June 18, 2024

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Interview with Nathan Daems: That depends the situation. At home it’s a bit more intellectual: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Nathan Daems. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Nathan Daems: – I grew up in Mechelen and studied in Leuven and Gent before moving to Brussels 6 years ago. My mother told me that as a baby already I loved music and I hated ugly or loud sounds. I don’t think that I am in the first place interested in music, I would say I am attracted before being interested. Because interested refers to the area of mind and logic. That is off course a big part of who I am and what I do, but I wouldn’t be interested in music if I wasn’t so in love with it. In love for no logic reason. Sound does magical things, makes you love music and that is what makes me interested.

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?

ND: – I started with violin, so early that I can hardly remember. My older brothers were playing saxophone and guitar, so at age ten I picked up the saxophone and 4 years later the classical guitar. I continued with electric guitar and bass and it made me 7 years play hardly any saxophone. Then I restarted saxophone at around age 21, got very seriously into music at that time and around my 30th birthday I started playing the ney and the Turkish and Bulgarian kaval flutes. That’s late because people say that they are one of the most difficult instruments to play and that didn’t encourage me to start, although I loved the sound for a long time already. Now I can’t stop anymore, too beautiful.

I have had many good teachers so I only mention the most important ones. In Turkish, Greek and balkan music: Nedyalko Nedyalkov, Christos Barbas, Evgenios Voulgaris, Omer Erdogdular,…  In jazz: Bart Defoort, Pierre Vaiana, Dieter Limbourg, Tcha Limberger…

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

ND: – I started with classical music but left it quickly because as a teenager I was learning much faster from playing along with my Jimi Hendrix cds for example. Thanks to studying jazz I received much more possibilities how to express myself in different ways, with different people and in different contexts. Being obsessed later on with oriental music (from India to the Balkans) I integrated a lot of oriental phrasing and storytelling (musicly). Now it’s all starting to mix to a degree that it becomes hard to say which element comes from where and I think that’s a good sign. At least it’s extremely fun like this.

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

ND: – I brainwashed myself with music from the balkans, Middle East and India, where you find a lot of odd meters. Listening focused for 1000’s of hours made me first understand and later on feel those rhythms very naturally. Listening, listening, listening,…

Also imagining my own improvisations wherever i’m going: humming, whistling or silently. Some of those improvisations are merely rhythmical.

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

ND: – The Turkish maqam system and classical Indian system are extremely rich and I’m also in love with Ethiopian scales. When I compose I look for new ways to integrate subtle occidental harmonic movements into these exotic modes in a way that both worlds reinforce each other. Every time I feel like I succeed it feels like a joyous victory to me hahaha !!!

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

ND: – Sorry, I listened mainly to maloya in 2017, I got totally hooked on it haha. Maloya is a style of mainly voice and percussion from Ile de Reunion. With rhythms that are strangly very very close to Moroccan gnawa music although the style is more peaceful I would say than gnawa. Otherwise I enjoy everything that Shabaka Hutchings is releasing lately.

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

ND: – For me? That depends the situation. At home it’s a bit more intellectual: practicing a new concept for example, or practicing the control of sounds with as much variations as possible is quite rational. In rehearsals it’s a bit more balanced because you’re working both with musical ideas/concepts/compositions as well as with how it organically should sound as a band and as a piece of music. On stage the goal as a band is to already having incorporated the logic part (tune, composition) so that you let it play itself and you are free to add things, take away things, express things more this or that way, improvise and so on… free to fully go into the soul part because the intellectual work is already done before.

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

ND: – Too many to mention! Playing with famous film composer David Shire and Brussels Philharmonic, some tunes of his. Terence Blanchard was there as well on stage. We played live but also recorded some film music. A whole album in less then two days, with a full classical orchestra in combination with a jazz combo, wow!

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

ND: – Live music does its magic no matter the age. As long as people are often enough confronted with it then they will fall in love. Simple. Organize live concerts also in small places. But jazz is off course more than the old standards. Nowadays I play jazz often in the same clubs where there is pop or rock music. In Belgium and in the UK the borders between jazz and underground club music are totally dissapearing. Woohoow!

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

ND: – The spirit and meaning of life belong to the mythical side of life in contrast to the logical side of life. Not trying to understand it is more sane I think. I believe more in experiencing the meaning of life (or just life) than in understanding it. In that sense music works very well for me. Experiencing everything that is beauty, trying to look for it in every day life. Could be looking at a cloud or a snail and be in awe. Or crushing a cookie for an ant colony like my old ney teacher did regularly during the breaks of the ney classes.

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

ND: – I am conscious of the fact that not everything will be necessarily ok in the end to say the least. I try to accept the fragility of the world and of myself and try to embrace it. It creates freedom and motivation to do really nice stuff.

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

ND: – That musicians, labels, managers, radios,… forget about money and about being famous but just do what they would want to do most of all. Music would be so much better then, the most commercial radios would be playing only the best music they can find.

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

ND: – Circular breathing on ney and kaval.

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

ND: – More than most people notice. The main ingredient in jazz is improvisation, right? That’s more than 50% of what is jazz, right? Well that is more or less the same situation in many other traditions. I just recorded an album with my Ragini Trio featuring Bojan Z but also Sawani Mudgal, an Indian classical singer. Her style is also mainly about improvisation. It’s so cool to see that she’s interested in how we think about improvisation and the other way around. In many folk styles there is also a common library of a few hundread or thousand standard tunes that most musicians know, so when they don’t know each other they can still jam the night away without stopping.

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

ND: – Last couple of weeks I exclusively listened to Terry Riley, Alain Peters and Danyel Waro (Ile de Réunion). Ah no, also the new Sons of Khemet album.

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

ND: – To the Greek illegal underground bars in the twenties, where they were playing rebetiko all night long, drinking raki, smoking hashiesh and cocaine, singing and playing music about war, drugs and misery. I definitely wouldn’t wanna get stuck there for the rest of my life but for a few nights I would love to feel the origin of this amazing style of music. It’s hard to find more melancholic music than that…

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

ND: – Brother in music, when are you coming to Brussels so I can invite you to drink a coffee in my place?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. I have never been to Brussels, I will be near future, when a local jazz festival will invite me as a jazz critic.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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