June 21, 2024


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Interview with Bruno Ruder: Music provides all that you need: emotions, structures, evolution … Live full concert video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist Bruno Ruder. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Bruno Ruder: – I was born in Bourg-en-Bresse, a small french city near Lyon. My father is a music lover, but he didn’t learn to play music as a child, and it seems to be a regret… As an adult (I was myself 4 at that time) he started to take electric organ lessons. He had some Jazz, European Classical, Rock records, that I used to listen. And when I was 6, as he noticed that I was interested in music, he registered me for lessons too.

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

BR: – As I told you, I started at 6 to play electric organ and at the beginning, I was, like most of the children would be, very happy and proud to do the same as my father. But my teacher, piano player Jean-Michel Maillot, who had become a close friend of my father’s, and who had seen that I had abilities for music, advised my parents that I switch from organ to piano, as I could go further with the piano. I took lessons with him until the time I went to the university and left my parents’ house, at the age of

He learned me the piano technique. I loved and admired my teacher very much, and that has been a very important point in my love for piano and music. When I was or 12, I went into Jazz and started to study it by myself, and put together a band with friends of mine. Later I attended Jazz workshops, and then Jazz classes in Lyon and Paris Conservatories.

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

BR: – My first teacher of course has had a huge influence on my sound. To be more specific, I think he passed on to me a kind of strong, powerful sound : I can remember how he used to encourage me to go deep in the keyboard, and to play vigorously. Later, I started to listen to a lot of Jazz piano players, and tried to imitate their sound. One of the first was Oscar Peterson. Then I got into Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Bud Powell, Bill Evans… after that I became a devotee of Mc Coy Tyner’s, and listening to him, I discovered how much the chords, the voicings, the notes in general that you play, were, before everything, a way to produce and modulate sound. I mean, I think it’s the case for any good musician, but I discovered it with Mc Coy, especially when I focused on his famous 4th chords, which produce a very particular sound, especially when combined with his beautiful beaded touch… Then I had the same conclusions with Thelonious Monk, and players like Mal Waldron, and tried to get that kind of rough sound (which therefore included the study of their way to play chords and harmony too). Later when I was at the Paris Conservatory, I discovered Keith Jarrett’s music, and that discover was concomitant with my encounter with a piano student, Misora Lee, who was studying European Classical Music. She shared with me some of the concepts she was actually working on concerning the sound, and that helped me to understand the Keith Jarrett’s approach. It was about going deep in the keyboard, even for pianissimos, and make your hand soft and hard at the same time. But to sum up, the main thing I found to develop my sound was of course to develop my ears, listening to a lot of piano players and a lot of music in general!

Another very important thing about developing your sound, is, as far as I’m concerned, to play with other musicians, to find the way to make a band sound good, to find how you can make your own sound appear clearly out of the sound of the band, which is not only a matter of playing loud enough. So I’m quite sure that finding and developing « your » sound is above all finding and developing « a » sound that works, whether playing alone or with other musicians.

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

BR: – Actually I change all the time my way to practice. It depends on which bands I’m going to play with in the next few days or weeks, on what I listen to, on what are my concerns of the moment about music. Recently, I’ve been feeling the need to feed myself with European harmony. I’ve been working on Schubert’s Impromptus, playing them in all 12 keys, which forces me to have a deeper understanding of the harmony, and work on the keys I’m less comfortable with. I’ve also been practicing stride piano, which is a very difficult, specific style. I’ve always loved it but never had the chance to go very deep into it. In that particular case, it’s related to a band I play with : the Umlaut Big Band which plays music from the 1920’s and 1930’s. In general, today, I want to « play music » when I practice, not only try to improve my piano technique or my abilities. What is the most important thing is that I always want and try to be in contact with beauty when I meet my piano!

Of course as a child, you sometimes work on exercises and forget about music while practicing your instrument. But I gradually realized, from the moment I started to study Jazz and improvisation by myself, that I could play better if I was in the right mental state. So I tried to work specifically on this mental state, seating at the piano and seeking the good sensations. This is particularly true for rhythm, because I feel like having good rhythmic sensations is the necessary and sufficient condition to be able to play as well as you can.

What I can also say about rhythm, is that for me it seems to be the deepest mystery in music. And as it is, it’s also the best way to experiment real, deep closeness with other musicians, almost telepathy I could say, as it is such difficult to analyze sometimes, that we have to use metaphysical or magical semantic fields to describe it. When I listen to a musician whom rhythmic conceptions attract me, I endeavor to enter his mind and feel the rhythm the way he does. That’s something I learned a lot about while touring with Christian Vander’s band : Magma. We played the same repertoire for each concert, but Christian was playing a lot of variations himself, changing a lot of rhythmic intonations, and I had to concentrate a lot on the finest details of his playing to understand what he «meant». I’ve been learning a lot about it too since I discovered afro cuban music (especially Rumba and Tambores Batas) during a trip in Cuba some years ago with my fellow bass player Thibaud Soulas, and playing in Fidel Fourneyron’s project ¿ Que vola? alongside three amazing cuban percussionists, Adonis Panter Calderon, Barbarito Crespo Richard, and Ramon Tamayo Martinez. These musicians can play rhythms that European musicians won’t be able to play, even the best ones. I certainly won’t be able ever neither, but it doesn’t prevent me to try to enter their mind and try to understand a few things ! That’s of course the case also with Billy Hart, who is featured on the album we just released, Rémi Dumoulin and I.

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

BR: – I still love to play on Jazz standards harmonies, which I always find very inspiring. But I also like when you don’t have to mind about the harmonic structure, and just have to open your ears wide (actually it should be the case when we play standards of course). I was saying earlier that having good rhythmic sensations was the necessary and sufficient condition to be able to play as well as you can. Well, in my opinion, sometimes, a harmonic structure is one of the things that can unfortunately prevent you from having good rhythmic sensations! I like when the composer knows how to make his pieces harmonically understandable. It can be very complex and understandable if it’s well written, or, on the contrary, very simple, but unintelligible.

In certain of my own compositions, I try to give the impression of a harmonic structure, but at the same time to allow the musicians to play any note, any harmonic pattern, in any tonality, or any atonal stuff they want. The chords aren’t supposed to impose harmonic obligations (even obligations that you could transgress), and don’t even have to be played by anyone, but are just here to suggest a structure. This is the case on several pieces on this new album : Gravitational Waves, Sagremor le Démesuré, or Delectable Mountains for instance.

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

BR: – I really don’t know what to answer, as recently, I have been listening mostly to music recorded before 2017…

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

BR: – As a matter of fact, I find that music is one of the rare ways to override the differences between intellect and soul !

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

BR: – I have of course a lot of good memories… The best ones are those of particular situations that made me improve in my life of musician. For instance, I think about a gig with Riccardo Del Fra (double bass), Simon Goubert (drums) and Dave Liebman on saxophone. I remember being very impressed by Liebman and not feeling so well at the soundcheck, having the impression that I was not good enough to play with such a musician. But during the concert I realized that his ears were so wide open on whatever was played by every musician in the band, that I became much more confident, and was quite happy of the way I played that night! According to me, occasions to experiment how deeply focused listening (which requires confidence in yourself and other musicians) can have such extremely positive consequences on the music is crucial.

I also have very good memories of some of the gigs I performed with Magma, especially playing Christian Vander’s piece « Köhntarkösz ». During a long guitar solo by the wonderful James Mac Gaw, I had to play an ostinato, and keep the time over the crazy rhythmic stuffs Christian was playing on the drums : when you feel the floor falling from under your feet but that you are still able not to fall and to go ahead, is it exaggerated to consider that you’re flying ?

This kind of flying (which can occur in various types of music, and for various reasons of course) is may be the strongest trip a musician can experiment. When I put a band together, when I write music, and when I play in any other musician’s band, my purpose should always be to induce such a phenomenon.

These memories come to my mind right now, it could have been others of course… But I could tell you about another gig I remember very clearly. It was a solo piano gig, and actually it didn’t happen so well ! I had already performed some solo piano concerts before, and even recorded a solo piano album (Lisières, 2014), but I remember having had that night the impression that I wasn’t feeling good, that I didn’t play well, that I was boring the audience… This concert was recorded and when I listened to it a few days later, I realized that the music was neither miraculous nor disastrous, it was just me playing solo piano, as well as I usually played ! It made me think a lot about the behavior a musician may have on stage, the way one can give the audience the impression that he is at home on a stage… Paul Bley (who is, by the way, one of my very favorite musicians) once said that self belief was a very important ingredient in playing music: «At the dinner table ego can be an objectionable thing, but when you are playing for 5000 people and they are all silent and listening to what you have to say, you can only have too little ego, never too much». Of course you make progress when you encounter difficulties…

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?

BR: – I’m not sure I have advices to give, I’d rather take advices from other musicians ! The only thing I can say is : never forget the main reason why you are a musician. Of course that’s something everybody has already been told, I wasn’t the first one to state it, but I wholeheartedly embrace this asserting ! (and by the way, for me the main reason is that I love music…)

Of course when you have the chance to observe the way fantastic musicians, like Billy Hart, make this adage their way of life, it takes a more significant meaning. So another advice should be : make your best to play with musicians who are better than you ! There’s a lot to learn from them.

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

BR: – I’m afraid I have no really accurate answer to that question. I can just tell that what I want to do is playing music with people I like to play with. So far, it’s been possible. I hope it will go on for a while!

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

BR: – I learned a lot with Riccardo Del Fra, who used to be my teacher at the Paris Conservatory, and whom I played extensively with. He made me play in some situations that made me grow up a lot!

I already told you in which way Magma had been a real great musical experience.

My oldest band is a trio with saxophone player Vincent Lê Quang, one of the most intelligent musician I had the chance to meet, and the wonderful singer Jeanne Added. The trio is named « yes is a peasant country » after a poem by E. E. Cummings. We have a deep musical complicity, this band is very precious to me.

And of course, this new quintet with Rémi Dumoulin, Aymeric Avice, Guido Zorn and Billy Hart, with which every performance, and every moment we spent together will probably remain engraved in my memory!

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

BR: – Well, some people, including some young people, seem to be still interested in music written by Bach, or even older composers, so there is nothing to worry about, as far as I’m concerned ! I suppose we just have to play these standards (or anything else) as well as we can!

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

BR: – Well, one would rather read interviews with Coltrane than ones with myself to dig this point… But of course, having been playing music all your life should bring you to understand or analyze life through your musical experiences. Music provides all that you need : emotions, structures, evolution… and a lot about time ! Remember what Igor Stravinsky has been saying about the purpose of the music: «Music is given to us with the sole purpose of establishing an order in things, including, and particularly, the coordination between man and time».

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

BR: – Of course, there seems to be a lot to be scared about nowadays… But personally, and to keep speaking about music, I just wish to go on playing with good musicians, having new experiences which change my approach again, as this collaboration with Billy did recently!

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

BR: – May be abolish the labels we stick on music like «Jazz», «Rock», «Classical Music», «Hip Hop», «New Age», «Alternative» etc., because it doesn’t really mean very much, and behind these labels, some weird things are written: «don’t even try to listen to it, this is not for you», «this one is too complicated for your small brain», «this one is to simplistic for a huge brain like yours», «playing this one, here is how much you can expect to earn», «playing this one, here is the exact way you have to play», «if you’re a girl, you can’t really play this music well», etc.

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

BR: – Well, I don’t know yet, probably, the next frontier should be to identify the next frontier!

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

BR: – It probably basically depends on what you call «Jazz», «World Music», «Folk Music»… We file under «Jazz» artists such as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Cab Calloway, Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor (I discovered he just passed away, which makes me very sad), Tim Berne, Count Basie, Ran Blake, Diana Krall, to mention only a few, and only american ones… Of course they have a lot in common, but obviously, the purposes of their music, the reasons why they are (or were) musicians, their audiences seem to be very various.

What we usually call «Jazz» may have relations, and may mix with any musical tradition, right? That means that there are similarities between Jazz and every music. I have somehow the same impression watching a video of Vladimir Horowitz playing the piano, an Alan Lomax one of people singing worksongs in America, one of Villayat Khan playing the sitar, one of Ornette Coleman, one of North African Gnawas, etc.: when I observe great musicians, it seems to me that they have a very similar musical gesture» (in every sense of the word), a gesture that seems to be rid of anything disturbing the musical flow.

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

BR: – I find myself trying to go deeper than I had been doing before in Hank Jones’ music. What a wonderful musician…

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

BR: – May be I’d like to see the way humans were living, let’s say 30 000 years ago. I would be very interested in listening music by these people, which I think probably were as intelligent, sophisticated, and creative as we are. And we don’t have any clue about what their music was like ! It’s even worse than for Charlie Parker, whom people who had the chance to listen to live, usually say that may be only 1% of his musical genius is audible on his records!

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

BR: – Well, are there 2017 (or even 2018) records that you could recommend to me, please?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Yes, of course. The Chick Corea + Steve Gadd Band – Chinese Butterfly 2018, Pat Martino – Formidable 2017, Tomasz Stanko – New York Quartet 2017, Gary Peacock Trio – Tangents 2017, Charles Lloyd New Quartet – Passin’ Thru 2017, Ahmad Jamal – Marseille 2017, Matthew Shipp Trio – Piano Song 2017, Tigran Hamasyan – A n Ancient Observer 2017, etc.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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