May 27, 2024

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Interview with René de Hilster: To keep jazz alive we don’t have to change it, or make it more modern: Videos

Jazz interview with jazz drummer René de Hilster. An interview by email in writing. 

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

René de Hilster: – I was born (in the year 1967) and raised in The Hague, The Netherlands.  My family was not really musical but at school I showed that I was a deviation on that.  So at the tender age of nine I started on classical guitar, but I didn’t really like that and I played off and on. At the last year of elementary school I was asked to join the Schoolband on bassguitar. an instrument I had never touched but I did succeed. The drummer (Wim Kegel) and I became friends and through him I get acquainted with jazz.  I was hooked right away and a livelong addiction was born.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the drums? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the drums?

RdH: – As I mention before I started out on guitar, then played my first performances on bass guitar with the school band. After the school band stopped I wanted to play jazz and I wanted to play that on drums.  So I bought a snaredrum and a cymbal and started practicing by playing along the modest amount of jazzrecords that I had at the time. After a few months of playing I joined Jazz Workshops and JamSessions and nearly a half year after I first picked up the sticks I had my first payed gig.  Untill that moment I was completely autodidact. I stayed autodidact ‘till my 18th. Then I approached John Engels, by far the most swinging drummer we had at the time in the Netherlands, for some instructions.  Lessons with John were special and part of that was sittin’ in at his concerts so I had the chance to play with the real pro’s. John learned me lot about form, dynamics and always giving 100%.  John Engels was the only formal teacher I have had but I did get a lot of good playing advise from Peter Ypma. He was the one that helped to improve my technical skills. At the end I think that I didn’t choose the drums but that the drums choose me.  I needed a taste of guitar and bass before I saw the light. I still study the art of playing drums but now by listening and living the styles of real masters like Kenny Clarke, Roy Haynes, Leroy Williams and the most important for me: Billy Higgins.

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

RdH: – Now I get somewhat older sound get very important to me.  In earlier stages I was more busy with getting a very forward timing (playing really on front of the beat) and making. interesting fills. At one point in your playing career you find out that it is more important to be a good musician than a super skilled drummer.

I think I always had a reasonable good sound but every day I look for ways to improve my sound and my concept. Sound is a part equipment, a part technics but the biggest part is in your head.  I get my ideas for an ideal sound from the rich jazz history and want to place my own stamp on that. When you know how you want to sound, then at one point you will reach that. Unfortunately your demands on your own sound also change, so the moment you almost there soundwise, you wishes are different and there is more work to do!

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

RdH: – I try to “practice” every day. I don’t do any technical things like rudiments but simply try to play all the necessary playing routines while playing along some nice records. When I don’t sit behind the drums there is always jazzmusic around the house, sometimes simultaneously in different rooms so I always have some good jazz going on. Listening is a big part of my daily exercise.  By listening and trying to experience the records that are playing you “live” the music and that give you a great awareness of timing and rhythm. When the music is in the heart, you only have to translate it to your instrument.

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

RdH: – You ask a drummer … Well, I like the harmonic and harmonic patterns from the bebop/hardbop era.  I’m not really into modal jazz and all kind of things like the so called European Jazz. The latter tends too much towards classical music in my opinion. For me good harmonics have a nice structure, melodic chord changes and a clear progression.

JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?

RdH: – Maybe I’m getting old or I’m to much a purist but a lot of stuff that is coming out these days is not real jazz in my opinion and don’t really interest me. Sometimes those productions sounds like it is composed and played by mathematical specialists or it is ripped of every nice harmonic movement. It can go even worse when they add rap or even opera to it. Sometimes it seems that jazz is one big receptacle which is used to throw everything in that is not easy to label. A lot of jazz critics are getting really excited when some self proclaimed jazz musician starts to mix-up Arabic sounds with jazz.  You can be sure they will promote such an act. That is fine with me but please, don’t call it jazz. So to finally answer your question: The best record for me of 2017 is: Song Of No Regrets from Eric Alexander. A fine and adventurous tenorplayer who has  both legs firm into the jazz tradition.

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

RdH: – Well, use your intellect when practicing, listening, researching and all other needed action to become a good musician but let the intellect home and consult, follow and obey your soul while on stage or in the record studio. Use the right part at the right moment but always play with soul.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

RdH: – There a lot of that but even a webpage has it limits …

Once I was playing at those famous after hours parties which were held at the Bel Air Hotel near the Netherlands Congress Center during the North Sea Jazz Festival. I was playing with some big names like Walter Booker on bass, Ralph Moore was on tenor, I believe Benny Green on piano and some more. The drums were set up in front of a bench and suddenly I feel someone paving his way behind my back in a rather brute way and hurting my back. So while playing I turned around and I gazed right into the eyes of Art Blakey … When I turned back I saw that Mickey Roker was looking at me from the sideline … I kept it cool and finished the number …   Afterwards I had a talk with both gentleman. To be honest, I wasn’t scared nor intimidated. I always say: When I Play, I play. No matter who’s around.

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?

RdH: – Keep aware of the jazz tradition and don’t lose it out of sight while playing or composing.  Jazz is a language and maybe it is hip to invent new words but as long nobody knows the meaning of this words you can’t be understand. Jazz is supposed to swing and that jazzrhythm with those triplet feel and walking bass is what jazz makes unique. If we let that go, we can bury this music. For drummers:  Your Job as jazzdrummer is to make your fellow musicians sound good not to show how smart you are with those sticks.

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

RdH: – It’s my wish to have a decent live as jazz musician. But nowadays it is impossible. To play the music I like and love I have to do a dayjob to make that possible and to finance it.  Jazzmusicians love to play and to be able to do that we play for free and even pay our own drinks sometimes. It will not take long before we have to pay for being able to perform somewhere.  In some way this is logical because here in the Netherlands the supply exceeds the needs many times.

JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?

RdH: – I’m very happy with my collaboration with Eduardo Blanco and the International Quartet, We have made a very nice CD which is about real jazz; honest, pure and with all ingredient that makes jazz the wonderful music it can be. Furthermore I work with Eduardo as much as possible in local clubs with local musician. With his way of playing he remind me of the importance of sound and dynamics. His taste, timing and melodic gifts are impeccable. He is really a joy to work with.

In fact I have learned from every musician I’ve played with but I will shine a special light on Frans Elsen. He was a difficult man to work and play with but I’ve learned a lot from him about how NOT to play.

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

RdH: – Most so called standard tunes were popsongs itself. What is the difference between using a popsong from now or a popsong from 1930. The harmonic structure is less interesting these days and the modern songs mostly use a kind of modal structure. But say we do a jazzgig with modern songs like we do a normal gig with standards.  First question is, do those young people recognize the song without vocals … I think not really. But okay, we played the song like we used to play those old ones:  Head, solo’s head. Is there any difference in experience of this performance by the youngster. It’s doubtful … When playing it as a jazz piece it really doesn’t matter what the song is  As long the solos are telling a story and the swing and the dynamics are there. The chance you hear a good instrumental solo on an old song is bigger than when playing over the chords of an modern compositions.

To keep jazz alive we don’t have to change it, or make it more modern. We need the chance to present it so people can get acquainted with it.  We need word wide jazz on television and all other media. We have to confront people with it and show them it is nice music that swings.

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

I feel it the same way. Music is my spirit and live force. It’s the reason I’m on this world.

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

RdH: – Well I think I’m able to deal with any given situation. I don’t have any fear about what is happening in the world right now.  Things come and go. Threats are always there and, like war and disaster, will always be around. Do I have fear for the music? Also not really. Jazz will survive and even the bebop and hardbop I really love will get more important again in a few years. It’s a matter of time. A lot of things go in cycles.

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

RdH: – More regulation on the (jazz)musical education.  Nowadays a lot of schools and conservatories deliver loads of musicians that are jumped on the market and screw up the possibility to earn some money with making music. Here in the Hague a lot of music students from all over Europe are playing in pubs for free or really little money. In fact they pollute the market.

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

RdH: – Getting better and more in the spirit of Billy Higgins and I also have so sell myself better. I’m also busy with setting up a little studio facility to make simple but good sounding recordings.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

RdH: – Not any important that I know of. Sometimes they try to mix them but that is doomed to fail.

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

RdH: – I’m very busy with getting the spirit of Billy Higgins (impossible, but a worthy goal to try) so I’m listening to all records where Mr. Higgins is audible. Furthermore I’m really into Cedar Walton records and, as always, listening to favorites like Hank Mobley, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Barry Harris, Kenny Dorham and George Coleman,

I never possessed the will to become a kind of Tony Williams. I want to make music and not noise. So I hope I have the necessary technical skills to play what I hear. That’s why you don’t find any records with heavy drummers on my list. Mostly I don’t like recordings lead by drummers. I think Art Blakey is an exception there.

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

RdH: – I’m playing Zultan Caz Cymbals. Mostly using the 21 Sizzle ride and the 19 Crashride together with the 13 Caz Hihat. My drumset is a modern Gretsch with Remo Fyberskin 3 heads on it.  I’m always searching for a warm sound and this combination gives me that.

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

RdH: – Manhatten New York late forties so I can hear Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Kenny Clarke, Coleman Hawkins and all those masters in person. If there is time left I want to pay a visit to New York in the early sixties so I can meet with Billy Higgins and Hank Mobley.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself …

RdH: – I once was active as jazzwriter too. I wrote concert and CD reviews for and for a paper magazine called Jazzism I did write about important recordings from the past. I know the hassle of those activities. So my question to you; Simon is: What motivates you to make a website about jazz? It’s a lot of effort and dedication. And sure we’re all glad you’re doing it! What drives you to do it.

JBN.S – SS: – Thanks very much for answers. I’m motivated to make a site about jazz and blues with my love for the genre of this music. But as a jazz critic, and sometimes such a madness of jazz musicians I meet, they are mostly young, but these bastards say a bunch, that I worry a lot. About this: together their names, from me rumors will be very soon. I subscribe to your answers about my question: Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?

In addition, I am the organizer of small jazz festivals in Eastern Europe in several countries. I will talk about in this after the festivals.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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