these days.

For Afrobeat – Acetone Top5 + Mininova synth.

I also have an old Nord Stage, a few more organs and another upright for playing at home.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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