Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Philip Zoubek. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – 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?
Philip Zoubek: – I grew up in Tulln, a small town in lower Austria. My father bought an old piano with viennese mechanics when I was 5 and I somehow I started to copy his playing and somehow really got into it. I didnt play any classical music them or read notes, I played the music I listened: blues and mostly the Beatles and improvised on those songs- I clearly remember the joy I had (and still have, actually) at that time, coming home from school later on and going to the piano firstly without even having food. And I knew quite early that music would be my profession and life later on. So I continued, also having some piano lessons with a local piano player. Then later I at 14 also received some classical lessons, and I really got into jazz and practiced really hard. I studied Jazz piano in Vienna (a big influence back then was my teacher Reinahrd Micko, who told me a lot, especially about harmony) and moved to Cologne, where I found a a great scene and some new input, a much younger scene and a much wider approach regarding how you integrate new music into jazz. My piano teacher Hans Lüdemann was a big influence and also the presence of the new music tradition in Cologne, with its huge influence on the 20th century (Stockhausen!). But of course, the most influence was the musicians I started to play quite at an early stage, Frank Gratkowski, Matthias Schubert, Thomas Lehn, …
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
PZ: – Thats a good question which is difficult to tell at the same time. Actually I don´t remember sounding different from what I sound now. I mean I did the same thing like almost everybody else does: trying to copy musicians you listen to, really getting into it in order to learn that particular language. I definitely checked out Paul Bley, Lennie Tristano, Keith Jarrett to name only some pianist, but I never felt stuck into one, not speak of being trapped. It was just phases where I went through and thats it. I always listend to a wide range of music (a lot of new music and a lot of classical too) which helped me to see the bigger picture, and I always felt a big distance to how jazz was put into a academic box, mostly at schools. Not, that I didn´t learn the technical aspects of this music, but for me the music which was taught at Jazz conservatories didn´t really much to do with the music I listened on the recordings. But thats an issue for itself…..
In Cologne, I have to point out, the school was much more open minded in that regard.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
PZ: – I like to play a lot of Bach, who keeps my fingers, my brain and soul awake and overall, wrote some of the greatest piano music I know. My technique is quite based on his compositions, too. Of course I also do rhythmic exercises, sometimes based on the compositions I write, sometimes just as an raw exercise. I always improvise a lot, freely but also on the material I am practicing…
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?
PZ: – As I player you develop different levels of harmony and your approach may differ from the music you are playing. So, it might be true that the overall harmony of “outside” may sound quite “smooth”, maybe that´s the musical picture of the trio when we recorded it in December 2017. My band mates would agree that we sound much more aggressive now, and you can clearly hear the more attacking shifts in the way we treat harmony, but also the rhythmic instabilities and the compositions, as well.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
PZ: – The more you study music, the more you know what works and what doesn´t. I play a big scale of different stlyes, covering electronic music, including preperaed piano, noise, free jazz, new chamber music, and so on. So the question is what music we want to play with this specific group and what do i have to do to make it work. It just a very profane question, and the question what music effects in which way, is not really touching me, as it focuses on me as a player, while i am more think on the music in the center of interest.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
PZ: – If it´s in balance it should be 50:50, otherwise it would be not in balance….but I definitely like it if the is a a big rational substruture, also fed by personal experience and history, which is is not offensively outspoken. And for sure I like the dance of this little border between those poles, that´s where the energy comes out.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
PZ: – It is a difficult question and I thought a lot about that, and I hope every musician- avantgarde or commercial- asks himself those kind of questions. I want to keep it brief: For me, the most honest way of respecting audience, is to deliver the music I really want to do. This is also a non neolibeberal view, as I don´t see my music as a product to be consumed, as in other concerts the audience exactly gets for what I pays for. I have a different view on that and I am experiencing it all the time that people who even don´t have a glue about the music get the energy and experience a kind of hiffen beauty, something they can´t just buy usually.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
PZ: – The Loft in Cologne is a big influence for me and I had some really intense musical moments there, I really feel like playing in my living room there. Very often those moments happened in very intimate settings, not on big stages.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
PZ: – That for sure also a question which reaches into social structures of the jazz audience and also to the venues and how music is presented. I know for sure that there is enough audience, and I not too pessimistic about the future, as in contradiction to the digital world you can be part of something pure. But yes, definitely: Playing the same tunes all over in the same manner is an approach that as far as I see doesn´t reflect out times, and that´s for sure a big part of what music is driven by, also if you see it historically. All the important music was ahead on its time and looking forward.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
PZ: – Thats a very personal question on the one hand, and on the other a bigger question than it sounbs on first sight, – its answer can fill a library and it´s totally against my personality to approve it or not. I think it´s just to complex to put it down in some words… I only can say a read a big amount on philosophy about that and I would recommend everybody who is interested in that question to do so…
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
PZ: – It is never about one thing, but if…maybe that “our music” is also represented in public media, we need spots.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
PZ: – I justr listend to a beautiful record of Leimgruber Demierre / Phillips.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
Perhaps the library of alexandria would be a nice spot to spend some time, all the lost ancient texts….
Perhaps also hanging out a night with somebody like Mozart would be fun for sure.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan