Jazz interview with a bad musician, as if saxophonist Christina von Bülow. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – Where did I grow up and what got me interested in music?
Christina von Bülow: – I grew up a little outside Copenhagen Denmark. My father was a jazz guitarist, so jazz music has been a natural part of my life ever since I was born. My first own jazz records were one with Svend Asmussen, the famous Danish violin player, and a couple with the Mills Brothers. The swing, the sound, the great melodies and the romantic touch in the music was what touched my very young musical heart, and this is somehow still the deep foundation of my love for jazz. To be able to express your feelings through music. I was always singing – and actually you could say, that I’ve been singing my way through life.
JBN.S: – What got me interested in picking up my instrument?
CHB: – After playing piano for some years, I picked up the flute, but it was when I came across an alto saxophone, around age 20, that I found my true main instrument. I’m sure it’s because on this instrument you can really ‘sing’ and when I play my horn I think of it as I’m singing through the instrument.
JBN.S: – What teachers helped me progress to the level of playing I have today? And what did I do to find and develop my sound?
CHB: – In 86-90 I went to the Rythmic Music Conservatory, that at that time was a new started school in Copenhagen. My teacher was Bob Rockwell, a great tenor player from Minneapolis, that lived (and still lives) in Copenhagen. Bob Rockwell taught me to play the saxophone, that was still a new instrument to me. He got me on the right track in developing sound and how to treat a saxophone in all ways. As many other horn players I went through a tough time of changing embouchure, finding the right mouth piece, instrument etc. Loosening up the embouchure took me some time, but it was worth the hard work and I have stayed with the same mouth piece and saxophone ever since those years – a Selmer superbalanced action from 49, and a Meyer 7 mouth piece. My sound kept developing over the years, thanks to listening to all the great alto players, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt and many more. It is my experience that the sound starts in your head and you search for it for some years and if you listen closely one day you realize that you have found your own sound.
In the spring of 1990, the last year of my education, I went to Los Angeles to take private lessons with Stan Getz in his home in Malibu. I had loved his music ever since my childhood and to have this rare opportunity to meet him, talk and listen to him was a milestone in my life. His music still makes me grateful and full of awe! The beauty, the sound and the natural flow of melodies has had an impact on me, that’s hard to put in words. The great hospitality he met me with, too!
During the first years at the conservatory I also met Lee Konitz for the first time, who, like Stan Getz, became a mentor and ongoing inspiration for me during my whole carreer. We met every time he was in Copenhagen, which he was a lot in those years. I took lessons with him, went to his clinics, and later came to play concerts with him on a few occasions. In terms of improvising, developing melodies, developing the connection between what you hear and what you play and of course the most important – the interplay with the other musicians, he has been a most important inspiration to me and still is! Whenever I feel a lack of inspiration and creativity I put on a Lee Konitz recording, and creativity wakes up again.
JBN.S: – Do I have any advice for aspiring musicians about navigating thru the music business?
CHB: – To me inspiration is not about trying to sound like your hero, but to get inspired of how to work with music in a way, that allows your own music to come through. Stan Getz put this in words very clearly the first day I spent with him in Malibu – after playing and improvising on a song for him (Body and Soul), he told me – ‘You gotta play you’ and that to me became the over all most important message about playing jazz I took with me from the days I spent with him. And as a kind of fullfilment of this I realized, when I got to know him, that I recognized everything I heard in his music in his personality too. A beautiful experience.
Whenever I meet with a young student I always try to pass this message on in some way. Of course you need to learn your instrument and learn the language from listening and trying to copy sounds and phrases from the grand masters, but in the end you need to find way to the music that flows inside and express your own personality in your music. Jazz music as a business is tough, and you need a genuine love for the music to weigh up the obstacles of this business.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
CHB: – I find that the intellect helps you investigating the music in the rehearsal room, trying to find new sounds and ways of playing and improvising. But to me it always start with what you hear – first comes music, the theories are developed after. I use the piano as an instrument to explore the more intellectual, theoretical angle of music. But when you go on stage to actually play music, you should leave behind all intellect and let intuition take over as far as possible, at least in my opinion.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration has been my most important experience?
CHB: – I’v had opportunity to play with so many great musicians, both Danish, Swedish, Brazilian and American. It’s impossible for me to pick one collaboration, but right now to play with my son Pelle is a very special experience every time. The natural intimacy and intuitively connection between us opens up a large room for my personal musical voice to unfold – this is very precious to me.
During the last 10-15 years I have also played a lot with the Swedish tenorist, Bernt Rosengren. His way of playing is so genuine and beautiful and I appreciate this collaboration so very much. I learn and re-learn everytime I play with him.
Finally I will mention the great piano player, Horace Parlan, who passed away last year. I had the chance to play some concerts and do a recording with this grand musician and like nobody else I have met, he was there always serving the music, never letting the ego interfere in music. To hear him play and to have the luck to be accompanied by him was a beautiful and rare experience I will keep close to my heart forever.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do I understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
CHB: – Well that’s a big question! Music is about connection. To the world, to other human beings and to your own soul. Through music we can communicate, without words, the feelings we share, the love and the creativity. The most beautiful is when we succeed in comforting or inspiring another human soul through the music we play. You can make this connection in many other ways than music – but music is a beautiful straight way – from one heart to another.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for me?
CHB: – In September there will be a new album release, with a wonderful Brazilian Quartet I’m part of called RioJazz4 – with a Danish bass player, me and two great musicians from Rio de Janeiro. We are releasing the album in connection with a tour in Denmark in early September. The love for Brazilian music has been another ‘musical love affair’ for me since my early teenage years. On the new album (our second album with this band) I get to play a lot of flute beside my alto playing, something I love – especially when playing Brazilian music.
JBN.S: – Take a time machine, where would I go and why?
CHB: – Back to the 50’s, to a band stage with Frank Sinatra – or actually just being in the audience would have been a thrill for me. Why? Because he could sing these songs that I love so much like noboby else. I keep coming back to Frank Sinatra.
But really I’m happy staying where I am. There is a lot of great things going on at the jazz scene in Copenhagen right now. Apart from the difficult business part. We have a lot of really talented young musicians at the moment that have taken up jazz music, bebop, the standards and all the wonderful music I grew up with – and with skills and thoroughness that I didn’t know of at their age. To have the luck to witness this and to get to work with those young musicians is a great pleasure.
I believe jazz music is here to stay.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan