Jazz interview with jazz guitarist and composer Raphael Käfer. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Raphael Käfer: – I grew up in a musical family in Villach, a small but beautiful town in Austria. Music caught me from the very beginning on. I think I was around 5 years old, when I started to hear a lot of classical music (because my mother also did). There were those feelings like excitement, surprise and satisfaction, which I got from hearing this music. So I decided to keep the listening and exploring going …
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the your musical instrument? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the your musical instrument?
RK: – One year later or so, I think I was around 6 years old, my father was listening to deep purple (the live in Japan recording). From the very beginning on, I was completely caught by this music and the musicians (the long hair dudes rocking the stage and stuff). It was clear to me that I gonna be a musician later in my life. The decision about the instrument was really natural… there was no option for another instrument. It just came from something inside me, that told me: I gonna be a guitarist.
So I started to learn guitar ( I think it was the same year ) and went through different periods: first the classical guitar period. Than the rock period, where I switched from classical to the electric guitar and finally the jazz and improvisation period. Specially in my jazz period I had teachers who really helped me dealing with the amount of information about jazz and improvisation. The most important teacher and mentor for me was (and still is) Agostino Di Giorgio. He kept me busy in understanding and learning the basics in very considerate way. The second important teacher for me was Sandra Hempel who I studied with in Hamburg. She inspired me a lot in precise, expressive and musical playing.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
RK: – My sound mostly got affected by classical playing. After my classical exam in University I started to experiment with different phrasings and tried to put my classical technique on the electric guitar. I think, that´s the main reason for my current sound and phrasing. Generally I´m always experimenting with my sound and always try to enrich or develop it further with new effects or techniques.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
RK: – To be honest, there is no real practice routine. I always try to work on things, which I don´t feel so confortable with. If I choose a topic, I try to work on it till it feels good and “ready” to be played. Rhythm has always been a very special topic to me. After I´ve figured out the importance of strong rhythmically statements in soloing as well as in comping, I always try to keep myself busy with learning new rhythmic ideas (mostly from listening to other people).
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
RK: – I have no real harmonic preference. When I write a new composition, I try to express my feelings or ideas, which I want to put into this song. After i´ve found my harmonic color, which I want to work with, the rest of the writing process usually goes by itself then.
Currently I´m working hard for my new bandproject. We´ll go in studio in summer to record completely new material. I´m really looking forward to it!!
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
RK: – Ah, now you got me! To be honest I don´t know many recordings from 2017 because I never (or on rare occasions) check the release dates of recordings… but there´s one I really like: Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Caipi album. So I would go for that!
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
RK: – I think in best case both are working together hand in hand. But to me that´s one of the more difficult goals to achieve in playing as well as in composing. But for me a good balance between them would be a composition or an improvisation that on the one hand shows what the musician is able to do (technically, rhythmically, melodically, harmonically) without overloading the listener´s brain and which on the other hand causes some real emotional reactions.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
RK: – Well, there´re a lot of memories about playing and stuff. I really like to play with different people because the result will never be the same at all. I remember organizing a good gig for my band with a different pianoplayer. After the rehearsal I was really surprised about how different songs can sound if you just replace one musician. That´s awesome!
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?
RK: – To me the most important thing in music is to come up with your own stuff. Don´t get me wrong, it´s a need to check jazz history, basics and repertoire to become familiar with the material and the music. BUT always try to work on own stuff as well! Because there are too many incredible musicians who can blow on any jazzstandard out there… the number of those people is rising every year. But if you use your knowledge to produce your own music, your own sound and voice, there will be some people out there to follow you for sure. Of course it´s hard work! Just think about composing, arranging, finding the right people to play with and finally managing gigs and studiosessions… but stay with it and keep it going!
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
RK: – To me it´s difficult to generalize “jazz”. There´re so many different streams right now with different messages and meanings. If there´s a possibility to make the music more “open” for people, I think there will be a chance to get more into this business thing for sure. I mean look at greats like Pat Metheny… he really got into it. I made the experience that sometimes jazz is too complex and difficult for the audience to listen to. It seems to be abstract and unreachable, which of course is great and inspiring! But I think it needs more memorable components like for example a good and sing able melody, which makes the music more “grab able” for the audience. But this is just an Impression of mine. My writing is also far away from what I´ve just said before…
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
RK: – I´m lucky to have a lot of very nice collaborations at the moment. But the line up of the CD “first steps” is one of the best musical collaborations I ´ve had so far… everyone could connect with each other musically. That´s best case.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
RK: – Well, first of all there´s a lot of amazing contemporary jazz material around at the moment. So I think it´s not so difficult to catch young people for that music. Maybe it´s getting more difficult to motivate young people to play and check out the basics and (as written in the question) standardtunes. I have no real answer for that. I just can say what helps me to work on it again and again: check it out as much as possible and use the material to develop your musical identity out of it. There´s a lot you can get out of that.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
RK: – The meaning of life to me is finding something you really like, being able to work on or with it and developing your personality in it. Relating to music, this would mean: find a way to work with it and create your own style, your own language to say what you want to say. And finally: enjoy the amount of overwhelming feelings you get by doing it.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
RK: – To be honest, I have no expectations of the future. I made the experience that expectations mostly lead to frustration, so I decided to get rid of them.
Currently there´s nothing to fear. I try to keep my life going as good as possible. Of course, if you take a look at the world situation right now, there´re many things, which could cause anxiety. But those things are in hands of other people and institutions…
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
RK: – I would eliminate EGO! That´s the only real enemy of music, people and maybe the whole world…
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
Currently I´m experimenting a lot with different ideas… I don´t know what comes out of that. But it seems that i´ll reach a new level of playing and writing music. Something more electronic…
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
RK: – Nowadays it seems like world music and Jazz are well connected with each other. With regard to folk music, I would like to say that jazz is folk music. It´s black folk music, which developed and changed a lot in the last decades, but the roots of jazz are black folk music. So there are a lot of similarities. As I said before it seems like everything is mixing up with each other with an incredible result if you take a look at the music of Tigran Hamasyan or Avishai Cohen.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
RK: – Currently I´m listening a lot more electronic jazz music like stuff from Chick Corea or Wheater Report. Of course I also listen to non-jazz music. The music of Radiohead, Steven Wilson and Meshuggah also inspires me a lot and helps me to get new ideas.
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
RK: – I´ve been playing an Ibanez Artcore model for many years now. I Just modified it a lot (new pickups, new electronic components and new bridge)… but the guitar is great. I also play a Yamaha SG2000 for more fusion like stuff. Also an amazing guitar!
I only use Thomastik Strings.
I fell in love with mesa boogie Amps. Currently I´m playing a rectifier 25 model.
I only use Vovox cables. Incredible stuff!
And of course some pedals (currently: Xotic booster, Lehle volumepedal, Strymon reverb and delay, OCD drive and the nice h.o.g2 from electro harmonix).
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
RK: – I would like to travel to the future. Maybe year 2100 or so. I hope to find myself in a civilization, in which every human being is able to accept and love each other. A civilization, which pulls on one string to use its potential to explore and colonize the universe…
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
RK: – Thank you for the questions. There´s nothing I feel like asking for right now. But thank you for supporting music and please keep it going.
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan