Jazz interview with jazz bandleader, composer, arranger, conductor Erlend Skomsvoll. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Erlend Skomsvoll: – I grew up in an old wooden house just outside Oslo at Stabæk (Stabaek) in a garden full of apple trees, fruit bushes and a large garden. My parents showed me how to cook, cut apple trees, brush house, how to be curious, something I embraced.
So when I saw a very inspired Eubie Blake at the age of 95, play a concert on television, as well as more of the old but acclaimed, lively and life-loving American musicals, and asked my parents to start playing the piano, I was of course allowed to start palying.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
ES: – In the beginning I played mostly easy pieces, boogie woogie, jazz, and easy classic pieces. Eventually I became very fond of Ragtime, including Scott Joplin, but also Grieg and Chopin among others. I embraced early both sound and rhythm. And had early an urge to express myself. I liked to sit at the piano just playing music, more than practicing. I used the music as a place to express myself. I enjoyed myself in the musical world. Eventually, during the teens, I also developed myself as a tubaist, and through both Marching Bands, Brass Bands and Symphomy Orchestras I learned a wide range of musical styles. Through playing the tuba, I also came into contact with a jazz community, and thus I began to improvise, actually mostly on the piano. When I was in a high school, I also started composing and arranging. There was also a very well-run jazz club in Bærum outside Oslo, called «Musikkflekken» (the music spot), where I listened to many of the finest Norwegian and international jazz musicians, and there I also worked with a young big band where I and we eventually composed a lot of the music.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
ES: – I learned a lot of practicing routines from the tubaplaying, but also from jazz seminars. But the most imporant jazzlearing was from the years at the Jazz department at the conservatory in Trondheim. But it is of course a merge of many different elements that combines it all.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
ES: – I think that from playing both the tuba (which can be an very poetic instrument) has giving me different perspectives, which maybe makes me want to create a spesific tone in the piano. The «Playful»-album is also about making a muscially room that I like to be in, where I am as a person now.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
ES: – I try to embrace all the different influences musically, but in the same time I ask my self; What do I want to play (or compose), what is my story, what is my perspective. I think everybody´s story is uniqe, and by absorbing all the influences and filtering all of them thru my mix of intuition and knowledge I have a story to tell. If others than I like that story, it’s a nice bonus
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
ES: – Hm. It’s so personal to individual that it’s hard to say anything universal. It’s much about intuition, and just looking/searching for a real balance. I took a personality test a few years ago to see which of the two hemispheres is the most dominant of me. It turned out they were equally dominant.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
ES: – I mostly play at clubs and concert halls where the audience has chosen to come to listen to the music I play, or are a part of as a composer or arranger. So they have already accepted the deal, so to speak. But I still love to play and do very different styles of music, both to meet different kinds of musicians, concertplaces and audiences. That keeps me inspired. But sometimes it is also necessary to challenge both me, the musicians and the audience. And other times it is also about giving things that the reciever didn`t know that he or she likes 🙂
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
ES: – Oh, that´s so much different things. I love to tell stories, but mostly when I speak with people face to face. Of course the first gig with Chick and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, with a packed concert hall back in 2000, where the audience was as excited before the concert had started, as when Norway ad beaten Brazil in fotball a couple of years before. Or maybe when my Requiem was premiered with the Nidaros boys choir, Arve Tellefsen, Birgitte Christensen and a symphony orchestra in the Nidaros Cathedral. Or on the jamsession some weeks ago, where I played with both Norwegian and Palestinian musicians.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
ES: – I think the most important thing is to get young people interested in SOMETHING. Passion and interest for beauty, creativity, music, science, and our society, combined with trying to develop your self is important. And of course it is a nice bonus if people embrace good music in any musically styles.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
ES: – I guess for me spirit is many different things. Being a father, being me, being a part of a family, a community, a country a world. I guess I try to use music to give good spirit to the world.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
ES: – That everybody sings and dances much more from they are young to the die in the daily life.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
ES: – It
s a mix of what I self are working on. Both the music I have composed that has been recorded with great musicians like the accordonist Ida Løvli (Loevli) Hidle, the tenorsax and opera tenor Håkon (Haakon) Kornstad and the ensemble Allegria, the music of singer/singwriter Torun Eriksen which Im touring with this autumn together with ensemble Denada; I wrote all the arrangements and are conducting it. And of course a lot of different music that my kids listen to, but also Joni Mitchell, Foo fighters and the daily one hour long social debate program «Dagsnytt atten» (Daily news six o`clock)
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
ES: – I guess I would like to go back to the time when Jesus was at the most active. I`m not that christian, but I deaply admire him as a extraordinary person. And would like to se for my self how the story really is, without any impact from those who afterwards tried to determine how that story really should be.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
ES: – Okey Simon 🙂 Is it so that you are from Armenia? Why are you interested in jazz in general, and why do you want to hear about my thoughts about music?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Yes, of course, I am from Armenia, but live in Boston – MA and Paris – France. I am political journalist and general editor website http://mitk.am on the armenian lenguege, but since 2002 I started interesting Jazz and Blues music and became a jazz critic. 2010 I created this website …
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
ES: – I`m not shure what you mean, so I need you to explain the last question. All the best, Erlend.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan